The 10 best Canadian coastal cities to visit are primarily located along the nation’s coastline which meets with the waters connected to the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and other large bodies of water that seemingly stretch out to the great expanse. Most of the cities mentioned either started off as fishing communities or military forts while Canada had yet to officially develop as its own country. All of them have a story to tell as all of them earned their place in history that defined who Canada became as a chartered member of the Commonwealth. As choice cities to visit, these are the coastal cities that draw in tourists from all over the world as they wish to catch a glimpse of Canadian culture.
Top 10 Canadian Coastal Cities to Visit
#10 – Prince Rupert, British Columbia
Approximately twelve thousand people call the port city of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, their home. Although not a large city compared to BC’s Vancouver, it is still one of the best Canadian coastal cities worth mentioning. This is the main transportation hub of British Columbia’s North Coast and is technically located on Kaien Island, near the Alaskan panhandle. The Prince Rupert Harbour city was favored over Port Simpson as a western terminus for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. It also replaced Port Essington of the Skeena River as the business hub for the North Coast.
Thanks to a provincial grant, Prince Rupert’s Kaien Island received plank sidewalks, roads, sewers, and water mains as part of a development to accommodate the land for railway and town use. Prince Rupert was officially incorporated on March 10, 1910. The city earnt its name after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who was the first Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Interestingly enough, the man never did visit the area as the name was simply chosen as part of a nationwide competition that was held by the railway company at that time.
Prince Rupert’s climate is oceanic. Nicknamed “The City of Rainbows,” it is Canada’s wettest city that has at least one hundred inches of rainfall each year. It also receives only 1230 hours of sunshine per year. What you won’t find in Prince Rupert is an extensive display of what’s trending today. Instead, you will find a rugged city that’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiast who prefers to keep a simpler lifestyle. The technology is here but the folks of Prince Rupert aren’t about to boast about it. The residents love the lifestyle of fishing, which is the most popular draw when it comes to tourism. The rugged terrain that compliments so well with Prince Rupert is the kind of appeal that wins outdoor sports enthusiasts and nature lovers.
#9 – Thunder Bay, Ontario
Although not situated along the coast spanning out to an ocean, Thunder Bay, Ontario, still counts as a coastal city. It sits on the northeastern shores of Lake Superior. Of the Five Great Lakes, this is the giant as it is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. By volume, it is the third largest. Its waters drain into the St. Marys River, which leads to Lake Huron, then the lower Great Lakes, to the St. Lawrence River, and finally to the Atlantic Ocean. With over one hundred thousand residents, Thunder Bay is Northwestern Ontario’s most populous municipality.
The French fur trading outpost first settled on the banks of the Kaministiquia River, growing it into an important transportation hub with its port. It served as a key shipping link to haul grain and other products from Western Canada, through the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the east coast. Forestry and manufacturing are the two major roles of financial activity that kept Thunder Bay going as a city. More recently, it has also become a big player with its contribution to medical research and education. Thunder Bay also serves as a great tourist destination as the city has a rich pioneering history, as well as access to some of nature’s best scenery. Outdoor enthusiasts are especially drawn to Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay’s nickname, Canadian Lakehead, comes from its location at the end of the Great Lakes navigation along the Canadian side of the border. In 2003, it was declared the Cultural Capital of Canada by a committee as it was recognized for its cultural centers and diverse population. Thunder Bay’s biggest tourist attraction is Fort William Historical Park. It is here a visitor steps back into 1815 at the North West Company’s fur trading post. On average, about one hundred thousand visitors come here each year. Port Arthur’s downtown marina is an area also referred to as The Waterfront District. Visitors come to take in the panoramic view of the Sleeping Giant and the watercraft found here. The iconic Terry Fox has a statue at the Terry Fox Memorial and Lookout, which is located on the outskirts of the city. This is where he was forced to abandon his run as he bravely trekked across Canada in a marathon that inspired so many people worldwide. The run was to raise awareness and funds in the name of cancer research and is an event held annually.
#8 – Nanaimo, British Columbia
Along the east coast of Vancouver Island is Nanaimo, British Columbia. With approximately one hundred thousand residents, Nanaimo was once upon a time referred to as Hub City before it was rechristened as The Harbour City. The reason why Nanaimo gets its nickname is the way this city was laid out as a design. The streets radiate from the shorelines similar to how the spokes of a wagon wheel do. Nanaimo serves as a gateway city leading to the northern half of Vancouver Island, behaving like a central hub between Victoria to the south and Port Hardy to the north.
In 1791, Spanish Europeans were among the first to reach Nanaimo Harbour. When the Hudson’s Bay Company established a British settlement in 1852, Colvile Town became its name before it was renamed after the indigenous people who first called Nanaimo their home. Harbour City became Nanaimo’s nickname as exposure to Vancouver’s Expo 86 won over the attention of real estate developers who saw Nanaimo’s potential as a coastal community.
Nanaimo, as a city, makes for a fantastic playground for fans of boating, fishing, sightseeing, and swimming. Originally, this city was designed as a coal mining town but the forestry industry replaced it as the main contributor to its financial future. Tourism has also become a major draw for visitors. Nanaimo’s convenient location doesn’t take long for visitors to take in opportunities to find something to do. There are hot springs nearby, as well as cruises that offer a chance to watch some whales.
#7 – Miramichi, New Brunswick
Approaching twenty thousand people, Miramichi is the largest city in northern New Brunswick. It sits at the mouth of Miramichi River as it enters Miramichi Bay. This sums up the Miramichi Valley and is the second longest in the province, just behind Saint John River Valley. This is a coastal city that often serves as a resort city and has become an incredibly popular tourist destination among visitors who are discovering the beauty of what used to be one of Canada’s best-hidden gems. As word of mouth continues to get out, the appeal of Miramichi and its white sandy beaches continues to increase in popularity. Miramichi was formed as a city in 1995 after the amalgamation of several towns.
Prior to 1765, the Miramichi region was inhabited by the Mi’kmaq. The Europeans began to settle in around 1648 with Fort Fronsac set up as a fort and trading post. 1754 witnessed the start of the French and Indian War which had many Acadian homes destroyed by the British. The residents at that time were deported and there were attempts made by the French to take Miramichi back. They were unable to do so. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed and Miramichi became part of the British colony of Nova Scotia. Later, it would fall into the provincial jurisdiction of New Brunswick. Over time, the culture of Miramichi saw a heavy influence of Irish, Scottish, and New England descent.
Miramichi’s development as a city primarily focused on fishing, forestry, and mining. Today, tourism has taken a solid foothold as a major economic contributor to its growth. This city is beautiful and it counts as a coastal city as its waters lead directly to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, then to the Atlantic Ocean. Miramichi is home to two major call centers, namely the Canadian Firearms Program and the Phoenix Pay System. Among visitors who happen to be outdoor enthusiasts, Miramichi doesn’t disappoint as it has something for everyone, regardless of class level.
#6 – Toronto, Ontario
Technically speaking, Toronto, Ontario doesn’t exactly pass for a coastal city when you take the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean into consideration. However, factor in Lake Ontario’s massive size as a body of water that seems like an ocean from Toronto’s own coastline and we’ve now got something to go on. The city of Toronto serves as the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of nearly ten million people that surrounds the western shoreline of Lake Ontario. Toronto’s land mass sits on a sloping plateau and has a coastline that totals over sixty miles worth when factoring in the Etobicoke Creek, Rouge River, and Lake Ontario. The view of Lake Ontario from the Toronto Harbour is enough to fool a visitor unfamiliar with Canadian geography into believing Toronto is a coastal city facing the ocean.
Toronto is the all-time Canadian city of choice among visitors wishing to visit the nation. It is also the biggest city that offers the most amount of activities for a person to engage in. The only reason why Toronto isn’t ranked number one on this list is that it’s a coastal city sitting on the shoreline of a lake instead of one directly leading to an ocean. There is more than enough to see and do here that you will be kept busy. This includes enjoying the ocean-like waters Lake Ontario has to offer such as boating, fishing, swimming, and more.
#5 – Saint John, New Brunswick
On June 24, 1604, Samuel de Champlain landed at Saint John Harbour. June 24th marks the annual feast of St. John the Baptist, an annual tradition that is the French-Canadian equivalent of Canada Day. The city of Saint John, New Brunswick, was designed as a seaport city of the Atlantic Ocean, located on the Bay of Fundy. The current population of this city sits at approximately seventy thousand people, falling behind New Brunswick’s most populous city, Moncton. Up until 2016, Saint John was the bigger of the two. The history of Saint John includes ownership disputes that kept the British and the French at odds until 1755. In 1779, the British built Fort Howe above the harbor while the French were left to remain where they stood. In 1785, the city was established by uniting the two that were on each side of the arbor. This came about after thousands of refugees came here after the American Revolution. The people were forced to leave their homes when they wanted to remain British citizens.
Saint John is split by the south-flowing Saint John River as it sits along the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. The river flows into the Bay of Fundy through a narrow gorge at the center of the city that has Reversing Falls, an interesting display of nature where the diurnal tides of the bay reverse the water flow. A series of underwater ledges at the gorge’s narrowest point creates a series of rapids, making this a popular point of interest for tourists.
#4 – St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John’s, Newfoundland is the easternmost city in North America. Newfoundland itself is an island while its Labrador counterpart sits along the eastern border of Quebec. In 1497, John Cabot of the British Royal Navy sailed into the harbor belonging to what we know today as St. John’s. There are a series of stories about how the name itself came to be but the founding of it was credited to a Spanish fisherman from Pasajes de San Juan, Guipuzcoa. It is one of the oldest established cities in North America. Today, over two hundred thousand residents call St. John’s their home.
The history of St. John’s includes the roles it played during the American Revolutionary War, the Seven Years’ War, and the War of 1812. As a tourist destination, St. John’s, Newfoundland remains as one of the all-time Canadian favorites. When visiting St. John’s, or anywhere else in Newfoundland, you may find locals seem to talk like the Irish. That is because the majority of the population comes from an Irish background and doesn’t quite live the same way the rest of the Canadian people do. In fact, Newfoundlanders will refer to the rest of the Canadian population as “mainlanders.” This is also the same terminology used when referencing Americans.
The cityscape that defines St. John’s features architecture that differs from the rest of Canada. Remnants of the first British colonial capitals can be seen here, as well as the impressive collection of fishing piers and docks. There are also several buildings that are lined up with an incredible rainbow of colors that make it so easy to fall in love with the place. St. John’s is often compared to San Fransisco as the multi-level terrain between streets and sidewalks is quite similar. Be sure to check out Jelly Bean Row, which is downtown St. John’s pride and joy as an urban development.
#3 – Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia. It sits on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada. It is considerably smaller than its Vancouver counterpart with a population of less than one hundred thousand people but is a mighty rival when it comes to attracting tourists. Not all visitors want to go to a big city as a vacation destination. Sometimes, smaller coastal cities have a special appeal to them that’s too inviting to pass up. Victoria is exactly that kind of city.
The Greater Victoria area has a population of about four hundred thousand people and is one of the most densely populated cities in Canada. Victoria is about sixty-two miles from Seattle, Washington where the commute between these two communities takes place by airplane, ferry, and seaplane. In 1843, the British began settling in what has become one of the oldest cities of the Pacific Northwest. If you want to visit a city that’s proud of its cultural heritage, Victoria is it.
Two of its most famous historical landmarks include the 1897 Parliament Buildings and the 1908 Empress Hotel. Victoria’s Chinatown district also happens to be the second oldest in North America, falling just behind San Francisco. Victoria has been dubbed “Garden City.” Visitors who’ve been to this city will testify this is a city that has an incredible love for flora. On a global scale, Victoria is ranked in the top twenty as a city known for its quality of life. The popularity of Victoria in the tourism industry continues to rise, often rivaling its own big neighbor across the Strait of Georgia as an urbanized vacation destination.
#2 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
This is where I have to be honest. Speaking as a Canadian, I love visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia, above every other major city in Canada. I love its history, its location, and its scenery. Apparently, I don’t seem to be the only one who feels this way as Halifax is one of the nation’s fastest-growing municipalities. Nearing the five hundred thousand mark in population, Halifax is uniquely attractive as a city that has so much to offer. The Canadian military relies heavily on the geographical advantages Halifax has, as well as its access to agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining, and natural gas. Halifax’s ancestral roots begins with the Mi’Kmaq, a tribe that has called the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward their home long before Europeans landed in North America in the 1400s to set up fishing colonies. Before Halifax earned its name, the natives in the area called the territory Kjipuktuk. Pronounced “che-book-took,” the English equivalent to the name is Great Harbour.
As a city, Halifax was the jewel of the Atlantic that had witnessed great battles take place between the Acadians, the British, the French, and the Mi’kmaq. When the British broke its treaty with the Mi’kmaq in 1749 when Edward Cornwallis brought over one thousand settlers and their families to establish Halifax as a British-owned and operated township. This led to Father Le Loutre’s War where the British military set up forts in Halifax and nearby communities. In 1917, Halifax was the victim of one of Canada’s biggest disasters in history when the French cargo ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, collided with the SS Imo, a relief ship from Norway.
The cargo ship was carrying ammunition, which exploded in the harbor. About two thousand people were killed and nine thousand injured. The disaster could have been much worse if it wasn’t for a certain train dispatcher known as Patrick Vincent Coleman. Knowing a collision of the two ships was imminent, as well as the disaster that would go with it, he risked his own life to make sure the passenger train stayed away from what was about to become ground zero. Coleman knew the impact of the train at the scene of the disaster would have resulted in a much greater catastrophe.
This fateful event is commemorated every December 6th as of 1985, after the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells were built. Anybody visiting Halifax during this time should really consider taking part. As tragic as the event was, it resulted in a key medical breakthrough when it came to treating eye injuries and visual impairment. It was also an event that brought the Americans living in Boston, Massachusetts even closer to the Canadians living in Halifax. Boston was the first to come to Halifax’s rescue after the explosion hit and was instrumental in helping the city rise from the ashes and move forward.
Halifax is the commercial and cultural hub of the Maritime Provinces. The beauty of Halifax as a coastal city that holds its heritage so dear has made it a favorite location for filmmakers from all over the world. Halifax is also one of the most colorful cities, especially along the harbor. The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 was a major entry point from the 1930s to the 1950s during its heyday, now serving as the only national museum recognized by the National Historic Site of Canada in the Atlantic provinces. The connection Halifax has with the infamous 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Even though St. John’s, Newfoundland was closer, Halifax was easier to access and was better equipped to handle the disaster. Throughout Halifax, voices of the past seem to echo as its cultural and historical significance continues to make its presence felt.
#1 – Vancouver, British Columbia
Hands down, Vancouver, British Columbia is Canada’s most popular coastal city. This is also the Canadian equivalent of Hollywood, California as filmmakers can’t seem to get enough of what this city has to offer. Dubbed Hollywood North, Vancouver is a beautiful city that graces Canada’s western coastline. While to the west this leads out to the Pacific Ocean, to the east is a mountainous landscape that rightfully gives British Columbia the term “supernatural” for good reason. When it comes to some of North America’s best big cities to visit, Vancouver usually gets mentioned in the same breath as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. The Greater Vancouver area has nearly three million people that call it home while the actual city’s population sits at less than one million. The population density of Vancouver is the highest in Canada and is the fourth highest in North America. Mexico City, New York City, and San Fransisco are among the top three.
When it comes to culture and language, Vancouver is the most diverse city in Canada. Nearly half of the city’s population has English as a second language. Over half of the population belongs to ethnic minority groups. In many cases, when people come to visit Vancouver, there is a desire to come back. Sometimes, they return to stay. Continuously, Vancouver is ranked one of the most livable cities in Canada, as well as the rest of the world. It’s not cheap to live here, though. It is also ranked as among the most expensive. At the moment, Vancouverism has become a design focus to turn this Canadian city into the world’s greenest urban development. For years, Vancouver has become a favorite city of choice to host international conferences and events. The 1954 Commonwealth Games was held here, as well as Expo 86. The World Police and Fire Games were held in this city twice, as well as the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The origin of Vancouver started as Gastown and its makeshift tavern on the western front of Hastings Mill. Starting in 1867, Gastown became a township before it was renamed Vancouver in 1886 after a deal was struck with the Canadian Pacific Railway. The reason behind the name was George Vancouver, a British Royal Navy officer who explored the inner harbor in 1792. The name itself originates from the Dutch ancestry connected to Coevorden, Netherlands. Aside from its importance as a link to the American and Canadian railways, Vancouver’s seaport on the Pacific Ocean has become a vital link between Asia-Pacific, East Asia, Eastern Canada, and Europe. Vancouver’s growth relied on the forest industry and it continues to serve as the leading financial contributor to the city. Right behind forestry is tourism, thanks to the natural surroundings that make Vancouver so appealing. Right behind it is the filming industry as major production studios cash in on the advantages of the dollar value difference between Canada and America.
Vancouver’s biggest highlights include Stanley Park and its one thousand acres of greenery, most of it surrounded by the waters of Burret Inlet and English Bay. Dominating the cityscape are the North Shore Mountains. Clean across the Strait of Georgia is Vancouver Island. On a clear day, the vistas offer an impressive view of Washington State’s Mount Baker to the southeast, as well as Bowen Island to the northwest. While Canada is notorious for its harsh winter season, the city of Vancouver offers a friendlier climate. While most of Canada receives blankets of snow, Vancouver tends to get mostly rain instead. As a city, Vancouver is loaded with tourist attractions that have something for everyone.
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