• Olympian Jon Montgomery

    Olympian Jon Montgomery hosted The Amazing Race Canada this year. (Photo: Courtesy of CTV)

I’ve been fortunate to see much of this country as host of The Amazing Race Canada, but nothing compares to going back to the places where I spent time as a youth — particularly Clear Lake, in western Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. That’s where I feel grounded and reconnected to what I knew growing up.

My grandma and grandpa had a small seasonal cabin there by the lake, just over an hour east of Russell. There was no plumbing — water collected in a bucket below the sink, and a common bathroom and cookhouse were shared with seven other cabins.

Now, the word “mountain” conjures up images of the Rockies and jagged outcroppings. But this is the Prairies, so if you think that’s what you’re going to get in Riding Mountain, you’ll be disappointed. It’s more of a gentle rise. The whole terrain undulates and it’s densely forested; to see Clear Lake you have to get up on it.

And it really does have unusual clarity. In fact, it’s what Margaret Laurence, the great author from Neepawa, Man., just 45 minutes southeast of Clear Lake, called “Diamond Lake” in her novels. You can see five or 10 metres down — it doesn’t have the algae blooms that are clogging the big lakes in Manitoba.

Over the years, what Clear Lake means to me has evolved. When I was little, it was a chance to be mischievous and adventurous and to explore a wonderful place. To this day, when I hear a loon it reminds me of spending time with Grandma and Grandpa down by that clear water. They’re both gone now, so it’s nice to have memories like that. As a teenager I would come to the lake with pals and rent a nearby cabin. Now that I’m older, I don’t think about carrying on the way I used to — I think about taking my own family. I loved bringing my wife Darla to that cabin for the first time to show her some of the things I got to experience, and to brag about it a bit, because the park really is quite beautiful.

It’s a spot you can enjoy from the first day you draw breath to the last. It will always be the place we go back to.

Famous Canadians and Canadian Geographic readers have shared their favourite places in our country on an interactive map. See it here.