Fun things to do in Canada

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Canada

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    Nova Scotia - famous seaport of Halifax

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 10, 2007

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    Established in 1749 by the British in response to the French controlled areas in eastern Canada, Halifax became the leading Royal Navy base in North America and the eventual capital of Nova Scotia. The walls and cannons of the Citadel are still perched above the waterfront to protect the harbour, one of the finest in the world. Because the harbour has a narrow passage into a natural 8 km long and 5 km wide bay, known as Bedford Basin, Halifax became the main supply line to Europe during both World Wars as huge convoys were formed up in the protected anchorage. Today it is a nice drive along the harbourfront to take in the sights of the Royal Canadian Naval base, the Canadian Coast Guard base, historic ships and just regular ocean-going freighters and liners.

    One of our many visits to Halifax coincided with a visit by the Tall Ships fleet during their Year 2000 race from Southampton, England to Bermuda, New York and Boston. The July weather was fantastic as we mingled with the thousands who converged on the city to enjoy the spectacle of these amazing ships. This shot shows me in front of a European ship, the 'Krutchenshtern', just one of a long line anchored along the waterfront after their sail-past.

    Halifax has a number of interesting attractions, including some natural ones such as the Public Gardens shown in the second photo, located only a short walk from the main downtown shopping area. The gardens originated as a private garden in 1753 as a result of various British nobility being posted to the city but was not officially opened in its present formal Victorian-style layout until 1867, the year Canada officially became a country. It has an amazing variety of plants, flowers, statues and relaxing places to sit as you enjoy the fresh summer airs of Halifax.

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    Nova Scotia - Cape Breton Island

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 17, 2007

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    The Province of Nova Scotia, known as "Canada's Ocean Playground" is normally the first port of call if you sail west from Newfoundland and, if you do so, the ferry will drop you off on rugged Cape Breton Island (attached to the rest of NS by a causeway). One of the three small Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia is 9th largest of the ten provinces at 55,000 sq km, making it about twice the size of Belgium or a bit smaller than the state of West Virginia. The Island is the stronghold of Scots culture and even the Gaelic language in this colony of 'New Scotland', dating from the 1700s.

    The main attraction in this part of NS is Cape Breton Highlands National Park, including a beautiful coastal road, the Cabot Trail, around the forested highlands at the eastern tip of the island. The highway provides spectacular views out over both the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. At one point, we were able to see pilot whales cavorting along the shore on the Gulf side (the location of the whale watching boats was a bit of a helpful clue!). We made a small detour to the very tip where we spent an afternoon at Cabot's Landing Provincial Park, languishing on the beach enjoying the sunshine and the fresh Atlantic airs. It was a very relaxing time watching the occasional sail boat and even saw one of the Tall Ships from Halifax far out on the horizon. The park has a memorial to John Cabot, the explorer who touched here in 1497 while in the service of the British Crown. While on the short mid-afternoon drive to the Park, we were very surprised to see a Canada Lynx amble across the road in front of our car - easily recognized by its ear tufts and bob tail.

    However, Cape Breton Island has seen many difficult years too, with its harsh climate, poor soil, the closure of its underground coal mining industry and now the fisheries in trouble too. A winter drive on a country road on the southeast coast brought me to an abandoned homestead (2nd pic), not an uncommon sight in many off-the-beaten-track locations in the Maritimes.

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    Prince Edward Island - Fine beaches!

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 11, 2007

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    Prince Edward Island is the smallest of Canada's ten provinces, measuring only 6,000 sq km in area, about the same size as the State of Delaware or a little over twice the size of Luxembourg. One of the three Maritime Provinces, it is normally reached by flights into the capital city of Charlottetown or from New Brunswick by the amazing Confederation Bridge (at 13 km, it is the longest bridge in Canada and the longest in the world over waters that freeze).

    Known as the 'Garden of the Gulf', PEI is renowned for its gently rolling farmlands, fine sandy beaches and the relatively warm waters of the surrounding Gulf of St. Lawrence, as opposed to the frigid Atlantic waters in the other Maritime Provinces. In recent years, PEI has also gained a reputation with golfing enthusiasts as a result of its many world class courses set beside picturesque seascapes.

    Most of my visits were back in the 1970s when you still had to line up for one of the three car ferries servicing the island. It was then and remains today a favourite tourist spot for family vacations because of its Disney-like theme parks for children, tours of the house on which Ann of Green Gables was based, lobster dinners and the ever-present beaches.

    These photos were taken in August, 1976 as we took Sue's brother from England on a small tour of the area. We stopped to let the children frolic at Brackley Beach, just a few miles east of Charlottetown and part of the PEI National Park. From the Park's web-site: "Established in 1937, PEI National Park protects a landscape, which includes superlative red sandstone cliffs, offshore bars, submerged estuaries, and some of the nation¨s longest and most popular beaches. The park is a narrow wooded sliver of land stretching just 40 kilometres along the northern coast of Canada's smallest province. The park's theme is 'sea, people and the changing landscape'... The erosion along the coast, critical nesting habitat for shorebirds, has reduced the park's land area to 18.2 square kilometres."

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    Quebec - The wild Iles de la Madeleine

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 17, 2007

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    Quebec, whose slogan used to be 'la Belle Province' (the Beautiful Province) is Canada's largest, weighing in at 1,542,000 sq km, making it bigger than Alaska or slightly larger than a combined Spain, France and Germany. Its geography ranges from islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the frozen tip at the entrance of Hudson Bay. We decided to visit those Gulf islands in late-June, 2003 via a 5-hour ferry ride from Prince Edward Island.

    Running SW to NE, most of the islands are joined by narrow sand dunes with a highway connecting them. Starting from the south are the islands of Havre-Aubert, Cap-aux-Meules, Havre-aux-Maisons, aux-Loups, Grosse-Ile and Grande-Entree. Unconnected islands include D'Entree near the ferry landing and the now unpopulated Ile-Brion. Ile-Brion was actually the first of the islands to be discovered by Europeans, sighted in 1534 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier.

    This photo of the red sandstone cliffs of Belle-Anse was taken just outside the community of Fatima on Cap-aux-Meules. While we were there, the boats were very active in the waters below us, moving in to throw lobster traps over the side. There was one spot very close to here where we were able to look down into the close inshore waters and watch the Black Guillemots (northern equivalent of Penguins) floating on the surface and then slipping beneath the surface to 'fly' underwater.

    The 2nd photo was taken on the attached island of Ile Havre-Aubert with its group of old fishing village houses and buildings called La Grave. Towering above the town are two treeless and grassy peaks, known as Les Demoiselles. The lower peak has a large cross on it but the higher hill is devoid of any structure. The drive or walk to the top is worth the effort for the amazing views! That view was taken looking out over the town of Havre-Aubert and its point of land containing La Grave and the Sea Museum, as well as the peaks of the distant and islolated Ile d'Entree.

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    Alberta - beautiful Calgary

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Mar 11, 2007

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    Alberta, "Wild Rose Country", is the 4th largest province in Canada and, at 662,000 sq km, is the same size as Texas and only slightly larger than its two Prairie cousins of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The first Europeans to arrive in this part of Canada were French fur traders in 1731 who eventually stopped to establish communities. It was not long before their British fur trading rivals also reached this part of the country, with one of them, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, being the first white man to cross North America by land when he reached the Pacific coast of British Columbia in 1793. By the late-1800s settlers were starting to pour into western Canada, leading to the creation of Alberta as a distinct province in 1905.

    With one daughter living in Calgary and another further north in Cold Lake, we have had the chance to make a few trips west. Calgary is the financial capital (Edmonton is the seat of govenment) of the booming oil province of Alberta, and they have some money to spend as a result! First opened in 1968, this 191-m (590-ft) concrete tower boasts the Tops Grill at its uppermost level. Just below this, is the Observation Deck, which allows you to wander around viewing Calgary from all angles. There are also interactive displays at the four points of the compass that explain the view that you are seeing. One level below this, is another row of windows that comprises the revolving Panorama Room restaurant. Entry fee to the tower is US$7.50 per adult with group rates also available. We also had to park our car in the adjoining Tower Centre Parkade at Palliser Square. For 3 hours, this came to US$9.

    The second photo shows an overview of part of the city, taken from the Tower. The autumn leaves of the trees are visible along the banks of the Bow River as it makes its way through the downtown area.

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    New Brunswick - East coast forests

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Oct 28, 2007

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    If you get tired of New Brunswick's coasts, just head inland and you will find all the trees you could ever want! Indeed, it was the bountiful supply of Eastern White Pines and many other species suitable for masts and other gear to equip the Royal Navy that first attracted British attention to this part of North America. With 90% forest coverage, NB is still the most extensively forested province or state in North America and logging continues to play a big role in the industrial base. My grandfather used to run his own lumber mill not far from St. Martins and I enjoyed working there during the summers in some of my early teen years.

    This photo shows my biking buddy Russell on one of our annual summer trips, this 2005 episode being in Kouchibouguac National Park on the eastern shores along Northumberland Strait. As the Park literatures says: "Kouchibouguac is a fascinating mosaic of bogs, salt marshes, tidal rivers, sparkling freshwater systems, sheltered lagoons, abandoned fields and tall forests which characterizes the Maritime Plain Natural Region." It has a great set of biking and hiking trails as well as an amazing sandy beach, just like those in Prince Edward Island!

    The second photo shows the view from the top of 2600-ft Mt. Carleton in northwest New Brunswick, the highest peak in the province. In 2002, Sue and I decided it was time we hiked to the summit in Mount Carleton Provincial Park to enjoy the vistas. Those distant lakes are great for canoeing and make prime habitat for moose. There are a number of fantastic provincial parks, with various grades of camping facilities, located in different areas of the province.

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    New Brunswick - Covered bridges

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 30, 2007

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    New Brunswick is renowned for its covered bridges and the town of Sussex is known as the 'covered bridge capital of Atlantic Canada' because there are 16 of these bridges located within Kings County and 8 of these bridges are within a ten minute driving distance of the town. Covered bridges, also known as 'kissing bridges', were designed to keep the weather off the floor boards in order to prolong their life. During the winter, snow was spread on the floor to make it easier for sleighs to continue their journey. This particular bridge is located just on the outskirts of town and is known by its official Department of Transportation name of Kennebecasis #7.5 or as the 'Salmon' bridge by locals. It was built in 1908 and has a length of 112-ft (34-m). It was retired from service in 1985 when a concrete bridge was built beside it and the covered bridge now serves as a tourist stop with a small picnic area at one end.

    However, the most spectacular covered bridge in New Brunswick is northwest of Fredericton, up the Saint John River. At 1282 feet, the covered bridge in Hartland is the longest in the world. Built in 1901 to provide one of the few links across the Saint John River, this bridge is located just over one hour drive north of Fredericton close to the western border with Maine, USA. It was originally just an ordinary uncovered bridge but was later covered with the barn-like roof to control the amount of frozen snow and ice on its deck so the footing would not be so treacherous for horse-drawn sleighs in the winter.

    Since most of these bridges are on small backroads, it makes for a nice day in the countryside searching them out with the help of available tourism literature.

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    Manitoba - centre of the country

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Apr 11, 2009

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    Manitoba, the "Keystone province", is the 6th largest of the ten Canadian Provinces and is located almost exactly in the centre of North America, midway between both the North Pole and Central America as well as half-way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With a flat and watery area of 648,000 sq km, it is slightly smaller than Texas or about twice the size of Norway. My experiences in Manitoba are limited, consisting of a May, 1970 hitch-hiking trip from New Brunwick to Winnipeg and flying into that city again in January, 1998 for a two-day business meeting. I quite enjoyed that winter experience, especially because of the underground and enclosed overhead pedestrian walkways that connected the various downtown shopping complexes! It also helped that an old college buddy accompanied me to a nightclub that was featuring a comedy act. This view of downtown Winnipeg is courtesy of Derek Heamon and "www.photowinnipeg.com". In July, 2008 I made my latest visit to Manitoba on a business trip to Brandon. The two tips following this one show a couple of typically strange attractions near Brandon that a visitor could come across anywhere in Canada!

    The capital city of Winnipeg offers quite a few attractions in the warm summer months, including paddleboat trips on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers as well as numerous museums celebrating its frontier past. With its numerous lakes and rivers, the province is also a mecca for wilderness adventures. However, I think the attraction that most appeals to me would be to take a winter trip on the Polar Bear Express train north to Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay to have an up-close experience with the many Polar Bears that roam this part of the province. The 2nd photo of a couple of bears in front of a tourist carrying 'tundra buggy' is courtesy of "www.galenfrysinger.com". From some of the global warming reports that I have recently heard, it is a trip that should not be put off for very long.

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    Alberta - National Parks

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Mar 13, 2008

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    If you are looking for beautiful National Parks, Alberta has more than its fair share - with Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks all being classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One sunny afternoon, we took a day-trip to Banff, the Park closest to Calgary. Even though I had been to the Rockies twice before, I was astounded at how beautiful the area looked. It was like an unreal scene out of a movie or a postcard - just too perfect to be real!

    Whatever you do, take the time to visit somewhere in the Canadian Rockies - the combination of mountains, glaciers, forests and rivers in this protected area is one of the world's 'Must See' sights! There is only a small entrance fee of a few dollars - just do it! This scene was taken very near the town of Banff, which nestles in the shadow of the 2950 m (9840 ft) Mount Rundle. The Bow River, in the foreground, was born in these peaks and has carved out a valley here in its long journey to the east, as it finally empties into Hudson Bay half a continent away.

    We also visited the small and much less busy Waterton Lakes NP on our latest trip, situated in the southwest corner of the province where it abuts British Columbia and Montana. The second photo shows the spectacular view down Upper Waterton Lake into Montana, taken from the lobby of a very elegant resort hotel built in 1927. One of the reasons this area is so interesting is that it is an important biological crossroads, due to the fact that it is here that the Rocky Mountain Ranges reach their narrowest width in North America. With the Prairies up to their eastern doorstep and warm Pacific breezes from the west having more effect because of fewer intervening mountain ranges, there is an amazing variety of animal, plant and insect life to be found at the different elevations as the seasons change. Of course, the thing that most impressed us were the rugged mountains and hiking opportunities. No matter where we looked, the sights were spectacular!

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    Newfoundland - Atlantic Ocean whale watching

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    While we were on the northern tip, we took the opportunity to go on a whale watching expedition. As we sailed out, the scenery looking back toward shore was spectacular and the trip got even better as we soon came upon a pod of Humpback whales. We were able to slowly come up behind them and it was amazing to see their vague dark outlines under the water just before they surfaced. Several times, we just sat bobbing on the waves with the engine off listening to the sounds of the ocean and the whales blowing as they surfaced! Other sighting possibilities in this area are the smaller Minke whales as well as some Fin, Sei and Killer Whales. We paid US$21 each for our great afternoon experience!

    A very comfortable and quite roomy replica Viking ship was used for the tour (2nd photo) - there was a considerable crowd onboard but there was lots of room to move around. Wet-weather gear is supplied as part of the package (and we needed it briefly as we passed through a shower at one stage).

    This replica of a Norse 'knarr' cargo ship was built and sailed to Newfoundland in 2000 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in Newfoundland. After the ripples had died down, the ship was outfitted for whale-watching voyages out of St. Lunaire, very close to Saint Anthony. The Vikings had different types of ships depending on what their main use was. Shorter and wider (54 feet x 15 feet) than a raiding longboat, the Knarr was used as an ocean-going freighter. Because its deck was higher than a longboat, rowing was usually done standing up when entering or leaving harbour. There were small sheltered areas at both the bow and stern were some of the crew could take shelter from the elements. However, with no pumps, bailing was a constant requirement - usually the job of children when aboard. We had a great whale-watching ride on this craft with Viking Boat Tours!

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    New Brunswick - Wilderness canoeing

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 11, 2007

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    The interior of NB is crisscrossed with lakes, rivers and ponds of all sizes as well as plenty of bogs and marshes. I have always found this to be ideal for canoeing, especially since I am a bird and nature watcher. With my 15-ft Chestnut wood/canvas canoe, built in Fredericton in 1976, I enjoy getting out in the wilds during the cool early morning hours when things are coming alive and the mists are still rising. A canoe is so quiet and easy to move over or around obstacles that it is perfect for that type of thing. Often the wildlife is not even aware that you are approaching and I have come across black bear, moose, deer, coyotes, foxes, beavers, otters, muskrats, porcupines, racoons, weasels, turtles and all sorts of birds. This photo shows one of my friends atop a huge granite boulder on the shores of Magaguadavic Lake, near Fredericton, as we pull in for a beer break! This lake is dotted with boulders like this, many of which have been 'bulldozed' ashore by the force of the thick layer of ice that covers all water bodies in winter.

    The second photo shows Sue's brother Steve and I as we skirt a large beaver lodge made from twigs and branches they have chopped down with their teeth. I have quietly come across swimming beavers on many trips and it is funny to watch their noses twitch as they detect a scent in the air. It is not long before they quietly slip below the surface and then reappear not too far away. If they are really annoyed they let loose with a major slap on the water with their flat tails as they dive. The final photo shows the canoe laden with our gear for a typical two or three day trip: a cooler, rolled sleeping matts, Coleman stove, tent and plastic bags with our sleeping gear and clothes inside.

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    New Brunswick - the 'Mounties'

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Mar 7, 2008

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    Most people who travel to Canada would like to see members of the famous red-coated Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the 'Mounties'. However, even living in Canada, it is not all that often that you see Mounties decked out in their 'dress' scarlet uniforms, since they are designed for horse-riding instead of today's more mundane police duties! Another problem is that the force is not so visible in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario (which have their own provincial police forces for the usual crime and traffic enforcement duties that the Mounties carry out in the other provinces) where the RCMP only provide federal services.

    However, if you happen to be in any good-sized town or city on November 11, you just might have your chance because this is when the country comes to a standstill for two minutes at 11 AM in remembrance of Canada's war dead over the decades. With the usual short religious ceremony, a few short speeches, laying of wreaths and an artillery salute at or near the war memorial also comes a march-past as things wrap up. In 2006, it was a beautiful sunny day and quite mild for November as the veterans, regular and reserve troops, Mounties, city police, firemen and cadets ended the ceremonies with a march along the Saint John River on Queen Street, in front of the Legislative Assembly. As you can see from the trees, the time of the Autumn colours is long gone, except for a few decorative Oak trees still clinging to their dead leaves.

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    Quebec - European ambiance

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jul 11, 2007

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    Because of their long history and continuing French culture, both the provincial capital of Quebec City and the large international city of Montreal are unlike any other in North America. Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who sailed past the Madeleines/Gaspe, arrived at both of these sites in 1535, finding large native populations. He overwintered in QC before returning to establish a settlement there in 1541. However, this lasted only a year before the hostility of both the locals and the climate ended it. It was not until 1608 that the French returned to sucessfully establish a post at QC, thanks to Samuel de Champlain (a survivor of that terrible winter of 1604 and a founder of 'the Habitation' in Nova Scotia). Champlain was not so lucky with Montreal, as the local Iroquois inhabitants put an end to his 1611 settlement attempt. In 1639, Jérôme Le Royer, a French tax collector, was finally successful in starting the roots of present-day Montreal.

    Today both cities have charming historic districts with cobbled streets and stone buildings, boast elegant French restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. This photo shows part of Vieux Montreal district, located on a gently sloping hill between the downtown core and the waterfront along the river. We found a very cosy restaurant not far away!

    Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico, so it too is worth exploring. During the course of our walks, we passed through the St. Jean gate, shown in the 2nd photo. These fortifications were begun by the French in 1690 with a series of redoubts linked by palisades. With the fall of the city to the British in 1759, stronger walls were erected (1778-83) following the American Revolution as well as in 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars. The forces at Quebec City managed to resist attacking American forces in both of these wars. The walls run for 4.6 km (~3 miles) around the Upper City and are about 12 m (40 ft) high and between 2-8 m thick.

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    Ontario - Niagara Falls

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Mar 18, 2007

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    One of the few winter vacations we ever took in Canada saw us driving to Lake Huron in March, 1977 to visit a Canadian couple we had first met in Zambia. We decided to return home by way of New York state, giving us a chance to visit world famous Niagara Falls. This set of waterfalls is located on the Niagara escarpment between Ontario and New York, and serves as the outlet for four of the five Great Lakes as they drain into the fifth lake (Ontario) before it flows into the St. Lawrence River and then the Atlantic Ocean. The 5 Great Lakes are the largest group of fresh water lakes on Earth, containing 1/5th of the all the fresh surface water on the planet. It was very interesting to visit in winter when Niagara was partially frozen and it was also nice not to be overrun by hordes of tourists!

    I have also visited two other world famous waterfalls - Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe border) and Iguazu Falls (Brazil/Argentina border), so I decided to do a 'scientific' comparison after visiting Iguazu:

    A data-base on all of the major waterfalls in the world rates them on a number of factors. Being an engineer, I did a little summary of their statistics for the Big Three: Niagara, Iguazu and Victoria. If you rate them by height it is Victoria (107-m) in first place, Iguazu (82-m) and Niagara (51-m). Width places the rankings as Iguazu (2.7-km), Victoria (1.7-km) and Niagara (1.2-km). Going for Average Waterflow sees Niagara in first (212 cubic-ft./sec), Iguazu (62 cfs) and Victoria (38 cfs). The final factor of Maximum Waterflow gives the nod to Iguazu (452 cfs), followed by Niagara (292 cfs) and then Victoria (250 cfs). If you then tally the points up on a 1, 2, 3 ranking basis, Iguazu comes out as the Most Impressive Waterfalls in the World with a combined total of 6 points (lowest number wins). Victoria and Niagara tied at 9 points each, but I would give the nod to Victoria because of it's better natural landscape due to far less obvious human intrusions (well, I may have been influenced by our Honeymoon there!).

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    Ontario - Enjoy Toronto's big city life!

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 12, 2007

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    Ontario has long been the industrial heartland of Canada, and still is although oil-rich Alberta is giving it a good run for the money these days! The most populous and second largest of the ten provinces at 1,076,000 sq km, it is the same size as either a combined Spain/France or Texas/California. The provincial capital of Toronto is a large, friendly and bustling city - a pleasure to visit on my mostly business-related trips there.

    Following a June, 2004 meeting, our group was treated to an evening baseball game in the Skydome, between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. This sports complex, which can seat 50,500 spectators for baseball was built between 1986-1989 and features an 11,000 ton retractable roof. In the middle of the photo you can see the Jumbotron video screen, the 2nd largest in the world when the Skydome opened. I really enjoyed the whole atmospere and it was a good ball game too - some nice fielding plays, a home run with fireworks afterward and a great view of the action as Toronto rolled to a 4-0 victory! Mind you, I did not have to pay the $54 ticket price (US$46)!

    Of course Toronto is also famous for the CN Tower (originally built by Canadian National Railway), completed in 1976 and, at 553-m (1815 ft) still holding the title of world's tallest freestanding structure on land. According to Wikipedia, the no-holds-barred champion is actually the "Petronius Platform, a deepwater oil platform operated by Chevron Corporation and Marathon Oil in the Gulf of Mexico, 210 km southeast of New Orleans... It is 610 meters (2,001 feet) high, arguably the tallest free-standing structure in the world, although this claim is controversial since only 75 meters of the platform are above water." The CN Tower is worth a visit if you are in town, with plenty of ways to get butterflies in your stomach - such as the external glass-walled elevators, a glass-floored walking area (at 342-m) and a sky-high restaurant/observation area (at 447-m), from which the mists of Niagara Falls can be seen!

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