Lucy Izon knows Canadian travel. She started writing about it in 1978, when she had a youth travel column in the Toronto Star. Now, having banked 35 years and thousands of kilometres, she is one of the most respected travel media figures in the country. Izon has done everything from conduct travel writing contests to write books (Izon’s Backpacker Journal, Canadian Traveller’s Trip Planner) to design staterooms on cruise ships. These days, she devotes herself to informing the world about what makes her country interesting via her popular travel website, Canadacool.com.
We chatted with her to get a taste of the fun advice and facts that have attracted more than 48,000 followers to her Twitter feed.
Where are you right now and what are you up to?
Back in Toronto. Just returned from a drive up through Algonquin Park to Ottawa to attend a conference. It was great to catch some of the first red leaves of autumn.
How extensively have you travelled in Canada? Have you been to every province?
Yes—every province and every territory. I got to Nunavut when it was still the Northwest Territories, on the first tourism cruise from Greenland. We had two small icebreakers that were former Russian science vessels and held 35 passengers each. We visited the Inuit communities by inflatable boat because they didn’t have docking for our ship. I have yet to visit Labrador, and I’d like to see more of North West Territories.
Why did you decide to start Canadacool.com and how has the site evolved?
After 25 years of international travel, I was ready to take a closer look at home. I wasn’t sure at first what Canadacool.com would do. I had a concept (looking at what makes the country interesting), the Canadacool.com domain name and the trademark for a maple leaf wearing sunglasses. Around the millennium, with encouragement from my member of parliament Carolyn Bennett, I created a travel writing and photography competition for young Canadians to encourage them to see their own country. I then learned web design and published the site. Today, it averages 25,000 pageviews a month. When Twitter came out I could see how it was a great tool to reach out to people and connect them with Canadacool.com.
You have an impressive following on Twitter. Was that unexpected? Why do you think @CanadaCool is so popular?
I simply try to find the type of content about Canada that will make people smile, and think to themselves “hey, that’s cool.” I tweet at least once per day. I don’t believe in sending out blather—just good content that people will enjoy receiving. I’ve also made a huge effort in researching and identifying people on Twitter who have an interest in Canada, and letting them know that @canadacool exists by following them. For the first year, I treated Twitter almost as a full-time job.
How much of your life do you spend travelling? Is it all Canadian travel?
For many years I travelled internationally every month or two, for several weeks. Most of my travel is in Canada these days. This past spring, I spent time exploring New Brunswick, the Yukon and Saskatchewan. In the summer I was around Georgian Bay in Ontario. My home base in the summer is a log cabin on the edge of Muskoka. Last week, I drove through Algonquin to Ottawa, then back along the St. Lawrence River.
What is one place in Canada everyone should visit?
Every Canadian should visit a national park. We are so lucky to have these spectacular treasures. From Jasper in the Rockies with the world’s largest dark sky preserve, to the Bay of Fundy, with the world’s highest tides. I also recommend that everyone attend one of the major Canada Day celebrations. One year, I went to the party in Charlottetown. It was fantastic. Great music, great food, lots of fun, but the real show was Canadians wearing their pride, from outrageous outfits to maple leaves painted on their faces.
What is one of the strangest but most fun things you can recommend in Canada?
It’s a toss-up between visiting Churchill, Manitoba for the polar bear migration (I saw 25 over two days out on Tundra Buggy) and staying in the exquisitely carved Ice Hotel in Quebec City. Sleeping on an ice bed in an arctic sleeping bag is memorable!
What Canadian places or experiences do you think are underrated and deserve more attention?
Saskatchewan. Can you imagine picking up a 65-million-year-old piece of petrified wood? I did last spring in the east block of Grasslands National Park. In the west block, we drove past grazing buffalo and explored fields that have 12,000 ancient teepee rings while chirping prairie dogs were popping up out of their holes all around us. Also in the south is Eastend, the dinosaur destination. It’s where Scotty, Canada’s most complete tyrannosaurus rex, was discovered. From there, we drove our RV up into Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, the highest point between Labrador and the Rockies. It’s now a dark sky preserve—it even has an observatory.
In your hometown of Toronto, what are three things you’d absolutely do with a friend who was visiting for the first time?
I’d tour them around the intriguing architecture downtown, pointing out the towers of the Royal Bank (they’re embedded with more than $1 million dollars worth of gold), the elegantly arched ceiling of Brookfield Place, and the curious box-like Sharp Centre for Design on slanted stilts on McCaul St. We’d also go to Kensington Market. It’s a colourful, cheap, cheerful slice of city life. And finally, we’d ride the streetcar to The Beach—take a stroll along the boardwalk with a view of the skyline, do a little shopping, have lunch. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, and this family-friendly one is among the most pleasant.