Pandemic rules most travel out, but Canada’s beaches worth a look

There’s a reason we shiver and daydream and sing along to California Dreamin’ — and not Canada Dreamin’ — when a pandemic winter kicks sand in our faces.

No one can be accused of conjuring images of the Great White North to a background of swaying palms, cocktail umbrellas and miles upon miles of griddle-hot golden sands.

We are not to be found in the virtual racks of Best Beach Holiday Destinations.

This, like most sweeping generalizations, does not tell the whole story, however.

Canada has a bumper crop of beaches, if not the climate to enjoy them year-round, and the coronavirus that has clobbered those Caribbean sun plans is poised to give our oft-neglected shorelines their moment in the sun.

With some 250,000 km of coastline, it’s a geographic given that this country will have beaches worth boasting about.

Here a few worth investigating:

British Columbia’s wild west coast off Vancouver Island is raved about by surfers and nature worshippers for good reason. At the 49,000-hectare Pacific Rim National Park, Long Beach unspools 16 kilometres of lush foreshore between the communities of Ucluelet and Tofino and is renowned for its pounding waves and centuries-old First Nations heritage. You can spend entire days here walking the largely isolated beaches.

Well to the north of the Island, the sunshine-starved can work on a tan in the shadow of a 50-million-year-old volcanic mountain range along the B.C.-Yukon border. The white sandy expanse at Bennett Beach is located in the village of Carcross and set against a dramatic backdrop of craggy, snow-topped mountains and the Bennett Lake Volcanic Complex. And with an average of 20 hours of summer daylight, there’s plenty of time to kick back and soak in the views.

Over the Rockies, Sylvan Lake is a favourite of Albertans seeking water-based recreation. Located 18 km west of Red Deer, it combines the best of a resort town with well-developed tourist infrastructure for all seasons. It’s been drawing visitors since 1913 to its 1.6-km sandy beach and clear, shallow swimming waters contained within a provincial park.

In Saskatchewan, no less an esteemed writer than Postmedia’s Rex Murphy has waxed eloquently about Buffalo Narrows, writing that its 10-km beach “rivals anything in Maui.” Its stretch of white sands on Peter Pond Lake, 425 km northwest of Prince Albert, is not easy to reach but will reward the hardy with unmatched tranquillity and an interesting historical footnote: this area was once an ancient Indigenous bison hunting site.

The Prairies is also the unlikely setting for Canada’s answer to the Dead Sea. At the resort village of Little Manitou Lake, 120 km southeast of Saskatoon, bathers float in a shallow lake of mineral-rich waters that contain five times as much salt as sea water.

“The floating is fun and it’s virtually impossible to sink,” assures Chatelaine magazine.

It’s Canada’s sixth largest lake, but it’s safe to say few Canadians outside of Manitoba have appreciated the 3-km stretch of silica sand along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The Grand Beach Provincial Park has been summarized as “big sky country meets big lake country” and it shelters a 1930s-era boardwalk as well as sand dunes that can swell to heights of 12 metres.

We have no equivalent of beachside party meccas like Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale, but Ontario comes close with its high-energy Wasaga Beach. Located about 130 km north of Toronto, it attracts hordes of the bronzed and beautiful looking to blow off steam along the sandy shores of Georgian Bay. At 14 kilometres in length, it’s the world’s longest freshwater beach. It’s not all spring-break hijinks, either. Families love the warm, shallow waters and couples savour picnics amid glorious sunsets.

In neighbouring Quebec, more than 400 km of white sandy beaches, intriguing caves and imposing red cliffs await in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Just a short flight from Montreal, the Magdalen Islands are a magnet for scuba divers, windsurfers and explorers, with moderate water temperatures stretching right into September. The archipelago is also noted for its regional cuisine, arts and crafts and an annual sandcastle competition.

On the east coast of Prince Edward Island at Souris, the siren call of the beach is generated by silica and quartz fragments that squelch under foot at Singing Sands Beach in the Basin Head Provincial Park. Explains the World Beach Guide: “The grains of sand actually squeak or ‘sing’ when you drag your feet or rustle the sand with your hands.”

It’s a paddler’s paradise, too, with summer temperatures averaging 21 C, reportedly the warmest north of Florida.

We finish our tour back on the West Coast, the closest those of us north of the 49th parallel have to California Dreaming.

Fittingly, with its mild climate and warm summers, Vancouver is home to the largest nudist beach in Canada. Flaunting its famous charms from the bottom of a cliff at the western edge of the University of B.C. campus, the clothing-optional Wreck Beach extends for eight kilometres along Pacific Spirit Regional Park and has for decades been attracting an oddball assortment of students, pot-smoking partiers and naturists.

It still rocks a lively party atmosphere, but more and more visitors are appreciating its stunning Point Grey setting rather than its earthier displays.

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