Here's how to track down the best of Canadian design – from authentic cowboy hats and buffalo-hide messenger bags to the shoe brand that's appeared on Madonna's feet.
CAP IT ALL OFF
Pop into Calgary's Smithbilt Hats – maker of the iconic white hats seen everywhere at Stampede time – to browse its selection of western, straw and fashion hats. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with the Dalai Lama, have worn these white cowboy hats. Want to rock a Mounties look? Order one of the mounted police force's iconic felt Stetsons online. For a rain hat with a difference, check the selection at The Hat Junkie in Nova Scotia's Lunenburg.
CANADA IN A BOTTLE
Bring back a bottle of something that tastes like Canada. Nova Scotia's Ironworks Distillery is based in a 19th-century marine blacksmith's shop in Lunenburg. The small-batch micro-distiller makes the most of local fruit: think blueberry and cranberry liqueurs, apple brandy, an apple- based vodka and pear eau de vie. Arbutus Distillery, in Vancouver Island's Nanaimo, adds lemon verbena to The Empiric gin, and botanicals from its own gardens to the Baba Yaga absinthe. Alberta's Highwood Distillers creates wild whiskies such as maple, cherry, cinnamon and ginger lime.
GO HELL FOR LEATHER
M0851's cutting-edge leather jackets, bags, outerwear and accessories are all proudly designed and hand-sewn in Montreal. This artisan aesthetic continues through to its 22 concept stores, which the label also fully designs. Alberta Fine Leathers draws
inspiration from the days of stagecoach travel to make leathergoods – such as buffalo-hide messenger bags – that feature a distressed look. Ontario's Hides in Hand (in Rockwood, 80km from Toronto) transforms buffalo, moose and deer leathers into bags, shoes, hats, gloves and accessories.
UP THE FASHION STAKES
Vancouverite John Fluevog began his career as a colourful cobbler in 1970. His fancy footwear skyrocketed to fame when his Angel boots helped define the Grunge look; Madonna also did her bit, wearing black platform Munsters in her film Truth or Dare. Kit and Ace makes lifestyle gear in "technical cashmere" – its flagship store is in Vancouver's Gastown. Joe Fresh launched within Real Canadian Superstores and Atlantic Superstores in 2006; the stylish, affordable fashion line has now expanded into 14 stand-alone stores nationally.
BRING ON THE BLING
Drop in to Yellowknife's Gallery of the Midnight Sun to admire Canadian diamonds from the Northwest Territories' Diavik mine. The gallery also features work from Arctic artists such as Jamie Look, who makes bold statement jewellery from materials such as muskox and bison horn, caribou antler and whalebone. For a western belt buckle, browse the selection at Olson Silver Company in High River, southern Alberta. Blue Ruby Jewellery (in Vancouver and surrounds) sells contemporary pieces from local and international designers.
FIRST NATIONS INSPIRATION
Hand-knitted Cowichan sweaters fuse European knitting techniques with First Nations motifs such as orca, salmon and eagles. Drop in to Cowichan Trading in Victoria to snuggle into these thick sweaters, usually knitted in natural-coloured yarns. Victoria's Royal BC Museum shop sells books about First Nations history and traditions such as carving and plant technologies. Vancouver's Lattimer Gallery showcases stunning bentwood boxes (formed from a single cedar sliver) as well as gold and silver jewellery, masks and prints.
ONE LAST THING …
You've got room in the suitcase for one more impulse buy?
Visit Canada's only Monocle shop (an extension of the oh-so-hip mag) in Toronto to snap up a towel that feels like wool or a raw denim apron. At Quebec City's Benjo toy store, adults have to duck to enter through the Little People's Door. As for T-shirts you can only buy in Canada, check out the Saskatoon outlets stocking SaraLua designs. Sara Agah Franti, wife of musician Michael Franti, makes T-shirts that read: New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Saskatoon.
There's time to delve into Vancouver and Victoria's shopping districts during Cosmos Tours' 13-day The Canadian Rockies tour. Trafalgar's nine-day Best of Eastern Canada tour travels through Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal.
Four more cool things about Canada
FOOD Canada's best new restaurants are in surprising places – one's even tucked into the woods on an island between Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia.
CULTURE Want to hang with the cool kids? Head out for the night and you could find yourself squeezing into a tiny jazz club, a rollicking honkytonk or a much-loved rock venue.
HOTELS Stay in a bold island inn that's singlehandedly reviving a local economy or snuggle into a cosy nook within a boutique Toronto hotel that's a magnet for the neighbourhood.
ARCHITECTURE See cutting- edge projects such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg or Toronto- born arhitect Frank Gehry's contribution to his home town.
This article brought to you in association with Destination Canada.
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