Summer Travel ’09: Ontario

Warm nights and bright lights
Brian Banks

OntarioOttawa Bluesfest/Ottawa (July 8-19) This 11-day festival is number one with a bullet in Canada and not a lot of people know it. But they soon will. In 2007, in just its 13th year, Bluesfest drew more than 300,000 fans. A big factor is the quality and diversity of its program, drawing big-name talent from throughout North America. Among the 2009 headliners: Ben Harper and Relentless7, Our Lady Peace, Styx, Blue Rodeo, Ice Cube, Jackson Browne, Stone Temple Pilots, and Ornette Coleman. In 2007, Bluesfest moved to its present site at LeBreton Flats Park next to the Canadian War Museum. Organizers found room for five stages, including two main stages. With more than 220 acts, they’ll need them. Take the opportunity to visit the dozens of other sites throughout the National Capital Region: Parliament Hill, the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Civilization, and the aforementioned Canadian War Museum, to name just a few.

Caribana Festival/Toronto (July 18-Aug. 2) Who doesn’t love a parade? Especially one that lures more than a million people—locals and tourists alike—onto the city streets, driving them forward with a relentlessly pulsating soundtrack of Caribbean soca and calypso, Jamaican reggae and more. That’s what you can expect if you turn out toward the end of Toronto’s two-week Caribana summer festival—an all-day street party run off the back of flatbed 18-wheeler trucks strung out along the city’s Lakeshore Boulevard. It might not be for everyone, but if anyone complains, you won’t hear it over the noise. If you need a break from the action, retreat to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, take the ferry across to Centre Island, or take in a Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre. If you want a party but don’t want to wait for July, Toronto’s Pride Week (the country’s biggest celebration of the gay community) runs from June 19 to 28.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

Theatre and Wine/Niagara-on-the-Lake Good theatre. Good wine. A great setting. Clearly, the picturesque little corner of southern Ontario that is Niagara-on-the-Lake has found a winning formula and is running with it—much to the delight of thousands of returning visitors for whom it’s a regular part of summer. The Shaw Festival and the B & B vernacular architecture have been around a lot longer than the wine, which suggests the latter’s been the difference. In the past 15 to 20 years, Niagara has seen an explosion in new vineyards and high-calibre wineries. So go do some touring: they’re close together, easy on the eyes and have a great finish.

Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow/ Six Nations (July 25-26) Every July since 1980, members of the Six Nations have gathered in Chiefswood Park on their reserve near Caledonia to celebrate their heritage. What started as a small festival of Six Nations culture has now become one of the largest such celebrations in North America—a weekend of dancing, singing and drumming for Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals alike. Enjoy traditional foods and crafts, and check out the replica 17th-century Iroquois village. The highlight: watching hundreds of the best Aboriginal dancers in North America participate in a championship competition to the driving beat of native drummers. The scene is an unforgettable spectacle of colour, costumes and sound, one into which most attendees, competitors or not, are eventually swept up.

Northern Lights Festival Boréal/Sudbury (July 3-5) As its name suggests, this 37-year-old festival is homegrown to the core. Headliners for 2009 are Serena Ryder, Hawksley Workman, Joel Plaskett and J.P. Cormier—Canadians all. Organizers even run a contest for northern Ontario performers in the spring in which the top two finishers win paid gigs at the show. Staged over a three-day period in Bell Park, on the shores of Ramsey Lake in downtown Sudbury, NLFB will feature about 30 musical acts, plus other artists and workshops. Given the location, some spectators will take some time to visit Ramsey Lake’s other main attraction, the Science North science museum or the Dynamic Earth geological museum, adjacent to the famous Big Nickel mine.

Wolf howling in Algonquin Park Algonquin is Canada’s oldest provincial park, established in 1893 on 7,630 sq. km of wilderness in central Ontario, right where southern deciduous trees begin to give way to the northern coniferous forest. Thanks to its location, within easy driving distance from both Toronto and Ottawa, the park has become one of the most popular in the country, offering options for everyone from novice hikers to deep-woods backcountry campers. The canoe routes deep into the park provide glimpses of black bear, moose and dozens of other animal species, not to mention 272 species of birds. The park has also introduced a wide range of interpretive programs perfect for families and fledgling nature lovers. Perhaps the most popular are the public “wolf howls” held Thursday nights in August (weather permitting). Experienced guides teach the group about the fascinating behaviour of the park’s wolf packs, and then hundreds of participants drive out to a spot where guides can howl, and listen to the packs serenade them in return.