Port Alberni’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery

You get a couple of unexpected bonuses when you walk through the doors of Port Alberni’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery – the beautiful aroma of cedar permeates every nook and cranny. And, in addition to enjoying the striking work created by a variety of indigenous artists, visitors also have the opportunity to see some of the beauties actually in the process of creation.

Native artist Gordon Dick works on a First Nations carving at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Gordon Dick works on a commission piece at the gallery

Native artist Gordon Dick was working on a massive commissioned piece in the middle of the gallery when we visited recently.  With a diameter of about six feet and weighing in around 250 pounds, the work was in its early stages.  When it is completed it will be shipped to a new owner in Rye, New York.  This drives home the fact that our First Nations artists are widely recognized for their talent and creativity – it’s no longer a matter of finding native artwork only in mass-marketed chain stores but, rather, in smaller more intimate spaces operated by the artists themselves.

First Nations art at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

There is an eclectic mix of First Nations art at the gallery

Gordon built the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery with lumber from trees felled on the road-side property where the gallery now sits.  The building itself is a work of art, with a beautifully-carved entrance way and unique security doors designed by Gordon in a First Nations theme. The gallery opened for business in December 2008, and since then there has been no looking back.

Woven cedar bark basket at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Woven cedar bark basket

Although the gallery is not large – about 1,000 square feet – it houses a treasure trove of artistic works from a dozen First Nations artisans.  Content varies of course, depending on what sells, but we were pleased to see a nice cross-section of superb work that included everything from reasonably-priced jewellery to wall hangings, masks, cedar bark baskets, original paintings  – and a small canoe.

Carved First Nations spoon at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver IslandGordon has worked in several mediums during the past 20 years and has created paintings, drawings, ceramics and jewellery.  His talent as a wood carver has been widely recognized and he has been commissioned to design and help create unique doors for several public spaces in the Alberni Valley, including the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, the new high school and the Tseshaht administration building, perched on the edge of the Somass River. Gordon was also the head carver on a 23-foot, 6,200 pound totem pole that was recently raised at the site of the old Alberni Residential School.  Each piece tells a story, created after what has obviously been many hours of consideration.

First Nations themed security doors at Ahtsik Gallery Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Even the security doors have a native theme

The Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is special for many reasons, our favourite among them being the opportunity to see Gordon at work and to come to understand what goes in to producing some of the pieces in the gallery.  The relaxed ambiance (along with the laid-back owner) makes for a great opportunity to linger, enjoy and admire. That all-embracing aroma of cedar, so evocative of the west coast, doesn’t hurt either.

Silver First Nations bracelets at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island


Further information on the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery can be found at the website:


Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is located at 7133A Pacific Rim Highway, Port Alberni.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.274182  Long. -124.876517

N 49 16.451  W 124 52.591

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salt Spring Island’s Ruckle Provincial Park and heritage farm – huge, diverse and very special

Water view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Strategically placed benches offer visitors an opportunity to sit and watch the world go by

There is a little bit of everything to be found at Ruckle Provincial Park, located on the southern tip of Salt Spring Island – history, waterfront, wildlife, woodland trails.  When we visited back in early autumn we figured on spending about an hour there; in the end we were entranced enough to be there well over two hours.  It could easily have been a lot longer if the weather and darkness hadn’t been closing in on us.

Victorian home at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

One of several homes at the old farm site

Ruckle Provincial Park sprawls over 1307 acres (529 hectares), looking out to Swanson Channel. Tumbling through Garry Oak meadows, forest, farm land and along rocky headlands, the park offers an abundance of peaceful activities that will banish your everyday cares and draw you in to the majesty and beauty of the southern Gulf Islands.

The road in to the park wends its way past a stunning Victorian home – one of the later houses built on the farm by the Ruckle family.  It was that house, along with a collection of other ancient farm buildings, that made it clear that this wasn’t just any old provincial park.  This was different, on so many levels.

Split rail fence, heritage apple trees and deer at Ruckle Heritage Farm, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Vintage split rail fencing and heritage apple trees add to the bucolic ambiance of the farm area

Homesteaded in 1872 by Irish emigrant Henry Ruckle, the farm evolved in to a huge operation featuring livestock, field crops and a massive fruit orchard. Six hundred apple and pear trees and 40 nut trees were planted, many of which continue to produce their heritage fruit to this day.

Ruckle Heritage Farm at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Livestock still grazes peacefully at the farm

The 200 acre farm is the oldest continually operating farm in British Columbia. Overseen by the original family, the farm serves as home to a flock of sheep, Highland cattle, chickens and turkeys.  There is still an enormous market garden that keeps the farm stand stocked throughout the growing season.

Waterfront view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

There are 4 1/2 miles of waterfront to be explored

We spent a considerable amount of time wandering amongst the accessible heritage farm buildings and abandoned houses on the property, taking in the information boards that provide historical notes of interest about the farm area of the park. Imagining what life must have been like in the late 1800s in this loveliest of places wasn’t difficult.

Waterfront picnic site at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Scenic picnic sites

We left the rustic buildings and bucolic ambiance and headed up the road, further in to the park and the ‘wilds’. Time constraints allowed us only a short hike to Beaver Point, but the variations in terrain and water views were enough to keep us entranced.  Beautiful vistas, picnic areas and benches to rest and take in the sweeping water panoramas and parade of marine traffic occupied a solid hour. We hiked back under the forest canopy, through the campsites and returned to our vehicle totally relaxed, the cares of the moment banished.

Waterfront bench at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Many pretty viewpoints offer a bench to sit and rest

Next time (and there will be a next time) we visit Salt Spring we will put aside an entire day to explore more of Ruckle Provincial Park – the large network of trails is simply too enticing to pass up. There is almost 4 ½ miles (7 km) of shoreline to explore as well as the inland trails that skirt the farm. For the time being though, memories of our initial exploration of this most unique spot will have to suffice.

Stairs on Beaver Point Trail at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Depending on which trail you choose, you might run into a bit of mildly strenuous hiking….

Dogs are welcome at the park but because of the livestock and farming activity, must be kept on leash and are only allowed in certain areas. Portions of the park – the trails leading from the main parking lot to the waterside picnic areas – are wheelchair accessible.

            Further information on Ruckle Provincial Park and the working Ruckle Heritage Farm can be found at the websites:



wheelchair-lRuckle Provincial Park is located 6.25 miles (10 km) from Fulford, at the southern tip of Salt Spring Island.  Follow Beaver Point Road to the end to access the heritage farm area, camping and parking.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.771741  Long. -123.381824

N 48 46.304  W 123 22.909


Comox’s historic Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park transports visitors to another era

Filberg Lodge ExteriorSigh.  I can only begin to imagine what life must have been like in the 1930s when Bob and Florence Filberg built their stunning waterfront home facing across to Comox Bay and the Comox Glacier.   Now known as the historic Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, the lovely old home and nine acres of groomed grounds serve as home to many special functions throughout the year, the summertime Filberg Festival the most famous among them. But visitors can access the site even when there is nothing special going on, which we did one recent fine autumn day.

Living room at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The living room benefits from the warmth of wood finishes and the massive stone fireplace

The impetus for our visit was the fact that, although we had attended special events at the park, we had never had the opportunity to tour the house – and that, alone, is worth making a special visit.  Never mind the gorgeous grounds, scattered with rare trees, waterfront views, beautiful gardens – if you see nothing other than the interior of this abode it will be time well spent.

Master bedroom at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The downstairs master bedroom

Originally designed as a vacation home, the plans for the Filberg Lodge were drawn up on the back of a cardboard carton.  Bob Filberg was a logging magnate, so it stood to reason that the home (which eventually became the family’s full-time residence) should be constructed and finished with the finest of woods, inside and out.  That plan rendered a home that, to this day, exudes comfort, warmth and solidity. Constructed of solid Douglas fir framing, wood finishes predominate inside and out – cedar shakes on the exterior and yellow cedar on the interior.  The beautiful arts and crafts design includes many features that would be considered to be an asset in any modern home of the 21st century.

The dressing room, modelled after the Filberg's accommodation on the Queen Mary

The dressing room, modelled after the Filbergs’ accommodation on the Queen Mary

The large kitchen and small sunny breakfast nook feature mosaic tile floors.  Because the house was constructed during the Depression, it is thought that the mosaic came about to keep craftsmen employed.  The large tiles had originally arrived intact, serving as ballast in ships that arrived in Comox to pick up lumber. But of course, breaking the tiles up and piecing them together for the floors would have taken much more installation time, thus putting food on the table of the craftsmen for a longer period.

Upstairs bedroom at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

One of the upstairs bedrooms, with sweeping views of Comox Bay

The huge downstairs master bedroom features two sitting areas (one with a cozy fireplace, one with a view of Comox Bay). Off the master suite there is a dressing room that replicates the accommodation that the Filbergs enjoyed during a voyage on the Queen Mary.  There is built-in storage at every turn, a stairway railing that features the trunk and limb of a Pacific Yew tree.  Hand-hewn exposed beams are everywhere, and the huge rock fireplace is topped with a massive hand-crafted mantel. A stunning copper portrait of St. Celia, the patron saint of musicians, is embedded in the rockwork above the mantel and if you look closely enough, you will also find a cannonball and a petroglyph ensconced down one side of the rock work

Upper park area at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The lodge is located on nine beautiful acres of parkland

Ultimately the Filberg Lodge ended up as a five bedroom, five fireplace, four bathroom residence – a magnificent tribute to the fine craftsmanship and superior materials utilized during the era.  Walk through that 300-pound solid Douglas fir door and you will find yourself enveloped in a slower, more genteel world, guaranteed.

            Further information on the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park can be found at the website:


Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park is located at 61 Filberg Road, Comox

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.671798  Long. -124.916249

N 49 40.308  W 124 54.975


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Café Talia – good simple food in a charming vintage setting

Cafe Talia in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, British ColumbiaIt was just too intriguing to pass by.  We were wandering around downtown Ganges on Salt Spring Island recently when we happened upon the most interesting tiny building – obviously of vintage provenance and offering food and drink under the moniker of Café Talia.  Who could resist?

Café Talia has wended its way through a number of iterations since its construction way back in the 1930s.  The tiny, two bay-window structure began life as a private residence, later becoming Salt Spring’s first telephone exchange and the first  forest ranger station.  Over the years it also served as a bike shop before morphing, once again, into the exceptionally charming café that it has become.

Pastries at Cafe Talia, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Owner Aletha Humphreys, behind the pastry display case

The cafe is obviously a favourite local hangout, where residents meet to enjoy the European ambiance indoors (seats 12) or, on fine days, the small outdoor patio. Although the place has served as a café since some renovations in 2007, it was taken over early in 2015 by Aletha Humphreys, an escapee from mainland madness. Aletha and her friendly staff have created a warm and welcoming atmosphere that is complimented by good service and tasty, simple food.

Although the baked goods in the pastry case were very tempting we opted for a light lunch.  The daily menu is posted on a chalkboard and, while not extensive, offers up enough variety that even those who are gluten-free or vegetarian will have some options. The emphasis is on local and fresh, right from the coffee to the pastries. While much of the sweet-tooth stuff is produced off-site by master bakers, the lunch offerings are created in-house.

Frittata at Cafe Talia, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Yummy in-house made frittata

My husband ordered a ham and provolone sandwich, which arrived on an exquisite crusty ciabatta bun, crammed with the main ingredients. I opted for the generously-sized frittata of the day, bursting with the flavours of artichoke, sun dried tomato and feta.  Both meals were more than enough to satisfy our tastebuds and our grumbling tummies.

While the exterior of Café Talia may look ‘run down’ to some, that vintage look is intentional, adding a certain appeal to passersby. There is a new roof under the rusted metal, and other upgrades have made the place a wonderful spot for a casual meal or a meet-up with friends. It is its own kind of ‘fancy’ in a very special and distinctive way.

A note to those interested in historical aspects of Salt Spring – there is an information board outside the café (ask the staff for location) that will tell you more about the background of the Café Talia building and the old jam factory behind it, constructed in the 1920s.  Nice to see the historical buildings on the island being preserved and used!

Further information on Café Talia can be found at the website:


Price rating: $

            Café Talia is located at 122 Hereford Avenue, Salt Spring Island.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.853615  Long. -123.502074

N 48 51.217  W 123 30.124


Posted in GULF ISLANDS, KID FRIENDLY, WELCOME, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elk Falls suspension bridge provides new adventure in Campbell River

Elk Falls suspension bridge in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

View from the top of the new suspension bridge

With the rainy winter season looming here on the west coast we take every opportunity to get outdoors while the weather is still fine, so on a recent weekend we headed up to Campbell River to experience the hiking trails and the shiny new suspension bridge at Elk Falls Provincial Park.

Opened just this past Spring, the new bridge was way beyond anything we could have hoped for.  Thanks to six years of collaboration and the efforts of the local Rotary Club the provincial park’s 75th anniversary has been marked with the dedication of a new feature that promises to bring added interest to the Campbell River area.

Elk Falls, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Elk Falls, as viewed from the suspension bridge

Located just over a mile from the city’s downtown core, the park and the new bridge are easily accessible.  There is a large paved parking area with rest rooms and a huge, well-defined map that offers visitors a good overview of the trail system, bridge access and the distances of each trail. Being that the park encompasses more than 2,600 acres it’s a good idea to peruse the map prior to setting out.

The walk to the bridge is about 20 minutes beneath a beautiful forest canopy.  The trails are well-built and solid, with sturdy hand rails on slopes. Those planning to explore trails other than the one leading to the suspension bridge will find maps at each trail juncture – a feature that I wish was found in more parks.

The suspension bridge is a marvel, stretching 262 feet over a 209 foot drop to spectacular Elk Falls.  It offers unparalleled views of the thousands of gallons of water thundering over the falls to a frothing pool 82 feet below.

Elk Falls suspension bridge, Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Side view of the suspension bridge

There are several viewing platforms at the bridge site offering different perspectives.  They are all accessible via sturdy, well-designed stairwells.  Footing on the stairwells and on the bridge is metal grating, offering good grip (although not so popular with dogs, several of whom were being carried on the day that we visited).

The suspension bridge has intentionally been built with a bit of sag to it, which means there is some minor movement on the bridge when people are crossing it.  But, it is nothing that is particularly scary or nauseating.  High chain link ensures that no one is going to tumble over the top, so overall this structure is very safe for visitors of all ages. It’s a little awkward trying to get good photos of the falls because of the height of the chain link – perhaps a few small reinforced holes could be cut in the fencing to accommodate camera lenses.

Stairwell at Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sturdy railings, stairwells and viewing platforms make enjoyment of the area all that much better….

We explored a few of the other trails at the park then headed to the 122-site campground to enjoy a picnic lunch at a riverside site.  More trail discoveries ensued after lunch, as we meandered alongside the beautiful Quinsam River.

The trip to Elk Falls makes for a great day out, and will leave you with memories to sustain you during the dreary winter months.  It’s worth the time, and worth the effort!

            Further information on Elk Falls Provincial Park can be found at the website:


            Elk Falls Provincial Park is located just over a mile from downtown Campbell River, off Highway 28 heading towards Gold River.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 50.036719  Long. -125.330243

            N 50 02.203   W 125 19.815



Silver Meadows Harvest Festival – tons of fun for everyone

SM SignSilver Meadows Farm in Errington is one of those cherished local institutions that draws support from area residents for a whole bunch of reasons.  For many, it is the excellent fresh produce (especially the corn!) that comes off its fields and into the tiny farm store.  But the annual Silver Meadows Harvest Festival keeps families coming back every autumn, too – and with good reason.

Entrance driveway at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Heading up the Silver Meadows laneway towards adventure and fun

This October was the farm’s eighth annual harvest festival and boy, what a delightful madhouse it was! We arrived shortly after the opening at 11 a.m. and there were already cars parked along the side of the road for upwards of half a mile. Families young (mostly) and old trekked along the pretty pumpkin-lined driveway to congregate near the farm store and enjoy the many fall-themed activities.

Little girl with pumpkin face paint, Silver Meadows Farm Harvest Festival, Errington, Vancouver Island

There was face painting…..

Pony rides at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…pony rides….

Sack races at Silver Meadows Farm Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…sack races….

Corn maze at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and a corn maze

The day is heavily geared toward creating quality outdoor family time, offering a profusion of old-fashioned delights that engaged kids and parents alike.  The huge corn maze was a big hit, as were the pony rides and the hay wagon tours of the farm.  There was a pumpkin toss, and good old sack races, face painting, a food concession.

Pumpkin field at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pumpkins everywhere….

Carved pumpkin at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaAnd, of course, there was the opportunity to wander the pumpkin field to choose the perfect orange squash to carve for Hallowe’en.`

Although more than 1,200 people streamed up the driveway there was never the sensation of being crowded.  Folks waited patiently in line for some of the experiences like the hay wagon rides – even with three wagons going, there were long line ups.

But the waits didn’t seem to bother anyone – there was plenty to enjoy on a fine autumn day, including the bucolic loveliness of the farm itself. Picnic tables provided a spot to rest or enjoy a light lunch from the concession, and friends and neighbours stood about chatting and visiting while kids ran helter-skelter.  It was one of those quintessential neighbourhood gatherings that make you appreciate the simple things and re-connect with what’s real in this world.

Hay wagon ride at Silver Meadows Farm, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Hay wagon rides were a very popular attraction

To make things even better, entry to the Harvest Festival this year was by donation, with proceeds going to B.C.Childrens Hospital. In just four hours Silver Meadows Farm raised $ 3,600, making for cumulative donations over the years a total of $ 10,000. Those funds will go towards helping sick kids hopefully get to the point where they, too, will be running wild and enjoying events like the harvest festival in the future. A great effort for a great cause!

            Further Information about Silver Meadows Farm can be found on Facebook at:


Silver Meadows Farm is located at 1019 Errington Road, Errington

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.303478  Long. -124.369525

N 49 18.209  W 124 22.171


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

Salt Spring Saturday Market – a feast for the senses

Overview of Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

A beautiful waterfront location enhances the ambiance of the Saturday Market

Oh my! We have visited some pretty impressive farmers markets over the years, but Salt Spring Island’s famous Saturday Market outdoes them all.

Vegetable vendor at Salt Spring Island Saturday Market

There is an abundance of beautiful produce at the market

The last time we visited 20 years ago, the market was a thriving operation with, perhaps, 80 vendors – very impressive in the days before farmers markets became ‘the thing.’ Two decades later the number of booths has rocketed to 140-plus, occupying a huge portion of the oceanfront Centennial Park in downtown Ganges. While the market is large it was gratifying to see that there is also tremendous depth of quality in the products offered – the mantra of ‘make it, bake it or grow it’ resonates on Salt Spring, for many years a hotbed of inspired artists and a dedicated farming community.

Home baking at Salt Spring Saturday Market

Decadent goodies from Tony’s Tarts

The other great thing about the market is that most of the food items are concentrated in one area, with many of the craftsmen and artisans located along the leafy walkway of the park.  It makes it easy to just pop in and purchase your groceries for the week if you are so inclined, without having to wade through huge crowds.  But for visitors to Salt Spring a thorough tour of the entire market is advised – there is such a massive range of beautiful items that it is worth the time to meander along and enjoy the experience.

Flower vendor at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Flowers galore…..

We began our explorations at the food end, marveling at the abundant displays of fruit and vegetables, many of them organically grown. We enjoyed samples of such diverse treats as sprouted peanuts and organic cheese. Artisan bread and decadent pastries (some from an authentic French patisserie) shone in tempting displays and a huge booth crammed with gorgeous floral arrangements stole my heart.

Child playing violin at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Pint-sized buskers, earning money for more violin lessons

For those needing a pick-me-up (or a quick lunch) there were luscious looking pot stickers on offer along with other hot offerings.

Hand-crafted felted slippers at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Cozy felt slippers in a rainbow of colours and styles

The crafts offered for sale are all of such splendid quality that it wouldn’t be difficult to do all your Christmas shopping in this single location.  Gorgeous colourful felted slippers, unique clothing items, jewellery, pottery, wind chimes, fairy doors, garden and home décor, bags created from discarded clothing, giant metal bugs – the list is endless and engaging.

hand-crafted table runners and placemats at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Colourful and unique table runners and placemats

All-told, we spent a couple of hours wandering about, enjoying the ambiance of the waterfront location and the atmosphere of one of the most eclectic farmers markets in the area. This is not a place you should expect to visit and be done with in just a few minutes – the enchantment of so much excellent product to enjoy will draw you in, guaranteed.

hand-crafted giant metal bugs at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Beautiful giant metal bugs

The Salt Spring Saturday Market runs outdoors from Easter weekend to the last weekend in October.  Vendor booths are open for business between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

            Further information on the market can be found at the website:


wheelchair-lThe Salt Spring Saturday Market is held at Centennial Park, bordering the waterfront in downtown Ganges.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.852390  Long. -123.498634

N 48 51.143  W 123 29.918




Pumpkin Fest a great autumn outing for all ages

Pumpkin fields at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver IslandWe had the best time this past weekend at one of the ‘harvest festivals’ that are ubiquitous on the Island at this time of year.  But the Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest isn’t just any old event created as an adjunct to the Black Creek winery’s everyday business – it is a focused, meticulously planned family affair with amazing attention to detail, providing a first-class experience for young and old alike.

Hay bale maze at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The hay bale maze is a big hit….

Pumpkin Bowling at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

…as was the pumpkin bowling

Located just a few kilometers north of Courtenay off a pretty rural road, Coastal Black Estate Winery specializes in producing fruit wines and mead. Its 400-plus acres sprawl between fields of pumpkins, gourds and, of course, fruits. At the rate things are going however, it may soon be that the popular annual Pumpkin Fest, now in to its third year, eclipses the winery side of things.  Organizers estimate that they will see anywhere between 15,000 and 18,000 people of all ages attending the festival this year.

Pumpkin catapult at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The new pumpkin trebuchet

We headed up to Black Creek on a lovely Saturday and joined hundreds of folks, mostly with little kids in tow, to take in the wonders of Pumpkin Fest.  One of the things that I loved about the event is that portions of the nominal entry fee are donated to worthwhile charities.  But there was lots of other stuff to like too!

Hay wagon ride at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

Hay wagon rides were a popular draw

The covered event barn was a major activity centre, with pumpkin bowling, pumpkin ring toss and a hay bale maze, all of which had the little ones on the go.  The Country Kitchen offered up simple sustenance under cover as well.

Pumpkin signsWe spent quite a bit of time watching the youngsters enjoying themselves, explored the hay bale maze, then headed down the hill along a pumpkin-lined path to enjoy a ride around the farm on one of the two hay wagons.  And, the new star attraction this year – a solar-powered pumpkin trebuchet/catapult that launched pumpkins chosen by attendees towards distance markers.  It’s funny how something so simple can hold the attention of so many for such long periods, but that it did. Who would have thought that watching pumpkins go splat in a field could be so mesmerizing?

They found the perfect pumpkin!

They found the perfect pumpkin!

Heading back up the slope towards lunch we paused to watch families hunting down their perfect pumpkin in the fields, washing them off in the unique pumpkin bath, and then hauling them back up the hill to the weigh and pay station.  There are dozens of different varieties to choose from – orange, white, smooth, warty, big and small.

Pumpkin bath at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The unique and strangely beautiful pumpkin bath

We enjoyed tasty wood-fired artisan pizza for lunch, opting for a picnic table in the shade rather than the sunny patio area where we also could have ordered a local ale. We finished lunch with (what else!?) a slice of pumpkin pie.

Part of the pumpkin walk

Part of the pumpkin walk

While this is obviously a hugely successful family event, it appeals to those of us in our more sedate years as well. The energy and engagement of the kids was a happy thing to see, and it was lovely to see families out together enjoying the rural ambiance, fresh air and fine autumn weather.

Artisan wood-fired pizza to complete the day

Artisan wood-fired pizza to complete the day

The Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest runs every weekend in October, plus Thanksgiving Monday, so there is still plenty of time to make the trek and enjoy this most extraordinary event.            wheelchair-lFurther information on the Pumpkin Fest can be found at the website:


            Coastal Black Estate Winery is located at 2186 Endall Road, Black Creek

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.817998  Long. -125.139939

            N 49 49.080   W 125 08.396



Tiny Tidal Taco Shack earns a big following – for good reason

TTS Sign‘Dining out’ has a whole new meaning when you eat at Qualicum Bay’s Tidal Taco Shack.  There is no other option – you eat at the picnic tables overlooking the sweeping vistas of Georgia Strait and the Coast Mountains, or you can eat in your car.

Tidal Taco Shack at Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Tidal Taco Shack is tiny….

Tidal Taco Shack is one of those secret gems with a humble beginning that has grown into something of a local phenomenon. And, we discovered recently, for very good reason!

The tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery opened in 2014 as a project to keep owner Ashley Martz occupied.  It has certainly done that, and then some – she now has three employees helping out at her operation, and judging by the constant flow of customers she may need more in the future.

Beef burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beef burrito – no lack of good food here!

The Tidal Taco Shack is a tiny built-from-scratch structure located just off Highway 19A (the Old Island Highway) on a leased chunk of waterfront.  But its’ lack of stature belies the wonderful food that comes through the order window on a regular basis.

Picnic at tidal Taco Shack in Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Picnic tables, water and mountain views and great food – it doesn’t get any better

The menu includes both burritos ($7.50) and tacos ($4.50) with a variety of generous fillings ranging from chicken to beef to fish and shellfish.  The burritos are huge – enough to keep anyone going through an active day – and if we order them for a late lunch they get me off the hook for cooking a big dinner.

Fish burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The fish burrito combines panko-crusted whitefish with a cornucopia of other flavourful ingredients

We recently took guests from Alberta to the Tidal Taco Shack for lunch, and every burrito that hit the table was consumed with gusto and sighs of contentment. Sitting at a picnic table on a lovely autumn day, taking in the spectacular scenery, provided a quintessential Vancouver Island experience for the drylanders – and for us.

Diners at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Taco lovers of all ages flock to Tidal Taco Shack – and it’s dog-friendly, too!

A word of warning – the Tidal Taco Shack is open from noon – 7 p.m., Thursday-Sunday  during autumn, winter and spring, and keeps longer hours during the summer months.If you arrive near ‘traditional’ meal times, be prepared to wait 45 – 60 minutes for your meal. Everything is made fresh, and with the pile-up of customers at lunch and dinner hours you need to be patient.  We usually head there between the rush hours and have never waited more than 15 minutes.

On a recent wind-blown pouring-rain day my husband drove by the place and even then, there were folks sitting in their cars enjoying the fruits of the labours of Ashley and her staff’. The fact that customers drive up to an hour each way to get to the Tidal Taco Shack is further testimony to the excellence of the food that comes out of that miniscule cedar shake-clad edifice.

So, another new ‘dining’ favourite for us – great food in plentiful quantities at good prices, topped off with a spectacular setting.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

            The Tidal Taco Shack doesn’t have a website, but further information can be found on their Facebook page at:


wheelchair-lPrice rating: $

The Tidal Taco Shack is located at 6001 Island Highway, Qualicum Bay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.402917  Long. -124.626482

 N 49 24.175  W 124 37.589


Cowichan’s bucolic splendour reveals an historic footnote at Fairbridge Farm School

Stone cairn commemorating Fairbridge Farm School at Cowichan Station, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The stone cairn on the left commemorates the Fairbridge Farm School

What would it have been like, I found myself wondering, to be a young urban child taken from home and family in England and plunked in to the middle of a lonely rural setting at Cowichan Station near Duncan?  I can only guess at the emotions of the 329 youngsters who arrived at the Fairbridge Farm School between 1935 and 1951. Little of that era remains, but what is left stirs the senses and piques the curiousity.

Cook's cottage at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The original cook’s cottage, now a private home

Sign at cook's cottage, Faribridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaAs is not uncommon during our travels on Vancouver Island we stumbled upon the old 1,000 acre farm thanks to a chance comment made by someone we had been talking to about an entirely different subject. We were heading in the general direction of  Fairbridge in any event, so decided to take a little detour and check it out.

The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm (formerly Pemberlea Farm) was established with the idea of assisting underprivileged children from England to grow up in a healthy environment, learn a trade and make a new and better life for themselves in Canada. Boys were taught mixed farming skills while the few girls were taught household proficiency, with an eye to them becoming domestics at maturity.

The home farm consisted of a cluster of cottages, outbuildings and a chapel, which served as the heart of the community.  The children lived in the cottages with house mothers and, in addition to their schooling were expected to help with various chores such as chopping and piling firewood and kitchen duties.

dormitory at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another of the original farm buildings, reincarnated as a private home

The farm came under a fair bit of fire during its 16 year existence.  Government rules and the involvement of child welfare advocates often made things difficult for the administrators of the plan, and by 1951 Fairbridge had said farewell to the last of its students.

The farm sat vacant for many years save for the presence of a caretaker.  The buildings were intermittently used as housing for immigrants and a dairy company took over the farming operation when the farm school closed.

House at Fairbridge Farm School, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Rural surroundings and peace and quiet continue to predominate at the site, which is now a high-end strata housing development

In 1975 a real estate developer purchased the property. Refurbishment of some of the original buildings got under way, converting them to private homes on a bare land strata.  A total of 39 homes now sit on the original ‘village’ site, surrounded by the rural loveliness that has always been synonymous with the Cowichan Valley.

There is a cairn at the entrance to a stunningly beautiful farmscape that commemorates the Fairbridge Farm School – it was the first indication that told us we were in the right area.  We back-tracked to the housing development and meandered along a quiet road where we discovered charming heritage buildings lovingly restored.  Many of them have signs at the edge of the property signifying the original use of the building and the year that it was constructed.

Fairbridge Farm Chapel, Cowichan Station, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The chapel has been taken under the wing of preservationists

One of the most impressive restorations is the Fairbridge Chapel, now overseen by the Fairbridge Chapel Heritage Society. Situated in a secluded spot in the community, the chapel no doubt offered comfort to any of the youngsters who were feeling homesick or uncertain about their new lives.

In the end, the Fairbridge Farm School was deemed not to be the best solution to assisting underprivileged youngsters. But its heritage and history live on, bringing an intriguing glimpse into the past of the Cowichan Valley.

            Further information on Fairbridge Farm School can be found at two websites:



            For those wishing to see the ‘real thing’, the loop road that encircles the strata site is located at the junction of Koksilah Road and Fairbridge Drive. A leisurely drive or stroll will take you past many of the historic buildings and the chapel.

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