Canada's 150th birthday cannot be complete without visiting the country's capital city... but which one should you visit? While Ottawa is the current capital of Canada, there have been four other capital cities, and it has changed seven times. It started in Kingston (1841 – 1844) and then moved to Montréal (1844 – 1849), believing it to be safer from the Americans. After the citizens of Montréal burnt it down, it rotated between Toronto (1849 – 1852 and 1856 – 1858) and Québec City (1852 – 1856 and 1859 – 1866). Finally, it was placed right on the border between the two provinces in Ottawa (1866 to present day). This tour ventures into each of these five cities and explores what makes them so unique.
Since the capital flip-flopped location seven times, it would be much more convenient to go through the cities geographically then historically. If we started in the West, we would start in Toronto, Ontario, Canada's biggest city. While G Adventures only mentions the CN Tower and Kensington Market, there is much more to see in this city. You could visit the 18th century Casa Loma Castle, stroll through the artistic Graffiti Alley, visit Ripley's Aquatic Aquarium, or go drink and dine in the Distillery District. Looking for more outdoorsy stuff? Check out the Toronto Islands, the famous High Park or the Toronto Zoo. You can even take a boat out onto Lake Ontario and see the city's iconic skyline!
Once you're done in Canada's most famous city, it's time to visit Canada's most haunted city, Kingston. Only a short two-and-a-half-hour drive from Toronto, Kingston offers a unique experience that is only matched by that of Québec City. At over 340 years old, Kingston is full of stone buildings, military forts and cobblestone streets. Kingston also has several paranormal locations such as The Prince George Hotel, Skeleton Park, Chalmers United Church, Hochelaga Inn, and the Kingston Penitentiary. There is also a "secret" alley between Princess Street and King Street East that is haunted by the murdered spirit of Theresa Ignace Beam.
Fort Henry is another haunted location in Kingston, but there is much more to this building than simply ghosts and ghouls. Fort Henry is also home to the beautifully mysterious Lumina Borealis, an event that my fellow Canadian blogger Struckblog covered just this past December. Lumina Borealis ends for the season on February 4th, 2017 so if you're interested in going, go soon!
For those who don't enjoy visiting haunted locations, Downtown Kingston is also famous for their shopping, food and nightlife. Take an evening off and plan a romantic night out at one of the many restaurants in the area, followed by a nighttime stroll. If you're lucky, you might see some street performances, live entertains and even some outdoor cooking demonstrations!
After you're done exploring The Limestone City, cruise (well, actually, drive, since the cruise takes 6 days!) on up to Canada's capital city, Ottawa! While in Ottawa, make sure you visit Parliament Hill. Take some time here to explore the many statues and historical figures surrounding this structure. Learn about John A. McDonald, Jacques Cartier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and The Famous Five, who were responsible for giving women the right to vote in Canada.
Once you're done at Parliament Hill, the National War Memorial is only a short stroll away. This is where Remembrance Day services are held every November 11th and where Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed on October 22nd, 2014.
Another must-see location in Ottawa is the magnificent Rideau Canal. Built in 1832, the canal still works as it did then, with several locks to raise and lower water levels. In the winter the canal also becomes one of the most sought after places for skating in Canada!
Once you're done in Ottawa, you're just across the river from French Canada, which is arguably the best Canada. To get to Montréal from Ottawa you can either take the train or drive, which both take about two hours. While G Adventures has two tours that go to Montréal, all they say to here is to climb a hill (Mount Royal) and "sample Canadian maple syrup" (seriously). While those are two very important things to do while in Montréal, there are actually a lot of other things you can do as well. From art to food to architecture and culture, contrary to what G Adventures says, Montréal is actually one of the most happening cities in Canada!
If you love nature, insects, flowers and the universe, Montréal has their own Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Garden, and Planetarium, all within a small radius of each other. I only visited the Biodome when I was there, but if that was any indication of how fun the other museums are, you'll want to give yourself a whole day for just these alone.
If science isn't your idea of a good time, you can take a stroll through the historical Old Montréal, complete with cobblestone and New France architecture. Here you can shop, eat and be merry while enjoying a mix of modern and classic French-Canadian culture.
If you're a lover of architecture, Notre-Dame Basilica and Saint Joseph's Oratory are two places you'll want to put on your list. If you're looking more for modern architecture, take a walk down to Habitat 67 or to the remains of Expo 67 on St. Helen's Island.
Our final former capital on this tour is Québec City, which is only a short 2 and a half hour drive from Montréal. (There's another beautiful city worth visiting between Montréal and Québec City, but I'll cover that in my next article, which is all about French Canada.) There are plenty of ways to get between Montréal and Québec City (car, boat, bike or train) but I'd recommend taking the train. It's a 3 hour ride, but it only costs $33. Train travel is popular in Eastern Canada so this gives you a great opportunity to ride the Canadian rails like a local.
At 410 years old, Québec City was once the gateway into New France. From its winding cobblestone streets to the towering Château Frontenac, Québec City is thriving with character and oozing with history. A great place to learn about this city is the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux, which sits right behind the Château Frontenac. This museum literally digs deep into Québec City's archaeological history and is fascinating for both adults and children alike.
Another location you'll want to visit is La Citadelle de Québec, an operational military base. Here you can learn about the Royal 22nd Regiment during the Fenian Raids, the World Wars, and the War in Afghanistan. While at the citadel, you can learn about the difference between French and English architecture, how weaponry changed over the years and meet the cannons that guard the St. Lawrence River. Only feet away from the citadel is the famous Plains of Abraham, where the British launched their final attack against the French, ultimately bring an end to New France in 1759.
If you enjoyed Old Montréal, then you'll love Old Québec. With crisscrossing stone pedestrian bridges, winding cobblestone streets, and picturesque shops, this is the neighbourhood most often featured on international Canadian postcards. A beauty in both winter and summer, Old Québec is so unique and so historical it actually holds a distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stroll through this area is like taking a step back in time. Here you can visit stunning churches like the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica, take ghost tours, visit scores of museums, and dine at plenty of outdoor cafes.
On the theme of parliamentary locations, Québec City has the Hôtel du Parlement (the Parliament Building) and Montmorency Park. This park is the former site of the capital building of the Province of Canada two centuries ago, before it burnt down in 1854.
There's plenty to do around Québec City, but I've left them out as I'll be covering them in greater detail in my next article. If you want a sneak peak of what's to come then visit my Quebec City Travel Guide.
What do you think of this tour? We hit up some of Canada's major cities so I was forced to leave stuff out. What's something I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments below!
Don't forget to check out all the articles in this series!
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
When I was younger, I really loved winter. I loved sledding, snowball fights and building snowmen. One of my favourite pastimes was visiting a little outdoor ice rink a few blocks from my house. Every winter my friends and I would climb over the walls of the rink and goof around on the ice. When we weren't falling over our feet, we'd play hockey with whatever snow chunks we could find. As these events became more frequent, we often talked about playing real hockey on the rink. Eventually, we would end up playing hockey, but we'd settle for the street in front of our houses instead.
Beyond childhood, the only other time I went skating was in high school. Everybody else's ice skating skills had improved with age, but mine were still that of a fourth grader. I remember standing in the rink, struggling to shoot while holding my balance, only to have a classmate swoop in and steal my puck! Ever since then, I've stuck to floor hockey.
As I got older, my love for winter dwindled. Now I find it cold, icy, dark and sometimes miserable. My blog usually slows down in the winter for this very reason. I've been trying to get out and enjoy our longest season of the year, but it's hard. Most days I just want to stay inside.