An August 1999 trip
to Canada by smmmarti guide
Quote: Our romantic rail journey started in Toronto, took us points west, spanning the broad Canadian prairies, until we arrived at last in wildly stunning Jasper. From there we rode the rails again to Vancouver and wrapped it all up with a helicopter ride to utterly quaint Victoria.
Toronto was a major highlight mainly due to the Four Seasons, the hip street scene and restaurants. Jasper stood out for the astoundingly beautiful scenery and quirky atmosphere of the town. Vancouver was special for its international and artistic vibrations and Victoria ever memorable for its quaint port and flower-laden gardens and streets.
Hotel | "Empress Victoria"
The majestic turn of the century hotel is perfectly situated harborside and is the most photographed attraction on an island brimming with photographic opportunities. Victoria is known as the "Garden Island" because of its profusion of flowers and famed gardens, including Buchart Gardens. Flowers sprout seemingly everywhere; in baskets and beds, as trimmings and as hedges. Street vendors take advantage of the bounty by selling cut flowers to shoppers and passersby. Double-deck busses add to the charming street scene, evoking images of merry old England, as do the many flower-laden horse drawn carriages ambling through the town.
The Empress has her own gardens worth visiting. Take a stroll among the flowers either before or after the famed "High Tea" which is served as true high art and requires reservations in advance. You will be competing with the 100,000 visitors annually who stop in to enjoy this time-honored tradition.
The hotel rooms are not huge, but are furnished comfortably in period décor. Because Victoria enjoys such a moderate climate due to the jet stream, air conditioning is viewed as an optional device, but would have been welcomed during our mid-summer visit.
Directly outside the hotel entrance is the central harbor and entertainment/shopping district of Victoria. I could have spent days browsing the unique shops, many of which made me feel I was in Britain or Ireland rather than Canada. An intense variety of cultural cuisines, with Pacific Rim influences to match the British and Canadian, are available to visitors.
Victoria is only one city on a rather large island, (albeit the major one being as it is the capital of British Columbia). So many options exist for exploring the further reaches of the island; hiking, boating, fishing, golfing to name a few. We tried out the golf but spent the bulk of our short visit just strolling the city and soaking in the wonderful charm and ambiance. Sitting harborside in the glow of the afternoon sun watching a street musician entertain the crowds, having a brew at the dockside café, and yes, taking that romantic carriage ride through the town are all highlights we stored up during this short but memorable trip.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 27, 2002
Fairmont Empress Hotel
721 Government Street
Victoria, British Columbia V8W1W5
Hotel | "Four Seasons Toronto"
Did you know that the Four Seasons chain was started in Toronto as a lowly motor-hotel in 1961? With a determination to set a new standard for travelers, these hotels are notorious for sweeping all categories of the luxury hotel "best" lists. But you knew that.
This was the start of our journey by railcar across Canada and we wanted a final pampering before we boarded. Lucky us! The concierge honored a nearly discarded incentive coupon we had brought along and upgraded us to the Executive Platinum Suite, of which we were not worthy. But we overcame our inferiority complex quickly when we saw the room and even considered canceling that silly train reservation in order to just stay put between those sumptuous down duvets for about a week instead.
We stopped again in the lobby bar to enjoy that uniquely sparkling, heady atmosphere that permeates all Four Seasons downtown hotels, and attempted to fit right in by ordering a martini. One was enough and we decided to have a look around the town.
Toronto is a surprisingly gleaming, vibrant, cosmopolitan, hip city with an enormously diverse population contributing to its appeal and glamour. We didn't have nearly enough time here (do we ever?) As we walked the area surrounding the hotel that one glorious evening in August, we made a vow to return to enjoy much more of what the city has to offer. Incredible shopping with an exchange rate that tempts Americans too much, theater that rivals London or New York (here you can actually get tickets!), the Royal Ontario Museum -- Canada's largest, Kensington Market, Greek Town, China Town, Little Italy…it's all here.
For then, we passed on the gourmet chi-chi hotel restaurant, Truffles, and headed to a concierge recommended restaurant instead, the Bloor Street Diner www.bloorstreetdiner.com where we thought we might have something "simple." What we found was authentic French Bistro dining that was simply delicious. The three course fixed price dinner would have been an excellent value even before the currency conversion.
Morning came too quickly at the Toronto Four Seasons cutting our stay in Toronto entirely too short.
Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
21 Avenue Road
Attraction | "A Dozen Choices in Jasper National Park, Alberta"
Athabasca Falls - The headwater comes from the Columbia Glacier about 70 kilometers south making this the most powerful and breathtaking falls in the Rocky Mountains.
Columbia Icefields - (open May 1 - October 15)
Two hundred and thirty-three square miles of ice make this the largest icefield south of Alaska.
An exciting 55 minute Snowcoach Tour will take you
out onto the Athabasca Glacier for an awe-inspiring
glimpse of icy crevasses and ice-fed streamlets.
Jasper Tramway - just across from Earl's. The Jasper - Take the Tramway up Whistlers Mountain to for stunning views up to 80 km away.
Maligne Lake - Located in the majestic Maligne Valley, this exquisite lake is the second largest glacier-fed
lake in the world, stretching 22km(14 mi.). Try your hand at guided fishing,
hiking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting.
Maligne Canyon - One of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies, sheer limestone walls plunge to depths of over 50 metres(165 ft.). An interpretive trail winds area across six bridges where you can catch the spray from the thundering Maligne River, or peer into the mossy depths.
Medicine Lake - For a bit of mystery and intrigue, visit the lake that comes and goes. Where it goes, no one knows. Perhaps it has an out of body experience, which is likely in this altitude and seeing all this splendor around it.
Miette Hot Springs -
At the turn of the century devotees managed the 17 miles uphill required to reach this steaming natural hot spring. Today you approach the springs on a scenic winding road with spectacular views.
Mt. Edith Cavell - Named after the army nurse who was assassinated by the German army in 1915 for helping allied troops escape. The highest point in this range and the most famous.
Pyramid Lake - Many lakes do not allow motors or eco-blasphemy of any sort, but at Pyramid Lake, rental facilities include horse-back riding, boating, canoeing, windsurfing, fishing and sailing.
Summit Lakes - If you've had enough of adventure, high impact and challenge, go to Summit Lakes for a more gentle adventure. Wild flowers and marvelous scenery draw you through the area.
Sunwapta Falls - stemming from headwaters at the Athabasca Glacier, this river abruptly changes its course after the Sunwapta falls forming a powerful spray into a deep canyon.
Golfing at Jasper Park Lodge - named Canada's best golf course, it's hard to beat a course that deliberately follows the undulation of the surrounding mountains and provides such stupendous views at every approach. See the journal - Jasper Park Lodge and Golf, for more details.
And whatever you do, respect the wild and the creatures that dwell there!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 4, 2002
Jasper National Park
Calgary, Alberta T1L 1K2
Attraction | "Is this the Orient Express?"
The trouble was, once we arrived in Toronto (see Journal: Toronto) to board our train, it looked nothing like what I had imagined. Surely this couldn’t be considered a stand-in for the Orient Express! There appeared to be nothing particular about this train, but hey, it wasn’t at all bad and our service and tiny stateroom with its double bunk arrangement, along with excitement of the journey, was just novel enough to distract us for the first day.
On day two, as we collected long, long hours riding through Canadian prairies (three provinces of prairies!) a bit of discontent started mounting. When the lady in the berth adjacent to ours began smoking all day and coughing all night (her discontent had obviously mounted, too!) we began seriously questioning our choice of transport. By the time we got to Jasper we had had quite enough of the train and were so happy to step off into the pristine mountain air for a few days. (See journals entry: Jasper: Don’t Feed the Bears.)
The food on board was really tasty, better than you’d expect on a train, and it was the main reason that I still hadn’t caught on that I’d been sold a ticket on the wrong line! After all, the three nights on the train including meals (naturally, what are the alternatives here?) was the price of a luxury cruise, which qualifies as comparable to the Orient Express in at least one category -- wildly expensive.
It wasn’t until we arrived in Vancouver (see Journals Vancouver and Victoria) that we actually saw the Royal Canadian on the tracks adjacent to ours and realized my big mistake. Peering inside the windows like kids who’d found the candy store locked up, we spied the lush furnishings; floral arrangements, wood paneling, a grand piano in the club car. I found out for certain, now, having dragged my husband across Canada not on the vintage, restored, "grandeur of yesteryear’s robber baron" luxury berths that I’d sold him on, but rather on the plain, old, tight quartered, smells-from-the-next-room, trickle-of-a-shower confinement for which we had paid an arm and a leg! See www.viarail.ca
Even so, I’m glad we had this experience and would still like to try the real Royal Pacific Canadian Rocky train, but I doubt my husband will be willing to risk it again. I think I’ve already used up my rail travel trump card on him.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 27, 2002
Royal Canadian Pacific Railroad
Now just try to find a reason not to fantasize about moving to Vancouver. You could ski, golf, hike and go to the beach on any given day. The weather here is not as rainy as Seattle and more mild than San Fransisco. There are over seventy cultures represented in this metropolis of two million people with its open policy toward immigration, and each seem to offer their own version of authentic cuisines and cultural activities which beg your participation. The downtown is so manageable that you can stay in the center of town and reach most of the major highlights and neighborhoods without needing a car.
The city is an outdoorsman and nature lovers paradise, surrounded by sparkling water, ocean and bays, with a back drop of soaring mountain peaks – a view from every window in every direction. It boasts glorious cityscapes of modern high rise structures alongside quaint rejuvenated neighborhoods and art centers. The crime rate is ridiculously low and the citizens remarkable friendly.
In Vancouver you’ll find the largest city park anywhere, Stanley Park, where you can do just about everything imaginable! Like San Fransisco, they even have their own Chinatown, (yet low cost of living here makes the expense of San Fransisco seem absurd). You would still have access to all things familiar (i.e. American TV, movies, and culture), but your weekend getaways might be to ski at Lake Louise or sail to Victoria or kayak in the San Juan islands or go clubbing or to a pro game in Seattle. What do the entertainment prospects within an hour’s drive from your hometown look like compared to all this?
The language is English, real American-type English. The prices on everything from clothing to food seem about the same as they would be in a large American city, but in Canada you convert the total by dividing by one point six!
So if the glorious ocean and mountain scenery hasn’t convinced you, if the cheerful, artistic, hip environment hasn’t gotten you pumped, if the dizzying array of cultural excitement from Asian to Intuit to Irish to Scandinavian hasn’t stimulated your fervor, if the greatest assortment of ethnic cuisine possible in a city this size hasn’t whetted your appetite, consider this... There is no place in America where you could live this beautifully on your retirement fund.
Let's just keep this between us, though, shall we?
Jasper Park Lodge is perfect for its location. It is a high-quality, amenity packed lodge that left overt glitz at the door of the Fairmont Corporate Office, the company that owns and runs the hotel,. Why bother with extraneous flourishes when the views and location are a work of art? It remains sumptuous in the way it makes full use of its setting in the mountains.
Described as rustic elegance, the hotel has accommodation packages to please everyone. They include separate cabins and lodges from one to five bedrooms with amenities such as fireplaces, jacuzzi tubs, pool tables, sunken living rooms, gourmet kitchens, balconies and verandas and golf course locations. One such quaint but posh place is Point Cabin built in 1928, this five-bedroom log cabin has a beautiful stone fireplace in the living room with a charming dining room and large veranda at the front of the cabin facing Lac Beauvert. As a note of Hollywood history, this place hosted Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum during the filming of "River of No Return".
My husband already knew this course. Designed in 1925 by Stanley Thompson, master golf course architect, who created the 18-hole layout with elevated tee boxes, bunkers patterned after the snow formation on the mountains and holes aligned with distant mountain vistas, it is the number one golf course in Canada. Golfing here was for me another "I am not worthy" eighteen holes as I breezed my way through it mainly taking pictures and watching for wildlife. I hit the ball now and then, too. For my husband it was a stellar round and one he says he won't forget.
The brochure calls this course "rugged majesty" and I'm afraid I can't come up with a better phrase to describe it. The pleasure doesn't come cheap. One night accommodation for one round of golf, cart, reserved tee times, club storage, range balls start from $458 Canadian per night.
The Jasper Park Lodge offers other packages, some you'd expect, some that just make me scratch my head like the "Ukranian New Year's Package." The Murder Mystery Weekend, and Ultimate Pajama Party, or Romance package all appeal, but hurry if you want in on the Jasper Music and Wine Festival in April, which would be my pick, even though it's likely still a bit nippy in the mountains at that time.
The Lodge has six dining options but we choose The Moose's Nook Northern Grill for it's unique Northern Canada motif. The dining room staff seemed as proud of the depiction of culture and heritage as it is with the food. The influence of French traders, Native Nations, Intuits and trappers are all celebrated in melding of flavors using the local fresh ingredients, venison, bison and lake fish. Diners can sit by the fireplace, listen to the jazz band, 'The Flextime Trio', and soak up the Canadian spirit and heritage.
The Edith Cavell -
Known as 'La montagne de la grande traverse' the 11,047 foot Mt. Edith Cavell was a landmark in the fur trade era. It was renamed in 1916 to honor Edith Louise Cavell, a British nurse who was martyred in Belgium by the German army in 1915. This is the fine dining option of the Lodge and meant for celebrating special occasions, like having made it back without dropping down a cravass or encountering a nasty grizzly during your day hike.
French preparations of local specialties best describes the menu, served in the delicately fine setting you'd expect for a high-caliber restaurant. The namesake mountain forms the backdrop to all this elegance, which will surely make you woozy before the wine is even delivered.
All in all, if Jasper weren't gorgeous enough, adding a stay at the Jasper Park Lodge truly pushes the experience to the summit.
The Jasper National Park is really, really fantastic. The color of the sky against the mountains peaks, the ice fields, crystal clear lakes, the waterfalls that seem to be everywhere, and the quaint little town of Jasper with the world’s friendliest people, could all trick you into thinking you’ve fallen off a cliff and gone to heaven. This could be Santa’s home town.
Accommodation and Local Color
We stayed the first night in a B & B, a very popular choice for accommodations in a town whose population swells both during the ski season and the summer tourist season but whose eco-awareness keeps the number of large hotels low. When we arrived at the B & B, no one seemed to be home, but we found our host out back fixing something in the yard. Wiping off his hands on his pants, he greeted us as if we were long lost relatives. The house was conveniently walking distance from the train station and again to the center of town where all the lively locals hang out with the awestruck tourists. Who else is there to hang out with?
You can’t help but ask them why more people don’t live here. Then they will remind you of the 40 degree below zero winters (not counting wind chill). "Well, you’d have to be crazy to live here!" I told one guy after I thought back on my Chicago years on how cold twenty below is. He smiled and said it was the best place for crazy folks to live, being as they are among their own kind; the wild and the wooly. Individuality is the hallmark of the rugged outdoorsmen who call this place home -- another breath of fresh air that one finds here.
Sights and Sightings
The Icefield Parkway, considered one of the most beautiful highways in the world stretching from Banff to Jasper National Park, is home to one of the highest concentration of glaciers south of the Arctic Circle. As a result of all the glaciers, the lakes in the area are bluer than blue, because the melt from the glaciers contains rockflour, a substance in snowflakes.
On our first afternoon of exploration we hiked around the Maligne Canyon waterfalls which are not to be believed. (photos in next journal). But as this is a major tourist attraction, it only whetted our appetite for some less populated wonders and we went off to explore a bit. You don’t have to go far or be some crazed mountaineer to find your private place among the majestic wonders here.
We soon found our own private waterfall down the road and into the woods a piece. We waded out into the base pool with a bottle of wine and perched ourselves on a large rock for the balance the afternoon, lulled by the sights and sounds of the thundering waters.
Just as we both agreed we could do with a little grub (being here where they eat bison burgers and venison steak makes you want to say "grub") we turned to see a handsomely rugged fellow wading out to us with two plates in his hand! Feeling a bit vulnerable at first, we offered him a peace offering of our remaining wine. No, no, no. He just had been camping nearby, noticed us sitting here and thought he’d share his fresh caught pan-fried fish and stir fry. Just being neighborly.
The food was superb but it was time to move along. Driving down the road, not 200 meters from our site we noticed a bear walking along the side of the highway! We wondered if it might be wise to go back and warn our new friend that the bear had gotten a whiff of his salmon. When we got there, our friend waved us along with a laugh. Turns out he feeds the bears, too! He knew they were coming. (Remember what I told you about crazy?)
The excitement continued when we got back into town and saw two little foxes running across the pedestrian mall as sure of themselves as if they were the town mascots. (Probably were now that I think of it because only the out of towners were the least bit surprised to see them.)
It was time again to sit a spell, so we stopped into Earl’s where the mood was happy-go-lucky and sun-shiny with the terrific views of the mountains still visible through the windows of the second floor bar and grill. The menu says they serve, "Canadian favorites, or dishes influenced by the cuisines of Mexico, Europe and Asia." What, no gyros? In any case, we had another snack, a sort of Asian twist on nachos and a local draft beer and forgot for a moment that we didn’t live here as we swapped stories with locals as if we did.
Back on the path to our B & B we noticed a large animal in the parkway. A moose? A reindeer? A cow? It was something really big but it looked so cute with those enormous eyes that my husband went in closer to try to … I’m not sure what he had in mind, but the wild beast began snorting and stomping and making it clear that the "do not disturb" sign was out and the boundaries had been crossed.
Tales abound regarding encounters by naïve tourists and wild beasts. But bad things happen to silly people. (Not you, honey!) Of course everyone wants to see wild life. It’s one of the things this area is famous for. They’ve even built over and under passes on the highways to make it easier for the animals to roam freely. And when you see them so upclose and personal, they just look so beautiful and tame that you have to keep reminding yourself what the ranger always told you, "Don’t Feed The Bears!"