When the pandemic hit and travel came to a screeching halt, Vancouver luxury tour operator Marc Telio remembers watching, helplessly, as every booking he had disintegrated overnight. “I also had 28 people on my payroll and I had no clue what I was going to do,” he said. “I literally went into the fetal position for a couple of weeks.”
A key player in Canada’s travel space for almost three decades, Telio’s company, Entrée Destinations, had weathered ups and downs before – 9/11, SARS and the global financial crisis of 2008 – but COVID-19 was different. He eventually got to the point many of us did, where he began to do some soul searching about changes he needed to make in his business and in his personal life.
“Even though my company was extremely good at delivering on logistics at the highest level in luxury travel, what Entrée was really doing was reselling luxury lodges, reselling luxury hotels … in other words, reselling other people’s stuff.”
Telio wanted to create and sell something totally original. More importantly, he wanted to shine a spotlight on the myriad places in Canada that rarely get visitors because people don’t know they exist.
“I have had a front-row seat monitoring demand for travel in Canada for the past 30 years, and well over 90 per cent of the requests are for the same locations, the same hotels and the same time of year – June, July and August,” said Telio, whose company has been named the top travel specialist in Canada by Condé Nast Traveler for the past 14 years. “We’ve effectively been showcasing five per cent of our land mass. There is no sustainability in that.”
To bring more breadth and diversity to the Canadian travel experience, Telio turned to Destination Canada, the federal tourism marketing organization, to help narrow down the list of communities with natural beauty, wonderful people and unique stories to tell. “I called the Yukon tourism board, for instance, and said: Tell me about a magical place that no one has ever heard of.”
The result is the Stories of Canada, a collection of 20 journeys that highlight the dramatic landscapes, cultural heritage and welcoming people in all 13 provinces and territories, including First Nations communities whose history, customs and experiences are essential to understanding how the country became the nation it is today. “I have been a student of Indigenous affairs for the past 20 years – and I use the word ‘student’ because I’ll never understand the full picture,” Telio said. “But I have had the privilege of being welcomed and trusted to learn about their contemporary stories, which has changed and enriched my life.”
The travel itineraries – typically a little under or over a week – are meant to educate and inspire. A trip might mean hiking in Yukon’s Tombstone Territorial Park, a stay at the Aurora Inn in the gold rush town of Dawson City, a seaplane safari across Quebec, a plant medicine journey led by a Cree guide in the boreal forest of Alberta, a dogsled across Arctic Ocean ice in the Northwest Territories, a few days at a remote, Indigenous-owned eco-resort at the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, some time at a dark sky reserve in Nova Scotia or a polar bear excursion in Churchill, Man.
Sixteen of the 20 excursions are available, with two more almost complete. One will take guests to Torngat Mountains Base Camp in Labrador, which is owned by the Nunatsiavut government (it is on their traditional territory) and positioned near Saglek, along a coastline that teems with polar bears, whales and walrus and is marked by some of the most dramatic and largest fjords on Earth. The other will take visitors to Îles de la Madeleine, where every year in late February and early March tens of thousands of harp seals make their way to the ice surrounding the islands to give birth to their pups.
By the end of next summer, Telio expects to have finished all 20 excursions, which range in price from $5,000 a person (for an eight-day trip exploring the Cabot Trail and seaside villages in Nova Scotia) to $18,000 (eight days in Yukon in the summer ranks among the most expensive because of the vast distances covered and private air travel involved).
Since 2021, Telio and a small crew have been criss-crossing the country, documenting as much as they can. The experience, he said, has “confirmed for me how special Canada is.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article spelled Marc Telio’s name incorrectly. This version has been updated.