When I travel I prefer to discover the charm of a small town over that of a big city. There are always exceptions – Quebec City for example, but on the whole I like the simplicity of visiting smaller centres. Here are 10 small towns in Canada I think you’ll want to visit.
With only 200 year-round residents, Trinity remains compact and very walkable. The best time to visit is in summer when everything is open including the Rising Tide Theatre. In the town itself you can visit galleries and small shops, check out old cemeteries and churches and dine very well at the Twine Loft. Nearby you can go whale watching, explore the Bonavista Peninsula or even visit the site of Random Passage (a TV mini-series). Hiking is excellent in town and on the nearby Skerwink Trail.
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
I’m partial to Wolfville as I spent a summer living in what is now the Blomidon Inn – but well before it was refurbished. Because its home to Acadia University there’s always a lot going on when it comes to courses and culture. Nearby you can wander the red mud-flats – with some of the best examples in Blomidon Provincial Park on the Bay of Fundy. Sample some darned good wine in the Grand-Pré area, visit the Grand-Pré National Historic site, go bird watching, bike, tube on the local rivers and enjoy the simple camaraderie of locals in a café.
St. Andrews, New Brunswick
With a population under 2,000, what you’ll find is a cute seaside town, with lots of centuries old buildings that harken to its colonial heritage. St. Andrews is one of New Brunswick’s hot destinations – especially in summer when beaches beckon and golf courses are open. Whale watching tours are popular; there is some excellent sea kayaking and renting a bike is a great way to experience the town. Don’t miss a visit to the Kingsbrae Gardens – one of the top public gardens in Canada. When you’re hungry, chow down on a fresh lobster roll.
Another town I love is Niagara-on-the-Lake. Not only did I get married here, but I lived here for 18 months and ran a flower shop on Queen Street. Granted it’s a bit touristy, but if you get off the main street what you’ll find is a town filled with beautiful, historic houses and a very active and welcoming community. Aside from the Shaw Festival – that runs from mid-April to early November, you can spend days wine tasting, visiting orchards, biking along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara Falls and beyond, golfing, shopping and dining. You need at least a weekend to get a feel for this town. It’s also magical at Christmas.
It’s a toss-up in my mind between Magog and Lac-Brome for the best small town in Quebec. Granted I haven’t seen the entire province (but most of it) and I was very impressed at what Magog offered the visitor. Located on the shores of Lac Memphremagog, it’s a pretty place with great restaurants and shops. There’s plenty to do nearby – including cycling the Green Route that runs through the town and skiing at any number of local resorts in the winter. A visit to the Abbaye Saint-Benoit is also very worthwhile; check out the interior of the building and sample and buy the cheese made by the Benedictine monks who reside here. For some of the best Mexican food you’ll eat outside of Mexico, check out Guacamole y Tequila at 112 Rue Principale Ouest.
Located 90 minutes north of Winnipeg on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, what you’ll find in Hecla is a small but strong community with Icelandic routes. Originally settled in 1876, it has seen its’ share of tough times. But since the summer of 1975 when Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park has been in existence, life has improved. If you’re a cyclist, kayaker, hiker, birder or history buff, it’s a great place to explore. In winter visit for the cross-country skiing. There are only a few places to stay and eat – a B&B and a resort though there is lots of camping available too. On a summer weekend don’t miss a visit to Integrity Foods – located on a strip of farmland north of Riverton. Order a pizza and get it baked to order in an outside oven. While you wait admire the surrounding gardens and say hello to the cute goats on the property.
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan
In what feels like the middle of nowhere, you’ll find Maple Creek. The nearest ‘big city’ – Medicine Hat is 100 kilometres to the west and to visit you must leave the Trans-Canada Highway. Maple Creek is close enough to Cypress Hills InterProvincial Park that you can visit on a day trip; the town offers a Jamie Oliver trained chef, fantastic five million star accommodation – at the Ghostown Blues and access to the Saskatchewan’s Great Sand Hills – huge dunes everyone will want to explore. Visit between May and October.
Located about 90 minutes north of Calgary, Lacombe has been called by author Bill Corbett – ‘a rare prairie town that has preserved and restored many of its early 20th century buildings and maintained one of Alberta’s finest Edwardian streetscapes.’
Visit for the beautiful downtown boasting six designated Provincial Historic Buildings and some excellent murals but also for all the nearby things to do. The Ellis Bird Farm is an outstanding place to visit in spring and summer for the birds, gardens and the teahouse; the Kraay Family Farm reportedly offers one of the best corn mazes in the province – with 15 acres of nine foot tall corn and the Lacombe Agricultural Research Centre is home to a truly fascinating weed garden.
Food recommendations from local travel writer Debbie Olsen include the Morrison House Café for lunch or afternoon tea. She says don’t miss the fresh in-house pies. For dinner check out Letos Restaurant or The Station, particularly if you love calamari. Another must stop for people on gluten-free diets is the Totally Gluten Free Bakery. Debbie says people travel from Calgary just to load up on baked goods. For farm gate shops she suggests Brown Eggs and Lamb.
Tofino, British Columbia
I’m overdue for a visit to Tofino. Now that I live in Calgary, it’s a serious jaunt to get there. But it’s always worth it, no matter what the season.The town of under 2,000 people endures on average 3.3 metres of rain per year so they can live in a beautiful temperate rain forest with monster big trees. Magnificent beaches are another major draw. So is the food. Don’t miss Tacofino Cantina, Wolf in the Fog or for a real splurge The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn.
Try cold-water surfing, whale watching and a visit to the hotsprings. Sea kayaking is first class and the cycling is easy. Beautiful accommodation options ensure you can have a room with a view – if you stay at the Wickaninnish Inn, Long Beach Resort or Middle Beach Lodge.
You could easily spend a week in Tofino – just bring lots of reading material for those rainy days.
Dawson City, Yukon Territory
If you want to visit a town with a colourful past then be sure to visit Dawson City. Though its not the easiest place to get to as it’s a seven hour drive from Whitehorse – it sure is pretty. Check out the Discovery Claim – where the famous gold rush started. With a little gold panning on the Goldbottom Mine Tour, you might catch a case of gold fever yourself. Take a cruise on a paddle wheeler, join a Parks Canada guided hike complete with Robert Service poetry readings. Visit the Midnight Dome for the views and check out the Jack London Museum. Join 100,000 members who have quaffed the famous Sourtoe Cocktail – where your lips must touch the toe. And wander the town. It’s filled with houses in a rainbow of colours.
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