Don’t get me wrong; the skiing in Canada is, indeed, awesome. The world-class resorts and seemingly endless backcountry provide a bounty of opportunities for skiers and snowboarders alike. But if you only go skiing during your working holiday and see nothing else, then you’re missing out. I say this having recently finished three winter seasons in Canada. Maybe you’ve never considered travelling Canada or picking it over Australia for a working holiday because skiing or being cold just really isn’t your thing. Let me explain to you why there is a lot more to Canada than that.
Some of the best scenery in the world
Those incredible views from the slopes that the skiers and snowboarders are always raving about…well, the good news is that you can see them in the summer too. The snow and ice melts come late spring to reveal thousands of trails for hikers to explore. If you’ve never really thought of yourself as a hiker, that’s OK. Some of the best sights are easily accessible, such as the picture perfect emerald coloured Peyto Lake in Banff National Park. You may have to fight a coach-load of people to get a good photo though.
If you are up for some hiking, Canada may be one of the best places in the world to try it out. There are a huge amount of low effort but high reward hikes out there which might just convert you. The off-trail hike my boyfriend Jean Robert and I did to the top of Rake Mountain in Yukon Territory was one of the best, and it only took a total of three hours one-way. When we reached the summit and saw those unbelievable views across the wilderness it was truly one of those ‘pinch me, I’m dreaming’ moments.
Canadian summers are surprisingly hot (and amazingly fun)
And when I say hot, I mean it. There are a number of places all over the country where summer temperatures consistently reach 38/39 degrees centigrade. There’s even an area in British Columbia that is actually a desert, complete with rattlesnakes and cacti. Before living in Canada, I had assumed the summers would be a bit like British ones – sometimes good, but more often than not a bit disappointing. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Canadian summers are awesome, and not only due to the consistent sunshine on offer. A major part of summer in Canada is dedicated to swimming, tubing, fishing, boating and sunbathing in or around lakes. Even the most popular summer hikes seem to revolve around lakes. Living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, we also had the Pacific Ocean to play in, too. I think we went camping pretty much every weekend that first summer. And then did the same the following year. Summer in Canada is ridiculously fun, I promise.
You can experience the best that a Canadian summer has to offer by working at a summer camp, like Camp Canada. This gives you the chance to earn some spending money with a job that feels like a vacation, with plenty of opportunity to travel when your placement is over.
Arriving into Canada from Europe, you probably don’t have high hopes for Canadian towns and cities. Well, you’d be half right. While a fair amount of towns are the opposite of aesthetically pleasing, there is a handful that may prove you wrong. Toronto and Vancouver are not only world-class cities in terms of standard of living, but they are also pretty stunning to look at. Vancouver, for example, is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and actual mountains. This means it is possible to hike up a peak in the afternoon and then get back to the city in time for after-work drinks.
The cities that truly surprised me though were Montreal and Quebec City. Obviously I knew they had a strong French background (duh), but I didn’t realise that areas of these cities would look so European, too. And I’ve got to say, they were pretty fun; vibrant, buzzing and really not a side to Canada I ever expected.
Alternative winter entertainment
There’s more to winter in Canada than skiing. There are plenty of other activities to get excited about that do not involve throwing yourself down a hill on one or two long pieces of wood. Snowshoeing is surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than it looks and no longer features huge tennis-racket style footgear. Better still, snowshoeing is great on windy days with bad visibility, when skiing wouldn’t be too much fun anyway. Sling some camping gear on your back and you have yourself a winter camp-out in the backcountry. I haven’t tried this yet as there were always plenty of other winter distractions such as surfing, golfing and kayaking.
Contrary to common belief, not all of Canada gets that cold in winter. So during an average winter on Vancouver Island I would snowboard a couple of times a week and then even it out with some paddling as well. Now living in a very flat part of northern British Columbia, the snowboarding is a bit limited. But there’s dog-sledding, ice-fishing and snowmobiling to make up for it. Canadians know how to do winter, mountains or not.
Canada has history too!
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘100 miles is a long way in Europe, but 100 years is a long time in North America’? It is pretty accurate in Canada’s case, although it doesn’t necessarily mean there is not much history and culture here. There is actually a fair bit, though it takes more effort to find. Take last summer for example; Jean Robert and I paddled 740km down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City, in the footsteps (or rather, paddle strokes) of thousands of Klondike Gold Rush miners. On the way, we found old boats, cabins and abandoned mining equipment; all left behind when the miners moved on.
The time warp didn’t end when we arrived into Dawson City. The small town looks much how it did 100 years ago, with traditional shop frontages, boardwalk for pavement, paddle steamers on the river and an old-style casino complete with can-can girls. JR got in the spirit and joined the ‘Sour Toe Club’ by downing a cocktail with a dehydrated human toe in it.
See what I mean when I say that Canada isn’t only about skiing? Not only is there some of the best scenery in the world, millions of lakes to swim in during hot summer days, vibrant cities to explore and new winter sports to try, there are also alcoholic drinks with human body parts in them. With this in mind, how could you not want to stop in Canada on your round-the-world trip or working holiday?
Gemma lives, works, and road-trips her way around the world with her French Canadian boyfriend JR, but they’ve settled in Canada for now. Their blog, Off Track Travel, focuses on outdoor adventure, off the beaten track destinations and working holiday advice.