Part Three of Canada’s West Coast – Vancouver Island

In Part Three of my article on Canada’s West Coast, my wife and I explore a small part of Vancouver Island, from Nanaimo to Victoria, along the island’s southeast coast. From the mainland, you can catch ferries from north or south Vancouver to take you to Nanaimo or Swartz Bay. Another ferry crosses further north.

Coming from the Sunshine Coast, we took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver and then another one to Nanaimo. The second ferry ride was about an hour and forty minutes. If you are trying to make connections like this, be sure to check out ferry schedules at BC Ferries. You can also fly if you don’t have a car and want to save time. 

Nanaimo: Home of the Famous Dessert

The waterfront City of Nanaimo is scenic and easy to navigate, with less than one hundred thousand people. This was my second visit to the city. Sadly, we did not spend too much time there on either occasion. Cathryn and I had two reasons to visit Nanaimo on this trip. First, to visit some good friends who live there, and second, to drive along the coast to Victoria.

Any sweet tooth will be happy in this city. It’s home to the world-famous Nanaimo bar, made in several flavors and sold everywhere. We spent most of our visit on the scenic waterfront and on Protection Island, a 10-minute ferry ride from the city harbor. Our friends took us to the island for dinner, where we dined at the Dinghy Dock Pub, a cool floating restaurant that offered great views of the Nanaimo harbor.

The food was typical pub grub, but with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Cathryn’s highlight of our mini excursion was getting up close and personal with a giant purple starfish living on the side of a floating dock. The pub was a cool place to sit and watch seaplanes taking off and landing in the harbor. 

Chemainus, A Vancouver Island Secret

In our experience, the best way to get good advice and recommendations while travelling is from locals. One of our resident friends proved this theory by recommending we stop in the little town of Chemainus on the drive south to Victoria. Being off the inland highway and on the waterfront, we would have driven right on by completely unaware of this cool pit stop.

Like many former logging towns in British Columbia, Chemainus has had to rediscover itself to stay on the map and draw visitors off the bypass. Fifty-three outdoor murals and colorful turn-of-the-century buildings that have been painstakingly restored make this town the perfect place to get out and stretch your legs. There are unique shops to browse, some with antiques far cheaper than those in bigger cities. And there are places to grab a beer, lunch, ice cream, or even a Nanaimo bar.

Victoria, A Highlight of Vancouver Island

Some think it’s Vancouver, but the City of Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. We spent five days exploring this beautiful waterfront city, barely enough time to see and do it all. From the time we pulled into the driveway at our waterfront Airbnb, we knew we were in for a treat. Our unit was the lower level of a ranch-style home. We had an awesome view of the tree-lined park and walking trail that parallels the river gorge across the street. 

All we had to do was follow Gorge Road to get downtown and to the harbor front. The Victorian and century-old buildings capture your eye, with the giant Fairmont Hotel stealing the show, overlooking the main harbor. And just when you’ve focused on that, the historic dome-topped government building nearby screams for attention. Be sure to check it out at night when it’s all lit up. For a great dinner, try Finn’s Seafood, an upscale restaurant with a great deck.

While driving around to get a feel for the city, we discovered great little neighborhoods with pop-up markets. A section of Government Street, downtown, is a pedestrian mall where you can walk to Chinatown and inner-city market squares. The whole core and waterfront are easily walkable. 

Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley

With a population of a hundred thousand people, Victoria looks bigger than Nanaimo. However, it’s easily walkable with waterfront boardwalks and cool neighborhoods like Chinatown. Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. It is only second to San Francisco in North America. The neighborhood also boasts the world-famous Don Mee Chinese Restaurant. We ate the highly recommended dim sum brunch there, and it was second to none. 

As in the United States, thousands of Chinese immigrated to western Canada to help build the railroads that would stretch across the country. They also worked in the mines. Three thousand settled in Chinatown by 1911, the largest population of Chinese in Canada for a decade. 

A famous landmark is Fan Tan Alley, a narrow walkway that was once lined by brothels and opium dens. If you like to explore, don’t stop there. I found more cool alleys with hidden shops, cafes, and cute patios belonging to private apartments. There are also Chinese grocery stores and a giant Chinese-inspired arch that marks the main street.

Fisherman’s Wharf

If you don’t have wheels, take public transportation or a water taxi further into the harbor’s mouth to Fisherman’s Wharf. With its colorful houseboats, shops, and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon sipping on a cold beer or grabbing a bite to eat. Add people watching to that list. Cathryn spotted Canada’s New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, took a selfie with him, and found out he’s from our hometown in Windsor. 

If you want a different perspective of Fisherman’s Wharf, jump on one of the water taxis and take a tour. They’ll do a loop of Vancouver Island’s picturesque harbor or drop you off anywhere else along the waterfront. The wharf is family-friendly. Gazing at the brilliantly colored houseboats and buildings, I wanted to break out my crayons and a coloring book.

Butchart Gardens

To me, Butchart Gardens is a world-class example of how to recycle planet earth after it’s been ravaged by man and make it even more beautiful. About a half-hour drive (take the scenic route) from downtown, the extensive gardens were created in an old gravel pit, with giant trees and thousands of colorful flowers expertly planted in 55 acres of manicured gardens. There is every type and color of annual, perennial, shrub, and tree imaginable. 

Statuary, garden ornaments, and ponds linked by winding and shaded paths take you on a magical journey through one of man and mother nature’s finest accomplishments. We thought the admission price was a bit steep at $31 (Can) each but found it worthwhile. You could spend a whole day wandering through the themed gardens, but we found a few hours in hot weather was enough. 

The Scenic Coastline of Vancouver Island

If you have a vehicle, there are other places to explore along the coast. We drove from Fisherman’s Wharf, staying along the water on Dallas Road, which heads east and follows the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Dallas becomes Crescent Road, and then Beach Drive, which turns north and continues along the coast. Views of the Salish Sea and Haro Strait are amazing from the winding and hilly road and scenic overlook. 

In conclusion, Cathryn and I thoroughly enjoyed the small part of Canada’s west coast that we visited. While the City of Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were fun to explore, we liked Vancouver Island and Victoria the most. If you enjoyed this segment of Canada’s West Coast, be sure to check out Parts One and Two here at Dreams Abroad. You can see more of my travel stories on my personal website

Exploring Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast

Being in the middle of a global pandemic has meant cancelled trips and altered travel plans for many of us over the last 18 months. For my wife and I, this meant postponing our summer trip to Croatia and coming up with a Plan B. We were in dire need of a getaway, so we took advantage of relaxed travel restrictions in our own country and decided to drive all the way to Canada’s west coast towards Vancouver. We’d both been before, but had never driven across the continent on our side of the border.

Our mission was to see new places and visit friends and family along the way. We covered over 11,000 kilometers or 6,000 miles, driving from Windsor, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia. In this three-part series, I share our adventures in Canada’s western-most province, British Columbia — more specifically Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and Victoria.

White Rock (AKA Vancouver’s Beachy Neighbor)

For Americans, who now can cross the Canadian border, the City of Vancouver is just over two hours north of Seattle on the west coast. If you’re driving up from the state of Washington, you’ll enter Canada in the City of White Rock. This is a place worth visiting. It’s right on the Pacific Ocean, marked by the giant white rock that sits on West Beach. There’s also a cool pier that is topped by a lookout at the Centennial Clock. 

Crescent Beach is slightly north of that, with miles of walking paths and excellent conditions for sailing and windsurfing. There are lots of beachfront restaurants. We dined at the Hooked Fish Bar to sample the local chowder and catch of the day. You can find more restaurants, bars, and plenty of shopping uptown, not far from the beach. 

Surrey/Langley

Heading north from White Rock takes one into the orchards and vineyards west of Langley and south Surrey. There are dozens of wineries to visit, and, depending on the season, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fort Langley Village offers a variety of specialty shops and an antique mall. Everyone can find any restaurant they desire in Surrey. For a great steak, try the S & L Kitchen & Bar Langley.

Granville Island

If you drive up from the US on Hwy 99, and continue north, you’ll come to the Granville Island Bridge. Instead of crossing the waterway, exit and check out what lies below. There’s a public market, a multitude of specialty shops, and Granville Island Brewery. The island is easily walkable, and there are water taxis to shuttle you around False Creek. 

Be sure to check out the sea village and colorful floating houses. If you’re looking for even more fun, there’s a waterpark, plenty of restaurants, seafood outlets, live performers (or buskers) in the town square, and a theater. After taste-testing local beers at the brewery, we wandered through the public market. We sampled smoked salmon, fresh baked goods, and ice cream.

Gastown

Continue north from Granville Island and you’ll end up in Gastown. This area is named after a character named Gassy Jack. This seaman and steamboat captain opened the area’s first saloon in 1867. This is the oldest section of the city, on the Vancouver Harbourfront. 

Gastown seems to have lost some of its luster since my last visit. This may be partly because of business closures caused by the pandemic. However, the area is still worth visiting, if only to check out the unique flat iron buildings and the steam-powered clock that’s across the street from Gassy Jack’s statue. 

Science World is nearby, and Canada Place sits right on the waterfront. You can take a 10-minute ferry ride from there across the harbor to North Vancouver. Once you do, stepping ashore is like travelling forward in time — the old shipbuilding yards have been converted to upscale waterfront shops, restaurants, and a waterpark for children, all overshadowed by gleaming condo towers. 

Stanley Park

Keep heading north to visit Stanley Park. This is a 1,000-acre peninsula, with access to the ocean and harbor, larger than New York’s Central Park. It is densely forested with about a half-million trees, some of which stand as tall as 250 ft and are hundreds of years old. There is a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train. Park features also include forest trails, beaches, lakes, and children’s play areas. 

Stanley Park is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re planning a hike, picnic, or just looking for the perfect vantage point to see Vancouver’s impressive skyline, it’s the place to go. The park also offers a view of the Lion’s Gate Bridge that carries Hwy 99 further north to the Trans Canada Highway. 

While in the area, we stayed with family and at Airbnbs or hotels in Surrey because they are much cheaper there than downtown Vancouver. Traffic can be quite heavy at times in the city. However, they have a mass transit system called the SkyTrain that can whisk you from South Surrey to Gastown in about 40 minutes.

Parts Two and Three

In the following two parts of my series, I’ll take you to British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast and then to the province’s capital city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. If you have enjoyed reading this article, you’re going to love my website. It would be great to see you at Life Written and Reviewed

Meet Canadian Author Ed Gagnon

Ed Gagnon, Canadian author, on the Dragon's Tail in TennesseeIt’s fair to say that Edmond Gagnon has been around the block, as in he’s patrolled the beat a fair few times. A retired police detective, this Canadian author has put his true crime stories to good use as the basis for the fictional Norm Strom series. In contrast to the famous saying, crime has definitely paid for Ed. He mines a rich seam of memories for his fiction. Ed is also an accomplished travel writer with many adventure articles and books to his name. Without further ado, meet Canadian author, Edmond Gagnon.

Windsor, Ontario, your hometown, is often described as the most Americanized of Canadian cities. Why?”

“Probably because of our location. Windsor is south of Detroit (and most of Michigan), plus many of the northern US states. Our close proximity has led to Detroit and Windsor sharing the title of the automotive capital of the world. Being neighbors to such a large American city has also influenced our television, radio, and social activities.”

A photo of Windsor, where Ed Gagnon lives.

When you were patrolling the streets as a police officer, which did you prefer: the day or night beat?”

“I’ve always been more of a night owl and definitely preferred working the night shifts. There is more crime and more action after dark, and I liked the challenge. The police station was quieter too with breaks from phone calls and visitors, allowing me to get more work done.”

 

Your station celebrated you for being the plainclothes detective with the most informants. What was your secret?”

“My secret was how I treated people in general, showing them the same respect that I expected. I had a knack for connecting with them and listening and relating to them on their own level. People tend to share more with those they trust.”

Other than yourself, of course, who would you like to play Norm Strom in a film of your acclaimed series of books?”

“Funny, my wife and I discuss this from time to time when we see an actor we feel could play Norm Strom during his detective and retired years. Our first choice is Donal Logue, an Irish- born Canadian/American actor who appeared in Gotham as Harvey Bullock and Sons of Anarchy as former US Marshall Lee Toric. Or maybe Russell Crowe or Jeffrey Dean Morgan.”

One of the Canadian author's titles.

How would A Casual Traveler have been different if you were sharing details of your travels on Facebook rather than by emails to friends and family?”

“It would have been much easier for me to upload pictures along with my snippets and stories, allowing me to have more detailed notes. Yet the quick access may have led to laziness and shorter stories. It is much easier to show an image than to try and describe it.”

Your first post-retirement travel was to southeast Asia. What was your favorite place?”

“I really don’t do favorites, especially if I have to choose only one. Having said that, Angkor Wat in Cambodia would be at the top of my list.”

A photo of Angkor Wat

You then enjoyed a motorcycle tour of the States. What was your hairiest/scariest moment on that trip?”

“I was very lucky on my motorcycle trips around the continent, having been rear-ended once on the Interstate, riding into a hail storm, getting pelted with debris from a blown truck tire, sliding through a red light on slick pavement, and simply falling over at the gas pumps. My scariest moment where I had time to fret about it was during a torrential downpour on a busy overpass near Houston. I was blinded by heavy rain and spray from trucks. My bike started to hydroplane and I couldn’t see anything around me, including traffic, and I had to get the hell off the road.”

South America came next. What was the spiciest dish you tried there?”

“I enjoy spicy dishes, if we’re talking flavor and not heat. Being a huge carnivore, I had to try guinea pig in Peru and asado — basically a tabletop barbeque — in Argentina. In the latter, I also became a big fan of Malbec and Carménère wines. I don’t agree though, that Argentinian beef is the best in the world. Ours is better.”

A photo of Asado from Argentina

You often travel with your wife in tow. How does traveling as a couple differ from solo trips?”

“That could be a dangerous question but fortunately, my wife and I travel well together, whether on the bike or by car. The most noticeable difference is that everything costs twice as much, but single supplements are sometimes a pain. I definitely have more of a sense of adventure than her and she has questioned my curiosity more than once. Nonetheless, she has never been disappointed in my decisions. I tended to travel without a fixed plan more when I went solo, and maybe chose riskier adventures than I would with her. She keeps me out of trouble.”

Where are you looking forward to visiting/revisiting once travel restrictions are lifted?”

“We had to come home from Mexico early when COVID-19 hit, then had to cancel our Croatia trip both last year and this year too. Our Plan B for this summer is to head out west (probably by car) to Vancouver, taking the Canadian route (unless things change). With Europe on hold, we’ve already booked Sayulita and Melaque in Mexico for next winter, come hell or high water.”

Ed Gagnon, Canadian author, and his wife enjoy taking vacations down in Mexico.

If you enjoyed this interview with Canadian author Ed Gagnon, check out his author website. It’s a chronicle of life written and reviewed. Join Ed and Dreams Abroad director Leesa Truesdell for a Facebook Live on Saturday, June 26th at 12:00PM EDT which will expand on this article as the Canadian author answers more questions from our members.

by Leesa Truesdell

Meet Lisa Mallett: Niagara Falls Travel Advisor

Lisa Mallett has a passion for travel and exploring new places. She decided it was time to take this passion further by creating a travel blog and becoming a travel advisor based in Niagara Falls, Canada. Due to the pandemic, she’s discovering more about her home and sharing her discoveries with her readers. Once traveling can begin in earnest again, her goal is to build custom travel itineraries for private or group trips to explore Ontario’s Niagara Region. 

Wander, explore, and discover to fuel your soul with travel” — Lisa Mallett 

Meet Glamma Travel, aka Lisa. She is a fifty-something Canadian grandmother who loves being a travel advisor. But don’t judge Lisa by her age or the fact she has grandchildren, as she is not your average grandma. 

You mentioned in Living in a Tourist Destination that you reside in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. How would an American visitor reach Canada’s Falls area?”

Getting to Niagara Falls is relatively easy; if you are flying we have two international airports within a two-hour distance of the Falls. Toronto Pearson Airport is the closest to Ontario, Canada. There are many transport companies that can provide travel to Niagara. If you live in the USA, you can fly domestic to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Then, either rent a car and cross the border in Buffalo to get to Niagara Falls. Alternatively, you can arrange a car service to transport you over. Of course, if you happen to live within driving distance, you can use your own vehicle to cross over one of our three international border bridges.

US and Canada Border Bridge

When is the best time to visit and why?”

As a travel advisor and local, Niagara is an ideal location any time of the year, depending on what you are looking to experience. Our most popular tourist season is in the summer. During the months of June through September, the temperatures are warm and you can try out outdoor activities in comfort. If you are looking for a quieter time to visit, you may enjoy the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. You can take advantage of more reasonable prices and fewer crowds. We have plenty of activities that you can take advantage of during these seasons and you may find more reasonable prices and less crowding. Winter is cold in Niagara, but if you love snow, it is very beautiful to see.

What seasonal differences are there in terms of things to do in and around Niagara?”

If you are visiting during the summer season, you will be able to experience all the major attractions in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. There are land and water options, wine tours, and all of the beautiful floral displays will be in full bloom in Niagara Parks. The shoulder seasons offer similar activities to summer. However, the weather may be more of an issue with a wider spectrum of conditions depending on Mother Nature’s mood. During winter, there will be limited outdoor activities. Nonetheless, it is ice wine harvest time and there is a local Winter Festival of Lights.

Niagara Falls in winter

If people plan to spend more time in the area than a day trip, what would you recommend checking out close to Niagara?”

Niagara Falls is right next door to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where many of our wineries are located. The small village itself is so picturesque, you will feel as if you have stepped back into the Victorian era. The Niagara Parkway is the route between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it is a beautiful scenic drive as well as a must-see in my humble opinion. Toronto is only about one-and-a-half to two hours north and can easily be driven to by following our QEW highway. The largest city in Ontario, Toronto rests on the shore of one of our Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. It is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture. If you have the time, it is worth spending a couple of days or more visiting. As a travel advisor, I recommend it!

A nighttime photo of Toronto

Foreign tourists are conspicuous by their absence in the Falls at the moment. However, to what extent has the shortfall been made up by those on staycations?”

Niagara Falls generally counts on about 50% of the tourism revenue to come from American citizens. With the international border being closed since March 2020, Niagara Falls has tried very hard to promote itself as a close-to-home staycation option during the months that our pandemic numbers were more under control. Ontario citizens actually do makeup about 70% of the 14 million tourists who visit Niagara Falls in a typical year. However, they only provide about 25% of the tourism revenue. I am not aware of how much revenue Niagara Falls was able to produce in the 2020 season as of yet, but it was most definitely less than a typical year. Until the border reopens, I assume that this trend will continue.

How much is Niagara a victim of its own success? What environmental damage has been done by the mass of visitors rocking up on a daily basis?”

Sadly, tourism definitely has had some negative effects on our environment mostly due to pollution emitted from so many vehicles. Wildlife is rare except in green areas. At one time, there was toxic chemical waste as well as sewage generated from tourists being legally dumped into the Niagara River. I am not completely sure if this practice has been stopped or lessened but I do know there has been an awareness of it made public in recent years.

Niagara Falls Rainbow

How have the Falls adapted to becoming more ecologically sustainable?”

The environment has become a much bigger focus in recent years. Niagara is trying to do its part to help. The role of the City now is to “maintain, preserve, and promote good stewardship of the natural resources within the City for existing and future needs and to protect the diversity and interdependence of these natural areas to maintain and improve their natural functions,” (City of Niagara Falls Official Plan, Section 3).

You mentioned you live in Wine Country. What dishes would you recommend accompanying these vintages? Are there many local gastronomic specialties?”

We have many vintages in Niagara, so this would be difficult to cover in just one paragraph.  Any winery host that you visit for tastings will be happy to suggest food pairings for the individual wines. We actually have a couple of times a year where the wineries all offer wine and food pairing tours. Many of the wineries also have restaurants where they offer a complete food and wine pairing menu. 

Food and wine pairing

What are some of the most outrageous questions tourists ask?”

As Niagara Falls residents, we have heard some pretty outrageous questions. Here are some of the best:

“Do you ever turn the Falls off?”

“Are we in Canada?”

How would you describe the people who live in Canada? What distinguishes them from other countries?”

I would describe the people in Canada as friendly, respectful, and accommodating for the most part. Many would also call us apologetic. Canadians are unique people, especially when compared to our closest neighbor, the USA.

Our government is very different. We are a Commonwealth country led by a Prime Minister, meaning we are friendlier and more accepting of outsiders. On the whole, I believe that Canadians are more educated about the US than US visitors are about Canada, sometimes embarrassingly so. We have a different currency, our national languages are English and French, we have entirely different healthcare and school systems, and even the foods we have in common are not that similar. So even though we border the USA, Canada is a very unique country of its own.

You can find more information and book future travel to Niagara through Lisa Mallett’s travel advisor website. She is ready to help plan the perfect itinerary for Niagara, Ontario, Canada and their stunning wine country.

by Leesa Truesdell

Top Five Things To Do in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Winnipeg, Manitoba has a population of 800,000. It makes its home near the geographical centre of North America and Canada. You may have heard of Winnipeg if you watch National Hockey League sports highlights because of the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeggers are very friendly. Our license plates even say “Friendly Manitoba.” 

Winnipeg’s cost of living is one of the lowest in Canada. In particular, the housing cost is below every major Canadian city except Quebec City, so Winnipeg residents can afford to save more for retirement, travel, and owning a cottage. If you can tolerate cold winters, Winnipeg’s a great place to live or retire to. 

During my career, people told me they planned on visiting Winnipeg for business. They wanted ideas about the best things to do in Winnipeg while there. These are the top five things to do in Winnipeg that I would suggest. 

Check out The Forks

Visiting the Forks is one of the best things to do in Winnipeg

The Forks is located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, where indigenous people and settlers traded for hundreds of years. Developers converted two former warehouses into exciting markets similar to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. The Forks Market has a tower that offers great views of downtown and the rivers. Most of the restaurants and stores here are, thankfully, local. 

The Forks Market has many shops, including a gift shop with Manitoba-made products, a local bookstore, a candy store, and a wine and spirits store. The Forks also has a luxurious and convenient boutique hotel called Inn at the Forks with a spa where you can get pampered. The food hall has several interesting restaurants and a beer and wine counter. Taste of Sri Lanka serves my favourite dish in the food hall, deviled chicken with curried eggplant.

The Forks Market is full of culinary surprises

The other building next to The Forks Market is called the Johnson Terminal. This features a large antique market in the basement. There are also gift shops, and, for kids big and small, a gigantic toy store. 

A photo of a massive ice castle

Indigenous art and culture is pervasive, including at a store called Teekca’s Aboriginal Boutique and Oodena Celebration Circle. The Circle is a natural, shallow amphitheatre that celebrates the 6,000 years of Indigenous peoples in the area. You can also take your kids or grandchildren to see a play at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and visit the Manitoba Children’s Museum.

During the summer, people go to the Forks for concerts at the outdoor CN Stage, to see buskers, watch festivals (such as the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival and Canada Day), and take long walks along the scenic riverwalk. You can commandeer a water taxi to other downtown tourist attractions from the historic port. 

A photo of the Esplanade Riel, one of the great things to do in Winnipeg
Photo Credit: Travel Manitoba

Also in summer, you can also dine at Mon Ami Louis, a French restaurant in the middle of the Esplanade Riel bridge overlooking the Red River.  It is the only restaurant in North America that is on a bridge. This restaurant has a famous “million-dollar” toilet because of the cost to get the plumbing to the middle of the bridge, which leads to the French Quarter.  The view is spectacular while you enjoy menu items like escargots, vichyssoise, tartes flambees, and crepes. 

Ice skating is always a favorite of things to do in Winnipeg

During the winter, glide across the world’s longest skating surface along the rivers. Avoid getting yourself frozen by dropping by the fantastic warming huts along the way. Or skate while holding hands on the rink under the canopy with accompanying music.

Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

A photo of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, one of the can't-miss things to do in Winnipeg

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is located next to The Forks and it cost $350 million to build. It’s a brilliant and creative structure of curved lines. The architect used bold geometry to give this building its unique charm, with three‐quarters of the walls sloped at unusual angles.

The inside of the Human Rights Museum

Visitors walk up one kilometer of ramps, which symbolizes the climb from darkness to light. They can view exhibits on each level until winding up at the Israel Asper Tower of Hope for some lovely views. The museum has a powerful and educational exhibit about the Holocaust.

Explore Assiniboine Park

A photo of Assiniboine Park, one of the best things to do in Winnipeg

Assiniboine Park is the 11th-largest urban park in Canada. It has countless tree-lined trails along the river for biking or hiking and big fields for playing cricket, Frisbee, football, and soccer. On certain summer nights, you can bring a blanket or lawn chairs to watch a movie in the park or you can enjoy a free concert or ballet performance on the Lyric Stage. 

A photo of a summer concert at Assiniboine Park

The Assiniboine Park Zoo has more than 200 species of animals spread over 80 acres. The zoo recently opened an exhibit called “Journey to Churchill” featuring polar bears and other animals found in Northern Manitoba. You can go below the water and watch the polar bears swim above you through thick glass like in an aquarium.

A photo of a polar bear swimming behind glass at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, one of the best things to do in Winnipeg
Photo Credit: Travel Manitoba

My favourite place to de-stress is the English Garden at Assiniboine Park. This has several walking paths meandering through gorgeous flower gardens and huge trees. It’s located between the impressive Leo Mol Sculpture Garden and the lovely and tranquil Duck Pond.

The Assiniboine Park Pavilion looks like a Bavarian lodge and contains the largest collection of works by famous Manitoba artists including Ivan Eyre. It’s also home to a fascinating exhibit about a small bear that was brought to England by a Winnipeg veterinarian during the First World War. This bear inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie the Pooh.  

The park has a big, modern natural playground. There’s also a miniature steam train for families with younger children. On winter days, you can slide down a hill on toboggans or sleds and ice skate on the Duck Pond. 

Drop by the Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg is one of only two money-producing facilities in Canada. The sail-shaped, glass-covered building looks like a futuristic work of art. Each year, every one of the billions of Canadian circulation coins is manufactured here. 

The Royal Canadian Mint, one of the most unique things to do in Winnipeg
Photo Credit: Travel Manitoba

Inside, you can pay $8 for a guided tour or take a free self-guided tour of how the coins are made. In the gift shop, you can buy rare and collectible Canadian coins. Security is very tight and, unfortunately, they don’t have free samples. 

Stroll around the Exchange District

The Exchange District is downtown, near Winnipeg City Hall and not far from the famous windy intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. The Exchange is a Canadian national historic site of 150 protected heritage buildings built in the late 1800s. Several big-budget productions have used it as a movie set in the past. 

Old Market Square offers the Cube, one of the most unique things to do in Winnipeg

A centrepiece of the Exchange District is Old Market Square. This has a unique stage called “The Cube.” Old Market Square hosts many concerts and summer festivals, such as Folklorama, the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, and the Winnipeg Jazz Festival.

The Exchange District is a hub for a multitude of local businesses and associations. Winnipeg artists and technology companies have set up residence in the Exchange. Furthermore, some interesting and cool cafes are located in the Exchange, including Forth, Parlour, and Across the Board Game Cafe.

For a tasty bite to eat and one of the best things to do in Winnipeg, visit Peasant Cookery

For a great meal in the Exchange, order the mussels and charcuterie board at Peasant Cookery. You can also sample Dutch-inspired gourmet menu items at Amsterdam Tea Room. During events, you will find numerous local food trucks parked beside Old Market Square. 

There are plenty of things to do in Winnipeg, Manitoba!
Photo Credit: Travel Manitoba

Kevin Strong is a Canadian travel and tourism writer based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He specializes in writing about slow travel with the older tourist very much in mind. Kevin is the creative genius behind the Retirestyle Travel website.

A Caribbean on a Study Exchange in Canada

Alexandra Cintrón JiménezHow Did I End Up Doing My Study Exchange in Canada?

Ever since I started college I knew I wanted to study abroad or participate in an exchange program. I visited my undergraduate International Affairs office to find the best option for me. Even though I wanted to study in Europe, I ended up doing my study exchange in Canada. A lot of the study abroad programs my university offered were expensive and I was worried I was going to struggle to afford living abroad. I wanted to enjoy my time abroad, without major financial anxieties. While I was looking at programs, I didn’t realize how many scholarships there were to study overseas, although I am well aware of them now. 

I ended up applying for the National Student Exchange Program. This program “provides accessible collegiate study away to undergraduate students at member colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” An amazing aspect of this program is you are able to pay your home institution’s rates to your host institution. Once I found NSE, I decided this was the best option for me. Then, it was time to pick a university!

Not My First Choice

A few years back, I had an amazing vacation in Canada. I still wanted to explore a ton of places, so I started researching institutions in the Great White North. Before I’d even applied for NSE, I had already reviewed some courses from Canadian institutions where I could get my credits transferred during my study exchange in Canada. On the NSE application, I could list a few institutions I felt interested in attending. Unfortunately, my advisor recommended me to add a university in Quebec before I had a chance to fully research it. Since it wasn’t my first choice and my advisor placed me there, I ended up not enjoying the experience as much as I had envisaged. Mais, c’est la vie.  

A photo of Alexandra in front of her college building during her study exchange in Canada.

My Study Exchange in Canada Experience

August 24th 2017: I arrived in Quebec, Canada. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, it was an adventure. Since I flew a few days before my program’s arrival date, the university didn’t receive me at the airport. I am not fluent in French, so looking around the airport at all of the signs was a whirlwind. I wound up paying hundreds of dollars for an Uber because the university was two hours away from the airport. Now, I’ll put up my hands and admit that I didn’t do my research about public transportation in Quebec. After a long flight, I just wanted to arrive on campus. That’s why I ended up booking an Uber and paid a lot more than I could have if I’d just done some research beforehand.

When I finally arrived at the university, I felt impressed by its beauty. I met up with a friend from my home campus who was also participating in the program. He helped me check in since he knew more French than I did. The language barrier was hard to adjust to, so it was difficult to assimilate for four months. Another issue was that I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. Although I had a hard time fitting in initially, I found other Latin students who I socialized with more. In general, international students interacted more with each other than with domestic students, which I found very interesting. 

A photo of Alexandra's campus in the winter.
University Campus

Going Solo

By October, I decided to explore the other side of the country during midterm week. I went on a solo trip to Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, and Victoria. It was the best time I had in Canada. In Calgary, I explored Prince Island’s Park and Fort Calgary. Then, I drove to Banff National Park. Banff was incredible. I went to Lake Louise and the picture below can’t do any justice. After a couple of days in Banff, I drove back to Calgary and took a plane to Vancouver before hopping on a ferry to Victoria. 

There, I dropped by  Craigdarroch Castle at the University of Victoria. It has a very interesting and rich history dating back to the early 20th century. In Victoria, I also spent time at The Butchart Gardens, a beautiful nature park. Towards the end of my trip, I returned to Vancouver and visited the Vancouver Lookout and Hatley Castle. A fun fact about Hatley Castle was that they filmed some scenes of Arrow and the X-Men movies here. My solo trip to the west side remains my most memorable experience of my Canadian sojourn. 

A photo of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, which Alexandra visited during her study exchange in Canada.
This photo is of Lake Louise, Banff.

 

Alexandra posing in front of the city on her last day of her study exchange in Canada.
Someone took this picture for me on my last day in Canada at Mont Du Royal.

Things Don’t Have to Be Perfect

I think it is important to tell study abroad stories that were not perfect. Even though the institution I ultimately wound up attending wasn’t my top choice, I ended up going because it was the last year I could go. During my final year of college, I had to stay at my home institution. As an Education major, I had to complete a pre-practicum and a teaching practicum. 

Be Prepared

If you’re planning your study abroad trip, my recommendation is to only listen to yourself and your interests. Take into consideration recommendations from others, but at the end of the day, you’re the one spending months in a new place. Make sure it is the best choice for you. If you are going to a place where you don’t know the language, try to learn it before you arrive. Your life will be so much easier. You can interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the new culture, which really is the purpose of an education abroad.

A photo of the inside of an uber car

Finally, do your research (especially in terms of transportation). I know that not having a plan can be exciting, but planning ahead can save you a lot of money. To me, this experience wasn’t perfect because it wasn’t what I was expecting academically. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. A limited number of course options and different metrics in terms of my language level stopped me from enjoying it more.

While my experience during my study exchange in Canada wasn’t perfect, I still had a great time and was glad to have branched out during my studies. I will always remember my trip to western Canada and will carry the lessons I learned with me for the rest of my life.

Returning to Canada: Catching Up After a Gap Year

Carmen in San Francisco, at the Golden Gate Bridge.I first interviewed Carmen Graves when she and I met at a language school in Madrid on an intensive academic year-long Spanish program. At the time, Carmen was using the experience to study at the school’s three centers around Spain as a gap year abroad between finishing her high school degree and starting university back in her home country of Canada. Carmen began her year in Madrid. She then traveled the Iberian peninsula for three-month-long stints in Málaga and Barcelona.

Catching Up After Carmen’s Gap Year

Close to the end of her gap year experience, I spoke with Carmen to see what she’d learned and gained from her year abroad in Spain and how she anticipated it would impact her moving forward. Over a year has passed since then. Carmen is now living back in Canada and working towards her bachelor’s degree. She is currently a sophomore at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and is double majoring in Actuarial Science and Economics. Recently, Carmen and I spoke again so she could share some updates with Dreams Abroad. Read on to see what has been going on in her life since her return to Canada.

What have you been up to since moving back to Canada?

“Once I arrived back in Canada, I moved halfway across the country to attend Dalhousie University on the East Coast. I originally started pursuing a degree in Actuarial Science — a branch of Math focusing on risk assessment — but I quickly added another major in Economics. To date, I have thoroughly enjoyed my courses as well as other aspects of university life. I’ve been spending time with my friends, exploring the city, and taking on leadership roles where I have the opportunity to advocate for my peers.”

Carmen and her university friends posing on a dock next to a lake after her gap year.

What was it like returning to Canada after a gap year in Spain?

“It was a bittersweet experience. I would have been happy to stay in Spain forever, but I also missed real maple syrup. It helped that I was moving on to a new chapter in my life starting university. University was something I had always been excited about. 

When I got back, it was a challenge to find a balance between sharing my experiences and not falling into the ‘I studied abroad’ stereotype.”

Carmen in the snow after her gap year.

How do you think taking a gap year influenced or changed your first year in university?

“It was a huge influence. Living independently in a different country really prepared me to adapt to a new city and a new student lifestyle. I also learned how to manage myself and my time in a way that I had not learned right out of high school. In addition, I was also excited to throw myself into new opportunities, such as taking on roles in student leadership, to keep challenging myself now that I was back in Canada.”

How did your experience shift as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

“It has definitely been an interesting time. A positive effect has been that I moved back home with my family. I hadn’t really planned on moving back. Fortunately, that means that I have spent some quality time with them which would not otherwise have been possible.

Carmen remote learning on a pink swing chair outside.

Unfortunately, I had planned another study abroad experience in Australia for the Fall Term, which now won’t take place. It has made me incredibly grateful that I had my time in Spain. I took advantage of every opportunity to travel when I was there.”

How has the remote start to your second year been so far?

“It has been better than expected. Fortunately, I study math. The transition to online delivery of content has not been as difficult as some other fields of study. The biggest challenge has been connecting with other students and faculty while I am almost 2,000 km away from my university.”

You’ve had a number of experiences abroad even before starting your university degree. How do you think students today can engage the world even if they can’t study abroad?

“I think the most valuable thing I got out of my experiences abroad was connecting with people from different cultures with different perspectives and experiences. There are plenty of opportunities to meet people across the world, whether traveling once it’s possible again or engaging with people online. Platforms that facilitate these connections continue to grow in number.”

Carmen posing with pumpkins after her gap year.

What is on the horizon for you now? And where would you next love to go when we’re all able to travel again?

“Despite my university study abroad being canceled, I would still love to go to Australia. Once travel opens back up, I would also like to prioritize trips where I can visit the friends I made during my study abroad experience in Spain. In the longer term, I would love to work abroad.”

Carmen posing with her university friends one night.

Filling in the Gaps

Since finishing her gap year in Spain, a lot has happened in Carmen’s life. She has moved back to her home country of Canada. Almost immediately thereafter, she moved across the country from the Toronto area to Halifax to pursue her university degree. She then had the second semester of her first year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carmen started her second year of university remotely from her family home. Nonetheless, she’s taken it all in stride — something surely attributable in large part to the skill set living abroad helped her to build.

Through the unexpected twists and turns this year has taken for all of us, Carmen has been able to draw upon her certainty of self to move forward and persevere. She’s been able to thrive through a very unconventional beginning to her undergraduate career because living abroad prepared her for the unexpected and uncomfortable. And like a true expat, she hopes to be able to travel again very soon.

by Emma Schultz

Working During a Pandemic: A New Job

Jonathan Metrick

By Leesa Truesdell

Since Jonathan’s last interview, he’s been undeniably busy. That’s to be expected for someone living Jonathan’s life. At the end of 2019, he accepted a new role at a different company located in Toronto, Canada. Jonathan spends his time traveling back and forth between Toronto and New York City, New York. Since he’s switched jobs, Jonathan’s traveled back to NYC for work and some fun. He’s currently back to working during a pandemic in Toronto (and in quarantine). Jonathan took his new job knowing that it would combine Jonathan’s two passions — travel and travel. Well, almost. On top of travel (squared), he also focuses on marketing and business, too. As you may remember from our last interview, Jonathan studied business during his Harvard Business School years. He has built a life and steady career not only in international business but in a niche that has enabled him to be flexible and dynamic during these uncertain economic times. Jonathan has not only embraced the change — he’s making the most of his new job and new life of splitting his time between New York and Toronto. Let’s learn more. 

When we last spoke in 2019, you were living in New York City — where has life taken you since? Have you been working during the pandemic?

“I recently took on a new role as Chief Growth Officer at Portage, a fintech-focused venture capital firm. My role is to help our portfolio companies with marketing. I split my time between Toronto, Canada and New York City, New York.”

How does your new job differ from your past one?

“In my previous job I was the CMO at Policygenius, where I led and built out their marketing function. In my new role, I advise over a dozen companies within our global portfolio on marketing and growth. I also work with the investment team to help decide which new companies we should invest in.”

Wallpaper with LED lights that say "Wake up in the city that never sleeps"

How are things in Toronto, Canada? 

“Things in Toronto have been great. The pandemic has definitely changed things but we’re handling it well. Canadians took the pandemic very seriously. The government supported the wearing of masks early and the case counts as a result were generally well controlled. I’d also forgotten how great the summers in Canada are. Being 350 miles north of NYC means there’s summer sunny weather but far less humidity. Makes for a more pleasant outdoor experience for patio hang-outs and bike rides around the city.”

How has it been working during a pandemic? 

“Like everyone else, the first few months of COVID were challenging. I started my new job in mid-March, the week everything closed down. As such, I was mailed a computer and onboarded to my new role virtually. I haven’t been to my office once. It was definitely a unique way to begin a new job, but you adapt and move on. The companies we invest in are startups in the financial services industry. After a few weeks of rapid re-forecasting and pausing marketing budgets, thankfully most of our fintech companies have rebounded. Most have surpassed their pre-pandemic growth levels.”

A picture of a leaf that Jonathan took while working during a pandemic.

It’s been years since you lived in Canada — how does it feel to be back?

“I left Canada thirteen years ago when I moved to Boston to get my MBA at Harvard. The city has changed a lot since 2007. Last year, Fast Company called out Toronto as North America’s fastest-growing tech market. It’s been exciting to see the city go through so much change. There are new developments coming up everywhere — it feels like Toronto is having a moment, and it’s great to be part of that, even if I’m just working during the pandemic.”

Are you staying near where you grew up or where your family is? 

“When I’m in Toronto, I live about thirty minutes from my parents’ home. My parents still live in the same house where I grew up. It’s great to be able to pop back to their place for a quick dinner or a weekend visit.”

Toronto's skyline from a park, which Jonathan can visit while working during the pandemic in Toronto.

Have you had the chance to reconnect with old friends or see your family on a regular basis? How are you adjusting to your new life?

“Most of my family still lives in Toronto (except for my brother and his family who live in Tokyo, Japan). I also have many friends in the city from high school & college. They have made the transition back to the city much easier. When I was living in NYC, I came back to Toronto three to four times a year for holiday, Canadian Thanksgiving, and during the summer. I kept up my network which made working during a pandemic in Toronto much easier.”

Jonathan Metrick visiting friends from Toronto while working during a pandemic

Jonathan continues to achieve his goals while working during a pandemic by not only adapting to the norms of today but by embracing them. How? He doesn’t stop engaging online and will always travel when permitted. In order to live in a society that is dealing with uncertainty — shouldn’t we embrace change? We will catch up with our superstar fintech CFO in 2021 to see how things are going. Please be sure to check in then.