A Tale of Three Towns

Although more and more of Canada’s people are living in cities, still by far the largest number of communities are the small towns. Across the country, these towns come in many sizes and have characters unique to the regions in which they are found. Here are three that we enjoyed on our recent cross-country trip.

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South central British Columbia is defined by its mountains, rivers, and lakes. The great Columbia River is born in the glaciers of the Rockies, and as it travels south, frequently widens into lakes. Between Lake Revelstoke and North Arrow Lake, where the smaller Illecillewaet River flows out of the Selkirk Mountains and joins with the Columbia, sits the historic rail town of Revelstoke, B.C.

The railroad travels along the edge of this small town of around seven thousand people, and the sounds of train whistle and rattling railcars provide the soundtrack to life here. The Revelstoke Rail Museum is positioned near the centre of town, and trains can be seen frequently, rolling along the tracks behind the buildings of the core.

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The heart of the town is Grizzly Plaza, at the end of McKenzie Avenue, the cobblestoned main street filled with historic frontier-era buildings. In the winter, the town is a destination for snow travelers, and lying not far from the Alberta border, is much frequented by prairie vacationers looking for a lower budget option than the chic resorts of Banff to the east. In the summer, live music is played in the evenings in Grizzly Plaza, bringing a festive air to the town surrounded by towering mountains. Here also is the Saturday morning farmer’s market, featuring fresh produce and baked goods, and the work of many British Columbian artists and craftspeople, all friendly and welcoming to the visitors who help them make their living.

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At approximately 14,000 people, Pembroke, Ontario, has twice the population of Revelstoke, due to its proximity to both the national capital and the armed forces base at Petawawa. Coming from the northwest, one reaches the Ottawa Valley with the sense of having arrived in a new country. For us, it came after several days of driving through the rugged wilderness of the Canadian shield, and the flat, tree-filled valley with its wide, gentle river, felt pastoral and almost old-world by comparison.

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Calling itself “the Heart of the Ottawa Valley”, Pembroke is a pretty, historic town on the river, halfway between North Bay and Ottawa. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century as a logging town, it now has a settled, eastern ambience. The heart of downtown is Pembroke Street West, which is lined with trees and square, brick buildings, giving it an attractive, pedestrian-friendly feeling. It crosses the small Muskrat River where it flows into the Ottawa, and here is where the town hall is located, in a beautiful stone building dating from the late nineteenth century (it was originally the Post Office).

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The town of Shediac, on the Acadian coast of New Brunswick, is home to around 6,000 people. It is a sprawling, rural-style town with its commercial centre on Main Street, away from the water. It is one of the more popular summer resort towns of New Brunswick, due to its famous lobster festival, and the beautiful sandy Parlee Beach, which claims the warmest water north of Virginia. The Atlantic Ocean stretches away from its marinas and beaches as though there were nothing between here and Europe, although in fact, you are but a short distance from the Confederation Bridge that crosses to Prince Edward Island.

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The residents of the bilingual, Acadian town are as warm and friendly as the east coast’s reputation would suggest, and there is a very down-to-earth feel to the place and people. They will chat freely with visitors in both the pleasant drawling speech of the anglo residents, and the unique Acadian French which shares its kinship with the patois of French Louisiana. And don’t forget to stop into a pizza place for an order of “garlic fingers”– an unlikely east coast pizza coated with cheese and garlic sauce!

What these three small towns share in common is the charm of being simply themselves. In three well-visited parts of the country, they all see their share of tourism, but they don’t seem to have lost their unique character, and they all impart the feeling of being real towns, home to real Canadians.

Photos: downtown Revelstoke; McKenzie Avenue, Revelstoke; Pembroke town hall; downtown Pembroke; Shediac town centre; Shediac marina

© Leslie Wilkes 2016