As the second largest country in the world by total area, there is no doubt that Canada is immense, but there’s nothing like a road trip to help you truly comprehend the sheer size and diversity of the country we call home.
Last fall, Des and Trudy Cooper of Lacombe spent two months travelling east across Canada experiencing the landscapes, the wildlife, and the people that make this country so rich and beautiful.
Travelling in a modified campervan and camping along the way made the trip affordable and helped the couple to get closer to nature during this trip of a lifetime. “Many of the campsites we stayed at were on secondary roads and in some of the most picturesque areas you could imagine,” explained Trudy. “We stayed right on the shores of the Great Lakes and met people from all over the country travelling this way. We also packed our bikes and explored bike paths and walking trails as we went along — we wanted to really experience the best of Canada and to do that you have to wander a little off the beaten path.”
Over two months, the couple covered a lot of territory and there were many highlights along the way. Here are some of their top travel suggestions for each province visited on the journey.
Saskatchewan — Although travellers usually don’t flock to Saskatchewan, the couple found that wide open spaces and friendly prairie culture can be incredibly appealing.
Some of the popular attractions they visited include the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre near Moose Jaw, and a stop at the RCMP Heritage Museum in Regina, but the best experiences were found while exploring the countryside by bicycle.
“We were camped by the Wakamow River and decided to ride our bikes over a section of the TransCanada Trail,” explained Des. “After a vigorous bike ride through cow pastures and along the river valley, we happened along a very small family-owned restaurant that served Yesteryear’s Ukrainian Borscht (www.yesteryearsborscht.ca). The smell of fresh bread and homemade borscht persuaded us to go in and we weren’t disappointed. It turns out they can their borscht and ship it all over Canada, so we bought two cans and headed back to camp.”
Manitoba — One of the highlights of Manitoba was a stop in the capital city of Winnipeg.
Not far from the campground was an area known as The Forks, which is a lovely spot with great dining and shopping.
“The Forks is located at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and has a history that goes back 300 years,” said Trudy.
It was an important transportation route and the hub for fur trade from 1738 to 1880.
In 1886, grain production was Western Canada’s principal industry. The Forks became a key site for railroad development, immigration and settlement on the Prairies. Winnipeg became known as the “Gateway to the Canadian West.”
“Today it is a really pretty part of the city where we enjoyed walking and biking along the Riverwalk. We also visited the legislature and the Manitoba Children’s Museum.”
Ontario — The Great Lakes and the beautiful parkland made camping in Ontario a pleasure.
“I had never seen the Great Lakes before and I was amazed by them,” Trudy said.
“We camped right on the shore of Lake Superior for two nights and we took secondary roads to take in the shoreline of Lake Erie. The swans, geese, ducks and other wildlife are stunning at any time of year, but especially in the autumn.”
Visiting the cities and seeing their famous sites was also a highlight of Ontario.
“We also enjoyed seeing and hearing the ‘rumble’ of Niagara Falls and visiting the CN Tower in Toronto.
“It seemed like there were little discoveries to be made in each place we stopped.
“I had a veggie hotdog in Toronto, at one of their many hot dog stands, that was the best hotdog I’ve ever tasted.”
Quebec — The historic district of Old Montreal captured their hearts in Quebec. “I really enjoyed the historic architecture in Old Montreal,” Des said.
“Notre Dame Basilica is a must-see site, with its gothic revival architecture.
“You also can’t miss visiting Old Quebec in Quebec City. Trudy loved the stone mansions, charming and quaint little shops, and the ‘clip-clop’ of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestone streets pulling their carriages. The art and music in the streets makes it magical and romantic.
“Walking through Old Montreal and Old Quebec feels like a walk through Europe — the architecture is so historic.”
Nova Scotia — Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail has been acclaimed as one of the most beautiful drives in all of Canada, and is particularly stunning during the autumn months.
“There are so many beautiful spots to enjoy in Nova Scotia, from Peggy’s Cove to Halifax Harbour, but one of the most visually scenic areas is the Cabot Trail,” said Trudy. “It seems that every corner and curve of the road provides another surprise — another one of God’s treasures in nature.
“We rode our bikes along trails and saw wildlife up close, and everywhere there were vibrant fall colours to enjoy. It’s hard to describe just how beautiful that part of Canada is.”
New Brunswick —In New Brunswick, the pair cycled more of the TransCanada Trail in Bay of Fundy National Park.
“The TransCanada Trail in this area was very challenging, but beautiful,” said Trudy.
“We enjoyed seeing the effects the world’s highest tides have had on the shoreline. We saw the famous flower pots — a geological rock formation created by the high tides.
“We also visited the botanical gardens near Edmundston, and drove through the longest covered bridge in the world, over the St. John River, in Hartland, N.B.”
Prince Edward Island —The red cliffs of Prince Edward Island and the laid-back island atmosphere make a stay in Canada’s smallest province a pleasure, but getting there proved to be half the fun.
“The Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick is a Canadian-built and designed marvel of cold ocean engineering,” explained Des. “At 12.9 km, it’s the longest bridge in the world over the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped at the visitor centre in P.E.I. and watched the video about its construction. It is truly amazing!”
Newfoundland — Newfoundland is rugged and beautiful and driving along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean through Gros Morne National Park was a great way to cap off a wonderful journey.
“We drove past quaint fishing villages and camped at Rocky Harbour. Driving further north, we stopped at a rocky beach, to check out pieces of an old shipwreck that had washed ashore. Then continued on to Shallow Bay, where I collected a bottle of ocean water and wrote our names in the sand,” said Trudy.
“As eagles soared overhead, I realized that I loved Canada before this trip, but now I have a deeper appreciation for the diversity of our country.”
Tips for planning a successful road trip
• Make sure your vehicle is road ready before you leave. Get the oil changed and the wiper fluid topped up and make sure your insurance and registration are up-to-date and in the vehicle with you.
• The Coopers highly recommend purchasing a GPS before undertaking a long road trip. “A GPS eliminates many potential disagreements between the driver and the navigator, and contributes to a relaxing adventure,” Des said. “If you get one that is handheld, you can also take it on bike trails or even use it when you are walking in a city.”
• The Coopers used their AMA membership to get a Trip Tik Travel planner for their road trip. The Trip Tik is a personalized routing planner that has maps and local highlights included for a specific journey. Although they didn’t follow the planned route entirely, it was useful as a general guide.
• Remember that a road trip is not a race. Don’t be afraid to make frequent stops to explore. Take time to wander down trails and take pictures of things you see. The best parts of a road trip are usually found on the way to where you are actually going.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.