Canada may be known for its pristine wilderness which is protected by national parks like Banff and Jasper, as well as the thundering Niagara Falls, but when you’re the world’s second largest country by area, you have plenty of hidden secrets to offer as well.
If you’re looking for some of the more unusual things to do and see in and around Canada’s major cities, check out these fun quirky attractions and activities.
Just remember to hop online to eta-canada.com to get your Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before your holiday. Nearly 150 countries are eligible for a Canadian eTA visa, which will allow you to enter Canada and stay for up to 90 days; plenty of time to enjoy these great Canadian adventures.
Quirky Canada: Unusual Things to Do in the Great White North
Calgary’s +15 Skywalk
The world’s largest pedestrian skywalk system can be found in Calgary, offering you the opportunity to walk all day long during the depths of a chilly Canadian winter without having to step foot outdoors.
The walkway gets its name from the fact its 16 kilometres of climate-controlled walkways are erected 15 feet in the air. The skywalk links around a 100 different buildings where you’ll find shops, cafes, and museums.
Walking the entire skywalk system would take you weeks, however, you can simply tackle it in sections.
One of the most popular sections of the skywalk is around the CORE Shopping Centre which many consider to be the heart of Calgary’s +15 Skywalk. In addition to plenty of shopping, you’ll find the world’s largest skylight which is about the size of three football fields as well as the indoor Devonian Botanic Gardens.
You’ll also encounter a bunch of colourfully painted cows and usually a few entertaining buskers. All that is on offer through the skywalk can easily be found thanks to interactive maps that are placed throughout.
Louise Bridge Surfing
Calgary may be far from any coastline or beaches, but you can still catch a wave by heading to the Bow River. Just under the Louise Bridge, also known as the 10th Street Bridge, you can catch a natural river wave during the months of late spring, summer, and early autumn.
Since the Pacific Ocean is around a thousand kilometres away, this is the only spot in the city to get a bit of surfing in.
Outlier Surf Shop provides lessons a couple days each week during the surfing season. Lessons include all your equipment like a helmet, wetsuit, and a board. Lessons run around 1.5 hours and includes a 30 minute safety briefing as well as some dry land training.
River surfing is a bit different than catching waves along the coast. There is no wearing a leash and you should avoid surfing after heavy rains due to the fact sewer drains flow into the river. This can be dangerous to your health and makes the water clarity diminish, making it hard to spot debris like trees floating down the river.
If you are already a pro at river surfing, simply rent a board and take to the bridge. The current wave at the 10th Street Bridge is considered a beginner wave, but Alberta has more extreme river waves along the Kananaskis River.
Although the Bow River Wave was created naturally after a flood, the city is currently thinking about developing an urban beach with man-made wave generators that would create 35-metre surfing waves.
Reader Rock Garden
Often overlooked, Reader Rock Garden is a stunning garden that erupts in all kinds of colourful and fragrant blooms from around April to November. The original carer of the garden for which it is named after is William Reader.
Reader was an English immigrant who became Calgary’s parks superintendent and he helped create many of the parks around Calgary. It is because of reader that you find many of the imported flowers growing around the city today.
Reader transformed this once mundane hillside into the beautiful garden it is today. When Reader was alive and living on the garden’s property, visitors could only see the garden by invitation.
Nowadays, the garden is open to the public and free to visit. Beautiful stone pathways lead through the garden and you’ll find benches, gazebos, small bridges, and water features.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is an open air museum that is about a half hour east of Edmonton. Over 10% of Canada’s population has Ukrainian ancestry and accounts for the world’s third largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine and Russia.
Most of Alberta’s Ukrainian immigrants arrived in the early 1900s, and the purpose of the Heritage Village is to recreate the early pioneer settlements. Around three dozen buildings have been relocated to the site and have been restored to look as original as possible.
During summer, visitors can walk through a blacksmith’s shop, see a burdei (sod house), visit an early day school, and step into Eastern Byzantine Rite churches. You can also purchase authentic Ukrainian food like pierogis, see a working grain elevator, and enjoy free horse-drawn wagon rides with the price of admission.
The village truly comes to life through the performances of actors which stay in character the entire time to make you really feel as though you have time travelled into the past to an early Ukrainian village in Canada.
Some of the actors have studied the culture thoroughly at the University of Alberta in order to fill the roles, while others are actual recent immigrants from Ukraine. Most live two lives, their real life in the city and their role playing life here in the village.
100 Street Funicular Stairs
Edmonton has a range of great outdoor stair climbs along the river, where you can easily get a free and healthy workout. One of the best staircases to climb is the Urban Staircase which runs along the 100 Street Funicular.
Forgo the funicular to huff and puff your way up the more than 200 steps. The wide staircase ranges between roughly 4 and 8 metres in width and make their way up McDougall Hill.
The wide stairs means there is plenty of room for people to spread out and you’ll often see stair climbers and even runners trying to get their 10,000 steps in for the day. Start from the bottom of the stairs and then treat yourself to a free ride down the funicular as a reward for reaching the top.
The funicular is basically an elevator that moves up and down the slope diagonally, and you simply press the button to use it as you would a normal elevator. The 65-metre trip on the funicular takes less than a minute.
Enjoy the promenade at the base of the stairs or head across the Grierson Hill Road pedestrian bridge to take in the impressive views over the North Saskatchewan River Valley from the 20-metre high Frederick G. Todd Cantilever Lookout.
Mer Bleue Conservation Area
A visit to the Mer Bleue Conservation Area offers a glimpse of an almost arctic-like landscape just 20 minutes from Ottawa where you can seek out the endangered spotted turtle in a 7,000 year old bog.
The 3,500-hectare conservation area has an abundance of wildlife and offer several different trail options when it comes to exploring the park. The shorter option is walking the easy to manage Mer Bleue Bog Trail.
This lovely interpretive boardwalk trail is about 1.5 kilometres long and takes less than a half hour to complete. To access this walk, park at the end of Ridge Road where the NCC Greenbelt P22 parking lot is.
An alternative option if you want a longer hike is to park at the NCC Greenbelt P21parking lot which is on Ridge Road just after you cross over Anderson Road. The trail from this parking lot still links up with the boardwalk bog trail, but provides a hike of around 8 kilometres.
Whichever option you chose, you may be able to spot a range of animals including great gray owls, beavers, muskrats, and raccoons. The bog is also home to the endangered spotted turtle, which has a black shell with lovely yellowish spots.
The spotted turtles can often be spotted by you if you’re quiet and look along the dry banks near the water.
Snow Biking in Gatineau Park
Gatineau Park is well known for its 200 kilometres of cross country ski trails during the winter, but there are other unique activities to try in the snow as well.
Many of the trails in Gatineau Park’s are open to both snow biking and snowshoeing. A daily trail pass for both these activities costs just $10, half the price of a skiing pass.
You can purchase your trail pass and rent snowshoes at the visitor centre for $9 per hour or $28 for the day. The latest you can rent snowshoes is 2:30PM during the week and 3:30PM on the weekends.
The visitor centre doesn’t rent the snow bikes, also known as fat bikes, but you can easily rent them from Expeditions Wakefield. Renting bikes here is ideal since they provide easy access to several park trails right from their shop. This means not having to transport your bikes if you don’t have a rental car or bike carrier for your vehicle.
Snow bikes are special bikes with fat 10-centimetre-wide tyres and they can be rented for a three hour period for $45 or for the whole day for $60. The rental fee includes a helmet which is mandatory.
Out on the trails, you’ll find day shelters and rest areas with wood-burning stoves or fire pits. The trails are also patrolled in case you run into problems.
Special snowshoe activities can also be arranged with the visitor centre which include night-time snowshoeing under the stars or trying to locate animal tracks.
Stanley Park Seawall Walk
Vancouver offers up the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. Known as the Seaside Greenway, the most popular section of the 28-kilomtere path can be found in Stanley Park where it is known as the Stanley Park Seawall Trail.
The roughly 9-kilomtre paved Stanley Park Seawall Trail section offers dedicated lanes for both bikers and pedestrians. The entire Seaside Greenway extends from Coal Harbour all the way to Kitsilano Beach Park.
Along the Stanley Park section, there are a number of landmarks to keep an eye out for including the 19th century naval canon known as the 9 O’Clock Gun due to the fact it’s usually fired every day at 9PM.
There are also the Brockton Point totem poles which symbolize the culture of the First Nations people as well as a bronze sculpture that very much mimics Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid Statue. The statute is known as the Girl in a Wetsuit and unlike the Little Mermaid statue is life-size and features diving flippers as opposed to a mermaid fish tail.
There are also plenty of forested trails to explore, a number of beautiful beaches to relax on, and a giant 800-year-old hollowed out western red cedar tree to grab a selfie in front of.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
If you don’t have a fear of heights, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers a number of attractions that will quite literally elevate your Vancouver experience.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is the highlight of the park and allows you to walk some 140 metres across the Capilano River which runs 70 metres below.
There’s also a cliffwalk that allows you to walk along the granite cliff face for even more daunting views, as well as the treetops adventure which links a series of suspension bridges through a centuries-old Douglas fir forest.
There are also nature talks and cultural experiences such as Kia’palano where you can learn about the First Nations people.
Right in midtown Toronto lies what must be North America’s only real full-size castle.
Well over a hundred years old, Casa Loma took millions of dollars and three years to build, acting as the private home of the once wealthy Canadian financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt.
Pellat was forced to sell his mansion after going bankrupt and the property is now owned by the City of Toronto. Visitors can take an audio-guided tour through the nearly 100 rooms to experience all the extravagance of what was once Canada’s largest private residence.
There’s a 10,000 book library, conservatory, billiards room, stained glass ceiling, secret tunnels, Pellat’s old room, and the massive Great Hall. The castle sits on five acres of which there are beautiful gardens, fountains, and sculptures.
There is also a café onsite to grab a bite after viewing the many rooms and gardens.