Sunday, 15 July 2012

Ten All-Canadian Road Trips

Road trips. Is there anything better than the liberation that accompanies feeling the wind blow through your fingers, or the freedom in standing in a place you’ve never once stood? People go on road trips of all shapes and sizes for different reasons: a break from the mundane daily routine, a family-centered journey to some magical far-away place, to seek adventure and inspiration, for solitude, and the list continues. Canada is one of the most road trip-worthy countries in the world, offering diverse vistas and itineraries sure to please anyone, from the anxious nomad to the novice homebody. In lieu of my past experiences tripping across the country, I’ve compiled a master list of the best places to go when the call of the road beckons. Just close your eyes and point. 

1) Cabot Trail

The legendary Cape Breton Island rests on the Northeastern point of Nova Scotia and is the crown jewel of Maritime Canadian destinations. Although the island occupies a large portion of the province, it’s most sought after destination is the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, situated at the edge of the province and only accessible by the world famous Cabot Trail, a 298 Kilometre loop that enters the park and runs through many small coastal communities. This roads gives you the best of both worlds: high mountainous ranges with winding switchbacks and rugged coastal shorelines like candy for the eyes. 

Recommended Stops: Check out the town of Ingonish, located on the Southwestern side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, or relax on Ingonish beach 11 minutes South on the Cabot Trail at the opening of South Ingonish Harbour. The Cape Breton Highlands National Park Visitor’s Centre is located in Cheticamp on the South end of the Cabot Trail.

2) Gaspe Peninsula

At the mouth of the mighty St. Lawrence River in Southeastern Quebec lies the Gaspe Peninsula and, seemingly, the edge of the world. Highway 132 circumnavigates the peninsula and is a traveler’s best bet for experiencing French-Canada’s rural countryside. Sea cliffs and river tributaries mark the landscape like gorgeous blemishes in stark contrast to the ocean below. The Gaspe Peninsula is certainly a road trip you’ll want to take slowly.

Recommended Stops: The towns of Gaspe and Perce are popular destinations for this trip, both adding their own uniqueness to the rural French-Canadian culture. Be sure to visit the peninsula’s national parks as well: Gaspesie National Park, located on highway 299 off Sainte Anne des Monts on the Northern interior and Forillion National Park, located on highway 132 due North of Gaspe on the very tip of the peninsula. Also see: Cap-Des Rosiers Lighthouse, Bioparc De La Gaspesie and Bonaventure Island, all in Gaspe town-area for more awesome activities.

3) Muskoka Woods

Muskoka, Ontario is prime lake country, and the side-trip options are endless. Highway 60 is the main artery that runs through the small townships and parks of the area, and it literally carves through the hills of limestone and shale that serve as a foundation for lush boreal forests. The main attraction in the area, though, is none other than Algonquin Provincial Park, a place that requires no introduction. So, whether you’re into fishing, camping, sandy beaches on pristine lakes, heart-pumping hikes or just an opportunity to relax and soak in the unbridled wilderness, Muskoka Woods has it all. 

Recommended Stops: Besides Algonquin Park...Lake Simcoe, Kawartha Highlands and the Muskoka Lakes/Georgian Bay area are all fantastic options for adventure.

4)  Icefields Parkway

Alberta is known for either its two largest metropolitan destinations (Edmonton and Calgary) or its two largest parks (Jasper and Banff). Given the option, I’ll always choose the latter, primarily because its connector route, the Icefields Parkway, is a stunning road trip, albeit a small one (it only takes about 4 to 5 hours to travel). This scenic road actually follows a continental divide, allowing for great viewing opportunities of massive glacial valleys, hence the “Icefields” Parkway. 

Recommended Stops: Jasper and Banff.....Duh. But also take some time to hike or drive out to these other great locations: Sunshine Meadows, Vermillion Lakes, the Norquay Lookout, Maligne Canyon, Athabaska Falls and Bald Hills. Lake Louise is also another option right on the South end of the Parkway if you like being pampered a little more.

5) Sea to Sky Corridor

The Sea to Sky Highway was conveniently named for doing exactly what it does: taking you from sea level at British Columbia’s Horseshoe Bay to the high elevations of the Southern Rocky Mountain Range, eventually terminating in Pemberton where highway 99 will take you further North if you so choose. This is quintessential Rocky Mountains driving, winding in and out of ominous canyons and over rushing whirlpools, enough to either make you very excited or very carsick (or both). All in all, the Sea to Sky highway occupies a mere 135 kilometers of tar, but it packs a copious amount of epicness. 

Recommended Stops: Squamish will be the first main destination along the highway, and avid hikers wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to summit the Squamish Chief. Whistler and Blackcomb Mounatins offer world-class skiing and snowboarding with resorts to satisfy the even the snobbiest of travellers. 

6) Sunshine Coast

Ah, yes, it’s mid-summertime and all you can think of is white sandy beaches, the sun on your face and the waves crashing against your feet. What better place in Canada is escape to in the summer than Southwestern BC’s Sunshine Coast? Beginning in Horseshoe Bay, the Sunshine Coast Highway stretches North along the interior coast and passes the picturesque coastal towns and beaches of Earls Bay, Powell River and Gibsons, eventually hitting the end of the road in the tiny fishing village and wharf of Lund. The entire trip is 184 kilometers long and consists of two ferry crossings, just in case you forgot that you’re driving alongside an inlet of the largest ocean on earth. Beach bums beware, once you experience the Sunshine Coast, you may never want to leave. 

Recommended Stops: Plenty of stop-worthy settlements and beaches dot the highway, including Bowen Island, Nelson Island an Sechelt. Once in Lund, you have the option of Kayaking or chartering a boat into the unforgettable Desolation Sound, where hundreds of small coves and tide pools beg for exploration.   

7) Stewart-Cassiar 

You’re headed North now, in search of a more isolated journey, maybe to reconnect with nature or meditate the landscape. In Norhwestern Canada, plenty of options are available, but a trip you won’t want to miss is the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, spanning 752 kilometers from Kitwanga, BC to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. The highway traverses over the Cassiar Mountain Range at the very Northern tip of the Rocky Mountains, gaining a total elevation of 2677 feet. The highway is well maintained year round and offers activities for every season, but the biggest draw to driving this itinerary is the raw and untamed wilderness you’ll encounter. Prepare for plenty of roadside animal sightings including Moose, Bison, Black Bears, the occasional Grizzly, Caribou, Red Fox and more. For all of its connection to the outside world, The Stewart-Cassiar is a perfect trip for the nature lover.

Recommended Stops: I recommend starting/ending your trip in Prince Rupert, BC’s Northernmost coastal town and just a short drive West of Terrace for its options to fish, paddle, hike or drive inland and across the breathtaking Queen Charlotte Islands. 

8) Liard-Yellowhead

The Northwest Territories are indeed Canada’s great beyond; a vast expanse of untouched land where few call home and even fewer seek to explore. Fortunately, for those that do, there are a couple of options to visit this magnificent place by land. One of those routes is the incredible Liard-Yellowhead highway, beginning just North of Fort Nelson, BC and ending in Yellowknife, the cosmopolitan capital city of NWT. It’s the journey of getting there, though that will make it worthwhile. The Liard-Yellowhead first traverses the great Nahanni Range just inside the NWT border before dropping down to the hundreds of lakes and tributaries of North-central Canada where vegetation is sparse and the views are spectacular. 

Recommended Stops: The Nahanni River National Park lies just inside the NWT border and is a very worthwhile day trip on the side. A few Aboriginal settlements along the way provide services and an opportunity to learn about Canada’s First Northern Peoples. These stops include Fort Liard, Fort Simpson and Fort Providence, in order from South to North. 

9) The Dempster Highway

If you’re seeking a true adventure and earth-shattering isolation, the Dempster Highway is your road trip. Starting just South of Dawson City, Yukon, the Dempster Highway follows a North-easterly route past the Arctic Circle and eventually stops in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. It is the furthest North one can travel by car while still inside Canada, and you’ll certainly know it as the Boreal Forest gives way to the Arctic Tundra and rolling mountains strip themselves of greenery, leaving a barren landscape that is all but devoid of activity. A word to the wise: The Dempster is notoriously tough-going, so make sure you get a full tune up and bring a couple of spare tires. You wouldn’t want to be stuck out in the land of the midnight sun. 

Recommended Stops: Dawson City is a preserved gold-rush era town where you can still play craps in an old casino and watch cancan girls on stage. At the very beginning of the highway is Tombstone Territorial Park, one of Yukons most treasured protected areas. Other than this, the only real stops you’ll encounter on this 12 hour trip will be Eagle Plains and Fort McPherson, both offering very basic services and amenities. Don’t forget to note when you’ve crossed the Arctic Circle – this is where 24 hour daylight or darkness occur during the summer and winter seasons. I recommend travelling during fall (last two weeks of August for this area) when the tundra comes alive with wonderfully vivid autumn colours. 

10) Trans-Canada

None of these road trips long enough for you? Don’t fret, you can drive across the entire freakin’ country if you take the incredible Trans-Canada Highway! Canada has plenty of road trips for everyone, most of which branch out of a highway that hits both oceans and traverses through four different ecosystems. The Trans-Canada highway actually has two different branches, both of which offer endless options for adventure, relaxation and discovery. So go on now, get road trippin’!!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Michael's Story

 "I was born in Toronto June 21st. 1935. Had an Irish mother and a British father. My education was mostly in Canadian Private schools as my father, after WW2, became a School Master. After I finished school in 1952 I went to Guernsey in the Channel Islands where my mother was living. I started work on a Dutch cargo boat taking tomatoes from Guernsey to Belfast in Northern Ireland. That was fun! I also rented out deck chairs at a beach. Finally, in 1955 after a quick trip back to Canada where I got a job with the Bell Telephone in Montreal, I returned to London and joined the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank – now HSBC – and was posted to Malasyia in ’57. While in London with the bank I also got interested in ballet along with my then girlfriend. Then, on the same day that the bank informed me of my posting to Singapore, that evening at ballet practice my teacher – Margaret Morris – asked me if I’d like to join a new ballet company – The Celtic Ballet - she was forming in Glasgow, Scotland! What a choice, and all on the same day! I chose the bank, as I knew my father would undo his nut if I chose the ballet, as he had been a strict military officer as well as a strict schoolmaster. I also wanted to live in other cultures and learn - but it was a hard decision. I worked in Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Caribbean and finally on Wall Street. Then I went to the Yukon in 1970.

It was my wonderful mother who opened my eyes to the spiritual path. That was on an island called Sark near Guernsey where she had taken me one beautiful day in 1952 to quietly introduce me to her spiritual insights. I embraced it immediately! Then when I went to London to the bank I connected with a spiritual group called the White Eagle Lodge. They were wonderful people and still exist. I also went overseas to Buddhist temples and learned from the monks, and also to Hindu temples for the same reason. Finally, I became a member of the Theosophical Society first founded by the Russian lady Helena Blavatsky in the 1880s. Wherever I went I always connected with spiritual groups with whom I felt comfortable. I learned much.

In the 1960s I had two special teachers who were a great influence on me. The first was the very well known Major Tudor Pole who worked with the King and Churchill during the war and who, at the time, was in Glastonbury, England, where my mother was. I was again on my 6 months home leave from the bank after another tour in Pakistan, and became intrigued in helping to restore the Chalice Well and Gardens there, which TP had started to do. He had a very powerful influence on me, although I didn’t entirely realise it at the time.

The other teacher was Namjyal Rinpoche whom I met when I returned to Toronto in 1967 having then changed banks and joined the Bank of Nova Scotia’s foreign staff in the Caribbean - Trinidad. When I went home on leave it was he who in 1970 influenced me to move to the Yukon and leave my banking profession. He had had a vision and knew that the northern lands of the earth would be the safest in these critical unfolding times as we pass between Ages.

 So, my first 10 years in the Yukon were living in the bush off and on where I built a log cabin and a greenhouse and survived very well - eventually with a loving and beautiful wife, and two children. Rinpoche actually came up with some students in 1977 and brought them to visit me in our bush home, which was 7 miles off the main road on a bush trail! It was, it seemed, his stamp of approval! He taught me so much. He passed from this life in 2003. He is greatly missed.

While in the Yukon I worked in real estate where I did quite well and was, at one point, in the top 100 in Canada out of 90,000 – not bad eh!  At one point I also worked in a local organic bakery called The Alpine Bakery.

I would also like to add that since I was 18 I have been a vegetarian, feeling that all life is sacred and a healthier way to eat. At 77 and still healthy I feel I have proven that. It is however important to eat organic foods otherwise your body cells do not get the nutrition they need. North Americans are the sickest people in the world and no one is asking why! The way to health is to look at the CAUSE of ill health not ‘cure’! Of course medical doctors have their place but I look to the Alternative health professionals first, and herbal cures before others.

I love the Yukon and its relative quiet and beauty, especially these days when you look out at a world going mad! For those who also recognise this unfolding crisis humanity is facing, here in Yukon would be a great area to live and be an example in which to demonstrate community living, while it – Yukon - still presents such pristine beauty and inspiration.

Thank you Aaron for this opportunity to share with others. Live Long and Prosper!  J  Michael."

Bloggers note: Michael Brine lives in Whitehorse, Yukon and has been a good friend of mine for over two years. When I asked him to share his incredible story, he graciously obliged and wrote this passage for my blog. Thank YOU Michael for sharing a small part of your life. What a wonderful picture you paint.

Michael Brine is currently a regular columnist for the Whitehorse Star and active blogger on the website Mission Ignition - Beyond the Box. He can also be contacted via email at