Canada’s awesome autumn: food festivals and a luminous light show

Colours of the aurora at the Northern Lights Resort & Spa in the Yukon. Photo: Wolfgang Bublitz
Colours of the aurora at the Northern Lights Resort & Spa in the Yukon. Photo: Wolfgang Bublitz

Myriad food festivals along with the allure of the Northern Lights make a compelling case for visiting Canada in the autumn

Russet, gold and amber foliage and wondrous wildlife are not the only legends of the Canadian fall. It is also the season for food and wine producers to showcase their harvest. With a side serve of Northern Lights, dazzling in green, yellow and violet.

These are some of the best providore pitstops…

Prince Edward Island: There are few places finer for foraging than PEI. During the Fall Flavours Food & Drink Festival, sample fresh oysters, crack lobster claws, dig up clams, meet the local brewmasters. Enjoy kitchen parties, cooking demos, celebrity chef appearances, and themed dining.

Fall Flavours Food & Drink Festival is one of several fall festivals on PEI. At the International Shellfish Festival, learn the difference between a quahog and a soft-shelled clam and celebrate the Acadian and agricultural heritage of the island at the annual L’Exposition Agricole et le Festival Acadien, a showcase of local cuisine, produce, arts and crafts, and music.

Locally sourced: picnic lunch on Prince Edward Island. Photo: PE Tourism

Nova Scotia: This year the idyllic Annapolis Valley hosts the annual Bridgetown Ciderfest. Expect apples every which way, especially in cider (there will be a cider press on-site) and delicious pies. Highlights are the pie-eating contest, Apple Orchard Walk, and Harvest Dinner.

Newfoundland and Labrador: In autumn, the town of Elliston (known for the myriad cellars where root vegetables are stored) teams up with local chefs to host the unique Roots, Rants and Roars fall festival. Connect with the locals, the land, and the sea as the province’s cooks go head-to-head with their signature cod dishes. The festival’s flagship event is the Food Hike.

British Columbia: The Okanagan Valley is one of British Columbia’s top-producing wine regions, with around 185 licensed grape wineries and 3,575 hectares of vineyards. It’s famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With beautiful weather late into the year  –  and the Okanagan Valley a splash of green, orange, yellow and red – wine and food lovers make a beeline for the Okanagan Wine Festival. Meet winemakers and taste outstanding releases.

Vine vibe at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Photo: Destination Ontario

Alberta: The Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival is the largest wine and food festival here. Hundreds of exhibitors and more than 25,000 guests flock to Alberta during autumn to taste fine wines, premium spirits, and craft beers. Chefs from local restaurants magic up memorable pairings.

Ontario: As if autumn leaves, crisp air and spiced pumpkin lattes weren’t enough … From September to October, you can celebrate the fall harvest season anywhere in Ontario. There’s no better way to enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend and autumn colours than in the charming towns of Clarksburg and Thornbury and at the annual Apple Harvest Festival, which takes place in Blue Mountain Village. On tap: free family activities, live music, an apple pie trail, stilt walkers, hiking and biking.

A rich Cabernet Sauvignon with a pulled pork slider or perhaps a fresh Sauvignon Blanc to complement Vietnamese bánh mì? The Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Montebello Park in downtown St Catharines is the heart of this year’s Niagara Grape and Wine Festival (September 20-22 and 27-29). Expect more than 40 wine and food stations, seminars, a family fun zone, music, and premium lounge experiences.

Turning the lights on

It’s not just food that leads visitors a merry dance right across Canada during autumn. The aurora borealis, aka Northern Lights, are the perfect digestif! This powerful solar activity generates patterns of light in a palette of neon green, shimmering violet, pink, and yellow.

The best time to see the aurora borealis in Canada’s north is in autumn and winter when skies are crystal-clear, humidity is ultra-low, and the real estate prime: beneath the band of maximal auroral activity, the so-called “auroral oval”.

The Yukon: Northern lights viewing from the Yukon is a bucket-list perennial. Appreciate the light show from late August to mid-April. The current solar cycle is set to culminate this year when aurora activity will be at its zenith. Best time to see the lights is around midnight – 10pm to 2am is the window, so be prepared to stay up late.

Manitoba: The subarctic town of Churchill is famous for its polar bears but it’s a mecca for lights, too. While this cosmic choreography is best viewed during February and March, the aurora is often visible as early as late August, when the warmer temperatures, clear skies, and early nightfall lends itself to these electric displays.

Make like a scientist and visit the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a non-profit research and experiential education facility that welcomes researchers, students, and the curious. Take advantage of the 360-degree glass aurora dome to see glowing ribbons of light in a pitch-black sky.

If visiting Churchill in winter, Frontier North Adventures have a fleet of heated Tundra Buggies® (two of them electric) equipped with a bar, big windows and the gourmet pop-up Dan’s Diner. For tour options, many catering to keen photographers, see Northern Lights and Winter Nights.

Northern Lights flashdance in Churchill, Manitoba. Photo: Travel Manitoba

Nunavut: Open expanses of tundra and a far-north location make Nunavut, the largest and northernmost territory of Canada, a destination hot-spot, too. Between October and April, days are long and dark and just right for the Northern Lights. Factor in an adventure with Nanuk Operations which cater to fall visitors with their “Chase the Aurora” tour, available between August and November. If the aurora comes out during the time period allotted for the tour that night they will make sure you are there to see it.

Northwest Territories: Some of the strongest northern lights in the world can be viewed in the Northwest Territories, 240 nights per year. There are two aurora seasons here. Autumn aurora (mid-August till the end of September), when the land and lakes are still warm, and winter aurora (mid-November until early April), when the lakes are frozen over.

Licensed NWT tour operators provide all kinds of Northern Lights experiences – from rugged “aurora-hunting” adventures to pampered stays at luxury lodges. In autumn take a scenic bush plane ride from Yellowknife to the rustic fly-in Blachford Lake Lodge & Wilderness Resort and watch the lightshow from a hot tub on the deck.

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