Excerpted from the book
Spectacular Canada

 

The Cities
 

Each of Canada's major cities has a very different appeal. One offers a futuristic skyline and a hyperactive theater scene, another bistros along cobbled streets where a chanteuse grabs you by the heart and holds you spellbound. One offers a downtown gambling casino, while another features a stunning setting between snow-capped mountains and a deep blue sea. One claims North America's largest underground city and another a treasure house of museums.

But whatever their differences, all of the country's major cities have one thing in common--vibrant downtowns. Certainly, residents flowed into the suburbs following World War II, but they never deserted the city centers. Downtown Canada is considered not only a great place to work and play, but a great place to live. In summer, major downtown streets are almost as alive at midnight as they are at noon.
 

TORONTO

By far the country's largest and most cosmopolitan city, with a population nearing five million, Toronto is Canada's commercial capital, the seat of government for the province of Ontario, a mecca for theater and jazz aficionados, and a city where just about every culture in the world is represented. OnceIt was once a staid provincial capital mostly made up of immigrants from the British Isles, but today dozens of languages and dialects can be heard daily on its squeaky clean subway system. Its atmosphere was drastically changed by postwar immigration from Europe, especially from Italy, and later by waves of immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa. Toronto now boasts the largest Chinese population in North America, more than 300,000 strong. The city's multicultural flavor is at its bestbest tasted in June, when the popular Caravan festival scatters pavilions around town in which ethnic groups show off their food, crafts, songs, and dances.

Toronto's downtown skyscrapers are dwarfed by the CN Tower, which at 1,815 feet, 5 inches, claims to be the tallest freestanding structure on earth. Diners at its revolving restaurant and viewing deck look down from its viewing deck upon planes landing at the nearby in-city Island Airport. In the tower's shadow sits the SkyDome, the scene of many memorable baseball moments, including two World Series championships.

More than 30 professional stage and dance company productions can be seen nightly during the height of the theater season, several of them full-blown Broadway extravaganzas. The Toronto Symphony is world class, and jazz is featured nightly at a dozen lively nightclubs. Not surprisingly, restaurants across the city serve up the fare of scores of nationalities. "Stargazing" is a favorite pastime in this city, which likes to think of itself as "Hollywood North." Many film and TV companies come here to do their shooting because the U.S. dollar is worth one-third more in Canada. And several hit movies have made their debut at the annual Toronto Film Festival.

The Oriental collection found among the dinosaurs and mummy cases at Toronto's cavernous Royal Ontario Museum is so revered that items were borrowed to show at the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka, Japan. And Toronto's Ontario Science Centre has become a prototype for hands-on, computer-age attractions around the world.

Scores of apartment buildings and hundreds of restored houses lie just a short walk from Yonge St., the bustling main drag, and the city's most popular shopping destination is the galleria-style Eaton Centre, right in the heart of downtown. Throngs of people wander around downtown at night in this visitor-friendly city, one of the world's safest. Moreover, families can take a short ferry ride across its bay and harbor to the Toronto Islands, a playground of parks, amusement rides, and beaches.

High on a hill overlooking this busy metropolis stands a real castle. An eccentric 19th-century millionaire built Casa Loma and filled it with secret passages so he wouldn't have to look at the servants as they went about their chores. And, when you tire of big city life, Niagara Falls is just an hour and a half's drive away.
 

MONTREAL

Canada's second largest city prides itself most of all on its joie de vivre. It showed that spirit to the world by hosting the 1967 World's Fair and the 1976 Olympic Games in a single decade. Montreal is a sophisticated city, where cafés and bars are happy places indeed, and where a gambling casino jingles 24 hours a day. Moreover, a visit can be a French fling in a city of 3.5 million where most of the people speak English as well as French.

Founded in 1642 as part of New France, the city sprawls around Mount Royal across an island in the St. Lawrence River. Early on, it became the headquarters for the fur trade that was to open up what is now Canada all the way to the Pacific. And for many years, until overtaken by Toronto, it reigned as Canada's largest city, sprouting both skyscrapers and an international reputation for sophistication. More recently, it built a remarkable subway system called the Metro, in which trains streak silently along on rubber tires between showplace stations, each one decorated differently.

Because the city is frosty in winter and gets nearly 100 inches of snow, an unbelievably comprehensive underground city has been built beneath its downtown skyscrapers, with 300 shops, and countless restaurants and movie houses, all of them linked by the Metro and passageways from the basements of major skyscraper complexes. You can get a haircut, a hamburger, a massage or attend church or a hockey game without surfacing. But most Montrealers do anything but curse their snow. It ensures that skiing will be especially fine in the Laurentians, just to the north of the city. With 100 lifts, and countless cozy lodges and chalets, here arethese mountains feature some of the best ski hills in eastern North America and some of the finest resort food anywhere.

A taste of the historic city can be found on the cobbled streets of a quarter called Old Montreal down by the city hall, a renaissance building in the image of the city hall in Paris. Some of the nicest restaurants in a city noted for fine dining are found in the quarter's narrow streets.

Two remarkable Montreal churches are worth a visit: Notre Dame Basilica and St. Joseph's Oratory. The former was built in the image of its namesake in Paris and offers ornately carved altars and fine stained-glass windows. The latter was built in honor of Brother Andre, a beloved monk credited with many miraculous cures. It is the largest church in the country, with a dome second in size only to St. Peter's in Rome, and took more than 40 years to build.

As a legacy of Expo '67, the city inherited the man-made island of Notre Dame in the St. Lawrence River and adjoining Île Ste.-Hélène, with the La Ronde amusement area, an 1824 fort and waterfront picnic areas. The city's botanical gardens are the third largest in the world, especially noted for their cactus and Chinese and Japanese collections.
 

VANCOUVER

You have to go to Hong Kong to find a city with a setting as dramatic as Vancouver's. Wonderfully wedged in between mountains and sea on the rugged Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada's third largest city is a showstopper of a place, with houses precariously perched on every rocky ledge. Even its most modest homes sport luxuriant gardens and, looking out to sea, you will swear that this is a city filled with sailors. Small craft are everywhere on a sunny day, while freighters bound for the Orient, cruise ships to Alaska, and ferry boats to the nearby Gulf Islands seem to come and go by the minute.

When the weather cooperates, it's possible to ski, sail, and play golf on the same day in and around the city. In summer, the beach is just a short walk from some hotels, as is Stanley Park, the finest spread of in-city greenery west of Eden. Stretching out from the downtown core and tipped by the Lion's Gate Bridge leading to the North Shore, Stanley Park's 1,000 acres of near-wilderness make up the third largest urban park in North America. Visitors can walk, cycle or rollerblade around its five-and-half-mile seawall path or cut across the park amid towering fir trees. The park boasts a lovely lagoon graced by swans, ducks, and geese, a rose garden, fine sand beaches, a colorful collection of totem poles, and Vancouver's renowned Aquarium, best known for its killer whales.
 

OTTAWA

The word stately could have been coined with Canada's capital in mind. Despite the incursion of recent skyscrapers, Ottawa is still dominated by the majesty of its Gothic parliament buildings, completed in 1866 just in time to celebrate the birth of the nation a year later. Reaching skyward from the center block of its vaulted Victorian splendor is the 300-foot-high Peace Tower, with a carillon of 53 bells. Down below, on the lawns of Parliament Hill, the traditional changing of the guard takes place at ten o'clock sharp every summer morning.

Ottawa was designed to be the repository of the country's major treasures, so this is a city of museums and galleries, many which offer free admission. The sparkling glassed-in National Gallery, for example, offers free viewing of works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, El Greco, Gainsborough, Monet, and Picasso, along with a prized Canadian collection that includes some of the best paintings by the Group of Seven. Among other free museums are: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Stables, where rehearsals for the famed musical ride take place; the Canadian War Museum; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Other highly recommended museums include the National Aviation Museum, with 115 beautifully preserved aircraft, from the Wright Brothers to modern times, and the hands-on National Museum of Science and Technology, where one can take part in experiments tied in with computers, transportation, communications, astronomy, space, and many other pursuits.

Ottawa is especially lovely in spring, when more than a million tulip blooms surround Parliament Hill and flow out along its parkways and along the Rideau Canal, which carries small craft right into the heart of the capital. The first blooms were a gift from the government of the Netherlands in recognition of the fact that Ottawa sheltered the Dutch Royal Family during World War II. In winter, a five-mile stretch of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink, and also the site of many events in February's Winterlude, a festival honoring winter with snow sculptures, parades, fireworks, and speed skating.
 

QUEBEC CITY

Far and away the most European city in North America, Quebec oozes old world charm from every crack in its narrow cobblestone streets. Its chimney-potted skyline, presided over by a handsome château of a hotel and surrounded by an ancient wall, ensures that claim. Moreover, this capital of French Canada is the kind of place where the baker comes out each morning to sweep off his sidewalk and where office workers head home at night with a French stick under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.

Founded in 1608 by explorer Samuel de Champlain at a split-level site where the St. Lawrence River narrows, Quebec still offers opportunities for a visitor to sit down for supper in a cottage that has stood on the same corner for more than three centuries. Most of Quebec's charm is found within the walls at the top of a cliff and in Lower Town, which sits between the cliff and Canada's busiest river, and includes the spot where Champlain built his first fort.

In 1759, this city was the site of the most telling battle in Canadian history. Britain's General James Wolfe defeated the French Marquis de Montcalm, ensuring that Canada would grow up under British control until it won its independencebecame a country in 1867. Both generals died from wounds suffered in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a large field still explorable today, a short distance from the city walls. Even now, many Quebecois would like to break with the rest of Canada and go it alone as a predominately French-speaking country, but they have lost two recent provincial referendums that would have given them the right to separate.

Any animosity that may exist is certainly not apparent on the streets of Quebec. Typical family-run restaurants serving either continental or habitant-type fare are always welcoming, and the city's prolific artists hang their works on ancient walls while fiddlers and jugglers entertain sightseers. Forsightseers, for Quebecois are among the most hospitable of all Canadians.

There are two fine times for a visit. In July, the International Summer Festival brings the streets alive with music, dance, and all sorts of street entertainment. And during Mardi Gras, the city is transformed into a fantasyland of ice palaces and bemusing sculptures by the Quebec Winter Carnival. It offers a parade as grand as the Rose Bowl parade, and a thrilling canoe race across the frozen St. Lawrence, in which hardy competitors paddle madly through wild waters and skid their craft over ice floes on the way to the finish line.
 

CALGARY and EDMONTON

Almost the same size, with about 930,000 inhabitants each, these Alberta cities never tire of competing with each other. They fight it out in their hockey arenas and on the football gridiron--and at any given time there is a discussion over which city is number one in the province. Calgary is a former North-West Mounted Police fort whose rapid growth was fueled by the discovery of oil just south of the city in 1914. Edmonton is a former Hudson's Bay Company fort whose boom was fueled by a major oil find at Leduc, just south of the city in 1947. However, before anyone even sniffed oil, Edmonton had a leg up on its cow-town competition as the main supply center for the Klondike gold rush of 1897. That insured it would be named the capital when Alberta became a province in 1905. The wealth of both cities has attracted high-tech industries to go along with major packing plants.

Calgary stepped onto the world stage in 1988 when it hosted the Winter Olympics. And early in July each year it puts on a 10-gallon hat and again becomes a cow town during its annual Stampede. Flapjack breakfasts and square dancing are served up in the streets, andas part of one of the world's biggest rodeos fills Stampede Park. Later in July, Edmonton's Klondike Days festival sees citizens dress up in 1890s costumes to celebrate the city's colorful past as the supply center for the gold rush with parades and simulated gold panning.

In the valley of the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton offers more than 18,000 acres of parkland, and at Fort Edmonton Park, costumed characters portray four eras of the city--from its days as a fur trading post through the frothy times that made it the capital of a new province. As the provincial capital, it has some fine museums, including the Provincial Museum, Edmonton Art Gallery, and Space and Science Centre. Calgary recalls its beginning at Fort Calgary Historic Park, where visitors can watch fortifications actually being built. The Calgary Zoo, Botanical Gardens, and Prehistoric Park is unique. It shelters endangered species such as whooping cranes and a Siberian tiger, and displays twenty life-sized recreations of dinosaurs that roamed the terrain 60 million years ago when this was a semitropical area. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 plants bloom in the zoo's conservatory.
 

WINNIPEG

A major rail center and the country's grain-trading capital, Winnipeg is both a lusty and a cultured city. Although both Calgary and Edmonton have surpassed it in population since their oil booms, it remains a key player in life on the Prairies as the capital of Manitoba. Its skyscrapers still stand out like Oz's Emerald City on the flat wheat lands that surround them.

Its symbol is the Golden Boy, a 13-foot-high statue with a sheaf of wheat under one arm, which stands atop the Manitoba Legislative Building. Forged in a factory in France before World War I, it was loaded onto a ship bound for America that was commandeered to carry troops. So it spent the war crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic before coming home to Winnipeg.

The city started out as a small Scottish settlement, but boomed when the Canadian Pacific Railway's tracks reached its borders. Trains brought many settlers from eastern Europe, who arrived with a keen love for music and dance that still remains today.

The city's Royal Winnipeg Ballet has a fine international reputation, as do its symphony and opera company. Its Museum of Man and Nature is one of the best visitor attractions in the Prairies, tracing the relationship between the Prairie peoples and their environment from prehistoric times. The Winnipeg Art Gallery has one of the best collections of Inuit art in the country.
 

HALIFAX

A star-shaped, hilltop fortress known as the Halifax Citadel once dominated the skyline of this largest city in the Maritimes. Now you have to peek between newly erected downtown skyscrapers to get a look at it. For Halifax, founded in 1749 and a place that used to live in the past, has gone modern. It features sparkling new hotels and office towers, a downtown gambling casino, and a beautifully restored waterfront called Historic Properties, where ancient warehouses now house some of the city's best restaurants and boutiques.

Since Halifax sits on one of North America's most magnificent natural harbors, it has always been a major naval base and a bustling port where many European immigrants caught their first sight of the country. Its Maritime Museum of the Atlantic traces marine history in the area from the days of sail. It also deals with famous shipwrecks and contains a collection of wooden artifacts from the Titanic. In summer, students in the 19th-century garb of the 78th Highlanders Regiment escort visitors around the Citadel. Point Pleasant Park, one of the few places outside Scotland where heather grows in profusion, is a favorite stopping place, as is Province House, a fine Georgian building from 1818, the oldest legislative building in the country.


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