The past comes to life in these 10 Canadian living history museums

Most museums feature static displays of artifacts and maybe a few interactive screens, but living history museums really make the past come alive by having costumed re-enactors walk among visitors in historical places to explain and demonstrate what life was like in times gone by.

There are numerous locations in Canada where visitors can experience living history museums. They can see how their ancestors lived and often get some hands-on instructions on how to do things the old-fashioned way, something that children are especially fascinated by.

From east to west, here are 10 Canadian living history museums that you won’t want to miss. Some operate all year, others only during the warm weather while some close during the fall and winter, only opening for special events, especially around Christmas, so be sure to check their websites for the latest info.

Norstead, Newfoundland

If you journey to the northern tip of Newfoundland, you can visit L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site to see the remains of the only Viking settlement known to have existed in North America. There’s a sod house on site with costumed actors that is a lot of fun, but for a more expansive Viking experience, visit nearby Norstead, a recreation of an entire Norse village. Learn how to forge iron, get your fortune told and see Snorri, a massive replica of a Viking ship that has actually sailed across the Atlantic, proving that Leif Erikson could have done the same.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Nova Scotia

The 18th-century Fortress of Louisbourg sits on a windswept stretch of Cape Breton, welcoming visitors to step back to a time when France and England battled for supremacy in North America. Walk through the immaculately-restored walls of this stone city and chat with people that live there like soldiers, bakers and craftsmen, most of whom will remain in character as you interact with them. A new virtual reality experience, The Messenger, will bring you back to 1744 as you race against time to deliver a message to the fortress about English spies.

Kings Landing Historical Settlement, New Brunswick

Kings Landing boasts one of the largest collections of historic artifacts in eastern Canada which is on display at the site’s museum, but visitors really come here to interact with costumed characters from New Brunswick’s colourful past to experience life in the 19th century. You’re encouraged to step into their homes to talk to them, help them with their chores on the farm or in the village and imagine you are in another time. Kids love it, but so do their parents.

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Rescuing baby puffins in Newfoundland

I point my flashlight through the night air at a white-coloured object on the road, thinking I have found a baby puffin. My excitement turns to disappointment when I realize it is nothing more than a discarded coffee cup.

A light rain falls as I wander the streets of the tiny coastal town of Witless Bay, a short drive south from St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am searching for baby birds because I have joined the Puffin and Petrel Patrol. It is a dedicated band of volunteers who comb the streets of communities near the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve every late summer, looking for fledgling birds that are drawn to the towns’ artificial lights, confusing them for the moon and the stars by which they navigate to sea.

The thing about puffins and baby puffins—more properly known by the all-too-cute name of pufflings—is that they are much better swimmers than fliers. If these six-week-old baby birds become stranded on land, they aren’t always able to get back to sea without human help. The patrol spends hours every night during the fledgling season in August and September rescuing hundreds of these birds before they become injured or killed by cars or predators.

Read the rest of the story on WestJet Magazine.

Canadian human rights museum connects the Holocaust with today’s troubled world

A new and spectacular museum in the western Canadian city of Winnipeg teaches visitors about Canada’s own connections to the Holocaust and how the decisions we make today can have an impact on the human rights of others.

“Six million did not just happen out of the blue,” said Dr. Jeremy Maron, the curator of the Holocaust gallery of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. “It required a lot of individual actions and a lot of individual choices. We want our visitors to reflect on how their own actions and their own choices might contribute towards human rights, either in positive or negative ways.”

Opening its doors in 2015, the CMHR is an audacious structure of glass and steel that was the vision of one of the city’s greatest Jewish philanthropists, the late Israel Asper. He wondered why children from Winnipeg, a city with a sizeable Jewish community, and other Canadian cities had to leave the country to visit museums in the United States or Israel to learn about the Holocaust and was inspired to create a similar institution closer to home.

The idea quickly morphed from a Holocaust-specific museum into one about human rights as viewed through a Canadian lens. While Canada has an outstanding human rights record today, it’s not perfect and has plenty of dark stories of its own, including the treatment of its aboriginal people and how it interred foreign populations during both world wars. These and many other human rights themes are presented to visitors in interactive galleries that challenge them to question their own beliefs about how they think they and others should be treated.

The museum is one of only two Canadian national museums outside of the country’s capital of Ottawa, and the only one in Western Canada. Its Holocaust gallery features several fascinating artifacts that are connected to the personal stories of people who were caught up in the Nazi genocide.

”Presentation of first-hand experience is very important,” said Maron. “It can really root this historical atrocity that is something so big that it becomes abstract, Hearing a first-hand story can personalize it and make it real in some sense.”

“We try to bring individual stories to the forefront for visitors to make those individual connections and see some of the faces behind these mass numbers. Each of those six million is a particular individual who has a particular experience with a particular impact that happened to them and their families.”

One of the artifacts that Maron likes to highlight is a Yiddish poem that was probably written in the Radom ghetto in Poland on January 13, 1943, the date of one of the mass deportations from the ghetto to the death camps.

“It was donated to us by the poet’s son who found it in his family’s belongings long after the death of this father. The poem describes the conditions and the despair of the ghetto, but it also contains this sense of oblique hope for the continuation of the Jewish people, either in this world or the next.”

Maron also talks about the moving story of Sigi Wassermann who lost his parents in Auschwitz. He is a local survivor whose experience are told in the museum of being a child sent to Great Britain on the Kindertransport after Kristallnacht in 1938 before finally settling in Canada.

But possibly the most emotional story of all is that of the SS St. Louis, a passenger ship filled with Jews that the Nazis let sail before the outbreak of the war. The ship attempted to land in Cuba, but was refused entry, then was turned away from the United States and Canada before returning to Europe. Most of those who returned would later perish when the Nazis occupied its neighbours, although the lucky few who made it to Great Britain would survive.

Maron says there are some analogies to refugees fleeing today to Europe and North America from places like Syria and the museum’s Holocaust stories make visitors think about parallels in the world today.

“They were granted a means to leave safely that is different from a lot of refugees today whose very mode of fleeing is extremely dangerous right now, but what is the same is the lack of will of some countries to actually allow these refugees to dock and enter so the borders that were closed previously, remained closed.”

Making connections with the past and the present is something that the CMHR does well. One of the the themes that it examines in the Holocaust gallery is the abuse of state power and how the Nazis wielded it.

“The Nazis used the instruments of power to very quickly implement their racial and totalitarian policies. If a user is looking at this gallery, they are learning about that history in the context of Nazi Germany and the growth of the Nazi party in the 1920s that came to power in the 1930s. if they are doing this as part of the museum journey more broadly, they may very well pick up other connections to the theme of state power that they may recognize either elsewhere in the museum journey or make connections in their own mind about similar themes that they are thinking about.”

While some people think that the story of the Holocaust is complete, Maron thinks it will be a long time before we completely comprehend it, if ever, and galleries like the one he curates will always be changing to reflect new knowledge.

“I think more will be revealed in years to come because there are so many micro-histories. Whenever I go to a Holocaust conference, I’m always shocked that there will be a panel or papers on a particular aspect I had never thought about,” he said. “There’s always going to be more that we don’t know and that we’re uncovering, maybe some surprising links that we’ve never uncovered either through archives opening up or new discoveries by researchers. It might slow down a little bit once we no longer have first-hand voices, but I think it will always continue.”

Canadian Museum for Human Rights


Kingston is magically hip

Kingston’s favourite sons, The Tragically Hip, have played their last concert in their hometown, but they won’t be the last big thing to come out of this small Ontario city that is bursting with creativity.

Part of that energy is fueled by the young student population of its academic institutions, Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College of Canada, but a lot of it stems from the city’s human scale. Everybody seems to know everybody and they all gather in the city’s charming and compact downtown to share a meal and some drinks and hatch new projects.

That human interaction is one of Kingston’s most potent attractions for visitors. Everyone is made to feel welcome and be part of the community, even if it’s just for one day.

“Give Kingston a chance. Give it a weekend and you will be amazed,” said Claire Bouvier, a local entrepreneur who is one of the co-founders of Kingston fashion truck, The Loft Girls. “There are so many amazing people in this town and, it is a secret, but once you’re here long enough you start to recognize how many incredible people are here.”

Claire Bouvier

One of those people is Eric Brennan, the chef at Le Chien Noir and a force in the city’s up-and-coming food scene that features a surprising number of outstanding restaurants crammed into the city’s historic downtown.

Eric Brennan

“In the summertime, especially, there’s lot of great places to go in Kingston,” said Brennan “There’s a huge patio scene going around and on the waterfront. I’m a patio hopper, for sure. I like going down the street to our friends at Tango Nuevo, kind of a Spanish tapas place that’s a lot of fun and I like that as much as I like the neighbourhood pub down the street, the Iron Duke on Wellington.”

Another pub worth visiting is Redhouse. Founded by the Reid brothers, Mike, Dave and Dan, it’s a happening spot that features good food, live music and local brews like Stone City and MacKinnon Brothers.

“We are trying to bring in some craft beers, some beers that people weren’t drinking,” said brother Mike, explaining the genesis of the brew pub. “We are getting away from the big, bland brands. We’re getting local, local produce. Everybody from the community were involved to start something new and it worked.”

And if you thought Kingston was a stodgy place that was all about Sir John A. MacDonald and Fort Henry, then you need to spend some time browsing the city’s many art galleries or make a visit to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre located in the heart of the historic campus of Queen’s University.

“Something that people don’t know about Kingston is that there is a large, large art community,” said Jo Perodin, who is an artist at Ink-Tegrity Tattoo Studio that she runs with her husband Max.  Kingston also happens to be home to Eikon Devices, one of the country’s best-known manufacturer of tattoo supplies.

Jo and Max Perodin

“We have multiple tattoo shops here in Kingston, all of us specializing in different styles, different art, different environments,” added Perodin.

Located halfway between Montreal and Toronto and a similar distance from Ottawa, Kingston seems to be the perfect combination of all of those places, but without any of their big-city pretensions. If you’ve only ever stopped on the outskirts of Kingston on the 401 to gas up your car, then you owe it to yourself to drive a few minutes into the downtown to see why it is such a magical place.

Kingston has numerous locally-owned shops that cater to all tastes. Start your explorations on Princess Street.

Le Chien Noir Bistro (69 Brock St.)

Redhouse (369 King St E.)

Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront (2 Princess St.)

Fort Henry National Historic Site is a popular place to visit. For relaxing time, take the free ferry to Wolfe Island where you can go for a swim or enjoy the view of Kingston from the other side of the St. Lawrence River.

Most expensive cities in Canada for hotels? It’s not the ones you think

If you were to ask me which cities were the most expensive for hotels in Canada in the summer, I’d probably pick the most popular resort destinations followed by the country’s three biggest cities, but I’d only be half right.

Online hotel booking site surveyed prices in 30 Canadian destinations for August 2018 to find out which were the most expensive places to book a centrally-located hotel, rated 3 stars or higher.

Tops on the list was a resort destination, Banff at $336 CAD, followed by Vancouver at $324, but Montreal and Toronto didn’t even crack the top 10.

I would have expected Whistler, B.C. to be in the top 10, but it was other resort destinations like Canmore and Niagara-on-the-Lake that made the cut.

The least expensive destinations among the ones surveyed were Edmonton and Saskatoon where travelers can find rooms for around $100 per night which is a great deal because both cities are fantastic places to visit in the summer.

Here’s the top 30 list:

1. Banff $336
2. Vancouver $324
3. Canmore $316
4. Richmond $236
5. Niagara on the Lake $235
6. Halifax $234
7. Kingston $234
8. Kelowna $221
9. Quebec City $187
10. Victoria $184

If you want to read the full results of the company’s survey, visit:

Canadian government marks the historical significance of the Dionne quintuplets

Canada has more than its fair share of historical events and places, but I’ve always thought that of the Dionne quintuplets was a bit of an oddity.

Born in the small Ontario town of Corbeil on May 28, 1934, the Dionne quintuplets may be the only set of identical quintuplets ever recorded and are the first quintuplets known to have survived their infancy. The odds of naturally occurring quintuplets are estimated to be about one in 55,000,000 births, but the odds of identical quintuplets are considered incalculable.

Their births during the Great Depression captured the world’s attention, and the sisters quickly became an international sensation.

I’m not sure why yesterday was chosen as the date to commemorate their lives, but the MP for Nipissing, Anthony Rota, unveiled a commemorative plaque at the Dionne Quintuplets birth home museum in North Bay which was moved from Corbeil in the 1980s.

The sad part of the story is that quintuplets were put under the control of a board of guardians soon after their birth and the girls spent their first nine years at “Quintland,” a specially-built facility where they were featured as a tourist attraction. Millions of tourists travelled from around the world to see them and witness firsthand the survival of the world’s most famous babies. Eventually, they were returned to their family in 1943. Could you imagine the outrage if that happened today?

In 1997, three of the surviving quintuplets (one has since died) wrote an open letter to the parents of septuplets, warning them about the exploitation they endured:

“Our lives have been ruined by the exploitation we suffered at the hands of the government of Ontario, our place of birth. We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists. To this day we receive letters from all over the world. To all those who have expressed their support in light of the abuse we have endured, we say thank you. And to those who would seek to exploit the growing fame of these children, we say beware.”



Canada set to get its first pod hotel

10. The Living Room - North.jpg

Ever since I heard about pod hotels in Japan, I’ve been fascinated by the concept, but have never gotten around to actually staying in one. I came close earlier this year when I had a quick overnight layover in Mexico City with an early morning flight and tried to book a pod in the MEX airport, but there were none available.

That’s why I was interested by a press release issued by the Pangea Pod Hotel , which will be the first of its kind in Canada. Set to open this month in Whistler, British Columbia, Pangea’s rooms will, at most, cost half the price of a conventional hotel room, and usually far less. The big advantage is that the low price will make the resort more accessible to solo and budget travellers.

The hotel is a labour of love for the husband-and-wife team Russell and Jelena Kling who spent years traversing the globe, garnering first-hand experience about what makes for a comfortable and satisfying stay. The hotel is result of three years of planning and prototype development.

“Pangea combines the affordability of a hostel with the perks of a boutique hotel,” says co-founder Russell. “We wanted to cater to the type of traveller who enjoys the conviviality of shared spaces but prefers their own personal space at the end of the day.”

The hotel will feature 88 independent sleeping pods that will be divided among eight separate “suites”. One suite is dedicated to female-only guests. Bathroom facilities are divided into individual components (more than 60 in total) to offer privacy and limit line-ups. These individual components include washrooms with vanities, showers with changing space, stand-alone vanities, and changing rooms.

03. Pod - Front-entry.jpg

Each wood-lined pod contains artwork and mirrors, as well as a comfortable double memory-foam mattress, individually controlled LED lights, a built-in fan that provides both air circulation and white noise, a lockable cabinet for valuables like iPads and phones, hanging space for clothes, and a storage area for luggage.

Pangea aims to offers superb shared spaces, too. The Living Room, a stylish combo of lounge, bar, café, and espresso bar, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the bustle of Whistler’s Village Stroll, giving the space the feeling of an outdoor patio. The Rooftop Patio is Whistler’s only true rooftop bar, providing a bird’s eye view of Mountain Square. And The Toy Box, an open-plan secure storage area for skis, snowboards, mountain bikes, and other gear, was custom created to address the needs of equipment-laden outdoor enthusiasts.

08. The Toy Box - Bike (Summer setup).jpg

In some ways, staying in a tiny room, no matter how luxuriously appointed, will force you to get out into those shared spaces and out of the hotel to explore your surroundings.

Pangea is slated to open in time for Crankworx, a world-famous mountain-bike competition and one of Whistler’s biggest summer events, which kicks off on August 10.

Pods are now available for booking at


Quebec City’s summer visitors invited to experience a taste of winter

Outside of its ski destinations, tourism in Canada during winter has always been a bit of a hard sell, but Québec City Tourism, in collaboration with Ateliers du Carnaval de Québec, has come up with a unique way to let visitors experience winter right in the middle of summer.

Seeing that the province is in the midst of a record-setting heat wave with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius, the promotion is either a stroke of genius or blessed by fortunate timing.

A 26-by-9-foot container, refrigerated to 4 to 8̊⁰C and decked out in all the trappings of the snow season has been set up near Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City to offer tourists a feel for Québec winters, with ice sculptures, a mini ice hotel, a ski lift, a Québec décor, and videos on popular seasonal activities.

The container will be open noon to 9 p.m. seven days a week until September 3, 2018 next to Dufferin Terrace between the Samuel de Champlain monument and the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel, which is Ground Zero for tourists and locals alike.

As an added bonus, Bonhomme Carnaval, the famed mascot of the city’s winter carnival, will be making surprise visits throughout the summer.

To reduce the ecological footprint of Micro Climat(e) and support carbon neutrality, 1,000 trees have been planted as part of the green program of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel “Château Boréal”.

The container is easily transportable so expect it to go on tour eventually as the city continues to promote winter tourism.

Tips from the CBSA for facilitating your border crossing into Canada

Know your purchases and keep travel documents handy – Canadian residents should know their personal exemptions and restrictions and make sure that each passenger has the correct travel document. Have your travel documents and receipts in hand when you arrive at the border. It is recommended you travel with a passport as it is the only universally recognized travel document.

Declare all purchases, acquisitions, and/or gifts received when returning to Canada – refer to the I Declare brochure on the CBSA website for more information. If you are bringing gifts, it is recommended they not be wrapped as they may need to examined.

Plan your border crossing – Check border wait times using the CanBorder App and cross at the least busy port of entry in the area. Historically, holidays result in higher than normal volumes; plan your entry during non-peak hours such as early morning. The Monday of holiday long weekends tends to be busiest, plan around it.

Know the contents of your vehicle – Travellers can consult the CBSA’s website for information on firearms and other restricted and prohibited goods. Declare all your goods.

Become a NEXUS member – NEXUS is designed to expedite the border clearance process for low-risk, pre-approved travellers into Canada and the United States. NEXUS members receive expedited border clearance in the land, air, and marine modes, and a NEXUS membership is valid for five years.  Additionally, you may take advantage of NEXUS expedited benefits when going through Canadian Air Transport Security Authority at key airports across Canada.

Use a Primary Inspection Kiosk – If you arrive at one of Canada’s busiest international airports, you can now verify your identity and make an on screen declaration using a primary inspection kiosk. Most travellers arriving in Canada by air, including returning residents and foreign nationals may use the kiosk. Download our eDeclaration mobile app to save even more time when you arrive by air in Canada.

Do not travel with cannabis (marijuana) – Cannabis is not yet legal in Canada. And even when it is, it will remain illegal to take it across the border.

Not sure? Ask the CBSA officer – The single best thing you can do to save time returning to Canada is to simply be open and honest with the CBSA officer. If you are not sure about what to declare, don’t hesitate to ask. The officers are there to help you.

For more information, visit the CBSA website or contact the Border Information Service.

Toronto’s CN Tower gets an upgrade after 42 years

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, but I saw the news that announced on its 42nd birthday that it’s observation deck has undergone a $16 million renovation/

A new Glass Floor has been installed directly above the original which I suppose was starting to show its age. All I know, is that even though I know it’s perfectly safe, when you find yourself standing 346 metres (1,136 feet) above the ground, ,my brain tells me I’m in danger. Don’t even get me started on the EdgeWalk outside on the top of the tower. I don’t have a fear of heights, but I do have a fear of falling, so I’ll take a hard pass.

More interesting, is the observation deck will have new floor-to-ceiling glass “Window Walls” to provide unobstructed panoramic views which will be perfect for children and people with mobility challenges to fully enjoy the views of Toronto.

For those who want to linger, three new bistros are being added to the top of the tower, but I’d imagine most people are there for the views and not the food.

More interesting is a new Viewfinder App for mobile devices that helps users identify the Toronto landmarks below which is helpful if you’re not a local and have no idea what you’re looking at.

I’ve been to the top of the tower during the day time and at night and I’d say that night time is my favourite, but being there at sunset is pretty special so if you’ve only ever been up there once, it’s worth it to visit at a different time of day to get a different experience.

At a height of 553.33 metres (1,815 ft., 5 inches), Canada’s National Tower was once the tallest free-standing structure in the world. It’s long since been surpassed by other buildings, but it’s still an engineering wonder.  For all the details, visit