Journey to Western Canada

By Nathalie Journeault

When we arrived to Alberta, we first visited downtown Calgary and were very impressed by all the tall buildings. It was simply magnificent! They represent the magnitude of the large companies that inhabits the city. Calgary is a beautiful city and it’s easy to get around because of the wide avenues and boulevards. Everything is very chic, and these beautiful large buildings are well decorated with beautiful landscaping. There also is a river nearby with several large parks. We remember Calgary as a quiet and very clean city where you feel safe at all times.

We visited the city on the week-end and quickly noticed something that we are not used to in Quebec: the vast majority of restaurants, boutiques and other businesses are mostly closed on Sundays. The city was incredibly calm and we concluded that people were probably enjoying this free time with their family in the surrounding parks. It was a very hot afternoon and we even saw several people swim in the Bow River and float with different types of rafts. The C-Train was busy and passed frequently, but without disturbing the tranquility of the city.

A trip to Calgary is not complete without a visit to 12th Street North East where we were happy to see all of the AGAT Laboratories’ buildings, and was most impressed with the famous 2905! The number of AGAT offices on this street was impressive and made us realize the magnitude of its local presence.

It is whilst visiting Banff National Park not far from the city that we realized this is where people probably go to enjoy their down time with their family. What a magnificent region! Countless activities were offered with information both in English and French, and we were excited to discover everything that this region had to offer. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are definitely extraordinary! The scenery along this route was breathtaking with all the incredible lakes and rivers.

In the National Parks, several sites are set up to accommodate thousands of people in a very safe way so that everybody can discover and enjoy everything it has to offer. A shuttle service is available to facilitate access to the most popular sites. There is of course downtown Banff, a must to visit, and the historical “Cave and Bassin” attraction that has its own source of natural hot water. We also visited Lake Louise (which is splendid) as well as its ski center. Not far from there, Lac Moraine stands out because of its spectacular color and the surrounding mountains. We also learnt that an image of this absolutely magnificent place can be found on the old 20 dollar Canadian bills. Another truly impressive and well-designed site is the Johnston Canyon Falls. A well laid out sidewalk allowed us to drive through the canyon and lead us to beautiful waterfalls.

Historic basement and basin in Banff.

The unmissable cable car in Banff.

Site of Johnston Canyon Falls.

Lake Louise and its famous hotel.

Moraine Lake, beautiful.

On our way to Jasper National Park, we drove 230 km along turquoise rivers. The water was so clear that you could guess how cold it was since we knew it was coming directly from the mountains and glaciers. We were also fortunate enough to see Peyto Lake, Bow Glacier, Columbia Icefield Center, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.

The road is so beautiful!

Lake Peyto, a stop not to be missed.

Bow Lake

The Columbia glacier. The first photograph shows the location of the glacier in 1925.

Sunwapta Falls

Athabasca Falls

We then arrived in Jasper, a welcoming small town with a very touristy center area with restaurants and shops of all kinds. The city’s economy once depended on the railroad system and there is still a considerable presence of railways and locomotives all over town which adds to its charm. Rail transportation is still very active in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. We saw a lot of trains passing by in the valleys near the roads.

Wapitis, bears, deer, mountain goats, and the small prairie dogs are part of the wildlife in this part of the country and are highly visible in national parks. It is definitely part of the charm of the region. It was also interesting to learn that the natural thermal springs basins of water are rich in minerals and its temperature can rise to about 40 ° C. It is amazing to learn how close hot springs in Canada are located to large glaciers.

We continue our travels onto British Columbia. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed by a Tourist Information Centre with a splendid view of the Rocky Mountains that were now behind us. It was then time to head to the Okanagan Valley, where we discovered a whole new landscape. This mountainous region with its many lakes also offered a superb view along the route.

Our itinerary then took us to Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Enderby, Armstrong and Vernon. All of these beautiful little towns are also embellished by all the lakes and rivers nearby.

Fruits are popular in the Okanagan Valley!

The Farmers Markets are public markets with an abundance of fruits and vegetables kiosks and small farm animals for children’s enjoyment. These markets are surrounded by mountainous cultivated fields. The peaches, apricots and cherries were perfectly ripe and so tasty! We even discovered a new delicious type of fruit: the yellow cherry (they are just as good as the red cherries)! Honey is also very present in the region and we saw many floral arrangements. The presence of lavender equally stood out for us and we saw a large quantity of these beautiful violet-colored flowers.

Salmon Arm and its magnificent dock.

We continue our route towards Kelowna and admire the panoramic views of the Kalamalka Lake road. The mountainous area offers a view of an indescribable beauty. The warm season and its very dry climate favor the practice of water sports which seem to be very popular on the lakes and the river. The yellow-colored mountainous fields indicate the scarcity of rainfall and therefore the presence of irrigation systems operating throughout the region. This climate is favorable to forest fires which have unfortunately gained momentum in the region this year (2017). The presence of smoke in the area even went as far as darkening the view of the surrounding mountains at times.

Kelowna is a beautiful city overlooking Lake Okanagan where there are many hotels and a casino that can be accessed from water craft through the lock. Nearby, we found parks and beaches suitable for swimming. This region is mainly distinguished by the presence of several vineyards that are open to the public so they can benefit from the products of the vine.

We took a little time to visit a vineyard in the morning to make sure we enjoyed this beautiful place to its fullest by tasting their excellent products. On the shore of Okanagan Lake, one can admire the rows of well-ordered vines where the grapes are abundant. It was a wonderful morning.

Hiking is a very popular activity in the area because of the proximity to numerous trails overlooking incredible panoramic views. At the other end of the lake, we discovered another charming little town, Penticton, where we visited a touristic resort and admired a beautiful beach where swimming and water games are the main attraction. We also noticed a canal that rises from the Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake and where locals have fun rafting with floats of all kinds! I even enjoyed a 90-minute descent on the river with a float in Enderby.

The Beaches

Rafting on the River

Approaching the end of our trip, we headed north again and went back up towards the Okanagan Valley to admire the view from a different angle. We later met up with my daughter who had been working in a summer camp at Mable Lake near Enderby all summer. Mackenzie Camp is truly great for people of all ages and offers a variety of activities. To get to the camp, we had to cross over a river by boat. We did kayaking, boat trips and we had a dip in the lake. This day at Lake Mable was truly magnificent with its mountainous landscapes and crystal clear water. We also were interested to learn about a family holiday center located nearby that offers many attractions including a hostel, cabins, a campground, a marina, a golf course, and even a runway for small planes.

We moved on towards Banff on Route 1 where we once again enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, several sites were closed due to forest fires. But at some point, we were lucky enough to walk through a giant cedar trail and felt like we were in an enchanted forest. The quietness of the forest, its smell, as well as the immense size of the trees will forever be engraved in our memories. At times, the road on the edge of the mountains was so sinuous that several tunnels had to be built and mountains excavated in order for the road to continue on.

The Enchanting Forest of Giant Cedars

At the end, we have covered a total distance of 2225 km over a period of 2 weeks! This trip was obviously too short to discover everything and enjoy all of the wealth Western Canada has to offer. No picture can do justice to the beauty of Alberta and British Columbia. You really have to go visit in person to truly appreciate it!