I love visiting eastern Canada, but I'd never want to see eastern Canada disappear just because a bunch of people like me visited it too much, or in the wrong way -- loved it to death, as it were.
There are ways to help ensure this won't happen. Here's a primer on some current environmental issues in the region, plus some tips on traveling as "lightly" as possible.
Fisheries have been the hot-button issue in eastern Canada since forever. This region depends upon fishing and shellfishing more than any other industry for both its economic lifeblood and its identity. Yet the native fishing stocks are seriously imperiled now, thanks to centuries of rampant overfishing; the national and provincial governments have enacted a series of emergency rules preventing fishing of certain fish.
These restrictions make old-timers' blood boil, but they're probably a necessary poison if the fish are ever going to rebound and provide a living for their kids and grandkids.
What can you do? Signing up for a fly-fishing or deep-sea fishing expedition isn't any different from joining a fishing crew, so don't feel guilty if you do. Just act responsibly. Don't fish for more than you need to eat; catch and release, if possible, if you're not planning to eat any of the fish you catch. Do not throw any trash overboard. And don't use any illegal fishing methods to coax out a bigger catch. (If you see your tour operator doing so, don't patronize them again. And you might think about writing a letter to the provincial authorities after you get home.)
In Canada, they certainly don't refer to native peoples as "Indians," and they don't even call them "native Canadians;" as a sort of higher form of respect, they're referred to as members of the First Nation. There are native reserves in all four of the Maritime Provinces.
However, reservations in Canada are not the same as those in the United States. There are no casinos here, no public religious ceremonies, no tourist information kiosks, not even a single souvenir gift shop that I've been able to locate. In short: The native peoples of eastern Canada have decided they mostly want to be left alone.
Respect their wishes. If you pass through or past a marked reserve, do so respectfully. Don't snap photos of signs, people, houses, cars, or shops -- it's just not cool.
However, all is not lost. You can view indigenous art at many art galleries in eastern Canada (at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, in Charlottetown, to give just one example), and numerous museums throughout the region display artifacts from native settlements -- in St. John's, Newfoundland, for instance, The Rooms provincial museum is strong on indigenous history.
Yes, it's pretty hard to claim you're being "green" while you're staying in a resort hotel that pumps water into three hundred rooms and also sprinkles it onto a golf course -- or whose owners cleared off 20 acres of forest and marshlands to build it.
But you can minimize your impact as a traveler in eastern Canada. Here are just a few ways:
Stay in an accredited "green" hotel. Canada's official hotel association, the HAC, maintains a member-run "green" rating system called Green Key that assesses member hotels' practices, then assigns them a rating of two to five keys. This system doesn't differentiate a whole lot among properties -- the vast majority of hotels and motels are rated at three keys, or "medium" greenness -- but it might help you separate the greenest places from the least-green ones.
Interestingly, only one hotel in all of eastern Canada graded perfectly (five keys) on this scale: the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland. Visit the organization's website (www.greenkeyglobal.com) for more information.
Play golf on an eco-friendly course. Hundreds of courses in North America have been certified by the Audubon Society as wildlife sanctuaries, including about 80 in Canada. Of these, unfortunately, only two are located in eastern Canada, though both are visually stunning and historic: Bell Bay in Baddeck, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton and the Algonquin Golf Course in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.
See the website of the organization Golf & The Environment (www.golfandenvironment.com) for more details.
Take public transit. Every major city in this book -- from Halifax to Saint John to St. John's to Moncton -- operates some form of metropolitan bus system. Use it.
Ride a bike. The parks of eastern Canada are unusually tailor-made for great bicycle riding. What's better than getting in shape and burning calories, while contributing exactly zero toxic emissions to the atmosphere? It's pretty hard to beat that for green travel.
I can personally vouch for the following destinations as superb cycling holidays: stretches of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island (but watch carefully for touring cars); the outstandingly scenic Fundy Trail Parkway in New Brunswick, which has a dedicated bike lane; and the Confederation Trail, which stretches the entire length of Prince Edward Island -- the best parts are in northeastern PEI, around the area of Mount Stewart.
Eat at restaurants that source locally. The use of hyper-local or regional produce, meats, and fish -- this is Atlantic Canada, after all -- contributes to the local economy and cuts down on pollution by cutting out the freighters, trucks, planes, trains, delivery vans, and refrigeration units required to ship and preserve foods over very long distance.
Luckily, numerous good restaurants in eastern Canada now use this philosophy: Lot 30 in Charlottetown is one great example. Read my restaurant listings closely to find more examples.
Stay on the trail. Trails have boundaries for a reason: you're safer inside the trail (cliffs and handholds can crumble away in an instant), and sudden erosion is bad for a mountainside, because it creates a cascade effect: Each subsequent rain will wash more and more topsoil, forest duff, and nutrients off the hill, preventing future plant life from gaining a toehold (and the animals who depend on it). Stay on-trail.
Respecting The 'Bergs & The Bees
In eastern Canada you can get up close and personal with anything from a Titanic-sized iceberg with a polar bear on top of it to a sperm whale or a harbor seal. Sometimes outfitters even bring you right up beside the objects of your desire.
That might look cool in your video scrapbook, but it isn't necessarily best for the animal, whale, or landscape in question. Remember: these are wild animals, still unaccustomed to proximity with people.
Here are a few tips and resources for more respectful travel:
Don't collect. Resist the urge to collect things from the sea or forest. Pulling sea creatures out of the ocean and yanking up flowers for your hotel room (or your kids' aquarium back home) is both gauche and prohibited; sometimes the penalties can be very steep, approaching those for a federal crime.
Save the whales. Whale-watching is enduringly popular throughout the Maritime Provinces, but operators are lightly regulated; if you think your captain is heading too close in to the animals, complain (nicely but firmly). To learn more about the whales you'll be glimpsing, and how to respect them, before you get to Canada, visit the online resources of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
Use a respectful outfitter. You can find more eco-friendly travel tips, statistics, and touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Travel Choice" -- at the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) website, www.ecotourism.org. Ecotravel.com is an online directory that also provides a search for eco-friendly touring companies by category. Conservation International (www.conservation.org) is another useful resource. This organization presents annual awards to tour operators that have made significant contributions toward sustainable tourism. Take a look at the latest award-winners to see if any of them operate in eastern Canada.
Get educated. Finally, for more information on traveling lightly in general, check the websites of involved groups such as Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org) and Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com).
General Resources for Green Travel
In addition to the resources for eastern Canada listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
- Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices, and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
- In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive content on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section and profiles of the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
- Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
- Greenhotels (www.greenhotels.com) recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com) offers more green accommodation ratings. The Hotel Association of Canada (www.hacgreenhotels.com) has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
- Visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably in the U.S. and Canada.
- For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the whales you'll be glimpsing (and how to respect them) off the Atlantic coast, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
- Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org and www.idealist.org.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.