Reporting Jay Lloyd
Visions of Mounties, Montreal eateries, majestic Rocky Mountain highs and poutine have been dancing around American heads in recent months. Should you sell the farm and head to Canada for a relatively stress free, laid back lifestyle? How about try before you buy? There isn’t a better time than right now to visit our northern neighbors. The American dollar buys about 25 percent more in everything from vacations to real property thanks to a favorable exchange rate. And as a visitor you can stay for 6 months while exploring options. “But where?” you may ask. Here are some of my favorite spots, beginning within 6-1/2 hours of home. — Jay Lloyd
Enter Canada at the Thousand Islands border crossing, a comfortable day’s drive from home and you emerge in a scenic world of small towns, a mid-size city, Kingston, the splendor of the Thousand Islands, the St. Laurence River and Lake Ontario. A quiet destination in winter, it comes to life at the onset of spring when it’s time to begin a northward exploration along the 125 mile Rideau Canal. It travels through scores of fish packed and pristine lakes. The shores are dotted with vacation homes and campsites, many owned by fellow Americans who become summertime and year-round expats. If your interest is a secluded hideaway, clean air, water sports and an amazing collection of country restaurants, here’s your spot.
Americans discover Belleville as a stop on the way from the Thousand Islands to Toronto. But linger awhile and you begin to see it as a liveable small city with a lively waterfront boating community, restaurants that meander from breakfast nooks to exotic cuisines and all the stops in between. Just sipping and slurping oysters on the Boathouse Restaurant deck, watching sailboats head for the scenic Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario is worth the visit. But Belleville is a complete city with fine housing stock, a cultural scene, shopping and local transportation. In other words, a place to retire or seek employment. And, it’s within a 1-1/2 hour drive to Canada’s largest city, Toronto, it’s sports venues and airport.
I often describe the Toronto financial district as making Wall Street look like a piggy bank. Downtown Toronto is laid out to provide a walkable environment that encompasses a dynamic restaurant district, financial center, sports complex, theaters, lively waterfront and efficient public transit system. The largest Canadian city offers opportunity for recreation and culture on a short term visit or long term business interests. It reminds me somewhat of Philadelphia with its St. Lawrence Market, quite like the Reading Terminal Market, and an old prohibition era distillery district converted to a boutique shopping, restaurant and craft beer destination. Toronto may be one of the tidiest towns you’ve ever seen.
Nova Scotia or New Scotland embodies a mirror image of its Scottish topographical heritage. From craggy shores on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Highlands that rise above Cape Breton fishing villages, this Canadian Maritime Province offers urban and country backdrops and a rich food source, raised from the sea. American retirees have been eyeing Nova Scotia in growing numbers and for visitors it opens a treasure trove of scenic beauty, pristine country drives, city lights nightlife and culture, combined with a colorful history. The urban center at Halifax was the first to send rescue and recovery ships to the site of the Titanic disaster. It was a center for spanning the continents with trans-Atlantic cable and a launching point for the vital World War II convoys.
Waterfront restaurants, an envied botanical garden, a fascinating maritime museum and an eyefilling fortress that traces its history to 18th century Canada are all within easy reach on foot or by public transportation. Some recommendations for a exploratory visit would include, several nights in Halifax with a lunch at Salty’s on the waterfront and dinner at the Five Fishermen. It’s fresh seafood country, so make the most of it. Then drive off to Cape Breton Island with a stop at North America’s first single malt distillery, Glenora. Circumnavigate Cape Breton (clockwise) with a must stop for whale watching and fresh lobster at Pleasant Bay. You may not want to return home.
No question. The Province of Quebec bordering on New York and Vermont is decidedly French. Americans will be most comfortable on the fabled city of Montreal if possessing a working knowledge of the language and understand the intense nationalistic feelings of the locals. The restaurants here are as close as you’ll get to those of Paris, with much larger portions. Favorite meals here have been an incomparable veal stew that would make Julia Child wild, craving inducing smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s Deli and a Montreal staple, Poutine. More Americans have been looking at McGill University here for their college bound offspring. For visitors with a yen for winter sports head northwest to the Laurentian Mountains and resorts from Saint-Sauveur to Mont Tremblant. Or, head east from Montreal to the Eastern Townships where you’ll find scenic lakes with magical names like Memphremagog for skating, snowmobiling and ice fishing. Mont Sutton, Bromont and Owl’s Head provide family skiing and snowboarding. For history, winter sports, scenic beauty and old world feeling, Quebec City, about 150 miles northeast of Montreal is a journey into the past. You’ll find an early 16th century walled city with an overlooking command of the St. Lawrence River and laid with cobblestone streets. Inside the walls is a city that meanders between European tradition and North American lifestyle with the centerpiece, the castle-like Chateau Frontenac and nearby challenging skiing on Mont Saint-Anne. Summer is pretty special too.