Highlights of Western Canada

Beauty and bounty define the provinces of Western Canada By: Janeen Christoff & Debbie Olsen
Visitors can excavate dinosaur remains in the Canadian Badlands. // © 2011 Capilano Group of Companies; Okanagan
Visitors can excavate dinosaur remains in the Canadian Badlands. // © 2011 Capilano Group of Companies; Okanagan

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Western Canada offers a diverse number of experiences — from culture and cuisine to active adventure and relaxation. The region is vast and spreads from the prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan to the temperate Pacific, covering more than 1 million square miles and nearly 29 percent of Canada’s land area. Visitors can find almost every type of climate zone, with the rainforests of Vancouver Island, the arid desert of the Okanagan, the majestic mountains of the Canadian Rockies and the chilly tundra and prairies of Manitoba. With such diversity, there are a wealth of things to do and, here, we focus on the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia (B.C.) and Manitoba, highlighting activities that offer a blend of rugged adventure and sleek sophistication.

British Columbia — Discovering Canada’s Westernmost Province
While athletes may have taken home the gold medals during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, B.C. and the city of Vancouver win gold for diversity in culture, activities, sophistication and beauty. Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Canadian Rockies, the westernmost province in Canada is blessed with stunning scenery and a diverse geography. Clients can experience a wide array of activities in just this small province alone, including surfing, skiing, wildlife adventures, culinary experiences, shopping, wine-tasting and more.

Vancouver, Coast and Mountains
Vancouver and its environs are one of the first destinations that visitors think of when traveling to B.C. Americans got to know the city during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and many discovered that, apart from its cosmopolitan shopping and dining, Vancouver offers an array of adventurous activities, as well. Vancouverites are blessed with Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain, offering skiing, snowboarding, hiking as well as the Grouse Mountain Gondola. The Capilano Suspension Bridge, in the heart of the city, spans the Capilano River at a breathtaking height, and Vancouver’s eclectic Granville Island is a foodie paradise. Visitors can encounter sealife at the Vancouver Aquarium or head to Robson Street or Gastown for high-end shopping. Explore the Coast Mountains and Whistler Village, which is just two hours from Vancouver and home to many of 2010’s Olympic events, for even more adventure. Visitors can ski year-round but, in the summer, there is hiking, biking, tubing, bear viewing and the 360-degree views of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is home to B.C.’s capital and also to one of its sunniest destinations — the city of Victoria. Clients could easily spend days touring this beautiful city with its shopping streets, excellent eateries and colorful gardens. Tea at the Fairmont Empress is a must as is a stop at Butchart Gardens. However, missing out on other parts of the island would mean never having the chance to surf in Tofino, explore one of the northernmost rainforests in the world at Pacific Rim National Park, beachcomb until midnight during the summer or explore the Gulf Islands on a whale-watching excursion.

Thompson Okanagan
Oenophiles have long known that, for wine tasting, the Thompson Okanagan is a top destination. The winding valleys, with their sprawling vineyards hugging crystal-clear lakes, resemble Tuscany and Sonoma. There is a casual, vibrant beauty about the region, and the people are down-to-earth. Visitors can vacation at small beachside properties in southern Osoyoos, visit with the First Nations people at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, reside at a local winery or relax at a lakeside resort — all within reach of a wide variety of vineyards with everything from fruit wine to a daring bourdeaux. While famous for its wine, Thompson Okanagan is also a well-known destination for families, and many Canadians spend the summer boating, fishing and kiteboarding on its lakes and exploring its fruitful valleys.

Alberta — Exploring Canada’s Sunniest Province
Palm trees don’t pop to mind when most people think of Alberta, but with 2,330 hours of sunshine annually, this western province is the sunniest in the country. With all that sunshine, visitors have more opportunities to explore the diversity of the natural terrain Alberta has to offer — from primordial badlands and prairie plains to glaciers and mountains. This incredible diversity of terrain coupled with a rich Aboriginal history and an amazing abundance of prehistoric dinosaur remains is the reason the United Nations awarded Alberta with five of Canada’s 13 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Alberta South
Southern Alberta is home to three of Alberta’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wide variety of landscapes. Visitors to the southern part of the province can experience the ethereal Canadian Badlands and excavate dinosaur remains with scientists. They can horseback ride through the rolling foothills or watch for wildflowers and grizzlies in the world’s first international peace park. They can explore the history of the Aboriginal people at a buffalo jump used continuously for more than 5,500 years or visit a sacred place where First Nations people wrote petroglyphs and pictographs on stone walls. Whether a visitor hikes, drives, horseback rides or paddles his or her way around the southern region, there is always a mystery waiting to be revealed.

Canadian Rockies
Alberta shares the Canadian Rockies with British Columbia. In fact, the natural border between the two provinces is, for the most part, an imaginary line along the Continental Divide. The Alberta Rockies provide year-round adventures and activities including some of the best hiking and skiing in North America. Visitors to this region can experience rugged mountains, massive glaciers, alpine meadows, emerald lakes and abundant wildlife. Canada’s first national park (Banff) and its largest mountainous park (Jasper) are both found in this region along with many provincial parks and recreational areas. Exploring the Alberta Rockies is more than just an adventure — it can be an experience of a lifetime.

Bright Lights, Big Cities
There has always been a rivalry between Alberta’s two largest cities. Whether it is with their hockey teams, football teams, politics or anything else, Calgarians and Edmontonians like to face off and, when they do, they each plan to win. This makes a visit to either city a win for the traveler. In Calgary, visitors can experience Western hospitality at The Calgary Stampede, vibrant nightlife, shopping and fine dining, arts and culture events and outstanding museums and parks. Visitors to Edmonton will find more than 30 annual festivals, the Alberta Legislature, great nightlife, museums, parks and excellent shopping at a variety of places including North America’s largest indoor shopping and entertainment complex. It’s hard to say which city has more to offer, but one thing is certain — visitors can’t lose when they visit either of Alberta’s major urban centers.

Manitoba — Experiencing the Heart of Canada
The heart of Canada is a land of contrasts. It is a place where travelers can experience the culture and nightlife of a big city or the adventure that lies in wild and barren landscapes. Manitoba’s natural wonders include wide-open prairies, towering sand dunes, enormous lakes and crystal-clear rivers. Its colorful and romantic history holds the secrets to the fur trade and the founding of a nation.

Capital Adventures
An urban oasis in a sea of prairie grass, the city of Winnipeg has a long history that can be traced back hundreds of years to well before the arrival of the first Europeans. The name Winnipeg is derived from a Cree word that means “muddy waters,” which describes the color of the waters at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers, where the city has its roots. More than half of the population of Manitoba lives in the capital region, and exploration of the city will lead visitors to world-class museums and important national historical sites, vibrant entertainment, fun festivals and cultural events as well as beautiful city parks.

In the Parkland
The western region of Manitoba has more than 3,900 square miles of provincial and federal parks and forest reserves where the traveler will find verdant forests, cool lakes, rushing rivers and an abundance of wildlife including elk, deer, bison and black bear. It is home to Manitoba’s highest point — Baldy Mountain in Duck Mountain Provincial Park — and the province’s first national park, Riding Mountain National Park. This region is ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking and wildlife watching. There are also a number of wonderful historic sites that allow visitors to explore the history of the Ukrainian immigrants who originally settled this region in the late 1800s.

North of 53
Few Canadian landscapes are as wild and barren as those found north of the 53rd parallel in northern Manitoba. This rugged wilderness is home to hundreds of exotic species from polar bears and beluga whales to caribou and arctic fox. Visitors here can come face-to-face with a polar bear or snorkel amongst a pod of beluga whales. They can explore the tundra, ride a traditional dogsled or see the aurora borealis — depending on the season. Travelers to the north invariably leave with a newfound respect for the Aboriginal people whose rich traditions and iron will have allowed them to survive in this harsh environment.

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