Fairy magic at Milner Gardens

One of our favourite fairy houses - the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

One of our favourite fairy houses – the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

When the lives of children are so caught up these days with scheduled activities, the cyber world and the hard business of growing up in modern times, it’s refreshing to find a place and occasion where magic, timelessness and imagination predominate.  We found that recently at the annual Milner Gardens fairy festival.  Even the grown-ups were enchanted.

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock....

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock….

Every year around the summer solstice, the story goes, the fairies at Qualicum Beach’s Milner Gardens and Woodland allow their homes to be visible to humans.  This year no less than 50 of the miniscule dwellings appeared, tucked into the woodland and gardens, hidden amongst shade-dappled trails.

Tea in the fairy garden....

Tea in the fairy garden….

Created by volunteers, the fairy houses ran the gamut, from the very simplest and most basic to elaborate.  There were fairy homes created from wood bark, dried ferns, moss, bird nests, teeny tiny bits and pieces gleaned from woods and beach. Visitors were guided to them by ribbons hung from branches with notes asking to please not touch the houses, as the fairies would probably be napping.

Human fairies were also plentiful

Human fairies were also plentiful

It wasn’t just the houses that enchanted, though.  Many of them were surrounded by tableaus that were evocative of a slower, gentler life.  Miniscule ladders led to tiny swings, miniature hand-made tables and chairs were located in petite garden settings that suggested a fairy tea was about to commence.  There were tiny hammocks, tiny beds, tiny patios, pathways, floral displays.  Some fairy houses hung from branches while others were tucked among the woodland beauty that is Milner. All of them fired the imagination and brought magic to the day.

Another beautiful creation

Another beautiful creation

The other great thing about this event is that the children (and some of the adults, too!) really get in to the spirit, There were dozens of fairies of the human variety, complete with fancy dresses and wings, flitting about the gardens.

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

We spent a good 90 minutes seeking out the hidden gems, then wandered along to the historic and very lovely Milner house where tea, lemonade and fairy cakes were being served in the shade of the back terrace. I can never say enough about the dedicated ladies who volunteer their time to run the inside tea room and outdoor venues for special events like this – they offer superb, cheerful service every time we are there, along with tasty sustenance.

Human fairies need sustenance too - fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

Human fairies need sustenance too – fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

We finished the day by purchasing a couple of jars of the house-made jams on offer at the house.  Created with fruit from the gardens, they are some of the best, and proceeds go to supporting the heritage treasure that has become a popular destination for residents and visitors alike.            Fairy signSo, thanks to Veronica Milner, her belief in fairies and the many staff and volunteers who keep her vision alive and thriving, another delightful event at Milner Gardens and Woodland. We are so fortunate to have this beautiful estate on the Island, and to have it open to the public.wheelchair-m

            Further information on Milner Gardens and Woodland and coming events can be found at the website:

            https://www2.viu.ca/milnergardens/

            Milner Gardens is located at 2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.353670  Long. -124.414487

            N 49 21.220  W 124 24.869

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bird’s Eye Cove Pizza Night offers the best of all worlds

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

What to do for supper on a lovely early summer evening when all of your favourite restaurants (and the new ones you would like to try) are closed? We were faced with exactly this conundrum during a recent trip to the Duncan area, but found a very happy solution with Pizza Night at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm.

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven.....

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven…..

Bird’s Eye Cove is a working farm that sprawls over 300 acres (121 hectares) of rolling fields and forest.  Founded in 1860, the spectacular site embraces breathtaking views of bucolic bliss and, of course, of Bird’s Eye Cove.

The final result

The final result

The Pizza Nights are held on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the fine weather months and have obviously become a happy tradition for area residents – when we arrived at 6 p.m., two hours after opening, the parking area was pretty much full.  Often the food is all gone well before the 8 p.m. ‘closing’ time, which says legions about the popularity of this new – now in to its third year – Cowichan Valley tradition.

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass.  Dogs, kids - everyone is welcome

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass. Dogs, kids – everyone is welcome

One of the beauties of this venue is that it is so relaxed, very informal and very welcoming of kids and dogs.  There are a number of picnic tables available for larger groups, small bistro tables for couples and, of course, green grass that invites the spreading of a blanket and a dining experience at ground level. Bird’s Eye Cove doesn’t have a liquor license, but patrons are welcome to bring along their own alcoholic liquid refreshments.

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu is a saucy affair with fun descriptions of the many local ingredients that go into creating the culinary delights.  The offerings vary depending on the night, and can include anything from a vegetarian creation to the Drunken Cow, made with a bourbon barbecue sauce.

Pizzas are all made to order and baked in the wood-fired outdoor brick oven. Mason jar vegetables and fruit are offered as ‘sides’ along with a variety of cold beverages.

For larger groups there are picnic tables.....

For larger groups there are picnic tables…..

Although the folks in the outdoor kitchen were busy with orders when we arrived we were made very welcome. We placed our own order, then proceeded to find a small bistro table that looked down the long sweep of fields to the cove. We spent a few minutes watching bald eagles, turkey vultures and swallows while we waited.  It was the perfect start to several days of travel – warm summer breeze, lovely evening, great views and a totally laid-back ambiance.

Good food and a view like this - it doesn't get any better on a lovely summer's evening

Good food and a view like this – it doesn’t get any better on a lovely summer’s evening

And then, our pizza arrived – which was quite simply the icing on the cake. Great ingredients in generous portions left us savouring the last crumbs.  We lingered for quite a while after our dinner, enjoying the relaxed vibe and partaking of some people-watching, before wandering back to our van and heading back to our bed and breakfast for the night. It was without a doubt the best start to a trip that I can remember in a long, long time, putting us in the right frame of mind.  Proof, I guess, that simple, honest food served in naturally breathtaking surroundings is the best.

Bird’s Eye Cove offers the pizza nights rain or shine – there is heated indoor seating available in the event of inclement weather.

            Further information on Bird’s Eye Cove Farm can be found at the website:

http://birdseyecovefarm.com/

            The farm is located at 5881 Genoa Bay Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.786863  Long. -123.60065400000002

            N 48 47.212    W 123 36.039

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French and Sandcut Beaches – two different experiences

Sandcut Beach

Sandcut Beach

Back to the beaches!  With the amazing weather we have been having over the past few months beaches tend to be a natural draw for us.  So, it’s a happy thing that there are so many of them here on the Island, ranging from wild to serene.  This week we are chronicling two beaches on the southwest coast of the Island that are as different as chalk and cheese.

The trail to French Beach is very easily traversed

The trail to French Beach is very easily traversed

We began our adventure at French Beach Provincial Park, located about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) west of the town of Sooke.  Of all the beaches we have explored on the Island this is one of what I call the most ‘civilized’.

French Beach is a great choice for day trippers, who will find all sorts of amenities including picnic tables, benches and firepits

French Beach is a great choice for day trippers, who will find all sorts of amenities including picnic tables, benches and firepits

The park encompasses 59 hectares (145 acres) of woodland and waterfront, with exceptionally easy access – parts of it are even wheelchair-friendly.  An easy walk from the parking lot on well-groomed trails leads to a sheltered grassy area along the waterfront that features great picnicking and day use possibilities – tables, benches and fire pits are all there.

Campsites at French Beach are easily accessed

Campsites at French Beach are easily accessed

There are also drive-in campsites that are about a 10-minute walk from the beach for those who might want to stick around for a while and explore the park thoroughly, or spend time watching the migration in the Spring and Autumn of the 20,000 gray whales that pass through the area.

The beach is pebble, or cobble and is one of the fairly calm areas along the west coast, so no dramatic surf scenes – just a serene environment that invites visitors to stay a while and enjoy the peace and quiet.

The hike into Sandcut Beach is a little more rigorous...

The hike into Sandcut Beach is a little more rigorous…

From French Beach we ventured up to Sandcut Beach, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish!

Sandcut is wilder and rougher than French Beach – an interesting contrast in view of the fact that they are only 11 kilometres (7 miles) apart, with Sandcut located further west, towards Port Renfrew.

Looking west along Sandcut Beach

Looking west along Sandcut Beach

The hike in to Sandcut is a rough trail featuring boardwalk, tree roots and variable footing that calls for good footwear. The beach is part of a 181  hectare (447 acres) park reserve, but there are no services either along the trail or at the beach itself.

What you will find if you venture along the rather steep trail, however, is a taste of the wild not found at French Beach.  In addition to the cobble beach there are sandstone outcrops, waterfalls and an untamed beauty that, to us, is more the essence of the west coast.

Both of these beaches are do-able in a single day if you start out in reasonable time.  Pack a lunch and liquid refreshment, and enjoy!

            Further information on French and Sandcut Beaches can be found at the following websites:

            http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/french_bch/

            http://discoversooke.com/outdoor-activities/beaches/sandcut-beach/

            Both beaches are located along Highway #14, also known as the West Coast Road.

            GPS Co-ordinates are:

            For French Beach:wheelchair-l

            Lat. 48.39523666881147  Long. -123.94248681933595

            N 48 23.714   W 123 56.549

             For Sandcut Beach (approximately)

            Lat. 48.418050   Long. -124.021508

            N 48 25.083   W 124 01.290

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Qualicum Beach’s Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine attracts fans (and cars) of all ages for a great day of family fun

Vintage Car at Seaside Cruizers

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes and ages compete at the Show ‘n Shine

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of things vehicular.  But every year in mid-June I am drawn to the streets of downtown Qualicum Beach for the annual Seaside Cruizers Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine – there are just too many great sights to miss out on, and the local club has managed to turn this in to a great family event that has something for every member of the family.

Crowds at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Thousands of people from far and wide show up to enjoy the day

            The show is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.  It has grown and flourished to the point where upwards of 700 vintage vehicles from near and far invade the area for the weekend.  The combination of the pretty venue of the village of Qualicum Beach and the hundreds of amazing vehicles has become such a draw, in fact, that it was mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey show as one of the 10 best things to do on Father’s Day.

Face painting at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Children enjoy many activities, including the face painting

While things get under way for the show participants on the Friday preceding Father’s Day, events for the general public gear up on Saturday night with a street dance in downtown Qualicum Beach. The entire downtown area is wired for sound, and music from the 1950s and 60s drifts through the streets during the day of the show ‘n shine, adding even more of a vintage flavour to the day.

            Although I have no particular interest in cars other than having them get me where I want to go, I am always amazed at the huge variety of vehicles on display at this event, and at the countless hours of devotion so obviously poured in to them. Every square inch of the exhibits, inside and out, gleams. A few hours spent wandering the streets of the village gets spectators a complete lesson on the history of motorized transport, in a most enchanting way.

Lunch in the village square in Qualicum Beach

Visitors enjoy lunch in the village square

            Over the years the event has evolved to be an all-inclusive family event.  There is face-painting for the kids and the downtown business association organizes a ladies Shop and Walk event, complete with prizes. Those attending can take in the Shriners Pancake Breakfast, located right in the heart of the shopping area, and lunch is available throughout the day from the many restaurants and food vendors.

            Thousands of visitors show up for this event, so if you plan to go be prepared to park your vehicle and walk a block or two to get to the heart of the action. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended.

Restored interior of vintage car

It’s not just the exteriors of the vintage cars that are immaculately restored…

            The 2014 event gets under way for the general public on Saturday, June 14 with a street dance featuring live music from 6 – 10 p.m.  Sunday, June 15 (Father’s Day) features the car show, pancake breakfast from 7:30 – 11 a.m., the ladies walk and shop from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., entertainment for the children, and a performance by the Arrowsmith Pipe Band at noon. Things wrap up at 2:30 with trophy and awards presentations.

            Further information on the Seaside Cruizers and the show ‘n shine can be found at the organization’s website:

www.seasidecruizers.comwheelchair-m

IgnitedGPS co-ordinates for the Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine are:

Lat.: 49.347220922291704  Long. -124.4416880607605

N 49 20.833  W 124 26.

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Shirley Delicious is….just that

Shirley Delicious

Well, I just couldn’t do it.  How could I possibly bypass a little hole-in-the wall restaurant that combined my name with the word delicious? There was no option but to seek out  Shirley Delicious during our recent Pacific Marine Circle Route junket,  And there were certainly no regrets that we did.

Shirley Delicious is situated off Highway 14 in the tiny community of Shirley, located between Sooke and Jordan River. It is undeniably one of the cheeriest, most welcoming spots in which we have ever enjoyed a meal.

The ordering area, fronted by a display case with home-made delectables

The ordering area, fronted by a display case with home-made delectables

Obviously a favoured neighbourhood hangout – conversations centre around subjects like midwives and local politics – Shirley Delicious is a bustling double A-frame structure that hosts a variety of local characters and tourists.  Walk in the front door and the first thing you encounter is a display case crammed with scrumptious-looking baked goods.

Lunch, anyone?

Lunch, anyone?

The beverage and sandwich menus are posted on chalkboards, so it’s a matter of bellying up to the order counter, telling the friendly staff what you want and then heading off to lounge in either one of the pretty outdoor garden areas or hunkering down indoors, where warm colours predominate. Indoor tables are discreetly divided off by rustic willow and bamboo dividers, affording a nice bit of privacy,

Warm hues and bright blues make for a cheery interior

Warm hues and bright blues make for a cheery interior

The wide range of made-from-scratch delectables on offer at Shirley Delicious is impressive, to say the least.  There are several panini sandwiches with mostly-unpronounceable names available, along with the aforementioned baked goods.  There are also items catering to those who prefer raw, gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan options.

SD Soup and SandwichMy husband opted for the excellent corn and bacon chowder and a Sgarabottolo (see what I mean about the pronunciation problem?) panini, stuffed with capicolo, tuscan ham, havarti and caramelized onion. I went for the more pronounceable Conversano panini,  chock full of roasted leeks, eggplant, bell pepper, zuchinni, brie and avocado.  Needless to say, neither of us left hungry and we were thanking our lucky stars that we were planning a fairly vigorous hike that afternoon to work some of it off.  We picked up a couple of the generously-sized house-made mouth-watering muffins to take along on our adventure, but found we really didn’t need them.

There are several outdoor dining areas

There are several outdoor dining areas

The great, cheerful service, the warm, funky ambiance and the excellent food at very reasonable prices would have left us in a happy enough state of mind,  But the added bonus of such innovative flavour combinations (Egglant? Leeks? In the middle of nowhere???)  was a delightful surprise that, in our minds, really puts Shirley Delicious over the top. Nice to see, and delightful on the palate.

Shirley Delicious doesn’t have a website, but you can find out more about their hours and their food on their Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/ShirleyDelicious

Price rating: $ – $$

Shirley Delicious is located at 2794 Sheringham Point Road, off Highway 14.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat:  48.388901  Long: -123.905179

N 48 23.334   W 123 54.311

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sombrio Beach offers ethereal beauty and interesting history

 

Sombrio Footprints

There is an ethereal beauty to Sombrio Beach.  Perhaps it is the salt spray and ever-pounding surf, or the endless miles of cobble beach, the waterfalls and caves, the never-ending horizon that looks out to the wild Pacific.  Or maybe it is the unique history of the place.  Whatever it is (and I suspect it is a combination of all of these factions) it has become one of my favourite spots on the southwest coast of the Island.

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

Sombrio Beach is situated along remote Highway 14, part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) south of Port Renfrew, it retains much of the wild splendour that first attracted surfers and a community of squatters to it in the 1960s.

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

The surfers continue to come to the beach; the squatters, including one family that raised 10 children there, were kicked off the beach in 1997 when the provincial government moved in to create park space.  Several of them continue to live in the Port Renfrew area and often visit Sombrio, to surf and to reminisce.

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it's not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it’s not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Getting to Sombrio takes a little perseverance.  The access road off paved Highway 14 is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) of totally unmaintained, pothole-filled gravel disaster owned by a logging company.  Once you get past that however there is plenty of good parking and a wide, easily traversed gravel trail down to the beach. You can take one of two directions, each half a kilometer (1/3 mile) to the beach.

We chose the left fork in hopes of seeing some of the waterfalls along the beach.  There is an exceptionally lovely one located back off the beach, a First Nations sacred site that, unfortunately, has been defaced and in the not-too-distant future may have access blocked because of the disrespectful graffiti that now adorns the moss-covered surroundings.  There are also a couple of other waterfalls well over a mile along the beach, but the tides were working against us and we were unable to access them on this trip.

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

We had a long discussion with the park ranger, who pointed out a very rocky outcrop with caves hidden in it.  Exploration of that area certainly brings home the power of the sea and of nature – sheer cliffs with huge trees hanging off them loomed over us as we clambered around.

But for me, the stunning cobble beach was what captured my heart. Every step brought a profusion of photo opportunities – the stones along our pathway came in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The power of the ocean and an eternity of wind and weather were revealed in every step. (The rocks made for some tough walking, but it was well worth it).

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

We lingered for a long while during our visit, reveling in the wild, sweeping vistas, the untamed and ever-changing surf and the timeless mysteries of the natural world. We were mesmerized for so long, in fact, that we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to take the right fork of the trail to explore the second area set aside for wilderness camping. But that’s just fine with me – there is always next time, and my heart tells me that there will, indeed, be a next time.

If you can’t get to Sombrio Beach, I highly recommend Manly Media’s one-hour documentary ‘Sombrio’, available for rent through Vimeo or for purchase.  It is an excellent piece chronicling the beauty of the place and the history of the squatter community.

            The best way to find Sombrio Beach is to keep your eyes peeled for the directional signs on Highway 14.

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

            Lat. 48.479236  Long. -124.272294

            N 48 28.754  W 124 16.338

 

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Pacific Marine Circle Route offers a wealth of experiences

Botanical Beach

Botanical Beach

The Pacific Marine Circle Route is one of the lesser-known – but nonetheless very worthwhile – adventures within easy reach on the Island.  There are activities for all ages and levels of ability, including wheelchair access. There are lots of dog-friendly venues, plenty of good places to stay and eat.

Sombrio  Beach is still a popular spot for surfers

Sombrio Beach is still a popular spot for surfers

We have recently completed a four-day exploration of this coast-to-coast trip, commencing out of Duncan, south to Sooke and up the west coast to Port Renfrew and back through Lake Cowichan to the east coast of the Island. Herewith, some tips and highlights of the trip, to be followed in the coming weeks by a closer look at many of the activities that we enjoyed.

French Beach Provincial Park

French Beach Provincial Park

Although many claim to have driven the Pacific Marine Circle route in a day – and it is do-able, at 255 kilometres/160 miles long – I can only think that other than the scenery it must have been little more than a waste of time for them. There are so many delightful adventures to be enjoyed for those who take the time to explore the many beaches, eateries, accommodations and historical attractions. Four very full days weren’t enough for us to cover everything we would like to have seen, as we kept discovering yet more ‘stuff’ as we travelled what is essentially still a pretty wild and unsettled area.  It is so remote in parts, in fact, that there was no cell phone service and no cellular data service. There are also no gas stations between Sooke and Lake Cowichan heading up the west coast (although one marina does sell gasoline during the summer months).  So, be sure there is plenty of fuel in your vehicle to drive the 129 kilometres/81 miles between the two communities.

On the trail to Sandcut Beach

On the trail to Sandcut Beach

Depending on what you are interested in seeing you will find that time and tides will dictate some of your travels.  Botany Bay and Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, for instance, are best visited during low tide so that you can enjoy the myriad aquatic flora and fauna that thrives in the tide pools.  The same applies to historic Sombrio Beach, where tides dictate whether you are able to get to the waterfalls just over 1 kilometre/1 mile along the waterfront.

Whiffin Spit, near Sooke

Whiffin Spit, near Sooke

There is a host of other spectacular beaches and provincial parks along the way, along with the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail and Avatar Grove, home to the gnarliest tree in Canada. French Beach offers campsites and easily accessible picnic tables, firepits and waterfront. Sandcut Beach is a tougher hike in but worth the effort – it is a little wilder than its neighbour and thus, less populated by visitors. Sombrio remains a surfing haven and a rock hound’s dream.  The sound of  eternally pounding surf and the multitude of spectacular vistas is enough to take the breath away of even the most seasoned traveler.

There is no lack of great meals to be had on the route - this is dinner at Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew

There is no lack of great meals to be had on the route – this is dinner at Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew

We began our trip with a leisurely visit to the excellent Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, then moved on to an afternoon walk along Whiffin Spit before settling in at our bed and breakfast near Sooke for the night.  The following morning it was on to the beaches and in to the parks, then two nights in Port Renfrew (population less than 200).

Sandcut Beach

Sandcut Beach

Despite the remote location we had no trouble discovering comfortable accommodation and some really great places to eat along the way. Virtually everyone we dealt with was friendly, welcoming and most helpful, as is so often found in small, isolated communities.

 

The gnarliest tree in Canada, at Avatar Grove

The gnarliest tree in Canada, at Avatar Grove

If you are planning to travel this route be prepared for the fact that much of the best scenery involves getting out of your vehicle and walking, either along well-groomed pathways or over very rough trails.  Good footwear is highly recommended – sandals and flip-flops simply won’t cut it on some areas of some trails. Many of the beaches are ‘’cobble’ beaches, not sand, so walking on them in inappropriate footwear can be a challenge as well.  But all the effort is worth the great rewards of seeing some of the most magnificent scenery anywhere.

Fairy Lake, on the road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan

Fairy Lake, on the road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan

Although we began our journey at the southern end of the route it is also possible to begin at Lake Cowichan and head west towards Port Renfrew.  The road is paved all the way, but the section between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew slices through what is still an active logging area, so be prepared to see log trucks coming at you.  There are many one-lane bridges and sharp curves along the drive as well.

In the coming weeks we will be writing in more detail about our discoveries, with many photos (we shot 1,141 pictures during the course of the four days).

If you plan to begin your journey from the south end of the route we suggest checking out the Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, which offers great insight into the history and heritage of the area.

            Further information on the Pacific Marine Circle Route can be found at:

http://www.pacificmarinecircleroute.com/

            The Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre  is located at 2070 Phillips Road, Sooke.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.384369  Long. -123.706173

N 48 23.062 W 123 42.370

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Ladysmith’s Pirates Day is all about the kids

Pirates Day in Ladysmith

Cap’n Jack Sparrow and his scurvy crew

The following feature is an ‘encore’ presentation, originally published after the 2014 Kids Pirates Day. We are publishing it early this year so parents (or grandparents) can plan to take the kids in their family (little and big, young or old) to this great community event.

It was all about the kids, there was no doubt about that.  Ladysmith’s Kids Pirate Day was pretty much the most fun anyone could hope for, young and old alike.  The combination of dozens of ‘grown up’ volunteers, hundreds of youngsters, a huge variety of activities and a sunny Saturday on the pretty waterfront at Ladysmith proved to be an irresistible amalgamation that left us in a very happy state of mind.

Ahoy, mateys!

Ahoy, mateys!

The folks at the Ladysmith Maritime Society have split their popular Maritime Festival over two weekends after ‘almost killing our volunteers’, in the words of one local, when in the past the entire festival centred on a single weekend.  So now, Maritime Heritage Day is the first event (May 30) followed by Kids Pirate Day which this year is Saturday, June 6.

We arrived around 10 a.m. at the harbour and were delighted to find so much on the agenda for the day. The bullhead fishing derby was already in full swing, adult pirate volunteers were gearing up to man the barbeques set up on the float, and the free harbour tours were in the offing.

The Kinsmen Bullhead Fishing Derby is a very popular attraction

The Kinsmen Bullhead Fishing Derby is a very popular attraction

We started out with the harbour tour, cruising off in the delightful 11-passenger Maritimer for a 45-minute look at the flora, fauna and beautiful scenery in the hidden nooks and crannies that can’t be viewed from the docks by landlubbers.

We arrived back at the wharf in time to take in some of the dozens of youngsters (many attired in pirate garb) participating in the fishing derby, grabbed a hamburger (prepared by pirates, of course) and dawdled through a leisurely lunch, during which Captain Jack Sparrow arrived on the scene.  So much of the fun of this event is generated by the many pirate volunteers who remain right in character throughout the day. Their swashbuckling antics can’t help but bring smiles of delight to anyone who encounters them as they swagger along the docks, always happy to be photgraphed or have a word with a youngster.

Face painting was a big hit at the festival

Face painting was a big hit at the festival

The land-based activities for the kids were many and varied, too.  Up the ramp on the outcropping of land above the harbour we found a craft table with youngsters who were busy creating pirate hats, face painting, a huge bouncy castle, an even larger bouncy slide and a very popular small petting zoo featuring goats, a pony and a calf. All of the activities were swarming with kids – a sure sign that the day was a success, no matter how you looked at it.

We always marvel at the magic that a town the size of Ladysmith (population 8,000) manages to create with its special events.  There is so clearly great support from the town’s indefatigable volunteers as well as the business community.  We owe great thanks to all of them for another superbly-orchestrated event that put smiles on faces and created many happy memories.

Kids had an opportunity for up-close-and-personal encounters with a few farm animals

Kids had an opportunity for up-close-and-personal encounters with a few farm animals

            Further information on the Ladysmith Maritime Festival (including the events planned for Maritime Heritage Day on May 30) can be found at the website:

http://www.lmsmarina.ca/events/kids-pirate-day/

A big hit with the youngsters - the bouncy slide

A big hit with the youngsters – the bouncy slide

To get to the marina follow the signs for Transfer Beach Park and keep your eyes peeled for directions to the festival site, which will be to the left (north) of the park area.

GPS Co-ordinates for the community marina site are:

 48.99552295361928  Long.-123.81512403488159

N 48 59.731  W 123 48.907

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Controversy surrounds Comox’s serene Mack Laing Nature Park

This is the beautiful view from Mack Laing's final home, Shakesides

This is the beautiful view from Mack Laing’s final home, Shakesides

I have come away from Comox’s serene Mack Laing Nature Park conflicted, to say the least.

We recently enjoyed a visit to this tranquil refuge stretching along Comox Bay, where early Spring sunshine filtered through tender green leaves and blooming lilac, splashed against the huge abandoned vegetable garden, infused Laing’s two former homes with a soft light. It is those beautiful old structures that have left me arguing with myself about what their future should entail.

The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home and one of the two he built that is slated for demolition

The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home and one of the two he built that is slated for demolition

Hamilton Mack Laing was an internationally-renowned artist, naturalist and ornithologist who purchased several acres along Comox Bay in 1922.  He developed a thriving nut farm and lived a simple life, collecting specimens for museums and harvesting much of his food from the woods and waters that surrounded him. He wrote copious numbers of feature articles for nature publications, developed relationships with other artists and naturalists, and has been described as the forgotten Roderick Haig-Brown (also unknown to most for his conservation work and writings).

Laing eventually sold off some of his holdings, which he originally purchased for $150 an acre, and ended up with several acres of sweeping waterfront featuring wind-blown sea grass, tidal flats and saltwater marsh. In the 1970s, well before his death in 1982 at age 99, Mack Laing donated the property and the last of the two homes he had built there to the town of Comox.  Apparently he had hopes that at least one of the houses would be used as a natural history museum.  To ensure that his wishes would be honoured he bequeathed $55,000 to the township upon his death in 1982, with the stipulation that it be invested in order to fulfill his wishes for the property.

Baybrook, Laing's first home, sold off after his wife died of cancer. The memories of their happy years together there were apparently too much for him to bear.

Baybrook, Laing’s first home, sold off after his wife died of cancer. The memories of their happy years together there were apparently too much for him to bear. Built in 1923 from a house kit, it is also slated for demolition

The house was not maintained, and early this year the Comox council voted in favour of tearing down both houses, which have been vacant for years. There has been much controversy over the decision, and much bitterness amongst Comox residents as to what should happen and what the house should be used for, if at all.  Which….is why I am conflicted.

These days when you visit Mack Laing Nature Park there is nothing but the soft sigh of the wind, calls of bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers. The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home – he lived independently until his dying day and although access to the home is blocked you can still see remnants of his life through the windows. The huge lilac continues to thrive, part of his woodpile remains out back. There is/was a massive vegetable garden, still protected by high deer fence but growing little but horsetails these days. Look around and you see the signs of a life that was well, but simply, lived.

This memorial cairn was erected in the park by friends of Laing after his death in 1982.

This memorial cairn was erected in the park by friends of Laing after his death in 1982.

The park also features meandering trails and all manner of flora and fauna, enhanced by large picture boards. A productive salmon stream bisects the property. There is a commemorative cairn in honour of Laing.  A wander to the waterfront offers vistas of mountains, glacier, the town of Comox and Comox Bay.  There are a couple of benches and a short boardwalk, maybe a couple of other visitors but essentially, the place is much like it must have been when Laing first saw it almost a century ago. Quiet, peaceful, with nothing but the sounds of the natural world to enhance a soul-reviving experience.  Sit in the sunshine on one of those benches and you come away a changed person.

 Information boards about the flora and fauna of the site make this a true nature park - an excellent but unobtrusive addition

Information boards about the flora and fauna of the site make this a true nature park – an excellent but unobtrusive addition

So, my question is this: although it appears that Mack Laing’s wishes will not be fulfilled, would he be so upset about it?  While we abhor the destruction of anything that has an historical footnote and we certainly don’t advocate flying in the face of final wishes, I find myself wondering how distressed he would be.  The property is safe from development and will, house or no house, be preserved as a calm natural oasis for humans and wildlife. Perhaps that is going to have to be enough; at the very least, it is something.

Further information on Mack Laing, his activities and the current controversy can be found at the excellent website of the Mack Laing Heritage Society of the Comox Valley at:

http://macklaingsociety.ca/about-mack-laing/

 To access the Mack Laing Nature Park, go to the far end of Comox Road, park your vehicle on the street and enter along the path adjacent to the park sign.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.671781  Long. -124.912534

N 49 40.307  W 124 48.443

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Port Alberni’s SteamPunk Café brings new energy to a town in revival mode

SP ExteriorIn a town that is transitioning from an industrial heritage to an outdoors and retirement mecca, Kevin Wright and his SteamPunk  Café and Coffee House have hit a home run.

Located exactly in the centre of Port Alberni’s old uptown business district, the café is attracting a varied and interesting clientele that speaks to the diversity of its residents.  The fact that the place offers not just home-made goods but also caters to current dietary trends (gluten-free, vegan) doesn’t hurt either.

Not your average café interior.....

Not your average café interior…..

The SteamPunk was designed to become what Kevin terms the ‘social nexus’ of the uptown area, and judging from our recent experiences there that seems to be exactly what is happening.  The unique décor has an industrial flavour to it – it wouldn’t be difficult to believe you were walking into some sort of factory or mill, thanks to Kevin’s artistic and construction talents.  There is old ‘stuff’ all over the place – vintage typewriters, factory signs, memorabilia from days gone by when Port Alberni was a thriving forestry, mill and fishing town. It is the sort of environment that pays tribute to the past while looking to the future.

Home-made beef barley soup and a ham and cheese Panini make for a filling and delicious lunch

Home-made beef barley soup and a ham and cheese Panini make for a filling and delicious lunch

There is a lot of other quirky stuff too, including a unique method of garnering tips for the friendly, efficient staff.  Every day at the order counter there are ‘decision of the day’ jars set up with a question above them – patrons can cast their vote by dropping tips into the jar of their choice.

One of the creative and beautiful coffee drinks

One of the creative and beautiful coffee drinks

The food is typical café food with a happy difference – everything is made in-house. Chef Alison, who has 27 years in the food industry and some serious culinary ‘chops’ begins her workday at 4:30 a.m. and by the time the doors open the home-made soups, scones, muffins and other tempting tidbits are waiting for the first customers. There is a wide range of paninis and wraps that can either be consumed on-site or taken ‘out’, several unique and healthy salads and, of course, artful and tasty coffee concoctions.  Alison is given free rein in the kitchen, and it shows in the creative and flavoursome offerings that show up at the front end.

The SteamPunk Classic Panini - a flavourful medley to roasted vegetables, cheese ... and bacon!

The SteamPunk Classic Panini – a flavourful medley of roasted vegetables, cheese … and bacon!

There is also a unique and beautifully-constructed deck in front of the café for al fresco dining in fine weather.  It has taken up a couple of parking spots and is the first such deck that city hall has allowed in the hundred-year history of the town.  There are industrial touches out there too in the form of some large, brightly-painted gears that add to the overall charm of the place.

At the moment Kevin is in the process of adding a book shop that will connect to the coffee house in a space next door. The book shop will feature new and first and second editions only, will include more of Kevin’s interesting décor and  will no doubt prove to be a valued and unique attraction.  His hope is that comfy seating, good coffee and interesting books will bring in more of the new ‘emigrants’ who are fleeing the cities for Port Alberni’s friendly, inexpensive and spectacular environs.  In the meantime though, it’s great to see that there is life in the old girl yet thanks to a vibrant and enthusiastic business community committed to re-invigorating a town that has so much to offer.

Further information on the Steampunk  Café and Coffee House can be found on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/steampunkcafeportalberni

 Price rating: $-$$

The SteamPunk Café and Coffee House is located at:

            3025A Third Avenue, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.233655  Long.: -124.807388

N 49 14.019  W 124 48.443

 

Posted in INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment