So Much Happening in 2017
If you've decided to visit Canada in 2017, good choice.
Whether you're an adventure seeker, culture lover or just overall curious traveller, this year, Canada will seduce and dazzle you with more than the usual amount of hospitality, enthusiasm, and pride.
You see, back in 1867, some forward-thinking men decided that a few British colonies in and around the Saint Lawerence River region would work better together and hammered out a deal that made Canada its own country.
Fast forward to 2017 and Canada is all grown up: a big, beautiful, 150-year-old democracy that welcomes people from around the world to visit or to find a new home.
To celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, party planners are compiling a dynamic and diverse year-long roster of festivals, concerts, freebies and more.
But 2017 is also a year like any other and travellers can enjoy the distinct Canadian features, such as its safe, multicultural cities, broad mountain ranges, forests and lakes, and unique French and indigenous cultures that are integral to the country's national identity.
Take Advantage of Free Entrance to Canada's National Parks
Free stuff is great, but in 2017, Parks Canada is not just going to give you a maple leaf emblazoned tchotchke. The government department that preserves Canada's natural and cultural heritage is giving people the gift of experience: the opportunity to visit any of the national parks, heritage sites and marine conservation areas for free.
Just send away for a Discovery Pass, which is good for a family of up to seven people, and present it at any one of the 46 national parks or more than 170 historic sites operated by Parks Canadas. The Discovery Pass usually sells for $136 CAD, which is about $104 US.
Canada's network of protected parks represents the country's most significant natural landscapes, from turquoise lakes to ancient cedar groves and mountain ranges. Some of Canada's most famous national parks include Banff National Park in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories and Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Historic Sites of Canada comprise places that have significance in the country's growth and the development of its national identity, like battlefields, buildings, or archaeological sites; they may be rural or urban in setting, simple or complex in presentation. Historic Sites of Canada explore themes such as the fur trade, politics, the fishing industry, indigenous history, immigration, the railway system and more.
Attend the Biggest Canada Day Party Ever
Like the Americans do every July 4th, Canadians celebrate their country's founding each July 1st. In 2017, the festivities will be especially raucous in the national capital of Ottawa given the hullabaloo surrounding the 150th birthday.
The plans are still percolating, but the birthday bash is shaping up to be epic. Celebrity appearances, concerts, fireworks, carnivals and some pomp and ceremony. You can be sure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be there though probably too busy for a selfie.
The place to be is Parliament Hill, where the festivities get underway in the early afternoon but get there early - as in 9 or 10 am - because spots are limited. Bring a blanket, sunscreen, hat or maybe umbrella and settle in for the day. The 21-gun salute and jet fighter display are exhilarating as is the sight of thousands of people painted and dressed in red and white.
Besides the excitement of Canada Day, Ottawa is a great city to visit for its historic architecture and government buildings, its scenic location along the Rideau Canal, walkability and wide array of attractions.
Get More Bang for Your Buck
This is to our American friends in particular: the strong U.S. currency gives you added buying power here in Canada.
Since the 1970s, the U.S. dollar has tended to be much stronger than the Canadian dollar. Although it hit parity a couple of times in the last 30 years, for the most part, the Loonie has been worth about 75 to 85 cents compared to the U.S dollar.
This means that if you arrive in Canada with a crisp green one dollar American greenback, the nice Canadian exchange clerk will give you about $1.30 inWhen the U.S. dollar is high, travel in Canada is relatively cheap, so get those passports and head north for sesquicentennial fun and savings.
Don't Forget to Raise a Toast to Montreal
You think Canada is old? In 2017, Montreal will celebrate its 375th birthday, a nice complement to the nation's sesquicentennial programming.
Montreal plays a critical role in Canada's history, namely as one of the key settlements of the French in Canada and later as a thriving financial centre.
In the early 1600's, the French explorer Samuel Champlain arrived in Montreal and established a fur trading post there, though competition with the indigenous peoples for territory was fervent and violent.
In 1642, Ville-Marie was officially founded as a colony of France dedicated to the Virgin Mary by a coalition French settlers, including Paul de Chomedey, the nurse Jeanne Mance and Roman Catholic missionaries. Together they built Hôtel-dieu, or, hostel of God, which was the only North American hospital north of Mexico and is closely tied to the growth of Montreal as a prosperous, thriving community.
Special programming will go on all year and includes illuminating Jacques Cartier Bridge with thousands and thousands of LED lights, but be sure to visit some of the museums in Montreal that explore and explain the city's fascinating history, such as Pointe-Calliere. This Old Montreal attraction that comprises actual archaeological digs and excavation sites of the original Montreal settlement, thereby telling the city's story in a uniquely tangible way.
Welcome the Tall Ships in Quebec and Halifax
Quebec City is one of Canada's most unique and exciting cities, with a deep maritime history that is key to the nation's history and still vibrant and tangible today.
In 2017, it seems fitting that this pillar of French Canadian settlement will welcome a fleet of Tall Ships engaged in a transatlantic race that begins in the U.K., heads south to Portugal, over to Bermuda, up the U.S. Coast to Canada and finally to France. The Tall Ships Regatta features up to 40 traditionally rigged sailing vessels and their 3,000 crew members and will dock in Quebec City, Canada, from July 18 to July 23. During this time, the public is invited to enjoy music, dance performances, sporting events and tour the vessels.
Experience Canada's Breadth & Beauty by Rail
To experience the length and diversity of Canada's landscape and to mingle with its people and other visitors in a leisurely way, journey aboard VIA Rail's "The Canadian," which takes passengers from Toronto to Vancouver.
The railway in Canada plays a significant role in the country's modern development. The final leg of its construction in the 1880s linked the more than 4,000 km (2.500 miles) between Vancouver and Toronto, across many ecosystems, the Rocky Mountains and other challenging terrains.
Once Canada's eastern and western provinces were connected, immigration into more remote parts of the country, especially the prairie provinces flourished as did the notion of Canada as a multicultural nation.
Today, though train travel is not always the most economical way to traverse the country and takes a few days rather than a few hours, there are few other opportunities to drink in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, the quiet beauty of the Prairies and the drama of northern Ontario than VIA Rail's Canadian train.
Discover the Historic Charm of Canada's First Capital City
Flying under the radar of many Canada travel itineraries is the beautiful city of Kingston, Ontario. In the 17th century, the city's location at the tips of the Saint Lawrence River and Lake Ontario made it a strategic fur trading location. Settlement there expanded and in 1841, Kingston was named the first capital of the province of Canada.
Today, Kingston's historic role in Canada's growth as a nation is palpable through its well-preserved heritage buildings that include Fort Henry, where uniformed interpreters conduct demonstrations of British military life and tours for visitors, and Bellevue House, the house of Canada's first prime minister, which has been kept completely intact. Both these Kingston attractions and other national historic sites will be free in 2017 with the Parks Canada Discovery Pass.
Visit the Birthplace of Confederation
What better way to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday than to go back to where it all began. In 1864, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, hosted a gathering of delegates and politicians to discuss for the first time the concept of a united Canada. At this time, the British colonies of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were separate entities.
Three years after this initial meeting, Queen Victoria gave her consent to the colonies to split from British rule and on July 1, 1867, the union was made official and Canada, in effect, became its own country.
Because the idea of a united Canada all began in Charlottetown, this charming maritime city is known as the "Birthplace of Confederation." Many historic landmarks and structures welcome visitors and offer excellent insight into the country's formative years.
Some of these National Historic sites will be free in 2017 with the Parks Canada Discovery Pass as will the Story of Confederation, programming that gives a modern perspective and explanation of the talks that took place in Charlottetown 153 years ago.
Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island overall have so much more to offer than just a history lesson though. The Anne of Green Gables homestead is nearby, fine maritime cuisine, trendy neighbourhoods, beaches and a drive across Confederation Bridge, which links New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, are great ways to round out your Charlottetown experience.
Not just for school age kids, French immersion programs are excellent ways for people of all ages, including adults and seniors, to learn to speak French in an authentic cultural setting.
Language Vacation is a global program that offers students several French language classes in the heart of Old Quebec City per day over the course as many weeks as you choose to attend. Participants may stay with a host family for increased language exposure and immersion or at a residence/apartment with like-minded adults.
Other schools with excellent reputations in Quebec City include:
One of Canada's greatest attractions comes once a year when the leaves of a wide variety of deciduous trees turn from green to a sparkling spread of red, gold and auburn.
Making leaf peeping especially sweet in 2017 is the Parks Canada offer of free admission to its national parks, where you survey some of the finest examples of fall foliage in the country.
Beginning in mid- to late September and lasting through October, the fall foliage season in Canada brings people from all over the world to behold the season's colourful symphony.
Comfortable temperatures and activities that include fall fairs, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches make autumn one of the most popular times to visit Canada.
The intensity and pervasiveness of autumn color tend to be best in the eastern parts of Canada. If "leaf peeping" is your primary purpose in visiting Canada, the provinces of Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick are the most dazzling.