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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    For most of us, the idea of kayaking 6,500 kilometres would seem like a daunting task. But for two British Columbia brothers, it sounded like fun.

    Russell and Graham Henry, 21 and 22 respectively, embarked on a kayaking journey from Brazil to Florida. Why? According to their Facebook page, it was "an adventure for the sake of adventure."

    The duo, raised in Victoria, left the mouth of the Amazon river in Belém, Brazil on July 30, 2013, and wrapped up on Saturday, Feb. 22, in Juno Beach, Fla.

    They paddled through Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, British Virgin Islands, American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands, and The Bahamas, to name a few.

    Story continues below slideshow:

    The $30,000 trip was funded by sponsors as well as an inheritance from their grandmother, reports the National Post. Her name is written on both of their kayaks.

    "6500 km [sic] is not to be taken lightly," the brothers wrote on their website prior to leaving. "But with solid preparation, dogged determination, and some healthy brotherly competition we feel confident in our ability to complete this voyage."

    And complete it they did. If you're in Victoria, you can catch the Henry brothers at Ocean River Sports on Friday, Feb. 28 for a welcome home party.

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    In just a weekend, B.C. blues musician Harry Manx went through the despair of having his unique Indian guitar stolen from an airport baggage carousel, the staggering online support of strangers who offered to find it, and the relief that the alleged thief had been caught.

    Manx, who is from the Isle of Man but lives on Saltspring Island, lost the guitar at Chicago's O'Hare Airport last Friday. A plea on his Facebook page to fans in that city who might spot it was shared by more than 75,000 people, resulting in millions of views.

    The post generated thousands of comments, including offers from people in Chicago to check local pawn shops for the distinctive 20-stringed instrument. Others also offered to make or buy Manx a new one. In fact, one is already being shipped from India, reported the New York Daily News

    Manx got the guitar, known as a Mohan Veena, from his Grammy-award winning mentor, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, reported The Globe and Mail.

    Story continues after slideshow:

    “I had a real shock in the beginning, but once I started to see the way things were going, people were so helpful and reaching out I found it very hard to be bummed out for very long,” he told NBC Chicago. “I felt uplifted because I wasn’t aware that there was so many that care about such events that happen to others, people that don’t know me.”

    Surveillance video caught a man taking the case and running towards nearby trains, said NBC.

    Late Tuesday, Manx announced on Facebook that the guitar had been found. The suspect was caught trying to steal more luggage at O'Hare and eventually told police where the instrument was located, Manx wrote. He said he will be returning to Chicago to pick it up from police next week.

    "There’s no way for me to express the gratitude I have to everyone for helping out, but I would like to say that the generous outpouring of support has uplifted my spirits and renewed my faith in the kindness of strangers," he added.

    mohan veena

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    (Relaxnews) - Brands like the Mandarin Oriental and Clinique La Prairie were among the big winners at an awards night honouring the best in luxury spa and wellness destinations around the world.

    If you’re planning a spa vacation abroad, take cues from the results of the World Spa & Wellness Awards 2014 presented in London this week, where the industry handed out 11 awards that singled out the best regional hotel and spa destinations around the world.

    Of the 11 winners, the Mandarin Oriental brand took two awards, with the spa at Mandarin Oriental Singapore named the hotel spa of the year for Asia and Australasia, and the spa at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas likewise taking the same title for North and South America.

    Some of the more unique spa treatments offered on the Singapore menu include orchid body scrubs, green tea and ginger body treatments and a warm bamboo stick massage.

    In a way that befits its glitzy setting, the Las Vegas hotel offers a “Diamond Magnetic Lift Body Treatment” that involves a luminous mud speckled with diamond dust followed by a massage that’s supposed to amplify the body’s energy, unload tension, and fight the signs of ageing.

    Meanwhile, a spa that claims to be the first medical spa in Brazil also emerged a big winner, taking the award for destination spa of the year for North and South America.

    Founded in 1972, the Lapinha Spa is set across 550 acres of farmland in the municipality of Lapa and bases its therapies on the ‘healing power’ of the natural environment. Wellness treatments include anti-smoking, detox, weight loss and relaxation.

    Here are the winners of the World Spa & Wellness Awards 2014:

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    A Vancouver Island aquatic farming operation has been forced to scale back its operations significantly following a mass wipeout of its shellfish.

    Rising acidity in the sea water around Qualicum Beach has led to the death of 10 million scallops — equivalent to three years' product, and every scallop the company put in the ocean from 2009-2011, Island Scallops CEO Rob Saunders told The Parksville Qualicum Bay News.

    "I'm not sure we are going to stay alive and I'm not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive," Saunders told the newspaper. "It's that dramatic."

    The disaster constitutes a $10-million loss to the business once so successful, they were featured on The Food Network.

    The catastrophic loss could be related to climate change, Chris Harley, a University of British Columbia marine ecologist told The Vancouver Sun. He said that carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere are absorbed into the ocean.

    Usually the pH of B.C. sea water is around 8.2, but much lower — and more acidic — numbers are being seen.

    Has the acidity level reached a tipping point at which shellfish can't survive?

    "I’ve seen pH measured down to about 7.2, so this is very much within the realm of possibility, though unfortunate and extreme," Harley told the newspaper. “We are in a hot spot in the Pacific Northwest."

    Helen Gurney-Smith of Vancouver Island University told CBC News that more research is urgently needed if the local shellfish industry is to survive.

    Island Scallops has joined with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on a research project in order to try and determine if rising sea acidity is the cause of the shellfish deaths, CBC reported.

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    If you're looking for a tried-and-true bucket list, this may be it.

    It may not be the most original collection of destinations, but this infographic of the the world's 50 most visited tourist attractions certainly has the populist vote going for it. After all, who can resist the allure of the Eiffel Tower, the Disneylands of the world, or Niagara Fall? Certainly not the some 612 million visitors who visited these tourist traps — er, destinations in recent years.

    While these spots almost guarantee camera-happy foreigners, they also promise a bit of culture, history, or natural beauty according to Travel Leisure, which penned the original article the infographic is based off of.

    So, if you're looking for where and when to avoid tourists or are a bit curious as to what attractions foreigners are fascinated with, take a look of Love Home Swap's round-up below:

    50 Most Visited Tourist Attractions

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    VANCOUVER - The Canadian navy has been cleared in the death of a killer whale that washed up in Washington state two years ago.

    The whale's bloodied and bruised carcass washed up just north of Long Beach, Wash.,

    The Royal Canadian Navy had been conducting sonar and small underwater explosive activity off southern Vancouver Island over several days about a week before the whale washed ashore, and there was speculation that navy activity could have killed the orca.

    A team of veterinarians and biologists who investigated the whale's death said the navy confirmed explosive activity Feb. 4, 5, and 6. The whale washed ashore Feb. 11.

    But "no marine mammals were observed during the training activities," said the report released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S.

    "The activities were too far to the north and downwind of the stranding location to be a consideration."

    The team determined the whale did not die in Canadian waters, but more likely near the mouth of the Columbia River or further south along the Washington coast.

    The whale was killed by blunt trauma to its head, but the cause of those injuries could not be determined, the report said.

    The juvenile female, known as L-112, was a member of an endangered orca pod resident in Puget Sound.

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    (Relaxnews) - After orcs, hobbits, dancing, singing flight attendants, and Betty White -- in a class all her own -- Virgin Atlantic has become the latest airline to release an innovative in-flight safety video, this time in an animated demo that pays homage to classic films and genres.

    In a bid to capture the wayward attention of passengers, the video calls out guilty flyers by playing emergency procedures through a dream-like sequence.

    As a flight attendant launches into her spiel, a passenger slides down his sleep mask and drifts off. Safety instructions take on a life of their own in Western, superhero, James Bond and "Space Odyssey"-style vignettes. The six-minute video was created by British design agency Art & Graft.

    The video begins airing March 1 to coincide with the Oscars the next day.

    The updated safety video also reminds passengers that the smoking ban extends to electronic and smokeless cigarettes, and that smartphones should be set to ‘airplane mode.’

    Last fall, Virgin America released a “Glee”-style song and dance video featuring flying nuns and rapping kids to instruct passengers on how to fasten their seat belt and don their oxygen masks.

    And Air New Zealand succeeded in topping its Hobbit-inspired video from 2012 with orcs and elves by tapping the world’s favourite
    nonagenarian “Golden Girl” Betty White as well as “Love Boat” captain Gavin MacLeod to star in a 2013 video.

    Watch Virgin Atlantic's in-flight safety video here.

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    Grab your Nimbus 2000 and start perfecting your quaffle toss, because the quidditch Global Games are coming to Burnaby.

    The sport, though born in the mythical world of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, has become a real-life game complete with international championships.

    Run by the International Quidditch Association (IQA), 2014's Global Games will take place on July 19 at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West. International teams will compete for the title of world quidditch champion (though, uh, no one will ever be as good as Team Gryffindor).

    It's worth pointing out some of the differences between Harry's version of quidditch and the one in this world.



    While witches and wizards fly around the quidditch pitch on broomsticks, muggles (i.e. real people) must run by holding the brooms between their legs. The quaffle is really just a volleyball, and the bludger is actually a dodgeball.

    In Harry's world, the snitch is a small golden flying ball, in our version it's a human dressed in yellow, running around the field and trying not to be tagged (he or she wears a waistband with a small ball attached to the back; seekers must actually grab the ball for it to count).

    So, basically, human quidditch is dodgeball meets tag meets basketball. On a broom.

    Adapted for muggles in 2005 at Vermont's Middlebury College, quidditch is now played at over 300 universities and high schools spanning Europe, North America, and Australia.

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    Cue the Vancouver hipster jokes.

    Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jason Garrison has some tickets for the NHL Heritage Classic at BC Place on March 2 to give away, so he decided to launch a contest for his Twitter followers.

    But it seems the athlete wasn't entirely sure what to make his followers do for the tickets — until fellow Canuck Kevin Bieska stepped in.

    And so, the contest was born.

    Basically, fans have to tweet Garrison a photo of themselves with a beard (real or fake) along with the hashtag #gbeard — and the results are pretty hilarious.

    Tickets for the game, which pits the Canucks against the Ottawa Senators, cost between $100 to $325. Some people feel that's too high for a venue that seats more than 50,000 people, or almost triple the capacity of a game at Rogers Arena.

    Don Renzulli, NHL’s executive vice-president events, defended the pricing as fair for the expense of setting up the Heritage Classic as well as the competitive market, reported The Province on Wednesday.

    About 90 per cent of tickets have been sold, said Renzulli.

    Some tickets are being sold at a discounted price on Buytopia.

    Here are some of our favourite #gbeards:

    Garrison, who we must admit has a very nice beard himself, will announce the winner on Thursday.

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    It doesn't snow often in Vancouver but when it does, we make the most of it.

    About 2,000 people at the University of British Columbia took part in a massive snowball fight on Tuesday, some letting off steam from mid-terms no doubt.

    Here's what it looked like:

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    Highway 400 is closed just south of Barrie, Ont., after a multi-vehicle crash in the southbound lanes approaching Innisfil Beach Road, Ontario Provincial Police say.

    The pileup occurred around 9 a.m., forcing the closure of the highway in both directions between Highway 89 and Mapleview Drive.

    Police have few other details to report, but say there were "no major injuries."

    More to come

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    You don't have to go very far to see "the polar bear capital of the world" any more.

    polar bear tundra

    What used to require a trip to Churchill, Man., a town known for some of the largest polar bear gatherings around the globe, is now available on Google Map's Streetview. Yes, the same technology behind the mapping of Parliament Hill, the Great White North and nearly half of Canada's national parks and historic sites, has made its way to Canada's Arctic tundra.

    google tundra

    But as anyone who's visited the area can tell you, polar bear sightings may be common but streets are not. Still, that didn't stop Aaron Brindle and his team from Google Canada from rigging a tundra buggy with Google's trekker, their special 360-degree camera, to bring a Streetview perspective to the area.

    google trekker

    "It's a pretty humbling experience after you realize how vast Canada is," Brindle told the Huffington Post Canada.

    Using pre-existing tracks set up by other polar bear tour groups in the area, Brindle and his team, along with members of Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation group dedicated to protecting the bears and their natural habitat, mapped the town of Churchill and Cape Churchill from October to November 2013.

    tundra buggy

    And naturally, they ran into a few of the local residents along the way, said Krista Wright, executive director of PBI.

    "We saw lots of bears doing what bear do — sparring, moms and cubs [spending time] together and plenty of bears sleeping, resting and waiting."

    polar bear

    As the ice breaks up during the middle of the summer, polar bears come onto the land to congregate on the shores of western Hudson's Bay and wait for the area to refreeze. During that time, the bears can be seen by visiting tour groups.

    "It changes the way you perceive this creature, They rely on his fragile ecosystem — there's this interplay between the climate, thickness of the ice and the seals and it makes me aware of how sensitive our climate it to change," said Brindle.

    google polar bear

    Brindle adds that Streetview looks to bring armchair tourists a sample of what it would be like to embark on a polar bear tour, with an experience that's as close as you'd see them through human eyes.

    "If you're lucky enough to see polar bears, think about what it takes to maintain these creatures. Who knows if future generations will be as lucky as you are," said Brindle.

    polar bear

    The project marks the first collaboration between the two groups. The two launched the project some 18 months ago after PBI wanted to take their polar bear tracker program further, while Google wanted another piece of the puzzle in its digital map of Canada.

    arctic tundra

    Wright says the imagery will serve as a base line of data to monitor the bear's habitats, and serve as a teaching tool for students curious about the area and its inhabitants.

    "The great thing about the project is it allows people to see the polar bear migration no matter where they are in the world. Hopefully they'll have an appreciation for the climate they live in."

    Those curious about Churchill, Man. can take the virtual tour here

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    In a city known for its very generous precipitation, it takes a certain perspective to see the rain as inspiration for more than a reason to hide away inside.

    That's just what a group of anonymous Vancouverites has achieved with their "Rainblossom Project" — a visual ode to the rain-soaked city they love, consisting of red umbrellas suspended from trees along the Seawall on the West Side.

    The sight of the red brollies hanging in mid air from the branches of bare trees has captured the imagination of many residents, who have been taking beautiful images of this guerrilla art attack.

    But who is responsible for spreading the redness? We don't know. All we can do is post this email sent to Vancouver Is Awesome, apparently by the public-spirited visionaries.

    Under cover of night, four Vancouverites meet to celebrate their city. From Spanish Banks, skyline silhouettes Stanley Park, Cypress. Tonight, we have reason: for too long we’ve grumbled of wet, not truly celebrating our City’s great gift – the rain. For in our dark, damp days do we not await the pleasures of spring: sunshine, buds, colours emerge. Alas, what of the pleasures of winter: as rains pour, leaves fall, umbrellas open to meet the skies, rainblossoms. Under cover of night, four Vancouverites meet to celebrate their city, for better or worse, rain or shine.

    In civic spirit, the Rainblossom Project (with the help of VIA) invites Vancouver’s sister cities of Odessa, Yokohama, Edinburgh, Guangzhou, Los Angeles, and Seoul to spread the red.

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  • 02/27/14--14:36: See London Like a Local
  • You've been to London before -- so you've visited the Victoria & Albert Museum, been to the Tower of London, shopped at Harrods, and walked the London Tower Bridge (if you need more ideas, check out the AmongMen 48 hours guide to London).

    And while many of the sights London is well known for are worth a second visit, should you find yourself in this city for a second or third time, or are seeking out ways to spend it like a local, here is our hit list of things you should do.

    Essential stay

    You won't even notice the grey skies when you stay in a room on a higher floor at the Metropolitan by COMO -- the leafy green view of Hyde Park is fantastic. Plus, the suites are spacious, clean-lined and filled with natural light -- an oasis from the busy traffic in London. Roll out the yoga mat you'll find in your suite to centre yourself with some sun salutations after a busy day out and about, or better yet, book a treatment at the COMO Shambala Urban Escape (we recommend the signature COMO Shambala massage, which incorporates a signature blend of oils -- if you're looking to say goodbye to any tension you're holding onto).

    Essential eats

    London's chockfull of great restaurants, so you won't be hunting hard for great grub. For a simple menu, hit up one of the five locations of Burger & Lobster. As the name suggests, all they serve are succulent burgers and lobsters (the latter served grilled or steamed or as a lobster roll), and at one price (20 quid). You'll find plenty of locals here heartily digging into the substantial dishes, and the jovial atmosphere and friendly staff make it worth the visit.

    If you have a more posh dinner in mind (say, you want to impress your significant other), make a reservation at the Berners Tavern in the new London Edition Hotel. The soaring ceilings, walls that are simply perfection with framed art, cozy booths and tables -- it all comes together for one glamorous space. Once you're done absorbing the room's beauty, the food will capture your attention, too. The meat and seafood-focused menu includes winners such as roasted Cornish sea bass, with brown shrimp, samphire, kale and whole-grain mustard.

    Essential shopping

    If you have designer tastes, then a stop into Dover Street Market (at 17-18 Dover St.) goes without question. As the name and address suggest this is the original location -- the Ginza and New York locations came afterwards. The brainchild of designer Rei Kawakubo, this retail shop carries a selection of items curated by the Comme des Garcons designer and her team, including luxury goods from Celine and Saint Laurent, presented in a space that feels like an art installation in itself. Stop in for a peek even if you aren't looking to buy.

    Essential dos

    If you happen upon some good weather while in London, skip being inside a museum that day and take the tube to Hampstead Heath. This grassy 320-hectare park is filled with locals with their dogs, joggers and tourists. Wear comfy footwear (or plan for your daily run here) and make your way uphill and you'll be rewarded with a fantastic view of London once you reach the peak. Or plan for a picnic by first picking up provisions at Borough Market before heading to the park for a peaceful lunch -- you may find yourself craving some quiet if you've spent one morning amongst the crowd at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard.

    Written by Karen Kwan for:


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    Now that winter is (hopefully) approaching its end, you’re probably dreaming of the summer holiday and its promise of sun and sand. But before you start planning your next trip to the beach, you have one more vacation to think about: March Break.

    And those two words mean the kids will be coming along, so make sure your destination of choice will have something for everyone, even if that means you’ll be hearing “are we there yet?” more often than you’d like.

    There are plenty of family-friendly spots across Canada to help you and the rest of your gang enjoy that week-long break in March, whether you like to spend your time on the slopes or prefer to stay inside with the mad scientists of Science North.

    To see where you should take your family this March Break, check out the gallery below.

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    (Relaxnews) - From Grecian marble columns and heated toilet seats to steam showers that feature colour therapy, some of the most over-the-top bathroom hotels in Las Vegas could be suites onto themselves.

    In its round-up of the top bathrooms in Sin City, online booking site singles out the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Penthouse Real World Suite (named after the MTV reality series that was filmed in the room) for its metallic and iridescent-mosaic tiled tub that can seat up to six people.

    If a cold shower isn’t enough to wash off the previous night’s excess, penthouse bathrooms at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino also feature mood-enhancing lighting with walk-in, chromotherapy steam showers.

    And over at the Palms Casino & Resort, bathrooms take after their thematic suites. The Barbie Suite, for instance, features a life-sized version of the Barbie Malibu House bathroom with large spa tub, marble sinks and a pink motif, while the Erotic Suite turns the bathroom into a strip club with lights, floor-to-ceiling windows for a bit of voyeuristic pleasure and, of course, stripper poles.

    But the bathroom deemed the most over-the-top in the city dripping in superlatives is the Constantine Villa at Caesars Palace, where guests soak in a marble tub at the centre of the room, with gold-plated fixtures. Porcelain thrones are souped up with heated toilet seats and lids that open automatically.

    The price tag for being privy to such amenities? $40,000 a night.

    For more of the most extravagant bathrooms in Las Vegas, visit

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    (Relaxnews) - Disney Cruise Line is emerging as a leader and customer favourite in the industry, after the brand took the top spot across 13 categories in a critics’ choice awards.

    According to the users of the world’s largest cruise review site Cruise Critic, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, the brand’s newest ship Disney Fantasy is the standard-bearer for quality cruising, having snagged the most coveted title of Best Ship for the second year in a row.

    Disney Fantasy also topped the 2014 Cruisers' Choice Awards in nine other categories including best cabins, dining, and best for families.

    Designed to evoke the golden age of ocean liners from the 1930s, guests who board the Disney Fantasy are greeted with a sweeping grand staircase, fluted columns, marble and stone inlay flooring and a cascading chandelier.

    To remind them they’re on a Disney cruise, naked Grecian statues are replaced with a statue of Minnie Mouse, cast in bronze.
    The fourth Disney ship is 40 percent larger than its predecessors the Disney Magic and Wonder.

    Awards are based on reviews submitted for cruises taken in 2013. Cruise Critic receives more than 100,000 reviews which cover 400 ships.

    Seabourn Quest also emerged a favourite among cruisers, taking the top spot for Best Ship in the small ship category along with Best Public Rooms and Best Value-for-Money.

    Here are some of the winner highlights in the large ship category:

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    (Relaxnews) - Japan Airlines has emerged as the most reliable carrier in the world, posting the best on-time performance.

    After collecting real-time flight status information of the top 200 airlines in the world, came up with a ranking that puts the Japanese carrier at the top of the heap: of the 129,300 flights tracked, in 2013, Japan Airlines posted an impressive 93 percent on-time departure rate and an 89 percent on-time arrival rate.

    For the report, on-time performance for departures was defined as leaving within 15 minutes of the scheduled time, while arrivals had to come in within 14 minutes of the scheduled time to qualify.

    To be considered in the report, published earlier this month, carriers must rank in the top 60 worldwide in terms of capacity and data tracking must be available on 90 percent of scheduled flights.

    After Japan Airlines, Dutch airline KLM, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Iberia (Spain) and SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) posted the top five on-time performance stats.

    Here are the top 10 performing international airlines, according to on-time performance:

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    OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called a special cabinet meeting after Russia cleared the way for the deployment of troops to Ukraine's Crimea region.

    A spokesman for the prime minister's office says key cabinet ministers will gather this afternoon to discuss recent developments in the eastern European country.

    Harper is expected to make a statement after the meeting.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is reviewing Russia's military moves in Ukraine and trying to figure out how to respond while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for calm to be restored.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin received permission Saturday to use the country's military in Ukraine, moving to formalize troop deployments that Ukrainian officials have called an ongoing invasion of the strategic region of Crimea.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against travel to the region and says Canadians already there should consider leaving "while it is safe to do so."

    Foreign Affairs says its advisory is due to "political uncertainty" and reports of armed groups operating in the area, along with protests and public clashes.

    It says those who can't leave Crimea — where the airports aren't operating — should stay indoors and avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

    The department is also advising against non-essential travel to Kyiv due to instability.

    Putin's request to Russia's parliament loosely referred to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine.

    Canada earlier warned Russia not to breach the sovereignty of its Ukraine neighbour, joining other countries in sending a strong message to Moscow.

    Ukrainian officials and some Western diplomats said that a Russian military intervention is already well underway after heavily armed gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of local government buildings, airports and other strategic facilities in Crimea in recent days.

    Ignoring President Barack Obama's warning Friday that "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, Putin said Saturday the "extraordinary situation in Ukraine" was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at a naval base that Moscow has maintained in the Black Sea peninsula since the Soviet collapse.

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    WEST KELOWNA, B.C. - Authorities say four people were taken to hospital Saturday after a cable supporting chairlift seats at a B.C. ski resort came off.

    A spokesman for the BC Safety Authority says the incident caused two chairs to hit the snow at the Crystal Mountain Resort in West Kelowna.

    Paramedics say two people were critically hurt in the six-metre fall, while two others suffered minor injuries.

    Ben Mittelsteadt of the BC Ambulance Service says one had to be airlifted to hospital.

    The BC Safety Authority is investigating the incident.

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