Images courtesy of Tourism Saskatchewan (top) and Travel Alberta
Wildlife lovers can flock to Canada for close encounters all year-round, says Nikki Bayley
Think of Canada and its wildlife and you probably have visions of moose and those cute, dam-building beavers, but Canada offers unrivalled opportunities for bird and animal encounters far beyond that.
From whales, moose and polar bears to arctic foxes, wolves and eagles, the world’s second-largest country is alive with a stunning wealth of wildlife. Go on an adventure deep into the British Columbian rainforest to discover rare white ‘spirit bears’; snorkel with beluga whales in Manitoba; get caught up in a traffic jam – Alberta-style – as herds of moose cross the road; and take part in a wolf howl in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s all there to discover from coast to coast. The only question is when to go, so here’s a handy season-by-season guide to Canada’s wildlife.
In British Columbia the cold clear waters from the Georgia Strait to the San Juan Islands teem with pods of resident and migratory orca whales – they arrive in April and stay through to November. Whale-watching tours are widely available from Victoria on Vancouver Island or downtown Vancouver.
For a more niche treat, expeditions to arctic Nunavut get adventurous clients out on to the snowy tundra where, between April and June, they’ll see animals that will make them feel they’ve travelled back to prehistoric times.
They’ll spot muskox with huge curved horns and shaggy coats, caribou trotting through the snow and in the ocean, the curious unicorn-horned narwhal and the more familiar polar bears.
Travellers to the wide-open prairies of Saskatchewan will see the spring bird migration in the ‘Land of the Living Skies’. Chaplin Lake was the first federal bird sanctuary in all of North America and makes the perfect place to spot thousands of shorebirds, including some endangered species.
Away from the skies, there are smaller mammals including elk, white-tailed deer, moose, beavers, black bears, wolves and river otters.
Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park runs public wolf-howling sessions every Thursday night in August.
Hundreds of visitors drive into the park and follow staff to a spot where they hope to hear the call of the wild under starry, light pollution-free skies. Headlights and engines are shut off, the staff howl, and mostly the wolves howl back – an incredible, shivers-down-the-spine experience.
Summer in Jasper National Park in Alberta is the time to see elk sauntering down the road, black bears gorging on berries, whitetail deer skipping through the meadows and bighorn sheep picking their way across the clifftops. Take a drive from Banff to Jasper through the mountains and lakes of the Icefields Parkway and see the full force of Canada’s wild beauty.
Over on the east coast, Newfoundland, known as the Seabird Capital of North America, boasts 350 species of birds.Ruby-throated hummingbirds, great blue herons and warblers fill the skies, but for sheer, awe-inducing numbers, the 500,000 puffins and seven million storm petrels that gather on the shores each year take the prize.
Thanks to its shellfish-rich water, Quebec is one of the best places in the world to see whales. It attracts 13 species of cetaceans, including the awe-inspiring blue whale and air-leaping humpback whale, to the St Lawrence River.
And it’s not just whales that love the seafood: gannets and puffins, along with grey, harbour and harp seals, thrive there too.
In October and November, visitors flock to the world’s polar bear capital in Churchill, Manitoba, where they board tundra buggies and journey through the sub-arctic landscape to watch bears and their cubs in the wild.
To spot moose, head to Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Clients who visit in early autumn will also catch the stunning fall colours on the Tablelands trail.
A clutch of luxurious wilderness lodges in the British Columbian rainforest plays host to visitors keen to spot the rare white Kermode bear, as the cubs feed on crab apples and berries, and fish for spawning salmon in preparation for a long hibernation.
Canada’s frozen winters still offer plenty of adventures to get the blood pumping.
Send customers north to the Yukon, the beautiful but bitterly cold land of the gold rush, to try their hands at mushing a team of husky sled dogs across a frozen pond. Later, they can watch the northern lights dance overhead while soaking in a mineral-rich natural hot spring.
Winter is spawning time for salmon in British Columbia and, in a glorious circle-of-life event, after they spawn they die and become food for the eagles.
To see bald eagles, send clients to Brackendale, also in British Columbia. Here, visitors can take a guided float on the Cheakamus River to see scores of them feeding and swooping as they are paddled downstream surrounded by soaring, snow-capped mountains.
Quebec’s Isle-de-la-Madeleine offers a unique opportunity to watch harp seals give birth on pack ice and then take care of their pups in late February. But clients who take an excursion with a wildlife guide should be warned that they are sure to fall in love with cute baby seals.
Cox & Kings offers a nine-day self-drive itinerary in British Columbia visiting Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and including whale watching cruises and bear-watching excursions from a luxury lodge. Prices for spring 2015 start from £2,125 excluding flights.
020 7873 5000
Prestige Holidays offers an 18-day Western Wonders self-drive tour visiting destinations in Alberta including Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper before continuing to British Columbia, departing June 13, from £2,496. It includes Air Canada flights into Calgary and out of Vancouver, car hire with insurance for two drivers and accommodation.
Signature by Thomas Cook offers a six day Ultimate Polar Bear tour from £2,670 with departures in October and November. The price includes Winnipeg-Churchill round-trip flights, accommodation, and polar bear-viewing excursions with a guide, but excludes international flights.
0844 871 6640
1st Class Holidays offers a five-day Yukon Winter Adventure from £2,119 including Air Canada flights from London, four nights’ accommodation in Whitehorse, a driver guide for the duration, three evenings’ aurora viewing, a snowmobile tour, a day’s husky-sledding and admission to a hot spring.
0845 644 3939
NEWS FROM CANADA
The Glacier Skywalk observation platform opened in Jasper National Park, Alberta, last week. The 918ft glass bottomed platform offers unparalleled views, and visitors learn about glaciology and wildlife.
Air Canada’s daily flights from Heathrow to Vancouver are now operated on a B777-300ER, which features the airline’s new Premium Economy service. These 24 seats have a 38-inch pitch, and the class includes an enhanced meal service, welcome drink, amenity kit, and priority check-in, baggage and board.
Virgin Atlantic has increased its Heathrow-Vancouver service to five flights a week for summer, running until August 31.
After a year-long revamp, the Algonquin Resort hotel in St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, has reopened in time for its 125th anniversary. The 234-room, Tudor-style historic property’s new features include balcony suites, an indoor pool, and outdoor hot tubs.
In Quebec City, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is undergoing a £35 million redevelopment, due for completion next month. All 611 rooms are being refurbished, the Fairmont Gold level extended, food and beverage outlets transformed and a spa added.
The Alt Griffintown hotel opened in Montreal’s most up-and-coming neighbourhood in March. Its 154 rooms feature free Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs and goosedown duvets.
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