Renowned international travel expert turns his sights on Canada to explore our “13 countries in one.”
Author, journalist and broadcaster Robin Esrock has visited more than 100 countries, and Canada — his adoptive homeland — may just be the most surprising of them all. The author of a new book to be released this fall, The Great Canadian Bucket List, Esrock explored the best Canada has to offer to create a must-see/must-do inventory of the Great White North. Explore caught up with him last winter to uncover the details of this lofty expedition.
How did The Great Canadian Bucket List come to be?
A publisher approached me after reading my Canada Day column in The Globe & Mail, which looked at a few things to do in Canada before you die. I had little interest in writing a guidebook since practical info changes so quickly these days, but jumped at the opportunity to hit the road in search of the unique, the stuff you simply can't do anywhere else in the world. Everything had to be the best, not in terms of luxury, but in terms of the experience it delivers. Whether it's adventure, culture, nature, food and history, it's got to be special to belong on a nation's Bucket List.
Where did you go and how did you choose your destinations?
I visited every province and territory, and the book is categorized by region and activity. I created the list drawing on my own experience, by polling other travel writers, locals, social media, tourism boards, and listening to the advice of Bucket List'ers: locals and visitors committed to chasing the best Canada has to offer. If it ticked off all my particular boxes, it qualified for investigation.
What were you most looking forward to seeing or doing?
Living on the West Coast, I was initially drawn to exploring the East Coast, places like Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland and the Bay of Fundy. But it was the northern territories that knocked my hat off. You can really see how big the world's second biggest country actually is. Likewise crossing the country by rail on VIA's Canadian. If an experience didn't measure up, it didn't make the list.
What were your biggest surprises during your travels around the country?
As someone who has spent eight years travelling the world, I was surprised at just how much there is to do in Canada, but how so few Canadians know about it. Everywhere I went, people were constantly amazed that such things existed, or that it ranked so high in terms of global experience. I've looked, and it does. Oh, and prairie oysters can be quite tasty, if cooked just right.
Do you have a "most memorable" moment from the trip? Any "disaster" moments?"
So many incredible moments and people to choose from. There were a few moments of panic here and there, like when I hit heavy fog during one of Canada's best motorcycle rides — I was convinced that an author getting killed researching a Bucket List book has just the sort of ironic ring you'd read in a newspaper. Much like my international travels, I never got sick, hurt or robbed. Although it did get painfully chilly in the -110º Celsius confines of North America's only cold sauna.
What advice would you give to Canadians about travelling in their own country?
Essentially, we have 13 countries wrapped in one. Focus on a province and do it right, as opposed to trying to do and see too much. You'll be amazed what you can find in places like Saskatchewan or New Brunswick. Loving the outdoors helps, certainly, and we live in a country tailor-made for road trips. Speaking to locals can be both fun and fruitful. They're usually happy to share little nuggets you won't find in any tourist brochure.
The Great Canadian Bucket List will be released in fall 2013; published by Thomas Allen & Son.