It’s easy to spout off the facts: Canada is the world’s second-largest country, with a massive diversity in its geography, flora and fauna that could awe the most well-travelled nature lover. But to truly appreciate the bounteous landscapes that we all too often take for granted, you have to get out there and see it yourself. From well-tended Victorian dahlias to ice-dwelling Arctic wildlife, here are some insights into Canada’s must-visit parks and gardens.
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, B.C.
These 55 acres were first planted in 1904, when Jennie Butchart, wife of cement manufacturer Robert, began beautifying one of her husband’s abandoned quarry sites. Today, there are four distinctly different areas, all worth a visit: the original Sunken Garden; the well-travelled Butcharts’ Japanese and Italian gardens; and the heady Rose Garden, stocked with bushes of the favoured blooms. Ducks float on Star Pond while peacocks stalk among bronze animal statues. In winter, the indoor Blue Poppy conservatory presents flowering cherries, daffodils and tulips. Cold weather guests can also visit Benevenuto, the family residence, which boasted an indoor saltwater pool and bowling alley over a century ago. Come summer’s explosion of colour, lights are set out for Night Illuminations, musical entertainment held amid the petals and beneath the stars.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
This gorgeous expanse in Alberta’s southwest is one of the province’s many natural treasures. Nestled into the Rocky Mountains are a series of ancient lakes carved out by glaciers, providing opportunities for all sorts of trips for every time frame and level of ability. If you’ve only got one day, travel along the Akamina Parkway, then hire a canoe for a paddle along the alpine Cameron Lake; or drive along the winding Red Rock Canyon Road, in hopes of spotting a grizzly or black bear, or a flock of bighorn sheep. There are many wildflower-dotted trails to enjoy on family camping trips. If you have all the time in the world, hike through Waterton Lakes and then cross over into the U.S. to continue the adventure in Montana’s breathtaking Glacier National Park – between the two parks, there are 1,400 kilometres of trail in all.
Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada, Yukon
If you’ve never been to Canada’s expansive North, start here, home of our country’s highest peak, the 5,959-metre-high Mount Logan. These 22,000 square kilometres have been home to the Kluane First Nations for thousands of years, and provide ample opportunity for outdoor activities in lush valleys and immense icefields. Camp your way along the Alsek River Valley Trail, an old mining road that meanders through rugged periglacial landscapes – you might spot moose, mountain goats or caribou. River trails lead to some of Canada’s most breathtaking ice, including the Lowell Glacier, which continually drops giant, fast-moving icebergs into the Alsek’s frigid waters. Head to Tachäl Dhäl, otherwise known as Sheep Mountain, to glimpse the Dall sheep. These fluffy white creatures are the park’s most populous animals and their magnificent curved horns take eight years to reach full size.
Maplelawn Historic Garden, Ottawa
One of the few left standing of its era, this 19th-century wall garden has been designated a natural historic site. Built as the home for Scottish immigrant William Thompson in 1831, the Maplelawn house has passed through many hands, but the building and remaining walled garden provide a clear record of the way European architectural and landscape ideas were transplanted to Canada. Though its fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been turned to lawn, the original four-square flower bed plan, with an oval bed at the centre, remains intact. Surrounded on three sides by limestone walls, the garden is designed to provide both beauty, and welcome seclusion from the hustle and bustle of public life.
Roosevelt Campobello International Park
Among the many attractions on New Brunswick’s gorgeous Bay of Fundy is the former summer home of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Along with the 34-room Roosevelt Cottage – a cedar-shingled Arts and Crafts treasure – four other restored cottages allow visitors a peek into life in a simpler time. The park in its entirety is a full day-trip – after checking out the cottage and surrounding gardens, its time for a serious hike. The Natural Area has many kilometres of walking trails that weave through forest, bog, fields, beaches and rocky headlands. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy while gazing out across the Atlantic – at the right time of year, you may see seals, harbour porpoises or even a whale.
Halifax Public Gardens
These 140-year-old gardens are another beautiful example of preserved Victorian heritage, this time right in the heart of a bustling downtown. Many of the roses and shrubs found here date back to the early 20th century, and some are no longer sold commercially. Most striking are the two brightly-hued annual beds, thickly planted with wee alyssum, tall gladioli, round dahlias and other colourful blooms. There are well-clipped carpet beds of dwarf plants, tropical beds originally planted to give locals a taste of foreign exotica, and winding footpaths bordered with familiar birches and willows, flowering tulip trees and many imported conifers.