Exploring the Canadian Backyard

Why travelling in Canada can be a worldly experience

Leah Scheitel // Copy Editor

Canada is one large country. As the second largest country in the world, it boasts 9.9 million square kilometres and is surrounded by three different oceans – the Pacific on the west, the Atlantic on the east and the Arctic to the north. In a word, it is massive.

Because of its size, Canada also hosts a variety of different cultures and scenes. From the friendly and welcoming hospitality found in the Maritimes to the endless Prairie sunsets that the Tragically Hip romanticized in their lyrics, this country has a lot to explore. However, not too many of the country’s younger citizens are excited by their own backyard. According to a March 2017 article in the Globe and Mail, millenials are opting to travel internationally. A finding which had the tourism industry so worried, multiple campaigns were launched to encourage these younger Canadians to travel their own country.

“In 2015, despite the low dollar, that deficit was about $17 billion, as Canadians took 32.3 million overnight trips outside the country and foreign travellers made 17.8 million trips here,” read the article penned by Richard Blackwell.

The most jarring reason for the decline in domestic travel is the cost. Airfare from coast to coast can cost upwards of thousands of dollars – a price tag that can offer more exotic destinations, such as Mexico or Central America. High transportation costs is something that Jeff Bartlett, a photojournalist who has ample experience with the tourism industry, sees regularly in his travels.

“I am flying from Calgary, Alberta, to Terrace, British Columbia, this week. My ticket cost $300. I can find tickets to Hawaii, Mexico and Cuba for the same cost,” he said.

Added to the cost is the vastness of the country. Bartlett sees limited airports and mediocre public transport options as adding to the problem.

“We are also a big country with few airports,” he said. “We have very poor public transport compared to most countries and the cheapest option, especially for a group, is often to drive. Sadly, drive times are huge.”

Illustration by Ashley Loo

Taking a cross-Canada road trip from Vancouver to Halifax would take approximately 65 hours in driving time. Even before the cost of accomodation along the way is taken into consideration, with gas prices in Canada being as high as they are, that adds up to one costly trip – not unlike the high cost of airfare.

While the cost can be alarming, Greig Gjerdalen, a professor in the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management programs at Capilano University, believes it shouldn’t be seen as such a deterrent. “Maybe people perceive it as a barrier, the cost, but it is our dollar, it’s our economy,” said Gjerdalen, who is planning an RV road trip through BC and Alberta this summer. “I think that people perceive that the distances is so great, that ‘oh jeez, I don’t know if I want to do that, I don’t know if I want to drive that far’.” Gjerdalen said he is keeping the summer road trip Canadian because he feels it will be safer than doing a similar trip south of the border.

Bartlett cites another factor as being a reason for Canadians opting for other destinations – the climate. “There’s simply no way to compete with warm destinations during the winter, unless it is for classic events like Winter Carnival in Québec, ski vacations in the Canadian Rockies, or something that is winter-focused,” he said.

With that being said, Bartlett believes Canada’s tourism market is healthy, and that it has been effective at showcasing what makes it so diverse. “Canada has an efficient tourism marketing strategy with shocking cooperation between all departments. In general, small destinations must market themselves to people within the province. The provincial tourism office markets the province within other provinces and internationally, while Destination Canada only advertises internationally,” he explained.

As a photojournalist, Bartlett has experience working with tourism companies to create travel campaigns, and sees how different organizations work together in creating them.

“There are funding programs in place, too, so that when I worked for Mighty Peace tourism in Peace River, Alberta, it was a joint project between their local office and Travel Alberta. My images were used by Mighty Peace to market their area to Alberta residents, while Travel Alberta used them to market it to neighbouring provinces.”

With expensive airfares and long driving distances, it can be difficult to see the nuances of the little towns and communities that make up the Canadian tapestry. Opting for a slower pace of travel, such as by bike, can allow for time to explore the country in a different way. Brian Cameron biked from coast to coast in 2014. The journey, dubbed Hustle for the Heart, doubled as a fundraiser for the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, and took a total of 56 days. He completed the trip in honour of his father and grandfather, who both passed away of heart disease at a young age.

“When travelling by bike you go through every single little small town so you’re able to take time and stop with that friend you haven’t seen in a decade or a cousin you haven’t seen since you went to the water park together that one time when you were 10,” said Cameron.

Illustration by Ashley Loo

“Seeing Canada by bike is unreal, you really get to slow down – you don’t have any other choice. It results in more time spent talking to people at yard sales, trying fresh fruit at roadside stands, or just eating a sandwich with a couple old farmers. You don’t just see it whiz by you through a window, you go through it; every snowy peak to every long prairie road.”

After his 8,500-kilometre bike ride across the country, Cameron got a job that allowed him to explore another great part of Canada – the North.

“After I got home from my trip I was lucky enough to land a job with an aerial camera company. I worked as an aerial camera operator for the Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, and National Geographic amongst others. I was lucky enough to explore what has become one of my favourite places in Canada, Dawson City, Yukon Territory,” he said. “It hasn’t changed since the 1800s, there’s still wood buildings, wood sidewalks and dirt roads. There’s even a bar with a liquor license dating back to that time, due to their grandfathered license they can serve 24/7.” Nunavut is the only part of Canada that Cameron has yet to explore, something he hopes will change soon.

“I’ll most likely make it to Nunavut on my next big trip. It’s in the infancy stages, but I’ve set myself a goal of circumnavigating a small plane around the globe,” said Cameron, who is in the midst of getting his pilot license.

The North is an area that has enamored Bartlett as well. “The coolest place I’ve visited is Wood Buffalo National Park. I was there in January and it was truly a unique experience,” he said. Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest national park, spanning 44,807 square kilometres, which makes it larger in size than Denmark.

“From Fort McMurray, Alberta, you head north until the pavement ends. From there, I drove nearly 300 km on winter ice roads to Fort Chipewyan and into the national park. It’s incredibly unique and an experience you can rarely have in another country. We spent a few nights in the park, saw the Northern Lights every day and never saw another visitor.”

The Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by a clashing of gases and particles from the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere, is considered a wonder of the world. In 2016, tourists venturing to Canada’s north to see them generated $91.9 million for the area. Gjerdalen cited the north as the one place he would urge every Canadian to see.

“The reason I say the North is because of the Northern Lights and the vastness. It’s such big country,” he said.

Gjerdalen pointed out an attraction that can be looked over in Canadian tourism – the wildlife. “You don’t really have to go to Africa to see wildlife, you can see it right here in our own country,” he said. Gjerdalen, who has an extensive history as a kayak, rafting and hiking guide in British Columbia, said seeing whales in their habitat is still a huge thrill. “The best place in the world to view wild orcas, right in Johnson’s Strait, right between Vancouver Island and the mainland. It’s right there.”

The diversity of Canada is yet another thing that makes discovering it so interesting. As Gjerdalen pointed out, British Columbia alone has several different eco-systems, from beautiful mountain towns to the desert, wine making valleys in the Okanagan and the West Coast rainforest, there is a climate that will suit nearly every travellers taste.

Outside of BC, the tapestry of Canada is rich in history and the friendly attitude that Canadians have become known for. Gjerdalen and Cameron both spoke fondly of the Maritimes, saying it boasts some of the friendliest people in the country.

“The Maritimes are very, very friendly. I’m just closing my eyes right now and I can picture one of those kitchen parties where it seemed like everyone can play an instrument,” said Gjerdalen.

Cameron pointed to Newfoundland as a highlight in his bike trek. “Holy clams boy is that place beautiful. She’s definitely ‘the rock’ but on that rock lies some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’m pretty sure Canadians get their rep as kind people from Newfoundlanders.”

Canada has a lot to offer, from sprawling cities and the art and culture scenes that inhabit them, to the serene quietness of the mountains. Travelling in Canada can provide a better understanding of the country, and the charm of the little communities that give it the character we are known for.

Illustration by Ashley Loo

Random tips about travelling in Canada:

It can get cold – as cold as Mars. In 1947, the village of Snag, in the Yukon, recorded a temperature of -63 degrees, which is the same temperature that has been recorded on the surface of Mars.

Canada has more lakes than any other country – there are 563 lakes over 100 square kilometres in size, and over 30,000 lakes that span over three square kilometres each. This means that nine percent of Canada is lake. Along with its plethora of lakes, Canada is also home to forests – a lot of forests. In fact, it boasts 10 per cent of the world’s forests – over 390 million hectares of forests splatter all over our country.

Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world. With 243,977 kilometres of coastline, it provides a unique tourism destination for surfing, whale watching and water sport enthusiasts.

Saskatchewan has the world’s most northerly sand dunes in Athabasca Provincial Park, and they are over 30 meters high.

Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montréal is one of the world’s premier comedy showcases and has over 1.5 million visitors annually. Rolling Stone magazine voted the Calgary Stampede as one of the best places in the world to get laid. So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to ride a cowboy…

Follow Jeff Bartlett on Instagram – @photojbartlett

Check out these sites to plan your next trip:



YVRDeals.com – cheap airfares from Vancouver

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