Every town has a story to tell. There are countless untold tales of forbidden romances, celebrations that brought the city together, and events that changed the course of history in Canada. With the country’s 150th anniversary on the horizon, we at Expedia.ca wanted to highlight some of the most delightful historic towns in the provinces. Some of these were chosen based on the city’s legacy or unique origins stories, while others include historic sites you can still visit today. The thing that connects them all? A strong sense of the past that continues to shape the country today. Here’s our list of some of the most charming historic towns in Canada.
“History and preservation of place plays such a large part of [this] historic town. From the preservation of our architectural history to the presentation of our history through our historic sites and professional theatre company (Rising Tide Theatre). We offer quality accommodations, boat tours, great restaurants for dining, hiking trails and cultural crafts that will offer you reminders of your visit to our town and province. Come explore our history.”
– Jim Miller, Project Coordinator, Trinity Historical Society
You can say that Trinity’s been around the block—and we mean that as a huge compliment. Its history spans nearly 500 years, which includes times when parts of town were burnt to a crisp by the French, and hardy fishermen rebuilt the community from the ground up. Not only this, Trinity was one of the first areas to administer the smallpox vaccine, as local doctor Dr. John Clinch was friends with the vaccine’s inventor (Dr. William Jenner, for you trivia buffs). These days, the town is known for adorable bed and breakfasts and easy living.
- Where to Stay: Originally built in the late 1800s, the Eriksen Premises features charming guest rooms in the heart of town.
- What to Do: Get to know the area’s extensive history when you take a Trinity Historical Walking Tour. The tour is hosted by a Trinity local and includes stories from diaries, unusual deaths, shipwrecks, and more! Don’t skip the trip to the Visitor Centre where a small admission fee will give you access to seven historic sites in town like the Trinity Museum.
“We are surrounded by beautifully preserved heritage buildings and yet, we do not live in the past—we converge history, art, and current culture. We are a unique, artistic City with a love of the outdoors, of heritage, and of art and culture, and when you visit Nelson, it will be made clear why this stunning place draws people around the world to explore a part of Canadian history.”
– Astrid Heyerdahl, Executive Director, Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History
Nelson’s always had a sparkle to it–starting with the silver rush in the 1880s, which brought in miners and dreamers to this sleepy area of British Columbia. And while the shimmer of metal has faded, the decadence of the 1890s-1920s historical homes still thrives on Bakers Street. Today, the beauty of town is complemented by its strong arts scene, with murals and sculptures at Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History. You want to see the history and culture of Canada? A stop into Nelson is a must.
- Where to Stay: Hume House, an elegant inn that was built by a local pioneer family back in 1898.
- What to Do: Lace up your shoes for a heritage walking tour, where you can see up to 350 historic sights, with some dating back to1895! Want a ride around town instead? Take a seat on the historical street car. And of course, don’t miss a stop at the Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History.
“In my early years I always enjoyed St. Andrews, but it wasn’t until I left town and returned to raise a family that I realized how blessed we all are to call this home.”
– Brad Henderson, local resident
Founded by American Loyalists (also known as Tories–Americans loyal to the British Crown), St. Andrews has always been seen as a place of refuge. Today, you can still see streets named after King George and marvel at the stately elegance of town. That said, everyone, including non-royalty, is invited here. Kayaking, whale watching, and golfing are top attractions in this seaside retreat. Plus, be sure to walk along Water Street, a favourite Canada historical site, which was named a top street for its architecture, commercial importance, and murals that honour the town’s 200-year history.
- Where to Stay: Stay at the postcard-pretty Algonquin Resort, which first opened in 1889.
- What to Do: Go for a walk through Kingsbrae Garden, which has been named one of the top 10 gardens in the country and features 50,000 perennials, along with peacocks and a Dutch windmill. You’ll also want to check out Block House and Charlotte County Courthouse for a peek of what life was like in town during the War of 1812 and beyond.
“Home to the world famous Digby Scallops, our seafood is second to none. The original inhabitants of the region were the Mi’kmaq, who came to the Annapolis Basin to fish and dig for shellfish – they called the area Weskewinaq, a cheerful place.”
– Digby Area Tourism Association
Settled by ex-pats and lead by Rear Admiral Sir Robert Digby, the city (named after the admiral) has long been seen as a place of safe harbour. Even today, the calm waters provide tranquility, peace, and, best of all, fresh scallops and shellfish.
- Where to Stay: Spend the night at Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, an impressive hotel that overlooks Bay of Fundy and has been open since 1929.
- What to Do: Learn more about the town’s seafaring past when you visit the Admiral Digby Museum, which is housed in a mid-1800s Georgian home. Or, if you don’t mind a drive, go for a self-guided tour to the dozens of lighthouses that line Nova Scotia.
“I live in the most historical and beautiful part of Eastern Canada. The Town of St. Anthony is on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, which brought us the Vikings, Jacques Cartier, and Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Our way of life has been influenced by these adventurers and explorers. Living on the edge has determined everything we say and do. Even today, we look to the sea for its beauty and bounty.”
– Ernest Simms, lifelong resident
It began as a fishing town, and it’s never forgotten its roots. St. Anthony maintains a strong outdoorsy culture that traces back to its founder, French explorer Jacques Cartier. Today, travellers come to town to enjoy scenic views and marvel at such sights as icebergs and migrating whales.
- Where to Stay: Stay at Grenfell Heritage Hotel & Suites, which originated as a nursing residence in the early 1900s and has been open as a hotel since 2007.
- What to Do: Head to Fishing Point and take a picture in front of the iconic square lighthouse. Explore Grenfell Historic Properties and learn more about Dr. Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, who dedicated his life to helping people in ice-locked territories. And tour the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, where you’ll see archaeological remnants of a Viking encampment—one of the most unique historical sites in Canada.
- Where to Eat: Make a stop at Lightkeepers Seafood, which features an interactive 100 seat capacity Viking sod hut along the water. With options like cod tongues, fish and brewis, and moose stew, you’re in for a traditional treat you’ll likely not forget.
You can’t talk about Canada’s history without mentioning Kingston, Ontario. This city was the first capital of a united country, and the home of the first prime minister. Today, Canada pride is still alive and well, with tons of museums, historical sites, and art galleries.
- Where to Stay: Spend the night at Hotel Belvedere, which was built in 1880 and continues to elude a stately presence.
- What to Do: Take a tour through Bellevue House National Historic Site to check out where Canada’s first prime minister (Sir John A. Macdonald) called home. Then, grab a drink at the Prince George Hotel, which has housed a bar since 1809—making it one of the longest-running taverns in the country.
Powell River is a town built from ink and paper. In the early 1910s, the Powell River Paper Company was founded by the river’s edge to generate power for its mill. A neighbourhood was built around it—a place for its many workers to call home. The area was so successful in fact, it became the largest newsprint mill in the world. That’s not all, though. Powell River was one of the first communities to offer medical plans, dial phones, and credit unions. Today, this sleepy town is known for its tranquil waters and prime boating excursions around the shore.
- Where to Stay: The Old Courthouse Inn, which is located in the National Historic District and once housed the local jail and courthouse.
- What to Do: Explore Patricia Theatre, the oldest British Columbia theatre that’s still in operation. Take a walking tour with the Townsite Heritage Society of Powell River to experience historic gems like Dwight Hall, which has hosted concerts, masquerade balls, and more through the ages. And don’t forgot to take a peek inside Powell River Museum for exhibits such as Local First Nations Culture and Early days on the Sunshine Coast.
- Where to Eat: Cheers to the town and making new memories when you stop into Townsite Brewing, housed in an old brick building dating back to the 1930s.
It was known as a humble settlement in the woods, when the fur trade was still the law of the land. Then the railroads came, and the people came, and by the 1930s, this slice of pristine Alberta was protected as Jasper National Park. Today, nearly 3 million visitors make a pilgrimage to Jasper, where the air is still crisp, the mountains still towering, and the past doesn’t feel so far away.
- Where to Stay: Spend the night at the historical Athabasca Hotel (known in town as Atha-B). It’s been around since the 1930s, and has hosted names like Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby.
- What to Do: Take a tour at the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives, where you can see photographs, antique books, and manuscripts that contain the history of town.
- Where to Eat: Feed your belly at the local’s favourite O’Shea’s Restaurant, located in the Athabasca Hotel, which features old fashioned street lamps, antiques, and framed photos of historic Jasper.
The name comes from a First Nations translation of “where there are rushes on the other side of the river,” and this storybook area has been a sleepy fishing haven ever since. Today, it’s still a great spot to unwind, admire the sea, and connect with the past.
- Where to Stay: Book a night at Auberge des Iles Holiday Rentals, which started as a family home over a century ago.
- What to Do: Make a stop at the Kamouraska Museum, which is located in an old convent dating back to 1851, and now houses memorabilia from the town’s history. Go on a walking tour along Heritage Trail to see preserved historical buildings. And stroll along the historic Miller Wharf and Quai Taché docks which once played a significant role in 19th century commercial transportation and are now considered heritage sites by the municipality.
With the 150th anniversary coming up, get to know Canada’s foundations with a trip to any of these top historical cities. Between fishing piers and architectural marvels, you may just walk away with new memories when exploring the country’s past.