Eastern or Western Canada?

By Johanna Read

Photography by Getty

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Canada is an immense country. Covering six time zones, it would take 75 hours of driving – plus almost nine hours on two different ferries – to drive the 7,500km from the western-most provincial capital along the Pacific Coast (Victoria, British Columbia) to the easternmost (St John’s, Newfoundland). But which region wins the ‘best of‘ contest? Canadian writer Johanna Read shares the cultural, foodie and wild highlights of both.

The wildlife

Go west

Occasionally deer or even bears wander into some Canadian cities, especially in the west, but you’ll need to get out into the wilderness for a chance to see Canada’s most iconic animals. Vancouver ups the ante for ‘wild’ cities – the downtown area is surrounded on three sides by water, so there’s a chance a whale or a seal might swim by. Plus, on a day trip to the Badlands, you can even see dinosaurs. True, they’re no longer very lively, but Drumheller is the dinosaur capital of the world…

Go east

Small animals such as raccoons and rabbits live in many city neighbourhoods, but for a chance to see larger beasts in the wild you’ll need to add a hire car to your booking and drive into rural Quebec. Head to the lake chalets in the Laurentian Mountains or Mont Tremblant, where you might spot bears, moose or deer. Or take a day trip from Montreal to Quebec City for the chance to see beluga whales and seals on a cruise along the Saguenay–St Lawrence Marine Park.

  • Dinosaur Provincial Park Tours © Brooks Regional Tourism.

    Saddle up

    Discover hoodoo rock formations and dinosaur fossils at Drumheller, known as the Dinosaur Capital of the World, in the Canadian Badlands of Alberta.

  • Catch a glimpse of the magnificent Canadian wildlife © Getty.

    Get outdoors

    Discover outstanding wildlife and stunning landscapes in some of Canada’s many national parks.

    Discover Canada

The food

Go west

You’ll eat well almost everywhere in Canada, but especially so in Vancouver. Thanks to a relatively mild climate and excellent agricultural land, farm-to-table dining was a way of life here long before it became a buzzword in the food industry. The top trend is Asian-inspired cuisine that champions seasonal west coast ingredients, especially fresh seafood. Try it at chef Alex Chen’s Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar, where he serves up ling cod and clams with a homemade Chiang Mai sausage and Thai basil pesto.

Go east

French Canadians, of course, know their food well, and Montreal’s Toque and Joe Beef are two classic institutions you won’t want to leave off your list. Can anything compete, though, with Toronto’s abundance? From pastry perfection at Rosen’s Cinnamon Buns and Khao San Road’s authentic khao soi curries to high-end dining at The Chase, Toronto has it all.

  • Treat yourself to a table at Boulevard Kitchen, Vancouver.

    Breakfast vibes

    Boulevard Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch – try the smoked heritage pork ‘croque madame’.

    Explore Vancouver

The great outdoors

Go west

There’s nothing more spectacular than the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, which begin just outside Calgary. Take a helicopter ride over the majestic Rockies, the first of many mountain ranges, or board the train to Vancouver, which rolls past waterfalls and through mountain passes, snow tunnels and forests thicker than you can imagine. Once you arrive on the Pacific Coast, Vancouver is among the world’s prettiest cities – where else can you ski in the morning and swim in the ocean in the afternoon? And speaking of skiing, the pristine slopes of Whistler are especially inviting with ample snow and luxury touches.

Go east

While the four Atlantic provinces on Canada’s east coast each have a unique charm, you can’t beat the impressive grandeur of Niagara Falls, near Toronto. For a trip you’ll never forget, book a helicopter tour.

The culture

Go west

Canada’s west coast is too young to have much of a distinctive culture beyond ‘work hard, play hard’, though you’ll find the art, cultural, and historic influences of Canada’s indigenous peoples strongest here and in the North. Calgary’s culture is noticeably cowboy – keep your eye out for the cute Stetson hats on some downtown traffic signals and businessmen wearing cowboy boots.

Go east

Toronto – the fourth largest city in North America – avoids a megalopolis feel by being a city of neighbourhoods that are full of character. The Danforth (Toronto’s Greektown), little Ukraine, little Portugal, and not one, but two Chinatowns do give Toronto extra culture points, as does its marvellous arts and entertainment scene, from blues bars to opera. But la societe distincte is found in the Francophone province of Quebec. Montreal and Quebec City feel more like Europe than North America, and the language, fashion, art and architecture all reflect this – see it for yourself on a Montreal walking tour.

  • Do as the locals do, throw on a Stetson and explore the city © Getty.

    Cool vibes

    Fans of the film Cool Runnings will recognise parts of the city, as the film was set in Calgary during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

  • Get a good night’s sleep at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

    A little ‘me’ time

    Why not treat yourself to Afternoon Tea at the hotel’s fabulous restaurant Notch8?

    Book a flight to Vancouver

Where to stay

Go west

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is a veritable castle in the city, with two grand ballrooms and bags of designer shopping.

Over in Calgary, the Hyatt Regency Calgary incorporates three heritage buildings into its modern hotel.

Go east

Le Germain Maple Leaf Square Toronto is a stylish boutique hotel a short walk from many of Toronto’s highlights. Some rooms even have round beds.

W Montreal is a sleek and sexy hotel in the historic Banque du Canada building, and is perfectly located between Old Montreal and the business district.

Know this…

Contrary to popular belief, most Canadians don’t say ‘eh?’ at the end of every sentence. Once you get out of the big cities, though, you will notice more people seeking to affirm your understanding, interest and agreement with this Canadianism.

What do all Canadians have in common, regardless of where we live? Well, we’re all pretty nice, we say ‘sorry’ a lot, and we love to welcome visitors who want to explore every region of our vast country.