Diverse is Canada’s middle name. It’s a multicultural patchwork of people from 200 nations, with nearly 20 percent of the population representing visible minorities. That means a lot of vibrant neighborhoods and diverse ethnic communities across the country that feel like miniature cities from all around the world — from Montreal’s Little Italy and Toronto’s mosaic of Parkdale, to Vancouver’s Chinatown and Saskatoon’s Ukrainian district. In 2017, the year Canada celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, it might just be the best time to get to know Canada’s unique neighborhoods that proudly boast global flair. Don’t miss these top hot spots.
Bohemian, artsy, and seductively French — that’s Montreal. Though there are many colorful pockets of this diverse city, you’ll want to spend time in vivacious Little Italy. It’s been a hub since the 19th century, a place of leafy green parks and quaint architecture. There’s the bustling outdoor cafes in and around St-Laurent Boulevard, the fresco-adorned Church of the Madonna della Difesa, and the famed Jean-Talon public market. Stroll the lively market, which showcases international cuisine, fresh produce, and artisan goods, shop the charming boutiques, and sample Italian fare (hand-rolled pasta, calamari, pizza, espresso), especially at standout Primo & Secondo. Foodies, don’t miss a chance to eat here!
Giving New York and London a run for the money, Canada’s downtown, Toronto is the country’s multicultural capital. You’ll hear 140 different languages on the street all over the city, and especially in communities like Little India, Portugal Village, Greektown, and Chinatown. In addition to Corktown, an historic Irish immigrant district, and family-oriented Roncesvalles Village, a Little Poland where you can eat Lebanese, French, Spanish, and Thai, Toronto’s Parkdale is a gem that’s still being discovered. Here you’ll find West Indian, Tibetan, and North African enclaves mixed in with nesting hipsters and artsy types. On Queen West near the lake shore, this neighborhood is in transition, meaning it’s unpolished and interesting with trendy bars and eateries sandwiched between old Victorians, industrial lofts, and diamond-in-the-rough buildings. Dine at trendy Parts and Labour or join the many vegans for dinner out, catch a live music act, go out for cocktails, and shop vintage fashion.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Downtown Vancouver’s east side is home to Canada’s largest Chinatown. It’s a decided cool area with a vintage feel that’s gritty, busy, authentic, and colorful with plenty of laundry-lined alleys and eclectic storefronts. Immigrants working to build BC’s railroad settled here in the 1800s and it doesn't feel hugely different today. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you pass through the elaborate Millennium Gate on Pender Street. From there wander and window shop, perusing stacks of dried fish and exotic mushrooms, burlap sacks brimming with medicinal herbs, shops lined with exotic teas, painted porcelain bowls,glossy Chinese silk dresses, and glazed whole ducks roasting in window rotisseries. Sit down with families packed into eateries for some authentic Chinese fare and dim sum, or join the in crowd at trendy restaurants like Bao Bei and Juke. Then, relax at tranquil Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, host to an annual autumn full moon festival and the spectacular Chinese New Year parade.
On Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
Norse heritage is the thing in Gimli. On Lake Winnipeg one hour north of Winnipeg, this municipality is home to a hulking Viking statue that welcomes you to the area. Dubbed “New Iceland” back in 1875, today Icelandic culture and Viking heritage still permeate everything from the restaurants and the arts to community activities. Go for late August’s annual Icelandic summer festival called Islendingadagurinn and sample vinatarta (a traditional prune torte) or scan the Book of Life, a log of family histories housed at the New Iceland Heritage Museum. Enjoy outdoor winter sports Norse-style — Nordic skiing, ice fishing, and snow mobiling — or swim and lounge on the 42-mile beach shoreline in summer. Watch movies on the floating screen at the beach at the five-day Gimli Film Festival. Indulge in fresh pickerel on the waterfront (try Lakeview Resort), browse the art galleries, and shop for unusual souvenirs, including Viking helmets, at the wonderfully vintage 1899 H.P. Tergesen and Sons general store.
Though they hail from the tropics, you’ll find Canada’s largest communities of Filipinos in the North — particularly in the Yukon Territory’s Whitehorse. In fact, immigrants from the Philippines make up the largest foreign-born population in Canada’s three territories. In Whitehorse, dine at downtown’s Talk of the Town Restaurant & Bakery, sampling international faves like calamari and quesadillas alongside Philippine specialties: mango rice, Lechon Kawali (deep-fried pork belly with pickled papaya), and Pancit Bihon (Canton stirfry egg noodles with chicken, shrimp, and veggies). Check the Canadian Filipino Association’s website or flyers around town for folk dances, music festivals, and other cultural heritage events.
In the center of Calgary near the park-lined Bow River, Kensington Village — with its retro brick buildings and tattoo parlors — reflects a mix of cultures, making it one of the city’s hottest places to spend an afternoon or evening out. Go for outstanding outdoor dining (from Indian to green smoothies), packed bars, retail therapy of the homespun variety, and live music. Favorites include fiesta-vibe Julio’s Barrio Mexican Restaurant for its “fishbowl margarita,” sangria and tacos on the patio, Peacock Boutique for trendy consignment, and vintage vinyl and cassettes at Hot Wax Records. Share wood-fired Napoletana pizzas on the patio at modern-chic Ristorante Pulcinella, then go for dessert at Amato Gelato with 72 rotating flavors, open late. Kensington puts on 40 events a year, including beer tastings and art crawls.
Near Moncton, New Brunswick
A pretty harbor town at the head of the Bouctouche River 40 minutes northeast of Moncton, Bouctouche is as famed for its sandy beaches and its Acadian culture. The Acadians are French descendants of colonists who settled in Acadia (Quebec and the Maritmes) in the 17th and 18th centuries. They speak Acadian French and music is central to their culture. Founded back in 1785 by two brothers, Bouctouche celebrates its past at Le Pays de la Sagouine, a recreated historic village with gem-colored cottages host to music, comedy, dance, and plays inspired by the award-winning book La Sagouine. Golf, stroll the farmers’ market, or hike and cycle through giant sand dunes along the trails and boardwalks at Irving Eco Centre, one of North America’s longest natural sand spits.
You don’t have to look far to find perogies smothered in sour cream and bacon bits in Saskatoon on the South Saskatchewan River. Nearly 20 percent of residents here share a connection to Ukrainian heritage meaning you'll see influences all around town. A recent Ukrainian Day in downtown’s Kiwanis Park drew 10,000 fans for music, dancing, and a market of authentic handmade wares. The Ukrainian Museum of Canada hosts many fun public events along the riverbank, where you can also pick up traditional clothing and textiles at the gift shop. Meet the locals, play pool, and try Ukrainian Nachos at The Copper Mug. Or eat like-mom-cooked-it cabbage rolls at no-frills Baba’s Homestyle Perogies and authentic and exotic dishes at friendly, thatched roof, 18th century vibe Touch of Ukraine. Great ‘hoods to explore are funky coffeehouse and gallery-filled Riversdale and Sutherland’s Main Street.
No need to globetrot to get to know different cultures: Stroll a traditional Chinese garden, eat authentic Italian, Filipino, and Ukrainian, and celebrate Viking heritage — all in Canada!
Decide where to go next by delving into more of Canada’s vibrant cities.