Exploring Canada’s majestic landscapes in the winter

Graham McKenzie takes a trip to the Great White North and discovers a host of activities to keep the winter blues away

A winter trip to Canada for most people represents one thing and that is a fabulous week of skiing, but not me. I don’t ski. For me it offers the opportunity to experience this fabulous giant country when, in many respects, it is at its most spectacular.

To enjoy pursuits and adventures that are only possible in the colder months and at a time when there are fewer people around and as a consequence the costs are lower. It also exposes one to the natural warmth and hospitality of the Canadian people. This is offered not in an obsequious Uriah Heep style, but a genuine warmth born out of a relaxed and caring society.

As a holiday destination, it is a huge asset to possess. I mention this as this blanket of bonhomie was never more in evidence than during my recent winter visit to the Great White North which started off in Jasper National Park in Alberta.

The Mountains are calling, and I must go

The foothills of the Rockies, during the days when the temperature gauge never rises above zero, create a fabulous winter wonderland that even local boy Micheal Bublé would sing about. Snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, wildlife, and ice canyons offer a unique blend of adventure and charm.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Staying at the Fairmont Jasper National Park Lodge I felt at home straight away – indeed the accommodation was a very up market self-catering lodge that had every facility you could wish for. Three bedrooms, kitchen, log fire, internet and, even though it was well into January, a Christmas tree with lights. On one of the evenings, we had the privilege of an in-house chef who came in and cooked dinner using local ingredients followed by a fireside chat with an elder from the area’s Indigenous people. Fascinating, educational, and fun.

Men and moose and pine trees

It was however the great outdoors that was the constant lure. The three days we were there flew by as we enjoyed the location to its full extent.

First up was a wildlife watch and sure enough before long we encountered caribou, elk, moose, mountain goats and bighorn sheep but alas no bears or wolves. Human and bear interaction is, needless to say, not encouraged to the extent that, as I found out later, the locals are not allowed to grow fruit during the summer as the ursine sense of smell is so acute it would lure them into people’s back gardens. Not good.

his does not however deter moose and elk coming to the roads to lick the salt laid down to prevent icing. During the winter months elk are so common they can be seen strolling, Bublé style, around the centre of the small town of Jasper without, seemingly, a care in the world.

Always fresh

Jasper, the commercial centre of the National Park, is an interesting place which during the summer is thronged with tourists but during the winter not so much. What is left however is a fabulous array of independent shops, museums detailing the history of the town, the railway station which is fundamental to today as it is to the past, plus an eclectic mix of restaurants and food outlets.

Needless to say, the ubiquitous Canadian fast-food chain Tim Hortons has a branch in town but alongside it are purveyors of some truly delicious food. I took trips round half a dozen of them with Jasper Foodie Tours and at each stop we were provided with a reasonably substantial example of the fare plus a paired drink.

Alongside all of this was a detailed guided history of the town, its development and a sense of how close the community of Jasper is, especially during the winter when due to the fact there are not so many tourists, everybody has a lot more time to reconnect.

Ice ice baby

The next day it was back to nature, and it could not have been more spectacular as I ventured into the heart of the park. Shod in special ice cleats and helmet, I embarked on an exhilarating ice canyon walk. I had never heard of such a thing.

Outside of winter the canyon is a torrent of fresh mountain spring water but when I encountered it t’was like a scene from Game of Thrones set in Winterfell. Guided by experienced local experts, I traversed the almost two and half miles of frozen pathways at the bottom of the Maligne Canyon, marvelling at the towering ice formations, walking under static waterfalls and crystal-clear streams that carved through the rugged terrain. The air was crisp, the silence profound, and the beauty utterly mesmerising – a true communion with nature at its most sublime. It is without doubt a memory that will last forever, and it is highly recommended.

Starry starry night

And we were not finished. Jasper National Park is also a designated Dark Sky Park, and, in the evening, we went off into the recesses of the wild to capture photographically as much of the night sky we could without the omnipresence of artificial light. These short tutorial courses are well worth doing and the little tricks learnt can be utilised anywhere in the world where the absence of manmade illumination gives rise to spectacular images even with a phone’s camera.

All aboard

Leaving Jasper behind, I now embarked on a three-day train journey aboard the luxurious Jasper-Via Rail to Toronto. What an adventure!

Apart from dozing off on the Victoria to Haywards Heath late night express after a glass of wine, I had never slept on a train before. As the train chugged through snow-covered forests and quaint towns, I was treated to panoramic views of Canada’s pristine winter landscape. Cozying up in my private cabin, I watched in awe as the scenery unfolded outside my window, each passing mile revealing a new facet of this vast and diverse country.

The cabins vary in quality and cost but during winter months the prices are much keener and the trains less crowded. I had a two-berth cabin to myself, and the bed folded away to leave a comfy armchair to watch the countryside go past all in the seclusion of Chez McKenzie. If you wanted to mix it, the observation car sat up above the rest of the train offering fabulous vistas and good conversation.

Given that the majority of my fellow passengers were from Canada that endemic geniality shone through yet again. To me the train journey was like being on a cruise except, obviously, on land. At each meal service you tended to meet the same people whom, at the beginning, you were on nodding and smiling terms but by the end had developed in to close travelling buddies. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all of excellent quality and were often preceded by an aperitif from the bar.

On time in Toronto

Arriving in Toronto at the magnificent Union Station I took a short walk through the underground shopping mall to be greeted by the opulent grandeur of the Royal York Hotel. Nestled in the heart of the city, this historic landmark exudes old-world charm and modern sophistication. From the elegant lobby adorned with chandeliers to the sumptuously appointed guest rooms, every detail spoke of luxury and refinement.

It is not only a fabulous hotel but retains that inner city buzz which many lost post Covid and is central to all of the major attractions. Toronto, like all Canadian cities, is ideal for walking and even though it can get a bit nippy it is well worth doing so.

Nature’s masterpiece

No visit to the city would be complete without a trip to Niagara Falls, and so I set out to experience this natural wonder in all its glory.

Standing on the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls, I felt the raw power and beauty of nature as millions of gallons of water thundered over the edge, creating a spectacle that was both awe-inspiring and humbling. The raw power is explained in a new attraction that takes you back to the origins of hydroelectricity and the enormous power station that developed alongside the falls.

As technology has developed the need for the enormous generators has diminished and so today is stands as a testament to a bygone age. ‘Journey Beyond the Falls’ takes you through tunnels, gives access to exclusive viewing platforms and details the history and geology of the area.

Vino veritas

After marvelling at the falls, I ventured into the surrounding wine country for a tour of a local winery run by the Pellar family. Bounded by rolling vineyards blanketed in snow, I sampled exquisite wines crafted from the finest grapes, learning about the art of winemaking from knowledgeable vintners. Sipping on award-winning vintages against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes, I savoured the moment, and lunch, relishing the rich flavors and subtle nuances of each varietal.

Food glorious food

Returning to Toronto, I embarked on a culinary journey through the bustling stalls of St. Lawrence Market.

rom artisanal cheeses and freshly baked bread to exotic spices and gourmet chocolates, the market offered a tantalising array of flavours and aromas to tempt the senses. Guided by a local food expert, I sampled delicacies from around the world, discovering hidden gems and culinary delights at every turn.

With each bite, I gained a deeper appreciation for Toronto’s vibrant food scene and multicultural heritage. For many the Peameal Bacon is like a taste of home and the doorstop sarnies are well worth the few dollars they cost.

Au revoir le Canada

As my winter adventure in Canada drew to a close, I reflected on the myriad experiences that had enriched my journey. From the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Jasper National Park to the refined elegance of the Royal York Hotel, from the majestic spectacle of Niagara Falls to the culinary delights of St. Lawrence Market, each moment had left an indelible impression. In Canada’s winter embrace, I had found not only adventure and excitement but also warmth, hospitality, and a sense of wonder.

Next steps

To plan and book your holiday to Canada call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678. We can create your ideal itinerary whether you choose to visit in winter, spring, summer or autumn.


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Graham McKenzie

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