All aboard for fall festivals

In eastern Canada autumn is short and sweet — and exquisitely beautiful. From the magic of moonlit vineyards at harvest to vast maple forests, the changing fall colours inspire a celebration of nature, culture and tradition.

For leaf peepers looking to avoid traffic hassles, VIA Rail offers a tempting alternative to driving. VIA’s Windsor-Quebec City corridor service, which passes through London and Toronto, offers a variety of accommodations with daily departures.

In premier VIA 1 Class, for example, travellers can stretch out and enjoy a meal accompanied with a cocktail and wine service while marveling at the changing season drifting past the large picture windows.

Certainly eastern Canada offers no shortage of fall festivals. VIA Rail offers the following suggestions for “leaf peeping” and fall activities for October and early November:

Montréal area:

The world-famous Montréal Botanical Garden features 22,000 plants, 30 thematic gardens and ten exhibition greenhouses. Every year, the garden hosts Halloween-themed events throughout October too — like it’s famous Great Pumpkin Ball. For more information, visit

Among the colourful natural attractions in the Montréal region is Mount Royal Park located right in the city and designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s Central Park.

Extending from southern Québec to the shores of the St. Lawrence River, the Laurentian Mountains are also worth a leaf-peeping side trip.

Ottawa area:

Fall Rhapsody (early to mid-October) features the fall colours at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. Located just fifteen minutes from Parliament Hill, the festival’s activities include the Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off, guided tours of the park, family and children’s activities, and more. Explore the many trails on foot or by bicycle, and visit Luskville Falls for a spectacular view from atop the Eardley Escarpment.

During peak leaf-peeping season, stop buy on a weekend for that “Follies of the Fall Forest” free guided tour.

See the National Capital Commission website for more details.

Québec City area :

The Québec City Festival of Sacred Music (September 8-16, 2012) celebrates spiritual traditions from around the world. Another fall favourite is Le Salon des vins et fromage, a prestigious wine festival with numerous vineyards offering samples of the world’s most northern wines paired with local cheese (held mid-October).

Leaf-peeping highlights in the Québec City area include:

Cap Tourmente. Take in the beauty of the marshes, lowlands, mountains and impressive bird life along the St. Lawrence River. An easy 45-minute drive from downtown Québec City;

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, a vast mountainous plateau with deep gorges and steadily flowing rivers, is ideal for hiking, boating, biking and fishing;

– Montmorency Falls in the Laurentian Mountains is less than half an hour from downtown Québec City. The Falls – higher than Niagara Falls – offer a breathtaking view of nature’s sheer beauty and a dazzling display of fall colour.

– Nearby is the Ile d’Orleans, a forested island dotted with old farms and orchards, perfect for an apple-picking excursion.

Niagara region:

What better way to enjoy the colours and flavours of the season than relaxing with good friends and a glass of wine? St. Catherine’s annual Niagara Wine Festival celebrates the best the region has to offer, including winery tours and tastings, afternoon concerts, and outdoor parties. The event runs from September 21-30, 2012 and features such highlights as the Grande Parade, Celebrity Luncheon and Artisan Fair at the city’s historic Montebello Park.

See the festival website for more information on accommodations, participating wineries and tickets.

Waterloo region:

Get ready for some great food and polka at Canada’s second largest festival, the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. A nod to the region’s German roots, this year’s festival has over 40 events so there’s a little something for everyone. In addition to food, beer and polka music, there’s the annual parade, fashion show, car show and a grand Expo. The event runs from October 5-13, 2012 with the “keg tapping” opening ceremonies on the first day of the festival. See the festival website for more information.

It’s also harvest season for the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market and a great time to experience fall in the countryside. Hope aboard the Waterloo Central Railway to ride an old-fashioned steam-engine train from Uptown Waterloo to St. Jacobs. If you’re driving, take a tour down the scenic roads of the St. Jacobs and Elmira countryside to take advantage of the changing colours.

For more information on a fall rail adventure, contact VIA at or 1-888-842-7245 (888-VIA-RAIL).

Touring packages for VIA’s Corridor services can be viewed at and a calendar of major events across Canada at Events and tourist sites page.

Special, supersaver and discount fares are also available. If your travels will take you far and wide, a Corridor Pass will get you 10 days of travel throughout Windsor-Quebec City for a lower price than booking individual tickets (there are discounts for youth age 25 and under and people over the age of 60 too).

And if you’re looking for fall colours at their best, keep an eye on Ontario Parks’ Fall Colour Report.

Naturally, this is just a small selection of the many events taking place this fall. Feel free to add to the list in the comments!