Globe Trekker traveler Zay Harding visits the west of Canada, a landmass bigger than the entire area of the European Union encapsulating the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta,British Columbia and the Yukon – yet home to a mere nine million people.
He starts his epic journey in the province of Saskatchewan, where he canoes through the Prince Albert National Park, former home to Canada’s legendary Grey Owl, its first famous conservationist. He lived in a remote cabin alongside his adopted beavers who built their lodge inside his home and only after his death was it discovered he was in fact an Englishman called Archie Belaney. He takes a train south across the Great Plains, the flat lands known as Canada’s bread basket, to Saskatoon from where he flies to Edmonton in Alberta.
Alberta’s capital Edmonton has made its money from oil but Zay’s here to check out its biggest tourist attraction, the West Edmonton Mall, the world’s biggest, stretching over five million square feet – as big as New York’s Central Park. There are over 800 shops in the complex but that’s not what Zay’s interested in. He goes bungee jumping, swimming, walking with penguins, shooting practice before flopping into bed in Canada’s most popular hotel, Fantasy Hotel, where each room has a different theme. Zay hitches a ride with a singing trucker down to Calgary for the world’s greatest outdoor event – the Calgary Stampede.
After getting kitted up in the requisite Wild West attire, Zay gets down to the serious cowboy business of drinking and dancing. The next morning he checks out some of the Stampede’s top events – the most famous of which is the chuck wagon racing. Zay talks to Kent Bentsmiller, one of the top racers around, about how to get started – sadly, he doesn’t get any further than mucking out the stables! He visits the Indian Village where he meets the Indian princess who explains the Native American association with the Stampede and tries a traditional Stampede delicacy – prairie oysters. Not for the faint hearted, they come in a variety of flavours and are actually bulls’ balls!
Off again, Zay takes a car from Calgary along the gorgeous scenery of the Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s greatest scenic drives. He stops at Lake Louise, known as the jewel of the Rockies, and the Alcabasca Glacier and takes a swim in hot springs. Then he meets Gordon Stenhouse who’s running the biggest grizzly bear study in the world – taking place in and around Jasper National Park. Zay goes out with some of his crew to conduct field work by setting bait to attract and record bear movements.
Onto British Columbia, Zay takes a Via Rail train from Jasper to Vancouver, one of Canada’s premier cities with two million inhabitants. He checks out the stunning Museum of Anthropology, Before chilling at theMarijuana Party of British Columbia where they sample 25 of the top strains of BC bud – known among smokers as one of the best producers of weed in the world. Of course, Zay doesn’t inhale, but for some reason, he’s got the munchies for which there’s no better establishment for tucking into hearty, delicious food than Swagat, Vancouver’s original First Nations restaurant.
Only a day trip away is Whistler, one of the world’s premier skiing resorts and a veritable summertime adults’ playground. Zay hits the tracks hard on his mountain bike – one of the most popular summer sports. He also goes zip-trekking, a unique way of seeing Whistler’s old forest, where he literally flies through the treetops.
The final leg of his journey takes Zay to the beautiful isolated province of Yukon and Dawson City. During the gold rush, Dawson City was the largest city north of San Francisco – during the six years of gold fever it’s estimated that $100 million worth of gold was unearthed here. Now it’s home to a mere 18,000! Zay goes to Bonananza Creek where it all started before joining Dave Miller, a second generation gold miner, to see how it’s done nowadays and Simon Mason Wood who weighs and melts the gold into bars. Later that day, Zay’s in the bar for a local tipple, a sour toe cocktail, a drink with a real petrified human toe – not something he enjoys at all!
For his final adventure, Zay takes to the Tatshenshini River which runs through one of the most deserted wilderness areas in the world. After a wild ride along rapids, he finds himself in a glacial lake where the wind stops him going any further. Despite this, there’s no doubt it’s an amazing place to end his journey – a fitting tribute to the wondrous beauty that is Western Canada.
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