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Exploring Canada’s great outdoorscomment (0)

February 5, 2009

By Martine G. Bates

The thought of travel in western Canada evokes images of snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes and wildlife like moose and geese. A visit to this part of the world could include museums and other cultural attractions, but the traveler is much more likely to visit the area, in both winter and summer, for outdoor adventures.

Stretching from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the border with Ontario on the east, western Canada holds a surprising geographical diversity. The weather in British Columbia is moderated by the Pacific Ocean, making it milder than most of Canada, with temperatures that rarely reach much below freezing in the winters.

To the east, Alberta experiences extreme temperature variations both between seasons and from north to south. The Rocky Mountains block moisture, creating Alberta’s generally dry climate. Saskatchewan and Manitoba, without much impact from oceans or mountains, have harsh winters with temperatures in the single digits to low teens, and hot summers when temperatures can reach the 90s. Each of these prairie provinces are home to wildlife that varies from birds to polar bears to beluga whales.

The town of Churchill, Manitoba, is Canada’s only subarctic seaport, bordering the Hudson Bay. From late June until mid-August, thousands of noisy beluga whales — known as “sea canaries” for their vocalizing — feed in the rivers emptying into the bay, attracting tourists who can view them from a boat or even snorkel in the water around the friendly creatures.

During October and November, the same area showcases polar bears, which move from their summer habitat in the tundra, back to the icepack that forms over the Hudson Bay in the winter. Specially designed vehicles take tourists near the bears while providing protection from the huge creatures.

Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan are known for preserves housing over a million birds, including several species of endangered birds. Spring and fall are the best times to view the massive migrations of birds that winter in warmer climates.

The mountainous provinces of Alberta and British Columbia also offer outdoor activities, but with some differences. Alberta is home to Banff National Park, described by Alberta’s official Web site as one of the world’s most popular travel destinations for its famous hot springs and spectacular scenery. The well-known Calgary Stampede, also in Alberta, is a combination rodeo, festival and exhibition held for 10 days every July. According to a Stampede spokesperson, more than a million people have attended the festival each year since 2003.

According to British Columbia’s official travel Web site, “where there are mountains, there is snow.” Offering much the same outdoor activities as the other western provinces, British Columbia also features several inhabited islands off its Pacific coastline, where Orca whales can be seen, especially from May to October. The city of Vancouver, near the U.S. border with Washington, will be hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Travelers between Canada and the United States are required to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which requires all persons traveling by air outside the United States to present a passport or other valid travel document in order to re-enter the United States. The WHTI also requires travelers age 19 and older to show proof of citizenship as well as identity. Before traveling to Canada or any locale outside the United States, check the U.S. Department of State’s travel Web site (http://travel.state.gov) for the most up-to-date information regarding necessary documents.

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