Only in Canada, eh. (Now say it five times!)
So you're probably thinking, 'Good grief, another year-in-review.' Well, you're right, partially. When I sat down on New Year's Day, with hot toddy in hand (waging war on a stubborn cold), I found myself getting antsy and impatient to whip off my 'Ode to the year that was." I realized I was more motivated to scribble my plans for the year ahead. Reflecting on 2011, and revisiting - in my rum-induced haze - the places I've visited and the people I've met in the past year, a very familiar (almost cliched?) phrase slipped unbidden from my lips: "Darn, we live in one amazing country." Shocked expressions all around? No, of course not. Most of you know this already. I have no intention of extolling the benefits of living in Canada, nor comparing our beloved homeland with the seeemingly ever-growing list of war-torn and poverty-ravaged countries around the globe. I realize we aren't perfect. But my enthusiasm is for the amazing opportunities Canada holds for travellers, and for the things that make us truly unique.
Here's my very subjective, okay, opinionated, round-up of why you - and any kith or kin living inside or outside our borders - would want to travel in Canada : Five amazing reasons to visit Canada.
1. Our humour. We're funny. Darn funny.
Head to St. John's Newfoundland for the annual Screech Comedy Festival and you'll discover what I mean. We're the country that produced Dan Aykroyd, Rick Mercer, Eugene Levy, Russel Peters, Catherine O'Hara, Mary Walsh, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Cathy Jones, Shaun Majumder... Whether it's comedy improv in a pub in St. John's Newfoundland, or the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver or Edmonton. Plan your holiday just right and you can easily larf your way across the country!
2. Our food. A dish from every culture.
Tourtiere from Quebec, fresh Chinook salmon off the coast of British Columbia, Montreal bagels, Chinese food from Gastown in Vancouver, perogies from Winnipeg, lobster from New Brunswick, scallops from Digby, Nova Scotia... Our nation-wide menu is endless. And I've not even mentioned the steak from Alberta...nor the bread from Saskatchewan. Plainly put, we serve up great food. To define "Canadian Cuisine" is an impossible task. Our kitchen tables reflect the scores of different cultures from which we've sprung, and that's what makes our food so appealing. Tourists with a penchant for tasting good regional food have lots of travel options to suit their palate: the Lobster Festival in Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, or The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Prince Edward County, Ontario, the Steveston Salmon Festival in British Columbia .
3. Our Aboriginal culture. Rich and wonderful.
We are truly blessed by our First Nations culture and traditions. Travellers' options range from the awesome spectacle of thousands of dancers and drummers at the Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg each November, to visits to the incredible Haida Gwaii cultural centres throughout Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), or celebrating the Micmac (Mi'Kmaq) sites in Nova Scotia and other parts of Eastern Canada, or experiencing the venerable Sweat Lodge Ceremony in various sacred places in Canada.
4. Our mountains. They're tops.
From the Rockies to the Laurentians to the Appalachians, our mountain vistas are breath-taking - and adventurous. Climbing the Rockies, skiing in Banff, helihiking in Jasper, horseback riding in the Laurentians, trekking... Take your pick of high adventure!
5. Our diversity.
I'm forever telling people that India, one of the most fascinating places I've visited, is actually six countries in one. If that's the case, Canada is easily twice that in magnitude of diversity and traditions. But then, as much as I loved visiting India, I can get a taste of India in my very own country. On any given Saturday, as I bop about Toronto on my weekend errands, I'm apt to sit next to a couple turbaned folk on the subway, hear a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin as I make my way through the produce stands in Toronto's Chinatown (well, one of our Chinatowns - there are a few), stop for amazing daal in Little India on Gerrard Street East, and take the streetcar through the Roncesvalles neighbourhood where Polish is spoken in my favourite East European bakery. And our diversity also extends to the terrain and the diversions. Canada is an adventurer's dream. You can kayak throughout the inlets of Newfoundland, embrace the heady mix of sophisticated nightlife amongst the fashionistas of Montreal, ride horses through Alberta, roller-blade through an urban parkway in Saskatoon, swim with Beluga Whales in Churchill, Manitoba, enjoy free Shakespeare in the Park in about 12 Canadian towns and cities. And our festivals run the gamut from the Poutine Festival in Drummondville, Quebec, to the famous Calgary Stampede (it turns 100 this year). In short, we've got something for everyone. Five reasons to visit Canada in 2012? Let's just say there's another hundred to come. When you brag about Canada, what's the first thing you tell people? I'd love to know.