Canada is the second largest country in the world, in terms of area, but has a population of less than 40 million. This sets the stage for a plethora of quaint, small towns, and given the stunning range of ecosystems, quite picturesque ones at that. The four Great Lakes, three ocean coastlines, soaring mountain ranges, infinite golden prairies, arctic tundra, and just about every other backdrop one could imagine are considered home by many charming Canuck communities. The following fifteen cities offer an enticing lay of the land.
Osoyoos, British Columbia
Osoyoos is a lake town in the Westernmost province of British Columbia. Its Southern latitude and unique climate bubble makes it the warmest place, on average, in this notoriously chilly country (though summer most places are actually quite nice – dare I say, hot). The prolonged fair-weather season ranks Osoyoos high in both outdoor activities, and world-class wineries.
Though Osoyoos continues to develop its fancier side, budget-conscious tourists can still snag plenty of rustic, drive-in campgrounds near the water. There is also lots of family fun to be had on the beaches, on the water, on the trails, at the park, and throughout town – from mini-golf, to farmers' markets, to cultural centers.
Canmore is a classic mountain town in Wild Rose Country (i.e. Alberta). It sits just outside the Banff National Park boundary, faithfully guarded at all four corners by Rocky Mountain peaks. You would be hard pressed to find a more physically active town in the entire country. Many of its 14,370 residents can be spotted hiking, biking, running, or climbing before and after a day's work at many of the athletic, adventure, and hospitality-centered businesses in town. Canmore does not quite have the global reputation of its neighbor, but it certainly has all of the natural appeal and social energy as Banff, without the same crowds.
This small, Shakespeare-inspired city is located in Southwestern Ontario. It is named after the birthplace of the great English playwright, and also happens to be the hometown of Canadian heartthrob musician, Justin Bieber (though I am not equating the two). The charm here oozes out of every chocolate shop, boutique hotel, theater, and creatively designed restaurant. Stratford prides itself on presentation, from art to architecture, to its cute mom n' pop shops beneath two-story, red brick apartment buildings.
Dawson City, Yukon
This far North, Wild West, Klondike Gold Rush town looks like a set from a Clint Eastwood movie. Do not be fooled by the name, Dawson City, in the territory of Yukon, has a population of only around 1,500 residents. However, despite its isolated location, tourists do make the journey in decent numbers in order to enjoy this quirky spot and its incredible scenery. Depending on the time of year, visitors can marvel at the northern lights, or hike up to the Midnight Dome viewpoint and watch the exceptionally-late sunset behind the Yukon River.
Tofino, British Columbia
Part vagabond surf-town, part luxury vacation spot, the District of Tofino unites all types in this soothing and majestic place. Located at the tip of the Esowista Peninsula on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino enjoys a surreal natural surrounding. The peaceful beaches are perpetually smoothed by the rhythmic tides, and each one can be connected by a network of zen-inducing rainforest trails.
Ucluelet, British Columbia
Located just South of Tofino, also on Vancouver Island, The Resort Municipality of Ucluelet is the slightly lesser-known sister settlement. Ucluelet is a perfect alternative when Tofino experiences its peak tourism, but is by all means an excellent destination in its own right. The quiet community is perfectly situated between the long and narrow Ucluelet Inlet and the wild North Pacific Ocean. Similar to Tofino, Ucluelet is blessed with lovely, albeit slightly more rugged, inlet beaches and exploratory woodland trails that are augmented by pleasing lookouts. You have never seen a sunset quite like the ones on Canada's Westernmost coast.
Saint Andrews, New Brunswick
Saint Andrews, or "St. Andrews by the Sea," as it is also known, is a quaint seaside town in the Eastern province of New Brunswick. The deep blue waters of St. Andrews Harbour and Passamaquoddy Bay, combined with verdant scenery and colorful artificial accents throughout town all converge to create a cozy, maritime feel. This splendid blend of visuals and atmosphere led to St. Andrews becoming Canada's first seaside resort town.
Tobermory awaits at the Northern tip of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula. It is known for its picturesque national parks, rich scuba diving opportunities (complete with several sunken ships), and its minimal infrastructure. This friendly fishing village makes for an excellent respite from some of the more population-dense regions of the Greater Toronto Area. These aspects, along with many others, earn it the title, "crown jewel of the Bruce Peninsula."
In Central Alberta, within sight of both the Rockies and the vast plains of Saskatchewan, is the curious town of Drumheller. It is deemed the "Dinosaur Capital of the World," due to the amazing fossils discovered throughout the surrounding Canadian Badlands. Visitors will know they have arrived by the site of the green, 15-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex replica that marks the town's visitor center. But before this curious photo-op comes into view, one's road trip will be blessed with the striated canyon walls and sandstone hoodoos that punctuate the otherwise ubiquitous prairie landscape.
This Northern Manitoba town is situated on the Western shore of the gargantuan Hudson Bay. While the humble community does not exactly ooze aesthetic splendor, it is the surrounding wilderness and massive mammalian visitors that draws such attention. Churchill is dubbed the "polar bear capital of the world." Here you can go on a safari like no other, in reinforced vehicles designed to stand up to the elements, and the kings of the arctic themselves.
One can also enjoy a Beluga whale-watching tour as thousands of the blanched leviathans migrate to and from the Churchill River estuary. Finally, consider setting aside a couple of days (both ways) to take the passenger train to and from Winnipeg, to get immersed in the subarctic environment.
Dundas is a gem within the city of Hamilton. It is nicknamed “Valley Town” as it is nestled at the bottom of the beloved Niagara Escarpment. This area is home to the Dundas Valley Conservation Area and Christie Conservation Area, both of which protect the surprising natural beauty of “Steel City.” The extensive hiking trails and tall waterfalls are particularly photogenic, and so too is the community's historic core.
Haines Junction, Yukon
Haines Junction is the doorway to the spectacular Kluane National Park and Reserve. The wholesome village is bordered to the West by the stalwart peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains. "The Junction," as locals call it, is also within shouting distance of Canada's highest peak, Mount Logan. Visitors can learn about the first ascent and other interesting aspects of the national park at the The Da Kų Cultural Centre.
Some more hands-on activities around town include "flightseeing" through the mountains, rafting excursions, and plenty of choose-your-own-adventure hikes. The Yukon territory does not see as much action as the mountainous provinces to the South, but it is all the more appealing for this reason.
Kaslo, British Columbia
Kaslo is an adorable, one-horse town that is perfectly situated on the Western shore of Kootenay Lake. The village primarily consists of a few blocks centered around the action of Front Street. The indie establishments along this stretch offer a glimpse into the silver-mining boom of the late 19th century. On the outskirts of town, the Kaslo River Trail and many other off-shoot networks weave their way through the lush and soothing forest. Here, one can camp, swim, catch a good meal (perhaps literally), and wash it all down with a craft pint.
Nestled on the banks of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Eastern part of the french-speaking province of Quebec, the village of Percé has a certain je ne sais quoi. The expansive waters, the refreshing breeze, the dramatic cliffs, the eye-catching Percé Rock, floating just offshore like a natural ship waiting to dock, and the old-timey homes built atop flawless green grass combine into a small town package that is tough to beat. The whole scene can be taken in at once from atop the 660-foot-high glass platform at Percé UNESCO Global Geopark.
Port Stanley, Ontario
Port Stanley is a harbor village in the Municipality of Central Elgin, on the Northern shore of Lake Erie. On the way to some of the best sands in the region, visitors can check out the different sailboats anchored in the marinas and live vicariously through all the nautical neighbors. The well-maintained Port Stanley Beach has gained Ontario's coveted Blue Flag status for its excellent water quality and environmental measures. When the sun starts to set, cruise through the village streets, filled with the standard pubs, restaurants, and ice cream parlors you would hope to see in a cute summer-tourism community.
With the exception of some widely-spaced-out capital cities, nearly everything in Canada is a small town. Each place blends special environments, distinct (and of course, friendly) communities, and memorable activities. To use an appropriately winter-themed adage, these fifteen beauties are but the tip of the iceberg.