Top 10 Historic Attractions in Canada
Canada may be a young country, but its history is anything but boring…
Stroll through a recreated Viking encampment in the wild and rugged landscape of Newfoundland, or stand on a vast prairie where First Nations people once hunted buffalo.
Watch cattle roping demonstrations on one of Alberta’s oldest ranches or see the site of a once-vital trading post. Exploring the historic sites of Canada is a journey that you will never forget.
There are over 900 historic sites in Canada, each one adding a thread to the tapestry of our history. They are spread out across all 10 provinces and three territories, as well as two war memorial sites located in France.
Take a historic-themed trip across the country to visit these sites and you will have many opportunities to delve into the past and learn a little more about the True North.
Canada’s historic sites are well preserved and maintained, and at many of them you will be able to enjoy informative tours, interpretive plaques and even costumed actors recreating days gone by.
Here are 10 of the best historical attractions in Canada, weaving together a tale of how our home and native land came to be:
1. BAR U RANCH, LONGVIEW, ALBERTA
Located about 90 minutes south of Calgary near the town of Longview, this historic ranch was established in 1881.
It has a long history of colourful Wild West characters who have passed through its gates. The ranch used to be one of the leading ranching operations in all of Canada for about 70 years and at its peak it was home to 30,000 cattle and 1000 Percheron horses. Take a guided tour on horse-drawn wagon to see the 30 heritage buildings of the range and to watch demonstrations of cattle handling and roping.
2. SGANG GWAAY, HAIDA GWAII, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Take a trip to the remote island of Haida Gwaii off the coast of Northern British Columbia and explore the remnants of a Haida village.
Learn about the complex culture of these First Nations people, who thrived on the abundance of the sea and forest. The historic site contains 10 homes and 32 beautifully carved mortuary poles, as well as sculptures, masks and other artifacts. Take a tour of the village by sea kayak and listen to the stories from the Haida Gwaii Watchmen.
3. BANFF SPRINGS HOTEL, BANFF, ALBERTA
An opulent Scottish Baronial-style castle surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, the stunning Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888.
It is not only impressive for its grandeur and spectacular mountain setting, but also for its history. Several famous people have lodged here in Banff throughout the decades, including William Lyon Mackenzie King, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI.
4. L’ANSE AUX MEADOWS, NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
According to the sagas, Leif Eriksson landed on the isolated northern tip of Newfoundland about 1000 years ago.
Other Vikings followed him and this historic site is proof of their presence. L’Anse Aux Meadows was not discovered until 1960 when Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad was searching the coast.
This attraction includes the ruins of buildings, an iron forge and cooking pit, as well as small artifacts such as bone needle, bronze pins and spindle whorl. Wander through the reconstructed Viking encampment and meet the costumed actors who recreate life in the era through cooking demonstrations, storytelling and textile making.
5. HEAD SMASHED IN BUFFALO JUMP, FORT MACLEOD, ALBERTA
Imagine a huge heard of buffalo being chased over a cliff, the sound of their thundering hooves and the thud of their enormous bodies as they slam into the ground.
From fur traders and prairie homesteaders to traditional First Nations legends, Canada has a rich and incredibly diverse past. And the best way to learn about this country’s unique heritage is to visit the exact spots where history was made. For 5,500 years the First Nations people of the prairies would hunt buffalo in this way, driving them from their grazing areas and off the 300-metre cliff at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. This fascinating World Heritage Site, located just 18 km north of Fort Macleod, gives you a glimpse into the prehistoric life and customs of indigenous people.
6. THE FORTIFICATIONS OF QUEBEC, QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC
Quebec City is surrounded by fortification walls that are approximately 4.6 km in length.
It’s even possible to walk around on top of the walls, while learning about the Old World defence system of the only remaining fortified city in North America.
7. CRAIG HERITAGE PARK, PARKSVILLE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Parksville was home to the Coast Salish people until European settlement occurred in the 1870s. When the CPR railway reached the town in 1910, the population quickly doubled.
The Craig Heritage Park and the Parksville Museum & Archives offers a look back into the past. Tour eight restored heritage buildings including the town’s original firehall and a turn-of- the-century schoolhouse.
8. FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG, ISLAND OF CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA
This 18th century French fortified town has been carefully reconstructed and it is the largest site of its kind in North America.
The fort was founded in 1719 on Cape Breton Island and was a thriving trading centre and fishing port. Twice it was successfully attacked by the British in the 1700s and it was eventually dismantled. However, in 1961 it was completely restored and it now faithfully recreates the era of its 1740s heyday, with costumed actors and demonstrations.
9. CAPE SPEAR LIGHTHOUSE, NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
Stand by this lighthouse and gaze out at the sea, where sailors have battled the rough waves of the Atlantic for many generations.
Cape Spear Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and it dates back to the year 1835. It is located close to Blackhead, which is an amalgamated area of the City of St. John’s.
10. JASPER HOUSE, JASPER, ALBERTA
Located at the ideal strategic point between the routes through Jasper‘s Athabasca Pass and the Yellowhead Pass, Jasper House was an important trading post from 1813 to 1884 that served as a major supply source for travel though the Canadian Rockies.
However, the house was dismantled in 1909 and used by a party of surveyors to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for building a raft. What remains is an archaeological site with informative plaques which help you see the surrounding landscape through the eyes of the fur traders so many years ago.
DISCOVER CANADA’S PAST
As you travel across this country’s vast land, you will find countless historic sites that tell the story of its past. These are only 10 great places where Canada’s history really comes to life.