The license plates in the French-speaking province of Quebec bear the motto Je me souviens–I remember. Not that you’d ever completely forget Canada’s warm embrace of course, but sometimes you need a little help kick-starting that trip down memory lane. So here’s our pick of gifts that scream Canada. Bonus: they’re easy to find, easy to pack, easy to send, and easy to use:
Red Mittens Redux
So popular were these cozy red mittens during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games–more than 3.5 million pairs were sold–that the Hudson’s Bay Company brought them back for a curtain call. The design’s a little different this time, but the price ($10 CDN) has held steady, with a portion of the money going to support the Canadian Olympic Team. Find them at The Bay stores across Canada or order online.
Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket
The Hudson’s Bay point blankets may look rustic, but these classics are coveted even by high-end customers. Antiques can fetch a substantial sum, and the new ones aren’t exactly cheap – but consider it an investment for any home, especially if winter temperatures necessitate cuddling under a fine wool blanket. They come in many colours, but the classic version is cream with multi-coloured stripes (these are the points). Order them online or find them in HBC stores.
This tiny shop in downtown Whitehorse in the remote province of Yukon (beside Alaska) sells luxurious and fragrant balms, lotions and teas made from wild local ingredients such as rose petals, balsam poplar buds, fireweed, yarrow, dandelion roots and nettles. Aroma Borealis opened in 1998 and now has loyal customers around the world. Happily, herbalist Bev Gray’s inexpensive line of completely natural products is available online if you can’t make the trip North. (Ladies: try the rose-infused Fabulous Face Cream at $17.95 and thank me later.)
Fairmont Hotels Gift Cards
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Canada’s great railway hotels–those castle-like edifices that grace ever guidebook about Canada ever written–are all Fairmont properties. The company owns 21 hotels across Canada, and while not all are as iconic as, say, Quebec’s Chateau Frontenac or Alberta’s Banff Springs, all deliver a consistently high standard of hospitality.
Available in amounts from $50, a gift card of $100 would buy dinner for two at a hotel restaurant or a luxurious treatment at a Willow Stream Spa; $250 would secure an elegant room. Buy gift cards at any Fairmont property in the world, or order online.
Roots Canada Passport Covers
Roots Canada’s beautiful and hard-wearing leather products are all “proudly made in Canada.” The company has a whole series of accessories–passport covers, coin purses, sling bags–bearing the flags of different countries and a portion of the sales from this $68 CDN passport cover goes to support Right to Play. For the ironic hipster, Roots also offers another passport cover by Canadian author (“Generation X“) and designer Douglas Coupland. His playful “national crest” features iconic Canadian symbols such as a bear, a moose, a beaver and an igloo: $48 CDN in stores across Canada or online.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw
Will Ferguson’s laugh-out-loud cross-country travelogue isn’t new but it certainly deserves a wider audience. A Canuck himself, Ferguson’s 2005 book pays tribute to all that is best about Canada without glossing over its very real tics and quirks. Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, now available for Kindle, is a wonderfully amusing read for armchair travellers, ex-pats yearning for home, and at-home Canadians who want to know more about their own backyard.
The CBC Shop
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (aka CBC; the Ceeb; Mother Corp) pretty much owns the airwaves in Canada. TV, radio, podcasts, streaming, English, French–they do it all. CBC Radio, in particular, boasts a broad and loyal fan base–much like its American cousin, National Public Radio. The online CBC store is truly a one-stop shop for the Canadaphile: here you will find distinctive CBC memorabilia; popular made-in-TV series such as Little Mosque on the Prairie; a huge range of Hockey Night in Canada clothing and accessories; Canadian-authored books; and a fantastic selection of music featuring Canadian performers who span genres–and cultures. You really could wrap up your gift-buying for a year on this one site. (I particularly recommend the hard-to-find recordings by the talented Quebec artists who are often heard on the addictive French-language FM music program, Espace Musique. I’m listening to Coeur de Pirate as I write this.)
Ok, this Canadian-made liquor isn’t exactly easy-to-pack and easy-to-send–but it’s certainly easy to use! Victoria Gin is, in this martini lover’s vast experience, simply the most flavourful gin on the market today: “an intensely flavored spirit that is as full-bodied and complex as a fine single-malt whisky,” as the web site says. Handmade in small batches from a wood-fired copper still by Victoria Spirits on Vancouver Island, BC, it’s currently available in specialty liquor stores in BC and Ontario for $50. (And for vodka lovers, there’s Iceberg Vodka from Newfoundland, as well as Canadian-born Dan Ackroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka.)
Photos: HBC, Fairmont Hotels, Roots Canada, Victoria Gin