6 small Canadian towns that are worth a visit

Trish Fry
When it comes to travel, Canada has so much to offer from big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal to iconic spots like the Rockies and Niagara Falls. But there are plenty of small towns that often get overlooked and are worth considering for your summer travel plans. 

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NOVA SCOTIA 
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(Photo credit: Trish Fry)

Annapolis Royal  is one of those places that your Canadian school books might’ve mentioned but you may have blocked out. And that’s a shame because the gorgeous sea-side town in Nova Scotia may be tiny (it has a population of 481) but it's also mighty. Annapolis Royal was a hotbed of Canadian history. How much so? Most of the things that happened in Canada, happened here first; the first grapes and grain were grown here and it was actually the first stop for any European settler. 

NEED TO KNOW
  • Book your rooms early. Every summer almost 60,000 visitors come through town so you’ll want to make sure your first pick of accommodation is locked in.
  • It’s a 2-hour drive to Halifax, where you can pop into the popular highlights like Pier 21, Citadel Hill, Peggy’s Cove, or one of the many festivals. 

WHERE TO STAY
There are lovely bed and breakfasts throughout town. Try the Queen Anne Inn  – modern amenities in a Victorian mansion. You’ll be close to the historic gardens, which are set over 17 acres and are historically themed, which means you learn a little about the area’s past while you’re strolling. You’ll make your way between the Acadian house garden to the governor’s garden to the Victorian garden and more.


OUTAOUAIS, QUEBEC
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(Photo credit: iStock)

The fact is you’ve probably stepped into Quebec on a visit to Ottawa in the past and not even realized it. A less than 15-minute walk from Parliament Hill and you’re in Outaouais, Quebec  . 

THINGS TO DO
  • If you’re travelling with adventurers, consider that they have three zipline sites in the area (Aventure Lafleche, Camp Fortune and Chutes Coulonges) to keep you busy. Drive about an hour further and you can explore Parc Omega . Animal lovers will like this natural park—it's like African Lion’s Safari, but with a focus on animals that are native to the area, like elk, moose, bison, wolves, and bears. You can pick up a bag of carrots at the gift shop and feed the animals from your car on a drive through, but there are also spots where you can get out and wander closer and spots to hike or picnic.  
  • Want to dive deeper into Canada’s past? The new Canadian Museum of History will open this year and with a deeper focus on Canadian politics and First Nations history.  
  • There’s also the Mackenzie King Estate—our 10th Prime Minister’s 231 hectare summer estate.
  • The Nordik Spa-Nature is incredible. It has a mix of hot tubs, cold plunges, saunas and more. 

WHERE TO STAY
  • Stay at the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa! First built in 1838, it became a charming country boutique hotel surrounded by Gatineau Park  and picturesque Wakefield village . It offers 42 unique guest rooms, a dining room specializing in fine cuisine, a full-treatment spa, outdoor hot tubs and swimming pool, as well as a cozy fireplace lounge.  
  • Prefer something with more action? The Hilton Lac-Leamy is a 5-star property adjacent to the Casino. It’s a great pick for a “near the city” but not “in the city” getaway if you live nearby.

PARKSVILLE, BC
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(Photo credit: iStock)

NEED TO KNOW:
The beach community town north of Nanaimo is one of those Canadian gems that seems to have mild weather year round. You’ll get rainy seasons but summers are golden.

THINGS TO DO:
  • Parksville beach is huge local draw and has a great playground and water park if you’re traveling with kids. In July and August you can catch their Sand Sculpting Competition, which is always a hit with visitors. The area is also home to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park where you’ll find a 2 km long beach that stretches one km into the Strait of Georgia at low tide. 
  • At Coombs Old Country Market, goats hang out grazing on the roof of the shop. It’s a great spot to pick up some incredible cheeses, store-made tortilla chips, baked goods or ice cream for enjoying on site or at the beach. Cathedral Grove,  which is a short drive away, also shouldn’t be missed. 

WHERE TO STAY
  • Tigh Na Mara Seaside Spa Resort  is a pet-friendly property set on 22 acres of Arbutus & Douglas Fir forest with sweeping views of the Strait of Georgia and coastal mountains. The property sports gorgeous log cabins with full kitchens so you can have a great place to relax at the end of the day. And let’s not forget that this is a spa resort—the Grotto spa is a 20,000 square foot offering with all of the therapies you love plus a stunning grotto mineral pool. The location also claims Canada’s mildest year-round temperatures and warmest ocean swimming waters.

MIRAMICHI, NEW BRUNSWICK
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If you're looking for something pretty and peaceful, this is your place. You’ll be out there on the water or alongside it, taking in the beautiful beaches and pretty waterfalls along the Miramichi river. And there’s so much to do! You can fish, kayak, canoe or hike to your hearts content.  

WHERE TO STAY
  • Try Camping in the Trees: Here you'll stay in a treehouse 12 feet off the ground. Each one comes with a camp mattress and some have electricity and washrooms, but you’ll be set amongst 200 acres. 
  • If you prefer something less wild, Rodd Miramichi River hotel offers 4-star accommodations with all your favourite amenities including a stunning indoor pool. Plus, as part of Canada’s 150th Birthday Celebrations, the Government of Canada has waived entry fees to all National Parks for 2017! Order your free annual pass here and you can stroll along the beach or hike your way through the wooded trails of Kouchibouguac National Park

WHAT TO DO
  • When you’re not hiking you can channel your inner lumberjack at the Woodmen’s Museum or explore Mi’kmaq culture with an Aboriginal experience that includes a traditional meal and history lessons around a campfire at Metepenagiag Heritage Park.

ALMONTE, ONTARIO 
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(Photo credit: Municipality of Mississippi Mills, Brent Eades, Shawn Desalvo, Greg Cherry, Frank and Pat Vetter)

NEED TO KNOW:
  • Almonte has an interesting history. It is named after a Mexican general, whose name was pronounced Almontey, and the town is most famous for a giant puppet festival (that has been sadly been cancelled for 2017). 
  • It’s only about 40 minutes from Ottawa but with a population of about 5,000 people it feels miles away. This was a milltown and, as a result, the city’s main street has held on to that 19th century feel. You’ll want to wander the gorgeous shops, historic homes and museums. This is the kind of town where you can spend a half hour chatting with the local chocolate maker, hanging out at the book store, perusing the antiques shop or curled up with a book in the gardens. There are also plenty of cafes where you can perch to people watch through the window. 
  • There are a couple of times of year when things get busier. The VW bus fusion festival brings VW bus owners from around the world to town for festivities, and the Celt festival gets highlanders excited.

WHAT TO DO:
  • Start at Menzies House—an 1850 Bed and Breakfast with lots of natural light run by a cute couple who’ve been married for more than 50 years and have a lifetime of travels to share. Then you can choose to either head south to Franktown, a must for their lilac festival each year (just think of the Instagram photos!) Or you could go east to Vankleek Hill  which calls itself the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario, referring to the “gingerbread” finials and moldings on the Victorian houses. Vankleek Hill is also a great pick if you’re a beer lover. Beau’s all-natural brewery is here. along with a fantastic farmer’s market to fuel your picnics. 
  • If you want to spend more time outdoors, you’re close enough to the Rideau to do a kayak tour when the mood suits. 

LAVAL, QUEBEC
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(Photo credt: Tourisme Laval)

NEED TO KNOW:
Laval, Quebec is Montreal’s overlooked family-friendly little sister. Now here’s the thing—Montreal is a hot spot for tourists. The city is filled with festivals and entertainment options, not to mention cute cafes. But it isn’t the only spot on the block for these things. Only 20 minutes away from Montreal by subway, Laval is a great family vacation spot waiting to be explored. Prices for everything from accommodations to activities are less expensive and you can hop back to the city when you want a taste of something more. 

WHERE TO STAY
  • You can rent a home here instead of a hotel room if you need more space or you can stay in a spot like the Hilton Suites for prices that are less and rooms that are bigger than they’d be in the city. 
  • Kids will love that the city is home to the only year-round space camp in Canada. The camp operates for kids aged 9-15 and offers authentic hands-on space training right down to the virtual missions, robotics challenges, scientific workshops and space station like modules they sleep in! You can choose from day camp or overnight camp, which means the parents could theoretically get 3-5 days of alone time while the kids are having a blast. 

WHAT TO DO
  • Parents will love that Laval is a wine growing region. Pop into Château Taillefer Lafon, the first vineyard in Quebec authorized to use the appellation “Château”, which is traditionally reserved for distinctive European vineyards. While you’re here you’re going to sip on award-winning ice ciders, whites, sparkling roses and reds!


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