Michael Portillo explores Canada, armed with his Appleton’s 1899 Guidebook.
Part 1: Halifax
Michael Portillo begins a new journey on the tracks of the ocean line to explore Canada’s maritime provinces, en route to Quebec City. Clutching his 1899 Appleton’s Guide to Canada, Michael begins in the Atlantic port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he discovers an 18th-century British hilltop citadel, manned at the time of his guide by the 78th Highland Regiment.
Michael joins the men who recreate the roles of those Scottish soldiers today. At the mercy of the young Sergeant Major, Michael learns the drill in kilt and sporran. Michael follows his Appleton’s to a vast Victorian dry dock, still in use today by shipbuilders for the Royal Canadian Navy and finds out what it takes to build a state of the art Arctic Patrol vessel. He learns of a catastrophic explosion in Halifax harbour in 1917, which wiped out the north of the city, killing 2,000 people and leaving 25,000 homeless and hears about a special bond this created between Halifax and Boston, MA, in the United States.
Former residents of an African Canadian community rent in two by the railway tell Michael of their struggle for redress. And Michael discovers a ‘marine railway’ – a first for him – as he paddles his kayak along the Shubenacadie Canal. On Banook Lake, Michael joins 15 ‘warriors’ who are preparing for battle in a war canoe.
Part 2: Pictou to Prince Edward Island
Steered by his 1899 Appleton’s Guide to Canada, Michael Portillo continues his journey through Canada’s maritime provinces towards Quebec City.
In the picturesque harbour town of Pictou, Nova Scotia, he discovers that the first wave of Scots to settle in New Scotland arrived on board a ship named Hector. Aboard a proud replica of the 18th-century vessel, he hears of their gruelling 11-week voyage across the Atlantic and is invited to join young dancers in a Scottish reel.
At the Northumberland Fisheries Museum, Michael investigates what it takes to keep Nova Scotia’s top export on the menu. The hatchery has boosted stock levels of lobster in the Northumberland Strait to a record high and Michael helps by releasing a mother back into her natural habitat. From Caribou, Michael catches the ferry to Prince Edward Island to meet its most famous resident, Anne of Green Gables, at her beautifully-kept home. Charmed by the red-haired orphan and her tales of temper, he heads to the Confederation Theatre in PEI’s provincial capital, Charlottetown, to see her record breaking musical. Following the island’s famous red roads, Michael arrives at the Red Shores Racetrack where they’re preparing for an evening harness race. Champion driver, Kenny Arsenault, takes Michael out for a hair-raising spin.
Part 3: Springhill Junction to Moncton
Clutching his 1899 copy of Appleton’s Guide to Canada, Michael Portillo travels on the Ocean train from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. Along the way he investigates the world’s biggest tide at Hopewell Rocks and admires its dramatic rock formations and caves.
He apparently defies gravity on Magnetic Hill in a 1965 Pontiac Bonneville. North of Moncton in Miramichi, he joins the Elsipogtog First Nation in a pow wow, where he learns about quilting and traditional dress. In Amherst, Michael investigates the history of an ambitious ship railway designed to ferry ships by rail over the Isthmus between the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait. And he quarries highly prized Wallace sandstone for a 150-year-old family firm.
Part 4: Miramichi to Quebec City
Michael Portillo continues his rail adventure from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Quebec City, following his 1899 edition of Appleton’s Guide to Canada. In the Acadian fishing village of Neguac, New Brunswick, he discovers sea-farmers are producing up to 15 million oysters a year. Michael takes to the water to investigate how it is done and is rewarded with a taste of the freshest mollusc he has ever sampled.
His guidebook leads him to Miramichi, where he reads that French-speaking Acadians settled after they were expelled by the British from lands they had occupied further south. Intrigued by a tale of 18th-century ethnic cleansing, Michael visits an historic village to find out about these people and why Britain took such drastic action against them. Boarding the night sleeper for the next 400 miles of his journey, Michael heads for Quebec City, where old Europe survives in the New World. With its narrow streets and flights of steps, and a hotel modelled on a 16th-century chateau, Quebec City was the heart of New France and reminds Michael of Paris. Yet the Quebecois national dish leaves him cold.
Part 5: Saint-Anne de Beaupre to La Malbaie
Michael Portillo explores the Province of Quebec with his nineteenth-century Appleton’s Guide to Canada. He takes the fabulously scenic Train de Charlevoix along the north bank of the mighty St Lawrence River to La Malbaie. Along the way, he discovers how a tiny shrine became a magnet for millions of pilgrims in search of miracles, where fashionable Victorians chose to spend their summers and how a unique family recipe from the old world has made a great grandson’s fortune in the new.
Following his guidebook to the beautiful basilica at Sainte Anne de Beaupre, Michael discovers the racks of crutches discarded by the healed and meets modern day visitors in search of miracles. The train de Charlevoix, built to transport pilgrims, now conveys tourists to the Murray lakes. Michael joins a local historian to tour the fine 19th-century houses which were once the haunt of the Gatsby generation. Taking to the skies in a seaplane, he flies over the Laurentian Mountains to land on an isolated lake, where he follows in the footsteps of the wealthy elite of the Appleton era as he fishes for trout for his supper.
At Baie St Paul, Michael heads for the high ground where he discovers a novel farm. 6,500 tomato vines are under cultivation to produce wines of sufficient calibre to be served at the G7 conference. The waterfall at Montmorency is a spectacular sight – especially from a zip wire!
Part 6: Vancouver
Michael Portillo prepares to trace some 600 miles of the first transcontinental railway route across the Canadian Rockies, steered by his 1899 Appleton’s Guide.
Beginning in Vancouver, British Columbia, Michael boards the Canadian Pacific Railway Engine 374 that linked the vast nation of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1887. He unearths the story behind this grand feat of engineering and the bribery and corruption, which brought down a government. And he learns that without this railway, there might not be a unified Canada today.
From Vancouver’s Skytrain, Michael explores the nation’s most densely populated city, which, with its natural harbour location and fabulous views of the North Shore mountains, is ranked one of the world’s best places to live. A taste of the outdoor life in the thousand-acre Stanley Park prompts Michael to head for the home of the Vancouver Giants and Trinity Northwestern University to try an iconic Canadian sport, ice hockey. It is a brave move but not a glorious one. Michael is on more familiar territory on set at the Canadian Motion Picture Park, where the Twilight Saga was filmed, and known in the industry as Hollywood North. He discovers the first film made in Canada was created at the time of his guide. Sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it showed life on the prairies in order to promote settlement. Michael directs an Oscar-worthy scene of his own.
Part 7: Vancouver Island to San Juan Island
Michael Portillo explores British Columbia, steered by his Appleton’s Guide to Canada, published in 1899. He discovers how two superpowers nearly came to war over a pig and joins the Royal Canadian Navy to firefight on board the frigate HMCS Regina. Starting on Vancouver Island, the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America, Michael explores the rich British heritage and colonial past of the provincial capital of British Columbia, Victoria. He discovers the origins of the immensely powerful and profitable Hudson’s Bay Company, a private fur-trading enterprise used as a surrogate for the extension of the British Empire in North America.
In the affluent James Bay area of Victoria, Michael discovers the former home of a Canadian national icon, an early 20th-century artist who documented the art and culture of the indigenous people of the western coast, Emily Carr. At Saanichton, Michael visits the studio of a present-day First Nations artist and helps to carve a 36- foot totem pole.
Part 8: Port Moody to Kamloops
Armed with his 1899 Appleton’s Guide to Canada, Michael Portillo learns how to head off a charging bear in the wilderness of British Columbia and holds on tight in a sidewinder while Canadian lumberjacks nudge tons of logs along the water to a sawmill. Striking east on the transcontinental railway, Michael stops first in Mission City, gold rush country in the 19th century but also a centre for the conversion by Catholic missionaries of the local indigenous population. Michael hears the tragic stories of First Nations children forcibly separated from their families as part of an official policy of assimilation and learns how Canada is facing up to the past.
His next stop is Kamloops, home to First Nations people for 10,000 years before the arrival of European settlers in the early 19th century. Michael follows his Appleton’s to the wild wooded hills above the city, where his guidebook tells him he may find grizzly, black and brown bears, panthers, caribou and deer. British Columbia is home to around 150,000 black bears, one of the highest populations in the world. Michael learns what bears like to eat and is thrilled to see how they live in the wild. At the BC Wildlife Park Michael helps to feed two captive orphaned grizzlies.
Part 9: Kamloops to Banff
Clutching his 1899 Appleton’s Guide, Michael Portillo boards one of the world’s most famous trains, the Rocky Mountaineer, to cross the backbone of the North American continent from Kamloops to the spa resort of Banff. This magnificent journey takes him to the highest point of the 19th-century transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway line at Kicking Horse Pass, past Lake Louise and inside spiral tunnels blasted through the mountains.
Along the way, Michael hears of the harsh and dangerous conditions endured by the Chinese and European labourers who built the railway and the many deaths which resulted. He looks back at the historic driving of the Last Spike, which completed the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. After chatting with fellow passengers, Michael reports for duty in the luxury train’s restaurant car. Reaching Banff, Michael follows his Appleton’s guide to the luxurious Banff Spring Hotel, built by the railway company. At Sulphur Mountain close by, he explores an underground hot spring discovered by railway workers in 1883 and he learns how it prompted the creation of Canada’s first national park. He finishes this leg of his tour of western Canada with a dip in the warm waters beneath and a hike on its summit.
Part 10: Calgary
Michael Portillo arrives in Calgary, in the Canadian province of Alberta, steered by his 1899 Appleton’s guide. Sporting a bright red jacket, he saddles up with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, hears about their origins and learns about their role today. He tastes life as a ranch hand at Bar U Ranch, where he discovers how the cattle business boomed after the arrival of the transcontinental railway in 1885. New markets led to fame worldwide, prompting a surprise royal visit from Britain in 1919 by Edward, Prince of Wales.
Riding the ‘C’ train, Michael heads downtown to the Calgary Petroleum Club to hear about the first oil strike in Western Canada and the prosperity the city has enjoyed since. It’s festival time and Michael is introduced to a Calgary delicacy, the Prairie Oyster. The city’s Ukrainian community is the second largest outside the Ukraine and keeps its culture alive. Michael rashly accepts an invitation to dance the Hopak.
Part 11: Winnipeg
Michael Portillo begins a 1,000-mile journey across the vast Canadian Prairie aboard Canada’s last trans-continental passenger line. From the very heart of the country he travels west to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Following his 1899 Appleton’s Guidebook, on this leg, Michael explores the Manitoban capital, Winnipeg, the nation’s chief railroad centre, known as the “gateway to the west”. Joining the ranks of the 17,000 Canadian National students to have trained at the giant freight company’s national training centre, Michael has a go at marshalling a wagon and is chuffed with his performance.
In the French quarter of Saint Boniface, he cashes in at the Canadian Royal Mint, where all the coins in circulation in Canada are made. And he discovers the origins of the half-million Canadians who today identify as Metis. Michael meets a descendant of the 19th-century rebel leader now known as the “Father of Manitoba”, and enjoys their traditional fiddle music.
Part 12: Portage La Prairie to Watrous
Steered by his 1899 Appleton’s Guide, Michael Portillo strikes west across Manitoba into the province of Saskatchewan. High above the Prairie at Riding Mountain, he discovers how a middle-class British boy from Hastings transformed himself into an influential, self-proclaimed ‘indigenous’ naturalist called Grey Owl.
Deep in the Prairie, he finds a network of railways that once served the wheat farmers of Saskatchewan and learns how communities grew up around the grain elevators used to load the crop on to rail wagons. The Wheatland Express still hauls freight but also operates as a tourist line and welcomes a new recruit to the sidings on the afternoon shift. At Manitou Beach, Michael reaches the Dead Sea of Canada, a 14-mile lake three times saltier than the ocean. A Yellow Quill First Nations Elder tells him about the healing properties of the water and Michael decides to try it for himself.
Part 13: Saskatoon
Michael Portillo crosses the Great Plains of Canada by rail, armed with his 1899 Appleton’s Guide. He digs into the region’s indigenous past at the longest running archaeological excavation in Canada, discovers an Englishman whose work earned him the title Canada’s Wheat King, and in the cultural hub of Saskatoon he learns how to make a traditional Saskatoon berry pie.
At Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Michael finds a 700-year-old piece of bison bone and hears how archaeologists are piecing together a picture of early indigenous hunting. Michael explores a “bison jump” at Opimihaw. At Rosthern, Michael uncovers how a British pioneer from the Isle of Wight emigrated to Canada and began to farm wheat. Facing bitter winters and brief summers, Seager Wheeler selectively bred seeds to find the best varieties. Michael investigates the magnificent machinery Wheeler invented to do it and the prize-winning seed he produced.
North east of the South Saskatchewan River at Batoche, Michael reaches the battlefield where in 1885 the French-speaking Métis people and their indigenous allies lost their struggle against Canadian control.
Part 14: Edmonton
Michael Portillo continues west through the Canadian Prairie on his thousand-mile rail journey from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Jasper, Alberta. Following his 1899 Appleton’s guide, Michael explores a glossy, glassy oil-rich Edmonton, second city of Alberta. On the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, he travels three centuries back in time to experience the life of “les voyageurs”, who travelled huge distances within Canada by foot and canoe to trade fur with indigenous people for sale in Europe.
Michael admires Edmonton’s early 20th-century heritage streetcars, preserved by the Radial Railway Society, and seizes the chance to drive one across a spectacular high-level bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. At the beautiful 1913 Alberta Legislature building, Michael discovers how a crucial ceremonial omission was ingeniously made good – with some curious bric a brac. The city prides itself on its modern light rail system, offering rapid transit to 80 million passengers per year. Michael hears how this growing city plans to keep pace.
Part 15: Hinton to Jasper
Michael Portillo’s rail journey across the vast open spaces of Canada reaches a dramatic scenic conclusion in the Rocky Mountains. Deep in the Columbia Icefield in a massive all-terrain Ice Explorer, Michael is awed by the scale, not least of the vehicle, but of the vast Athabasca Glacier. A thousand feet deep and covering two and a half square miles, it is breathtaking and beautiful.
Travelling via Hinton to Jasper Michael learns of the race to lay transcontinental rails through the Rocky Mountains on two different routes and how steel tracks were ripped up during WWI to support the war effort. The chance to observe one of Canada’s national emblems in its natural habitat presents itself in Hinton. Michael discovers how the enchanting beaver, once slaughtered for its fur, is now pampered. In the woodland around Hinton Michael marvels at the scale of Canada’s forestry industry. He meets one of the area’s logging chiefs. With a million hectares to manage he has his work cut out.