4 Classically Canadian Getaways

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From the Ex to the Stampede, here are some getaway ideas for your great Canadian summer.

Floating fun down a lazy river
By Ken Hegan

Camping? Fishing? Climbing some big dumb mountain? All lame compared to floating down the Penticton river channel on a hot summer day. I’m serious. Floating is the most fun you’ll have in Canada this summer.

Here’s how to become a channel-floating master:
1. Head to Penticton, B.C., a semi-arid desert town in B.C.’s Okanagan wine region. Best time to float: mid-June through Labour Day weekend, between 1 and 6 p.m. when the sun’s hottest.

2. Buy a floatie (inflatable raft) at Canadian Tire, which bills itself as The Floatie Capital of Canada. Or get a two-person floatie at Save-On Foods on Main Street for $35. Get a floatie with mesh bottoms so you don’t fall through, plus a built-in drink cooler (!) and a can holder by your wrist.

3. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, a towel, a cooler bag with drink cans and ice, plus cash or credit card for the bus ($6) or taxi back.

4. The launch site is at 215 Riverside Dr., just off Eckhardt Avenue West on the north end of town. Bury your keys in the bushes…you don’t want to lose them in the water.

5. Floating’s free, though Coyote Cruises will inflate your floatie for $2 or rent you a tube for $6.

6. Tie your floaties together to make a flotilla. It’s more fun to float with friends.

7 Walk down the steps into the channel. Place floatie in water.

8. Ease backwards onto your raft. Then let the current sweep you downstream.

9. Apply cold drink to your lips.

10. Tilt your head back and laugh at how great your life is. Your float ends three to four hours later when the channel flows into Skaha Lake. During this sunny seven-kilometre ride, your life will improve by 1,000 percent.

Next: Travel to Calgary

…not running with the bulls
By Will Ferguson

Few cities have as strong a built-in word association as Calgary. Say “Calgary” and the next word is almost inevitably “Stampede.” It’s a city and an event steeped in superlatives (how many other attractions would have the audacity to label themselves The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!). The tilt-a-whirl lights of the midway, the thundering of the chuckwagons, the brash bravado of the bull riders and the graceful pirouettes of the women’s barrel racing: Calgary’s annual Stampede is a heady swirl of Western lore.

Like most Calgarians, I have an ambivalent relationship with the Stampede and, as much as I love (and occasional hate) this massive enterprise that takes over the city once a year, it’s worth looking outside the city as well, to lesser known venues off the beaten track. The small-town rodeos of my youth were spent draped over the fences watching the local bronc riders and calf ropers, while eating the melting grit of cotton candy. Every community across the prairies has its own rodeo, but only one allows amateurs the chance to personally injure themselves.

Drive east out of Calgary and you will soon come to Strathmore, Alta., (pop: 12,000) home to Canada’s only “running with the bulls.” Note: with the bulls, not of the bulls. The bulls are run, not through the streets of Strathmore, but in the town’s main corral. There is less raw danger than you get in Pamplona, more camaraderie. Contestants–from as far away as Denmark and Australi— dress up, usually in bright red “bull-enraging” costumes (a myth, of course; bulls are color-blind). The bulls of Strathmore don’t have the elongated sharpened horns you’d find in Spain, but they are still more than capable of flinging someone in the air like a rag doll, and runners have been trampled, head-butted, knocked down–and unconscious.

No taste for danger? Well, if you’re under six, you can always join Strathmore’s Mutton Busting event: sheep riding for tykes. I took part in similar events as a child in my hometown in northern Alberta where I learned that nothing is longer than eight seconds on the back of a bucking bronco (or jogging sheep, as the case may be). Having conquered the Mutton Busting in my youth, would I ever be tempted to run with the bulls? Not on your life. Would I watch it from the safety of the Strathmore grandstand? Absolutely.

If you go: The next Running with the Bulls takes place July 29 to Aug. 1, 2016.

Next: Visit the CNE in Toronto

"Ground view of midway spinning ride in Toronto, Canadian National Exhibition.More thrills:"
Ground view of midway spinning ride in Toronto, Canadian National Exhibition.

…channelling a carnie
By Lynn Crosbie

This August, the Canadian National Exhibition will be in its 139th year. And while the rest of you are posting mellow shots of your cottage’s compost heap, I will be, as always, at the CNE (a.k.a. the Ex). Just sweating like a quarter-horse, nauseated by my Tribute to Corn (corn-veg-dogs, the popped sort, and whole butter-slicked cobs) and carrying a deformed Scooby Doo that feels stuffed with flammable Styrofoam onto another terrifying ride.


Because it is the last genuine historical attraction in the city: genuinely terrifying that is! The Ex is like Canada’s Wonderland’s evil homunculus sister where one screams at the probability, not the illusion of disaster. You know that slasher film where a lunatic in a rayon wig is butchering sorority girls, and you feel scared and secure that it is fake?

Scared is all you feel at a carnival that arrives in trucks and is erected overnight by some of the most fearsome looking men and women alive: why should they care if one of the old rusted screws is loose? If a twirling cage is bent and about to snap off the ride’s bar? I once saw a carnie accidentally jam the Spinning Teacups, notice that children were weeping and run away down the fairground.

This is the Ex: a filthy, deafening horror show filled with deep-fried, bacon-wrapped fudge sandwiches, rigged games and a shopping mall loaded with failed inventions (“Please try our vibrating, lemon-scented shoehorn!”).

And then there is the entertainment: you may join hundreds of other boiling hot people who have lost their will to live as they listen to the house band, the Carpet Frogs, cover any song you want. What everyone wants is a horrible Bob Seger song, but so what.

The safest ride, offering a gorgeous view of the park, is the Ferris wheel. But it’s a secret screamer: there are no seat belts or hand grips, and one must embark with strangers. How then can we be sure our new seatmate is not the homicidal wig man, ready to give us a quick, sharp shove out of the death gondola? When the screaming’s done, it’s time to have more beer with the band, maul some cotton candy and possibly ride the safe, repugnant Euroslide that sluices through filthy, grey water.

Time to flirt with a frightened carnie for some free mole-whacking, enjoy a card of Bingo and sit in one of the feet-massaging chairs as you watch histrionic children, tramp-stamped bouffant-wearing moms and dads the size of the twirling hippos walk by in terry shorts and soiled tanks.

Think I have never been this happy, as I walk home slowly, holding a toy and snack for my dog. I can’t wait to tell him everything.

Next: Enjoy the perfect combo in Montreal

…enjoying the perfect combo
By Dick Snyder

Most days would start start and end with bagels and smoked meat. Or some combination. That was the essence of Montreal for me as a poor student. The fuel that got me through a music degree at Concordia University back in the 1980s. To this day, I don’t remember my first taste of these delightful treats but I always remember my last. And that keeps me going till next time. (Ah, it’s a long trek from Toronto…)

I was born in Montreal, on the West Island, but grew up in Newfoundland. (Long story.) My first taste of Montreal smoked meat came during a family trip to Montreal when I was 10 or 11. We went to Ben’s, the legendary downtown deli that’s now closed. My father used to hang out there when he was studying engineering in the 1940s. He ate at Schwartz’s and The Main, too, up on the Plateau – the two iconic smoked meat joints I’d read so much about in novels by Mordecai Richler. I think Richler got me hooked on smoked meat and bagels before I’d ever tasted them, come to think of it. He was that good a writer.

When my folks retired to the Eastern Townships, about 90 minutes from Montreal, I’d visit on weekends, bringing along the mandatory supplies. From The Main, a pound of smoked meat, a loaf of light rye and a bottle of Putter’s full sours. From Fairmont Bagel, a dozen bagels, a container of cream cheese, a package of Nanuk smoked salmon. That was my ticket home. Sometimes I’d grab a cigar from Blatter et Blatter, the family-run pipe shop near Place des Arts. Dad always liked that. (The shop, established in 1907, is still there.)

One summer I worked in a record store that gave me free tickets to shows at the Montreal Jazz Festival. What a summer that was: endless music pouring out of every club and venue, happy people hanging out on terraces or sauntering around the Plateau (most of them smoking). I’d work all day, catch an early show, grab a smoked meat, catch a late show, then get some bagels for the trip home or, more usually, head to some after-hours affair. We’d walk and eat from a paper bag overflowing with hot bagels. Arriving at a house party, the aroma of warm bagels would announce our arrival. It was a great way to make friends.

What are your travel plans this summer? Let us know in the comments!