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A Nat Geo Photographer's Favorite Canada Places

Photographer Catherine Karnow got to know Canada while shooting for our Canada's 50 Places of a Lifetime package. Here are the places she fell in love with.

Kayakers paddle by Discovery Bay Lodge on Quadra Island.

Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

On Salt Spring Island, the Saturday Market, which has been called the "mother of all markets," embodies all that I love about this beautiful island: the abundance of fresh, organic produce and the friendly, creative people. At the market I photographed autumn-hued beets and wild herbs, summer tomatoes, and sweet berries; cheeses from pet goats; rustic crusty breads; jams, jellies, tarts, and cupcakes; and colorful wildflowers displayed in charming milk cartons. There were also handmade birdhouses made of driftwood, sold by a guy who just got back from India and can give you a massage that will leave you floating; exquisite jewelry; rainbow-colored hats and scarves; and stuffed animals straight out of Dr. Seuss's imagination. The people are the best part about the market, though. They are all so beautiful. The island is full of farmers and artists, and after a few hours tasting your way through the market, you can get the official artists' map and go visit their studios, watch them work, and bring home a unique bit of the island.

Mount Maxwell, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

A 20-minute drive through forests of pine trees and past pristine mountain lakes takes you to the highest point of the island: the top of Mount Maxwell, where you can see for hundreds of miles—islands and water, coves and bays, faraway snowcapped peaks, the stately ferry gliding by. Don’t forget your swimsuit so you can stop at Maxwell Lake on your way back down and take a dip in the sweet clear water.

Discovery Islands, British Columbia

On Quadra Island, I was in bliss. The Discovery Island Lodge is simply paradise. A charming red wooden lodge sits right on the ocean, but this water is so protected—enclosed all around by mountains—you feel like you are on a lake. You sit on the deck in the morning sunshine and hear and see only nature. You bring your own food and cook at the communal kitchen and eat at the great long wooden table with the other guests. Totally off the grid, you are untethered from the rest of the world. Read, write, kayak, swim in the sea, bask in the sunshine. Time your trip to be there during a full moon and go out kayaking under an exquisite moonrise. You don’t even have to go anywhere; you can just float on the water in front of the lodge, enjoying a glass of wine in your canoe.

Salsa Sunday in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Every Sunday in July, Winnipeg hosts Salsa Sundays, an extraordinary event. About 200 people gather under the wide high tent at The Forks, the marketplace in Winnipeg. Folks of all races, ages, classes come together. Hipsters dance with yentas; teenagers with grandpas; Asian men and African women; all switching partners and dancing with smiles and style. This is Canada, a Canada most people don't know about, the real diversity of this country. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a salsa dancer; you can just grab a partner and join in.

Gimli, Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba

Who knew that the largest population of Icelanders outside Iceland is in a tiny town on Lake Winnipeg called Gimli? Widespread famine and poverty drove hundreds to flee by boats in the late 1800s, and they came to where land was being offered cheaply. Those who came were often well-educated middle-class people. And Icelanders are still coming today! The people are very proud of their heritage and many still speak the language. There are two museums, full of photographs and films that preserve their stories. There is a tea shop plus restaurants specializing in Icelandic dishes, and a family-run general store with an impressive book section of New York Times best sellers and enticing cookbooks, as well as books on photography and wildlife. The best time to visit is during the Icelandic Festival in August, when there are Viking re-enactments and the Lady of the Mountain is crowned.

L'Abattoir in Vancouver, British Columbia

Of the many great restaurants in Vancouver my favorite hands down is L'Abattoir in Vancouver's Gastown. With its two-story-high brick wall behind the bar, and big glass windows that open to the cobblestone street, you really feel a part of the neighborhood. What a pleasure it was to sit at the bar on a summer evening, drinking a Gastown Swizzle, one of their many fantastic hip-retro cocktails, and people-watch the hipsters outside and the stylish clientele inside. The food is equally inventive-classic: lots of local seafood, as well as pork and lamb dishes, all locally sourced.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia

Surely this is the most amazing garden I have ever seen—including Prince Charles's own in England. Acres and acres of magnificent flowers and flowering bushes and trees! There is the Japanese Rock Garden, the Rose Garden with arbors and trellises covered in fragrant heritage roses, and the highlight, the Sunken Garden. The story of the gardens is also fascinating. In 1904, Robert Butchart developed a quarry and built a cement factory to mine the rich limestone deposits of the area. The Sunken Garden is the site of that former quarry, and you can still see the remaining tower from the factory. As the limestone deposits diminished, they built a gigantic garden in that pit, and over the many acres around. Most of the gardens are annual and thousands of new flowers are planted every spring. Maybe the best time to visit the gardens is in the evening, at dusk. Acres and acres are lit with hundreds of small lights. It is utterly quiet and romantic. You can walk around until 11 at night during the summer, and feel like you have the place all to yourself.

Chinatown in Vancouver, British Columbia

I have seen and shot a lot of Chinatowns in cities around the world, and most are frumpy. In Vancouver, the weekend Night Market in Chinatown is a curious and amusing mix of hipsters (both Asian and white) and old Chinese folks. Chinese vendors sell cheap bras next to dreadlocked dudes offering vegan dumplings. Old black-and-white films screened on an enormous outside wall are the backdrop behind grandmas playing mah-jongg alongside tattooed bohemians. You can enjoy all this from the street patio of the Keefer Bar, whose Chinese apothecary theme extends to the cocktails, which not only taste delicious but are (supposedly) healthy for you. Bartender Danielle Tatarin says of her signature drink, the Dragonfly, "This one was one of the first drinks where I went to the market [in Chinatown] and was looking at all these crazy Chinese herbs and [was trying to figure out] how to use them, and how their flavor profiles would impact the drinks. The magnolia bark helps to move your digestive chi, and the ginger is very helpful with your digestion. It’s kind of like a light digestif or an aperitif Asian cocktail." For dinner, head next door to Bao Bei, a hip Chinese spot where the cumin lamb I ate was so delicious, I had to come back the next night and eat it again.

Vancouver, British Columbia

I could easily imagine living in a condo in Vancouver, right on the water, with one of the lush, green parks below my window. Vancouver seems to me the perfect city. The buildings are so sparkly clean they look like they have been Windexed. Morning, afternoon, and dusk I shot from the two main bridges: views of mountains, gleaming buildings, and the pure pleasure of life on the water. An endless boat parade: sailboats, party boats, ferries, motorboats, and paddle boards. Finally, and how cool is this: the roof of the Convention Center is one huge open meadow of wild grasses and flowers, so that all those people who have views down on it see not cement but lovely nature.

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