The Bucket List’s 13 Canadian Towns You Must Visit

The common old saying, ‘the best things come in small packages’ holds true when it comes to Canadian small towns. Visiting small towns isn’t normally at the top of our bucket list, but we’ve come up with a list of great towns that are perfect just the way they are, which is often quiet and out of the way, typically passed by on highways and main roads, tucked neatly away on the outskirts of a city. This list is a baker’s dozen compiled small towns to love, we’ve covered all our bases including one from each province and territory. What are you waiting for? Get going!

13. Nelson, British Columbia

For a town of under 10,000 people there is a whole lot going on in Nelson. The skiing in the Kootenay Rockies is sensational. When it’s time for water skis, Lake Kootenay offers any activity you want on and under the water. There are thermal and natural baths and less than an hour away, as is the beginning of the province’s fabulous wine country. Nelson is something of an artistic community with a surprising cache of Victorian, Queen Anne and Beaux Arts architecture. The town website claims more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. It also likely has more hippies per capita as the counterculture is bred by American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War and continues on today.

Nelson British Columbia

12. Legal, Alberta

A proud little town whose website says it “puts unity back into community”. It’s close enough to be considered a suburb of Edmonton, but it retains its separate identity with its old rural charm intact. Still bilingual, it was founded as a French-speaking settlement in 1894, before Alberta was a province and less than a decade after French Canada’s champion Louis Riel was hanged for treason. The stop signs still say ‘Arret/Stop’. Legal is renowned for its 28 French murals and its summer Fete Au Village, or Town Festival.

Photo by: Town of Legal
Photo by: Town of Legal

11. Forget, Saskatchewan

This town is nothing like it sounds, rather it’s sure to give you an unforgettable experience. It is a one of those places through the Canadian and American Midwest that serves as a reminder that French explorers were the first Europeans to pass through and that many of the early post-Confederation settlers were from Quebec and their descendants still proudly call themselves Saskinoises, as did Canada’s first woman to serve as Governor General, Jeanne Sauvé. Despite its minuscule size (at last count 104) it has become known as an artists’ colony. The old Rectory built in 1904 is now The Ananda Arthouse.  Its French Catholic roots are evident in the name of a much-praised hangout and kitchen called The Happy Nun. And should you go there, please recall it’s pronounced for-JAY.

Saskatchewan

10. Flin Flon, Manitoba

There are few more quintessentially Canadian towns than Flin Flon.  A sub-Arctic hardworking mining community with a stellar hockey history. Six hundred miles northwest of Winnipeg in the Manitoba Lake District, it boasts a big trout festival and wilderness activities in summer and with the exception of downhill skiing, a full range of winter sports. It is one of Canada’s hockey factories, having sent a number of big stars to the NHL, including Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach and Blaine Stoughton. And there is of course its iconic name with a minor literary pedigree, the only town named after Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, a character in a 1905 science fiction book The Sunless City. The venerable American cartoonist Al Capp was so intrigued by the story, he created the statue of the town’s namesake that still stands.

Flin Flon, Manitoba

9. Port Hope, Ontario

Sixty miles east of Toronto, Port Hope is a pretty little town with a lovely and well preserved 19th century downtown. The Capitol Theatre opened in 1930 and is one of a dwindling collection of ‘atmospheric theatres’, an ornate style movie house that resembles a palace. It has been cited for the province’s Community Leadership award for exemplary “leadership in heritage conservation and promotion”. The antique shopping is renowned as is the fly-fishing in the Ganaraska River. A timeless scene of Victorian Ontario.

Photo by: John Vetterli via Flickr
Photo by: John Vetterli via Flickr

8. Hudson, Quebec

Hudson is a picturesque, historic place set on the Lac des Deux Montagnes that dates back to New France and celebrates its 150th birthday as a town in 2015. Now it’s also known as where the late Jack Layton called home. Forty miles west of Montreal, it has long been known as a wealthy Anglophone enclave with a Yacht Club dating back to 1909 and a polo club from 1901.  It re-established in the 1990’s as the Club Nacional and is was well-known for its star players that included some of the great Montreal Canadiens from the teams that won five Stanley Cups in the 1980’s. Now it has a nice arts scene, great antiques. It’s not a place you would spend a week, but perfect as a weekend destination or day trip. It just might even leave you trying to figure out ways to move there for good.

Photo by: Hudson Yacht Club
Photo by: Hudson Yacht Club

7. Victoria-by-the-Sea, Prince Edward Island

When it comes to flat out, good old fashioned small town charm, it’s very hard to beat the Maritimes. Victoria lies on the island’s south coast just 20 miles from Charlottetown. It was once an affluent, busy trading port and the pretty houses and stores don’t seem to have changed much, except for fresh coats of brightly colored paint. Another charming little (population: 200) place that attracts artists and craftspeople. The Victoria Playhouse has been written up by no less than the New York Times. The mandatory red sand beaches and Lighthouse museum are present and accounted for. Sea kayaking in the Northumberland Strait is the main offshore activity. The town website almost brags that when the Trans Canada Highway passed the town by, so did the malls, fast food joints and tourist traps.

Victoria-by-the-sea, PEI

6. Saint Andrews, New Brunswick

The town was settled by Loyalists from Maine in 1783. Thirteen of the streets are named after the offspring of George lll (aka Mad King George) not to mention King, Queen and Prince of Wales Streets. Like much of the region, its economic apogee passed with The Steam Age. After decades of bad times, the onset of the railway plus, the ocean breezes and natural beauty, brought well-to-do visitors seeking respite from the heat and filth of the industrial northeast. Saint Andrews became the country’s first resort and was rewarded for its economic stagnation with unspoiled downtown and surroundings that became their major industry and engine of growth.  The legendary Algonquin Hotel remains a wonderful example of CPR hotel architecture (or ‘Parkitecture). Kingsbrae Gardens is an award winning masterpiece of horticulture and whale watching has been added to the array of watery attractions.

Photo by: Douglas LeMoine via Flickr
Photo by: Douglas LeMoine via Flickr

5. Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

Another coastal gem, Mahone Bay was founded in 1754 and was a shipbuilding center for over a century. The shelter of the Bay encourages sailors, kayakers, and fishers to explore the 365 islands that dot the waters of Mahone Bay, including Oak Island, with its legend of buried treasure. It’s a summertime boom town, attracting visitors for its beaches, biking and ski trails, along with a rich history and oceanfront location. Not to mention that fresh, fresh seafood.

Mahone Bay NS

4. Trinity, Newfoundland and Labrador

Fisherman were summering in relative safety in trinity bay since the early 16th century. It is full of heritage buildings of saltbox architecture dating from the 1850’s. All the towns on this list are scenic, but only The Rock combines mint conditioned, brightly colored historic buildings with rugged beauty of the unforgivingly harsh Newfoundland rock face which is a base for hiking and boat tours to see whales and icebergs. Its preserved perfection of houses from the 1850’s attracted the makers of The Shipping News and there are tours of where the famous cast shot scenes and stayed, some of them were so taken by the land and people, they bought houses or cottages nearby!

Photo by: Brian Summers via Flickr
Photo by: Brian Summers via Flickr

3. Dawson, Yukon

You can still pan for gold and have the famous Sour Toe cocktail. For a more satisfying taste – attempt to make it yourself! It was parodied by a Dawson banker named Robert W Service in the “Ice Worm Cocktail” a story of a gullible Englishman who downed one with great trepidation and comic results. The romance of the Gold Rush, even more than a century come and gone remains. Such was the transient wealth, it was called the Paris of the North. Heritage buildings from its 15 minutes of wealth and fame abound. And yes, you can see the can-can girls at Gambling Gerties, but it’s not a one-trick pony. Cruise the Yukon River and/or hike 1700 feet up the Midnight Dome and take in the views of it and the Klondike Valley. Parks Canada has a nice tour from Crocus Bluff to Service’s cabin in the hills, conducted with excerpts from his legendary poetry.

Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com
Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com

2. Rankin Inlet, Nunavut

In Inuktitut, it’s called Kangiqtiniq – ᑲᖏᖅᖠᓂᖅ, meaning ‘deep inlet’. It has become the gateway to the territory for civil servants, mining execs, scientists and adventure travel aficionados, hence the cell phone service and golf courses not common to the rest of the region. There is a thriving Inuit art scene, especially in ceramics and carving. For exploring the stunning, pristine Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga (‘the land around the river of little fishes’) Territorial Historic Park has hiking, fishing and fauna that you won’t see south of 90 degrees north. There are also habitations and graveyards from the 13th century. To celebrate spring Pakaluk Time there is a festival which includes music dancing and the famous, unique Inuit sport competitions.

Photo by: Electronker via Flickr
Photo by: Electronker via Flickr

1. Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Fort Smith deserves a place on the bucket list if for no other reason than it being a place that is a gateway to the remote, spectacular World Heritage Site, Wood Buffalo National Park. The northern boreal plain and forest is home to endangered species like wood bison, whooping cranes and peregrine falcons. Seemingly endless acres of pristine natural beauty that are a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast. Its name in Chipewyan is Thebacha or ‘beside the rapids’, and those rapids on the Slave River are a major attraction for white water buffs today.

Photo by: Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons

10 Reasons To Road Trip Across Western Canada This Summer

Few things are more essential in the summer than rolled down windows, wind blown hair, long hot days, and the radio blasting in a car filled with friends. All the key ingredients for a summer roadtrip. Western Canada is a land of plenty; from jagged mountain tops and glacier fed waters, to gastronomic hubs and music festivals, time spent here eating, partying, hiking, and sightseeing will be a highlight.  So gather up your best buds, load up the car and hit the road for places that will ensure you have the time of your lives!

10. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Calgary

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: a historical site south of Calgary that offers you a glimpse into the lives of the indigenous people who helped shape Alberta’s heritage. This World Heritage Site gives you the chance to experience aboriginal culture at what is one of the best preserved buffalo jumps in the world; camp in a tipi, learn how to make drums and moccasins and explore the rich history and heritage on display at the interpretive museum.  Walk in their footsteps through the wind-blown prairie landscape and along the perilous cliff edges; here you can begin to understand an important part of Canada’s history.

Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock.com
Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock.com

9. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Moose Jaw is a city that will throw you for a loop in the most wonderful of ways. People who visit always leave surprised,  in awe of this small, unassuming, prairie town. Those who grew up near here will know Moose Jaw is famous for its tunnels and an underground maze rich in history with interactive adventure. Yet Moose Jaw has much more to offer its guests. The Temple Gardens Mineral Spa Resort is a world famous resort built over geothermal springs; come with your family, friends, yourself or significant other and enjoy a weekend filled with pampering and relaxation. Or, spend time wandering around the many shops and cafés on Moose Jaw’s historic Main Street!  Moose Jaw is much more than a drive-through town; come explore, wander and enjoy this humble and intriguing town in central Saskatchewan.

Moose Jaw

8. Drumheller, Alberta

When you are in Western Canada, you don’t have to go to the movies to walk among the dinosaurs; the Dinosaur National Park in Drumheller is home to some of the world’s oldest, most important, dinosaur excavations. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its fossil discoveries, it’s hard not to be taken back 75 million years ago to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And if you tire of the museum and the dinosaurs, the Red Deer River cuts right through the city of Drumheller and the badlands, lending to some amazing scenery and outdoor exploration possibilities. After that, be sure to follow the well-marked trail to discover the rich coal-mining history found here; climb the last wooden tipple in Canada, cross the suspension bridge in Rosedale and see the odd-yet-fascinating hoodoos that are said to watch over the people and protect the land.

Ronnie Chua / Shutterstock.com
Ronnie Chua / Shutterstock.com

7. Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta & Northwest Territories

Places like Banff and Jasper are national landmarks, and for good reason; the beauty and sheer magnitude of the Rocky Mountains are bound to knock your breath away. But, straddling the border with the Northwest Territories, Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada, the second largest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Incredibly, this park is the world’s largest dark-sky preserve, meaning there will never be a better spot to stargaze and witness the amazing Northern lights. This park isn’t completely isolated from civilization either; Fort Smith is a heritage town that plays host to many tourists who come for music festivals, history and world-class rapids. Wood Buffalo National Park is a wilderness and heritage experience found nowhere else in the world- come for the week and stay for the summer.

Wood Buffalo National Park

6. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta & Saskatchewan

Straddling the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, this unique and adventure-filled park truly is home to the land of the living skies. Spend the night camping under the stars, hike or bike the over 50km of trails, or just kick back and relax at the beach on Elkwater Lake. Ideal for birdwatchers and animal enthusiasts, this park has more than 220 species of birds and a plethora of other flora and fauna that call this vast ecosystem home. And since this park is the highest spot in the country next to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is sure to offer stunning views and unparalleled photo opportunities. Whatever’s on your summer must-do list –adventure, relaxation, introspection- this park, high in the prairies, has it all.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

5. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Named one of the top 10 islands to visit in 2014 by Travel & Leisure, Vancouver Island is a Canadian icon. But Salt Spring Island, the best known of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, is itself a paradise, and deserves not to be missed. People here have opted to slow down and really enjoy all of life’s pleasures. A mild climate means that the rich nature and outdoor activities can be enjoyed year round; hiking and golfing are popular here. This community is also invested in the culinary and arts scene; local produce, world-class accommodations and a variety of music and artisan craft stores have people invested in this easygoing island life.   

Salt Spring Island, BC

4. Penticton, British Columbia

Wine and festivals, outdoor adventure, arts and entertainment, romance, Penticton has it all. It is a place for couples, families, thrill-seekers and even food-enthusiasts. It sits in the Okanagan Valley, south of British Columbia on the shores of beautiful Skaha Lake. Due to its location, surrounded by lakes and highlands, Penticton has always been a draw for adventurists; with boating, rock climbing, and wind-surfing as some of the popular summer activities. But this city is also known for its arts scene, and with a focus on increasing its urban appeal with high class restaurants and events, more and more tourists will be flocking to the many symphonies, concerts, galleries and museums that make Penticton a city for everyone.

steve estvanik / Shutterstock.com
steve estvanik / Shutterstock.com

3. Edmonton, Alberta

Edmonton is often overshadowed by its neighbor to the south, Calgary. But it is emerging and becoming an international destination in its own right; in fact, National Geographic just listed it as one of 10 destinations to visit this summer. A gastronomic food scene, concentrating on local, farm-to-table cuisine, has Edmontonian foodies raving. Restaurants like the Three Boars Eatery and Meat offer locally inspired menus and craft beers, and places like DaDeO and Langano Skies take it’s guests on a culinary adventure from New Orleans to Ethiopia and everywhere in between. Also, Edmonton is world renowned for it’s many festivals and events held during the summer months; events like Folk Fest and K-Days bring in international tourists. Edmonton is buzzing right now, and you cannot help but be swept up in all of the excitement.

Edmonton

2. Kananaskis Country, Alberta

A horseback ride at sunrise followed by a canoe ride down the river and a campfire in the valley is a quintessentially perfect day in Kananaskis Country. This is cowboy country; where wild horses roam free and the stars shine bright.  A vast country spanning over 4000 square kilometers, this wonderland is only 45 minutes west of Calgary. Home to some of the country’s most prestigious golf courses, towering mountains, winding canyons and sprawling lakes, Kananaskis Country is a mecca for outdoor lovers and the perfect escape from city life. And if you can tear yourself away from the countryside, Canmore has plenty of local restaurants and craft shops; a perfect end to a satisfying day out on the trails.

Kananaskis Country, Alberta

1. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Waterton Lakes National Park is the unspoilt, dramatic park located in the southwest corner of Alberta that is all at once a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, a Biosphere Reserve and a place that is magically free of crowds.  As the smallest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, this is a place where the prairies reach up to touch the mountains and the animals and humans roam together as one. If golfing is your thing, be sure to take a swing at the Waterton Lakes Golf Course; if you would rather, grab a kayak and swim in the crystal clear (but cold!) Cameron Lake. This is a place where the landscape is inspiring, the people are welcoming, and the adventure is plentiful – just be prepared to have this National Park steal your heart and keep you coming back year after year.

Waterton National Lakes Park, Alberta