When I was younger, the world was as big as my backyard. As I grew, the world grew with me. It became as big as my street, then as big as my neighbourhood, and soon as big as my home town. But it was never big enough.
I needed more. I wanted to travel.
At this time, I began to learn about Canada from my mother and grandmother. My grandfather is a Canadian, or was, because he died before I was born, and I credit him with much of my love of the country.
I grew up learning stories of his life in the great outdoors - the farm he lived on in northern Ontario, his exploits as a driver and lumberjack in a remote Canadian outpost, and the adventures he had with his brother before leaving for England to serve in the war.
Through these stories, I learned about the real Canada - not just a country with large cities like Toronto and Montreal, but a land of isolated frontier towns full of strong, resilient people living in often extreme climates. I came to know about the great outdoors. The Canadian great outdoors.
And I wanted to know more.
|The Fraser River and Mount Robson. Photo credit: Maurice Li Photography|
Back then, we stayed in Jasper for two nights before driving down the Icefields Parkway to Banff. It was a journey I'll never forget, made in the deep of winter with snow and ice covering the highway, lakes frozen, wildlife scarce. The Parkway remains forged in my memory and I'm keen to return and sight the majesty of the Rockies, even though the cloud cover sits low and the sky broods above us, threatening rain or snow, or both.
|Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep.|
We arrive at the Columbia Icefields and the mighty Athabasca Glacier. Pulling up next to a gigantic offroad machine that makes our small coach look puny by comparison, I wish the clouds would lift. I know there is peak upon enormous peak above us but we may as well be in a harbour fog, no sign of mountain or forested slope to the naked eye.
Still, the glacier doesn't disappoint and thirteen of the world's best travel bloggers and photographers sip on the coldest and freshest water imaginable from the melt of a glacier that will be gone in less than a hundred years.
The poignancy of the moment isn't lost on us.
|Glacier walking. Photo credit: Maurice Li Photography|
We whitewater raft down the Fraser River in the shadow of Mount Robson, alone amongst the Class III rapids, with only nature and the sound of rushing water as our trusted companions.
We ride the tramway up into the alpine tundra of Jasper National Park seated high above the town below. The weather defeats us once again yet we sense the presence of towering mountains around us, our insignificance in the grand scheme of things continuing to grow.
We dine like kings and queens at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. A room with a view understates the impressiveness of what we spy outside the restaurant window, snow-laden evergreens ranging off into the distance as far as the eye can see.
|In the grounds of the Jasper Fairmont Park lodge. Photo credit: Maurice Li Photography|
For several days, the mists stay low and the temperature descends. My one regret is not taking the trip to Maligne Lake and witnessing the mystique of Spirit Island. On the first day of opening after the ice on the lake melts, our group experiences this sacred spot treasured by locals and tourists alike, while I witness the beauty by camera playback alone. It's an error of judgement but I won't let it dishearten me.
Because one day I will return. I have to return.
I need to experience Alberta in all seasons. I need to see more of these hidden Albertan gems. I need to ski the slopes of the Rockies and explore the trails and parks far from the beaten track. My son needs to share these experiences and see the region as I see it - a small frontier town buried deep in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
|The serenity of the lakes of the Rockies. Photo credit: Maurice Li Photography|
It's the Canada my grandfather tried to show me in my childhood dreams. A living, breathing landscape painted with elk, mountain sheep, brown bear, black bear, moose, eagle and beaver. A place of aspens, larches, pines, firs and spruce. Of alpine lakes, ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls and hidden mountain meadows.
I am in complete and utter awe of this place.
Thankfully, I just need to breathe.
Travel Alberta also produced a video advertising this jaw-droppingly beautiful region. They haven't asked me to share this with you but I can think of no better way to show you exactly why this land has had such an impact on me. So watch and enjoy. You won't be disappointed (especially if viewed in 'full screen').