Finding the Island Life in Canada
There is something captivating about islands. Not only do they stand alone against the wind and water, divorced from the comforts of the mainland, but their inhabitants, too, have a special constitution that drives them to live a relatively isolated life.
Canada, with its wide landscape, lakes and extensive coastline presents an array of island adventures in many shapes and sizes. Here are 10 favorites.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the only province of Canada to have no land boundary.
One of Canada's older settlements, PEI still reflects the country's heritage, with Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and French descendants comprising a large part of the 153,244 people that live there.
Famous, especially as the setting for L.M. Montgomery's landmark first novel about the red-haired orphan, Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island's tourism is still dependent on visiting Anne fans.
There are plenty of other ways to enjoy this maritime province though. Its slow-paced way of life is conducive to a vacation full of wandering, perusing and relaxing amongst its towns, trails, and beaches.
Prince Edward Island access is made easy by Confederation Bridge, which joins it to New Brunswick and mainland Canada and is the longest bridge in the world that crosses ice-covered water.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Known for its rugged, diverse, and beautiful geography, moderate climate, and unhurried way of life, Vancouver Island sits just off the mainland of British Columbia. A fact that can be confusing is that Vancouver Island is home to the provincial capital of Victoria, but not the province's most populous city, Vancouver.
Vancouver Island fits an island stereotype in that it attracts artists, craftspeople, nature lovers and other people seeking a less hectic pace of life. For those wanting to experience a more urbane and romantic getaway, Victoria with its elegant Empress Hotel, beautiful Inner Harbour, and Butchart Gardens is a draw.
Getting to Vancouver Island is by plane, helicopter, or ferry. The BC ferry system is extensive and regular and it's a beautiful ride to the island.
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Located at the tip of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton is part of this maritime province but has an identity very much its own.
Famous for its Celtic heritage, which visitors may enjoy through the music, food, and charm of the people, Cape Breton is also home to one of the world's most beautiful drives: the Cabot Trail, as well as the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, an intact fortress, once one of the busiest harbors in North America and key to France's trade and military strength.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador
Fogo Island sits at the edge of Canada, off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. First settled by English and Irish in the 17th century, Fogo Island was an important fishery until the 1950s when it fell on hard times. Due to intervention from a number of sources, the island avoided resettlement and in fact has had a striking renaissance as an artists community and travel destination.
Manitoulin Island, Ontario
Manitoulin Island is the world's largest freshwater Island. There are more than two dozen small settlements, First Nations communities, and towns spread out across more than 160 kilometers of boreal forest, lakes, rivers, shorelines, escarpments, meadows, and limestone plains.
The people and the communities have emerged through history as colorful and complex as any in Canada—from the fur trade to free trade, from the ice age to the new age.
Magdalene Islands, Quebec
The Magdalene Islands are in the heart of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and famous for their sand dunes, red sandstone cliffs, and undulating landscape. The "Maggies," as they are affectionately known, comprise a unique mash-up of Acadian, Mi’kmaq, and English cultures. Foodies, nature lovers, photographers, and local craft enthusiasts will all love a visit here.
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) is an archipelago on British Columbia's north coast. The Haida name translates to "Islands of the People." Haida people have lived on the islands for 13,000 years and comprise half of the population. These 450 islands that lie 80 kilometers west of the BC coast are largely protected lands. They attract visitors for their abundant and rare wildlife species, flora and fauna, fishing, and the important Haida culture and heritage.
You can get to Haida Gwaii from mainland British Columbia via air landing at the Sandspit Airport or the Masset Airport and via the BC Ferries whose terminal is at Skidegate.
Spirit Island, Alberta
Spirit Island is the understated, yet perfect finale that concludes the cruise crossing the glacial waters of Maligne Lake in Jasper, Alberta. The 90-minute boat ride immerses its passengers in a majestic Rocky Mountain landscape, but it is the lone island—small but enduring, isolated but tied tenuously to land—that captures the imagination and makes it a favorite for photographers.
Baffin Island, Nunavut
The largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world, Baffin Island is a sweeping Arctic landscape that offers a plethora of northern wonders to those adventurous enough to travel there.
With a population of only 11,000 people, Baffin Island, in Nunavut, Canada's newest territory, is vast and sparsely populated—mostly by Inuit people. Accessed only by boat or plane, visitors can have a truly unique, remote experience where they'll encounter an environment and wildlife unlike any they've seen before. The Inuit people who live here value sharing as one of the most important characteristics and warmly welcome visitors.
One of the most popular ways to visit Baffin Island is through Adventure Canada, an expedition cruise line that not only visits smaller communities but builds relationships with and supports them.