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Charlottetown

As the capital of Canada's smallest province (the delectable Prince Edward Island), it's only fitting that Charlottetown comes across as an old, quiet country town. The issue of Canada's unity was first officially discussed here in 1864, and nowadays the tiny capital is known as the birthplace of Canadian confederation. The pace is slow, the atmosphere still colonial, and the tree-lined Victorian streets are very easy on the eye. The oldest part of town is clustered around the waterfront area, with the usual renovated buildings and recreation dollar-chasing facilities. A strident note is sounded by the 1960s modern structure that houses the Confederation Centre of the Arts, which highlights the work of Canadian artists. Prince Edward Island's main claim to fame, however, is the town of Cavendish, the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, followed by the island's tradition of whopping big lobster suppers.

 
Edmonton

Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, the most westerly of the prairie provinces. While Calgary milks the wild west image, Edmonton prefers to hit the headlines for housing the world's largest shopping and entertainment mall. The city enjoys an attractively wooded riverside setting, with parklands following the snaking rhythm of the Saskatchewan River. The province's famed mineral legacy is explored in the Provincial Museum, and there's also Canada's largest planetarium, unsurprisingly accompanied by an IMAX theater. The gem south of the river is Old Strathcona, a residential area of gorgeous old buildings dating from 1891, interspersed with cafes, bookshops and buskers. Which it appears you won't find in all 48 hectares (118 acres) of the West Edmonton Mall, aka the mall that ate Edmonton's retail life. The 800 shops are tacky and repetitive, the chains are too-well represented, and the 'entertainment' includes an artificial beach and skating rink - but the climate is controlled, and for the frost-bitten denizens of the Canadian Plains that's probably reason enough for the mall's success.

 
Halifax

The capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax sits beside one of the world's largest natural harbors, on the south Atlantic shore. Not surprisingly it's a very busy port, though often fog-bound, and is home to Canada's largest naval base. The city is hilly and green with parks, and the waterside historic center is pleasingly compact. The former warehouses of the original commercial district - known as the Historic Properties - have been restored and transformed into shops, boutiques and restaurants. Nearby there's the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, chock full of seagoing memorabilia, including painted figureheads and a Titanic display (Halifax was the base of rescue operations for the tragedy and so nabbed much of the highly sought-after flotsam). There's an aquarium, and several vessels are moored at the city's wharves, including the beautiful Bluenose II. The city's past importance as a British military base is brought to mind by the Citadel, a Halifax landmark and Canada's most visited National Historic Site.

 
Montreal

Passion and pride run as deep as the waters around this stylish, bilingual island city. Founded on religious zeal and a mountain of skinned animals, Montreal has seen its fair share of bloodshed, but these days the battle between French and English is left to the increasingly sluggish referendum ballot. Dubbed one of the world's most livable cities, Montreal's charm lies in its relaxed atmosphere rather than its star attractions, and a quiet amble can be as memorable as a visit to the sights. The city is named for park-covered Mont Royal, a striking 232m (760ft) geological structure that's often mistaken for an extict vocano, which towers over the city's central neighborhoods. The cobblestone streets of Montreal's old precinct are lined with stone houses, Paris-like cafes and architectural beauties like the 18th-century Pointe à Callière (Museum of Archaeology & History). The city's downtown boasts a stash of churches and some fine museums focusing on Amerindian art, history, architecture and stuffed animals. And when the weather turns sour (January in Montreal is infamous), head for the underground city - a massive complex of climate-controlled shops and eateries, complete with its own Métro stop.

 
Nunavut

The immense Northwest Territories were subdivided in 1999 to create Canada's newest territory, the eastern Arctic Inuit region of Nunavut. It's a wild and isolated place, stretching north above the tree line from Hudson Bay up to Ellesmere Island National Park, within spitting distance of the North Pole. The provincial capital is Iqaluit, formerly called Frobisher Bay, on the east coast of Baffin Island. It's more a stopping-off and supply spot than an attraction in itself, though there are hiking trails in the vicinity. Most visitors pass through en route to Auyuittuq National Park, Canada's third largest national park, and one of only a few in the world north of the Arctic Circle. The pristine wilderness of mountains, valleys, fjords and meadows is a spectacular must for experienced hikers, and climbers flock to Mount Thor (1500m/4920ft), the tallest uninterrupted cliff face on earth.

 
Ottawa

Canada's capital sprawls along the southern bank of the Ottawa River, on the eastern tip of Ontario. As you'd expect, it's a government town, dominated physically and spiritually by the neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings. You'll hear a fair amount of French spoken here, as federal government workers are required to be bilingual. There's not a heap of exciting things to do in Ottawa - other than marvel at being in a national capital - but the air's clean, the streets are wide, there are lots of public parks and the people seem happy and healthy as they jog or cycle their way to work. The city has the usual plethora of impressive buildings common to capital cities: the War Museum (with a life-sized replica of a WWI trench), the Royal Mint, various grand old homes inhabited by ministers of state and a swag of museums to do justice to the country's icons: nature, aviation, science and technology, skiing and agriculture. Ottawa is also home to Canada's premier art collection, the National Gallery, displaying an enormous array of North American and European works. In summer the city is dotted with the familiar red coats of the Royal Canadian Mounties.Ottawa's downtown district is divided into eastern and western portions by the Rideau Canal. The eastern section has a very useful pocket of central guesthouses, most of them with heritage details of some sort. Motels are clustered along Rideau St in the east, and along Carling Ave on the western side of town. Byward Market, east of the canal, has a stack of cheap eateries, and western downtown is the place to go for more upmarket eating.

 
Quebec City

Quebec City is the beating heart of French Canada - its virtually intact European appearance and ooh-la-la ambience leave Montreal and New Orleans looking pretty patchy. The entire old section of town is North America's only walled city, and has been designated a UN World Heritage site. With its cliff-top position overlooking the St Lawrence River, its old stone buildings and narrow streets, its citadelle and old port, it's no wonder Quebec City is a must-do town. The city is divided into Upper and Lower segments. The walled Old Upper Town is dominated by the fort and its parklands, and has a bunch of museums documenting the city's military and cultural history. The busy, narrow streets of Old Lower Town are reached by break-neck staircases or a funicular from Upper Town's heights. Place Royale, the lower town's hub, is surrounded with restaurants, galleries, cafes and the Church of Notre Dame des Victoires - dating from 1688, it's the oldest stone church in the province.

 
St John's

Newfoundland & Labrador's rugged island capital is St John's, North America's oldest city (1528). The hilly town is splendidly located on a series of terraces rising up from the waterfront - there are stairs, stairs everywhere, leading to narrow, winding streets lined with multicolored clapboard houses. St John's has a quaint, homey feel, and reminders of its fishing village origins are never far away. Not coincidentally, the number of drinking establishments in town is huge. The legacy of the extinct Beothuk tribe who once lived here is explored at the Newfoundland Museum, as are the exploits of the Vikings who used to visit. Many of St John's old buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892, but those that remain include the Murray Premises, a renovated warehouse from the 1840s. Signal Hill, overlooking the town to the east, is the site where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message back in 1901. On the other side of the hill is the picturesque fishing port of Quidi Vidi, complete with microbrewery and historic fort.

 
Toronto

Canada's largest city has long since shrugged off its frightfully proper, goody-two-shoes tag, thanks to a healthy dose of multiculturalism. You'll hear a babble of more than 100 languages spoken on Toronto's streets, and it's estimated that 40% of the population was born overseas - no wonder UNESCO voted it the world's most diverse city! Toronto's most obvious symbol is the CN Tower, the world's tallest freestanding structure. Harbourfront, the (perhaps overly) renovated docklands area lining Lake Ontario, is a fine place for an outdoor wander or meal in a refurbished warehouse. For indoors entertainment the city has a clutch of great museums, from killer clodhoppers at the Bata Shoe Museum to the Hockey Hall of Fame, housed in a beautiful old bank building. Some of Toronto's best-preserved historic buildings can be found in York Old Town, and there's a peerless collection of fine Victorian domestic architecture in Cabbagetown. And a mere two-hour's drive away there's one of North America's top tourist attractions, Niagara Falls.

 
Vancouver

Canada's most beautiful city wins hearts without even trying. Its hilly terrain and many bridges offer stunning views of the ocean, bays and Vancouver itself. The mild climate (by Canadian standards) and breezy Californian-style atmosphere mean that even US neighbors rave about the place. Downtown Vancouver offers a busy patchwork of attractions, from the renovated Victorian charm of the old Gastown area to the emerald expanses of Stanley Park - one of the world's great city parks. Then there's famed strips of sand and surf like Wreck Beach and numerous hiking, rafting and picnicking oases within easy reach of the city proper. Nearby Vancouver Island has plenty of natural wonders, including whale watching. Needless to say, summer in Vancouver can get a bit squeezy.

 
Winnipeg

Canada's wild west begins in the prairie province of Manitoba, and Winnipeg is its capital. But this culturally alive city is anything but provincial: with its US ambience and architecture, it's often compared to its grain-handling, transportation counterpart, Chicago. The similarities don't end there, as Winnipeg is said to have the windiest downtown corner on the continent (steer clear of the Portage Ave and Main St intersection). Downtown is the place to head for the historic sites and museums. The Museum of Man & Nature is a sight, sound and smell-fest of dioramas that bring the lives of Plains Indians and 1920's Winnipeggers alive. The meeting place of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers has been a people magnet for 600 years and these days it's known as The Forks, a riverside recreation area of redeveloped warehouses and factories. The Exchange District is one of the city's most interesting areas, crammed with Victorian commercial buildings and featuring distinctive old advertising signs. Across the Red River, the residential district of St Boniface is one of Canada's oldest French communities, and is well worth an atmospheric wander.


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