By ADAM BISBY
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Coming face to face with a pack of grey wolves, under a full moon no less, elicits gasps of wonderment from my two young daughters.
No, this nocturnal encounter is not an example of extremely poor parenting.
Rather, it marks the penultimate stop on Parc Omega's new "Omega By Night" illuminated trail, offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until Oct. 13. After winding 1.5 kilometres through the 890-hectare wildlife park near Montebello, Que., the $9-million installation escorts us to what's billed as the world's first enclosure devoted to grey wolves. In daytime, its glass-enclosed viewing area and tiered rooftop platform host interpretive presentations and frenzied wolf feedings. At night, however, illuminated by a lunar lantern hanging high in the surrounding forest, the scene is both ethereal and primal.
The same goes for much of the preceding trail, which includes a mesmerising array of multimedia installations created by Réalisations-Montréal. We cross footbridges suspended in the twinkling forest canopy, admire croaking and shimmering wetland displays, snap selfies next to enormous animal sculptures made of pine and wrought iron, and watch deer silhouettes lock antlers on a leafy projection screen.
By the time we reach the "Wolf Choir" singers and storytellers at Parc Omega's main lodge, we've developed a new appreciation for the flora and fauna of the Outaouais region and for the magic that thousands of LED fairy lights can weave.
Parc Omega's fantastical use of Canada's abundant and accessible wilderness, combined with a stay in "the world's largest log cabin" - as the nearby Fairmont le Chateau Montebello luxury resort is known - provides but one example of how the country's natural attributes make it relatively easy for domestic travellers to squeeze new lodgings, tours, flights, voyages and markets, such as the ones that follow, into the final precious weeks of summer.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE KILLARNEY MOUNTAIN LODGE Within kayaking distance of Manitoulin Island - the world's largest freshwater isle - this historic lodge recently opened what's said to be the largest log-built convention centre on Earth. The 35,000-square-foot addition is part of an $18-million renovation that also encompasses an expanded marina and new ballroom-sized dining hall, waterfront patio, steakhouse, fitness centre and bar. The resort's traditional log cabins have also been luxuriously refurbished, while a new five-storey bank of rooms displays a canoe paddle that, at 27 metres, is said to be the world's longest.
WHIRLPOOL JET BOAT TOURS As well as generating massive amounts of hydroelectric power, the peerless flow rate of Niagara's Horseshoe Falls is ideal for wild rides down the churning Niagara River. This summer season, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours is trying something new: Excursions aboard a hybrid jet boat give guests the option of getting drenched or staying dry. Featuring 14 wet seats on its front deck and 48 shielded by a glass dome, the "Freedom Boat" is equipped with three 650-horsepower Scania engines, with its Queenston dock located right beside the Great Trail, the world's longest recreational trail.
PORTER AIRLINES TO COTTAGE COUNTRY Ontario's Highway 400 may seem like the world's busiest road on Friday and Sunday afternoons in summer, but that has become less of an issue for Muskoka-bound travellers now that Porter has launched a twice-weekly service between Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Muskoka Airport.
The 20-minute hops run Mondays and Thursdays until Sept. 3, with Monday service switching to Tuesday over the Labour Day weekend. No limo waiting for you at Muskoka Airport? No problem: The new Explorers' Edge Shuttle Service offers five routes spanning the region and extending all the way to Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. Costing $10 one-way, the motor coaches stop at various attractions and accommodations along the way.
LAND AND SEA EXPLORE KEJIMKUJIK WITH CANDLEBOX KAYAKING: This Shelburne, N.S.-based outfitter is offering a new day trip that explores a gorgeous portion of Canada's coastline, which is the longest on Earth. After hiking to a white-sand beach, a Kejimkujik National Park Seaside naturalist shows guests how they can help save coastal estuaries from invasive green crabs. Next comes a kayak trip to another sandy spot for a lobster roll picnic, followed by a return paddle to the upscale Quarterdeck resort for a seafood feast overlooking Summerville Beach.
"ULTIMATE TASTING FLIGHT" TO SAMBRO ISLAND A new Vision Air Services helicopter tour connects downtown Halifax to Sambro Island, a rocky outcrop located about six kilometres offshore that's home to the oldest operating lighthouse in North America. After touching down and exploring the rugged landscape on foot, guests are treated to sommelier-led wine tastings and local cuisine served on a private beach.
TOFINO RESORT + MARINA PADDLEBOARD ADVENTURE This two-year-old resort's new half-day stand-up paddling excursion guides guests to some of the most remote waterways around Tofino, B.C., to view wildlife such as whales, bears, eagles and otters without the disruption of engines. On their way back to the resort, paddlers check crab and prawn traps for the ingredients that will comprise a "Cook Your Catch" dinner back at the resort's 1909 Kitchen.
NORTHERN SEA WOLF FERRY Five years after significant cuts to BC Ferries service, more than 2,700 round-trip sailings have been added to schedules on many routes. This includes direct service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, B.C., aboard the Northern Sea Wolf, which features a new galley, washrooms, elevators, chair lifts, cafeteria and passenger lounge, along with beautiful interior and exterior artwork by the Kwakiutl First Nation's Richard Hunt and Nuxalk Nation's Danika Naccarella. At the same time, BC Parks has added nearly 600 campsites to 25 of its provincial parks and recreation sites.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS WRITING-ON-STONE/AISINAI'PI PROVINCIAL PARK It may be more difficult to book a last-minute campsite at Writing-on-Stone/Aisinai'pi Provincial Park this summer, what with the southern Alberta preserve recently becoming Canada's newest World Heritage Site. At the very least it's worth a day trip if you're doing a Western road trip: The sea of towering sandstone hoodoos is simply spectacular, a dip in the gently meandering Milk River provides delicious relaxation and guided tours of the 50-plus sites where, centuries ago, Indigenous people carved images of warriors, hunters and dancers into the hoodoos, are as fascinating as ever.
THE GREAT INDOORS LE GRAND MARCHÉ One of the oldest European settlements in North America is now home to one of its newest markets buildings. The two-storey, $20-million Grand Marché, which recently opened in Quebec City's Limoilou district, houses more than 100 regional producers and artisans, along with a family zone, food courts and seasonal events such as tastings, workshops and live entertainment.
DRAKE MOTOR INN A short stroll north of its lakeside sister property, the Drake Devonshire, and about 200 kilometres east of its namesake, Toronto's Drake Hotel, this retro-styled boutique motel in Ontario's Prince Edward County offers 12 stylish rooms, all accessible by keyless self-check-in. Hip urban amenities get a rural-chic makeover here, with vintage Polaroid cameras available for rent, dog beds on demand and a Drakebranded vending machine.
1. Parc Omega, Montebello, Que. 2. Killarney Mountain Lodge, Manitoulin Island. 3. Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, Niagara's Horseshoe Falls. 4. Porter Airlines and Explorers' Edge Shuttle Service, from Billy Bishop Airport, Toronto to Muskoka Airport. 5. Candlebox Kayaking, Shelburne, N.S. 6. Sambro Island, N.S. 7. Tofino Resort + Marina Paddleboard Adventure, B.C. 8. Northern Sea Wolf ferry, B.C. 9. Drake Motor Inn, Prince Edward County, Ont. 10. Writing-on-Stone/ Aisinai'pi Provincial Park, Alta. 11. Le Grand Marché, Quebec City.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PARC OMEGA (PARC OMEGA); NORTHEASTERN ONTARIO TOURISM (KILLARNEY MOUNTAIN LODGE); EXPLORERS' EDGE (PORTER); CANDLEBOX KAYAKING; VISION AIR SERVICES (SAMBRO ISLAND); TOFINO RESORT + MARINA; BC FERRIES (SEA WOLF); DRAKE HOTEL PROPERTIES (DRAKE MOTEL); ALBERTA PARKS (WRITING-ON-STONE); VILLE DE QUEBEC (LE GRAND MARCHÉ).