Image: Delta Whistler Village Suites, Blackcomb Mountain
Whistler
Seventy-nine miles north of Vancouver, Whistler is widely regarded as one of the world's best ski resorts. In 2010, Whistler will host the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games. During summer months, its thawed slopes beckon to mountain bikers.
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updated 7/7/2009 9:28:46 AM ET 2009-07-07T13:28:46

The global recession may have lowered tourism numbers in many vacation spots, but at Grouse Mountain resort in North Vancouver, British Columbia, things are looking up, both literally and figuratively.

Attendance at the 82-year-old ski and recreation destination has remained lofty, increasing to 1.2 million in 2008 compared with 1.1 million the previous year, according to William Mbaho, the resort's public relations and communications manager. "Snow enthusiasm is not waning," he says, adding that so far in 2009 there has also been an increase in the number of students at the resort's ski and snowboarding schools.

But visitation isn't the only thing on the rise at Grouse Mountain. The SkyRide, North America's largest aerial tram system, "takes visitors a mile up the mountain to our alpine station, 3,700 feet above sea level," says Mbaho. "From there you have breathtaking panoramic views of the city, sea, and surrounding mountains."

The peaks and valleys of attendance at Canada's other big tourist draws were somewhat less dramatic than the view from Grouse's summit. The ’09 update to the list of most-visited Canadian tourist attractions shows modest increases or decreases at destinations where new figures were available. Visitation to Ottowa's Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Toronto Zoo jumped to 1.3 million last year at both venues, for example, up from approximately 1.2 million for both the previous year. But at the Ontario Science Center, attendance fell from 1.2 million to about 990,000—still enough to squeeze onto the low end of our list, though.

As our list reveals, the tourism hot-spots in Canada's 3.5 million square miles include the quaint (the narrow, restaurant-lined streets of Quebec City’s fortified old town, for example), but they also encompass the exotic and awe-inspiring (the thundering falls of Niagara or the stratospheric heights of Toronto’s CN Tower).

Not surprisingly, for a country renowned for its natural beauty, outdoor destinations figure heavily on the list. Canada’s national parks draw approximately 13 million visitors annually. The system’s crown jewel, Banff National Park, in the Canadian Rockies (in the province of Alberta) attracts scores of adventure-seekers and nature lovers.

Ellen Sellers, a representative of Carlson Wagonlit/Encore Travel in Bolingbrook, Ill., describes Banff as “the Switzerland of this hemisphere.” She says U.S. travelers are often surprised to find the area “much different than a park like Yellowstone. Banff is glacial, very green in the summertime. It’s fresh and cool.”

Image: Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Bay of Fundy Tourism
The Bay of Fundy spans two Canadian provinces, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—about two thirds of the 1.2 million reported visitors come from the New Brunswick side of the bay. The Bay's tides are the highest in the world, rising 50 feet in about six hours, and the area is home to a newly declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The Bay of Fundy, another Canadian natural wonder, straddling the eastern provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, is also a major tourist draw. Approximately 1.2 million visitors a year come to marvel at the world’s highest tide (the sea rises 50 feet in about six hours) and to take in the myriad natural phenomena, including several species of rare and endangered whales.

“Thirty percent of visitors to Fundy come from the U.S.,” says Bay of Fundy Tourism Partnership manager Terri McCulloch. “Likely this is due, in part, to the excellent high speed catamaran car ferry, ‘The Cat,’ that traverses the coast from Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, to the town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.”

Americans account for the lion’s share of visitors at many of the Canada's top attractions. Travelers from the U.S. account for more than 76 percent of the 17.8 million foreign overnight visitors to Canada, according to the CTC’s latest annual report (2007).

Image: Beluga whales
Noel Hendrickson  /  Vancouver Aquarium
Beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium.
As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is home to many of its most-visited tourist attractions. Harbourfront Centre, a 10-acre site on the waterfront, includes shops, restaurants, green space, art performance venues, an ice skating rink and an extensive boardwalk. It draws approximately 12 million visitors annually, and this year (2009), its summer arts festivals—including the largest Indigenous art festival in the world, "Planet IndigenUs"—are expected to draw two million alone.

“Toronto is known as one of the world’s most ethnically varied cities,” the CTC’s Carol Horne explains. Some 110 languages and dialects are spoken among the population of 2.5 million.

Looking out from her window in the CTC’s Vancouver office, Horne offers another example of Canada’s thrilling diversity: “I’m looking up at the mountains, and Stanley Park (the forested oasis in the middle of the city) is just down the street. And all this is side by side with some incredible local culinary experiences. You can ski and dine [downtown] all in one day.”

Vancouver is a prime example of what Horne calls Canada’s “vibrant cities on the edge of nature.” In addition to Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain, Vancouver’s Granville Island—an enclave of theaters, restaurants, shops and artists’ studios alongside a renowned public market—makes our list, with an estimated 10.5 million visitors annually.

Before we take a closer look at those sites of urban vibrancy and natural splendor that constitute Canada’s most-visited tourist sites, a word about methodology. We defined tourist attractions in Canada as discrete sites of historical or cultural interest; natural phenomena and landmarks; and delimited (or officially designated) spaces of entertainment and recreation. While some sites are included that have strong commercial components, standalone shopping malls and casinos have been excluded. Otherwise, Toronto’s Eaton Center, which claims one million visitors a week, would top our list.

We’ve used the most up-to-date available numbers from the tourist attractions themselves along with data from reputable media sources, government agencies, and tourism industry newsletters.

So which Canadian attraction welcomes the most visitors each year? See the slideshow to find out.

Photos: Vancouver, B.C., 2010

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  1. Vancouver, British Columbia, played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Albert Normandin / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A couple strolls through Stanley Park on a spring afternoon near the city's main boat marina. One of the city's most visited parks, visitors can also enjoy the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center and zoo at the park. (Joe Mcnally / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Rowers glide past a line of yachts at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.It is said that in Vancouver, it is possible to ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon and take a sunset dip in the Pacific. (Mary Peachin / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Planning to soak up some art while in town? Consider staying at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which is located right behind the Vancouver Art Gallery. The hotel is located on the VIA Rail route for those who plan to travel to the city by train. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Granville Island Public Market is perhaps the most well-known market in Vancouver. Dozens of vendors offer food-loving tourists and locals produce, seafood, meats, sweets and European speciatly foods. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The steam-powered Gastown clock blows out clouds of steam during its hourly sounding of Westminister Chimes. Gastown is located in the northeast corner of Vancouver, and is known as the birthplace of the city. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is "acclaimed for its spectacular architecture and unique setting on the cliffs of Point Grey," its Web site proclaims. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Totem poles and other artifacts are on display at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The museum, founded in 1949, is world renowned for its collections. (Kevin Arnold / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. While in the city, check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. The bridge spans 450 feet across and is situated 230 feet above the Capilano River. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A totem pole decorates Stanley Park in Vancouver. The park covers about 1,000 acres, and offers residents and tourists a wealth of options, including walking, running or biking the 5.5-mile seawall path, a pitch-and-put golf course and more. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A young girl interacts with a sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tickets for adults cost $22, $17 for seniors (65+) and youths (13-18), $14 for children (4-12) and kids get in free. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pedestrians walk by Aritizia on Robson Street, the famous shopping street in Vancouver's west end. In the stretch of three blocks, tourists looking for retail therapy can find stores specializing in shoes, clothes, lingeri, candy, souvenirs and luggage, not to mention hair salons, currency exchanges and restaurants. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Library Square building in Vancouver houses the city's public library. (Danniele Hayes / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Patrons eat in the dining room of Six Acres, a pub and restaurant located in Gastown. Six Acres is "tucked in the oldest brick building in Vancouver," its Web site claims. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A traditional pagoda sits on the shore of a pond in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden in the downtown area of Vancouver. Though Canada's third largest city, Vancouver has historically been thought of as the "terminal city," the end of the line and the last remote town before the continent comes to an end at the Pacific Ocean. (Ross Barnett / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Granville Entertainment District is an area in Downtown Vancouver known for its vast assortment of bars, danceclubs and nightlife. The entertainment district is centered on a seven-block stretch of the Granville Mall and immediately surrounding streets. (Tourism Vancouver) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre was built in 1968, and was a gift from the lumber magnate to Vancouver's citizens. If you're visiting Vancouver on a Friday or Saturday night, you can catch laser shows to music from Green Day, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Olympic rings are illuminated in the harbor outside the Vancouver Convention Centre. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Olympic and Paralympic Village Vancouver is set on the waterfront of Vancouver. (Stephanie Lamy / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Richmond Oval, located south of Vancouver, served as the long-track speed skating venue for the 2010 Winter Games. (Ben Hulse / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Skiers and snowboarders gather on top of Whistler Mountain. Whistler was the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic Games. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Norway's Johan Remen Evensensoars through the air during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup skiing event in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2009. The venue was the site of ski jumping events during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. (Darryl Dyck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Cypress Mountain hosted the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events during the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth zooms around a corner during the sixth training run for the World Cup skeleton race in Whistler, B.C., in 2009. (Frank Gunn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Vancouver skyline, Burrard Inlet and Lion's Gate bridge is pictured at sunset. The Lion's Gate Bridge connects North and West Vancouver with downtown. The suspension bridge is 5,890 feet in length. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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