Travel Story What not to miss in Canada's "big three" cities

Photo of Suzanne Morphet

Considering Canada is the largest country in the world after Russia, it may come as a surprise that it’s a nation of city slickers. More than 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban areas.

The metropolises of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are by far the largest (in that order) but many others are worth visiting: Ottawa, Ontario, the nation’s capital; Victoria, BC, Canada’s self-proclaimed cycling capital; Halifax, Nova Scotia, with its collection of Titanic artefacts and the resting place of 150 victims of the Titanic; Niagara Falls, Ontario, with its impressive falls and neighbouring vineyards; Quebec City, where the British conquered the French on the Plains of Abraham; Winnipeg, Manitoba, with its award-winning Canadian Museum of Human Rights; Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Festival, the largest repertory theatre company in North America; Calgary, Alberta, where locals celebrate their cowboy heritage every July at the Calgary Stampede; and St John’s, Newfoundland, one of the first permanent settlements in North America.

The Big Three

Toronto 

Known as Hogtown for its size and sizzle (and perhaps because of its early meat-packing history), Toronto looks across Lake Ontario and stretches along its north-western shore, the CN Tower dominating the skyline. 

Rub shoulders with locals and get a feel for Toronto’s multicultural vibe by visiting the St Lawrence Market and the acclaimed Distillery District, a collection of once-derelict Victorian-era industrial buildings that have been carefully restored and now house shops and restaurants.

Toronto is marking Canada’s birthday with dozens of celebrations and exhibitions. Two of note: until the year’s end, the Art Gallery of Ontario explores the country’s nationhood through a multimedia installation by emerging and established Canadian artists, and My City My Six asks Torontonians to say something essential about themselves in six words. Their captions will be displayed citywide in the fall. seetorontonow.ca

Montreal 

Spread across several islands in the St Lawrence River and named for Mont Royal — a small mountain with big views over the city’s downtown — Montreal is considered Canada’s most bilingual city. Both of Canada’s two official languages (English and French) are widely spoken. It’s as easy to be charmed by old Montreal, with its cobblestone streets and stunning churches, as it is to be seduced by the city’s culinary scene. It’s thought Montreal has more restaurants per capita than any other city in North America.

This year the city celebrates its 375th birthday and is bringing its stories to life after dark each evening with a multimedia project called Cite Memoire. Twenty different scenes are being projected on to buildings, streets and even trees in the old city. While some images are from history books, others are contemporary, like the one of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, who famously served the singer tea and oranges. montrealenhistoires.com

Vancouver 

Flanked by mountains and with the sea lapping at its feet, Vancouver (pictured at top) is extravagantly blessed by nature. It really is a city where you can ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon. If you prefer walking, there’s plenty of choice; Vancouver scored 78/100 from Walk Score, making it Canada’s most walkable city. Vancouver is so desirable it’s a destination for immigrants as well as migrants from the rest of Canada. In Richmond, where Vancouver International Airport is located, 49 per cent of residents are of Chinese ethnicity.

Vancouver is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday with several signature events including The Drum is Calling Festival — nine days of music, art and culture, featuring aboriginal Canadian pop artist Buffy Sainte-Marie (July 22-30).

 On September 25, join tens of thousands of Vancouverites on a Walk for Reconciliation to heal divisions between aboriginal people and other Canadians. Smaller events will happen at Canada Place on Vancouver’s waterfront throughout the summer. canada150plus.ca.

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