Matterson House evokes the charm and pace of yesteryear

Historic Matterson House was built in 1931

Historic Matterson House was built in 1931

It’s just a tiny little cottage built in 1931, but for the past 19 years the old Matterson house has served up some of the best food in the village of Ucluelet. Husband and wife team Sandy and Jennifer Clark have created a warm and welcoming eatery that is evocative of the history of the quiet fishing community perched on the western edge of North America.

Our first experience at Matterson House came after a cold and windy boat tour of Ucluelet harbour on a winter’s day.  Searching for a spot to enjoy a warm beverage we tripped up the stairs and into the peaceful environment, where we were greeted by hostess (and server, and owner….) Jennifer.  We spent half an hour chatting with her, imbibing in hot drinks and discussing the issues of the day. Although we were the only ones in the restaurant on this late Friday afternoon and we weren’t spending much money we were made to feel most welcome.

Shrimp-stuffed mushrooms

Shrimp-stuffed mushrooms

The next night four of us descended on the little yellow cottage for dinner. With only a few indoor tables and the outdoor verandah obviously not in use, we had made early dinner reservations. We were the first in the door that evening, but as the night wore on more patrons arrived to enjoy the plentiful food and warm ambiance.

We began our meal with a shared order of mouth-watering mushrooms stuffed with plump prawns and topped with the most yummy cheese concoction. The sauce was so flavourful that we felt compelled to mop up every single drop of it with the excellent bread that had arrived early on.

Oyster main course

Oyster main course

The main course for three of us was the special, a flavourful and generous serving of penne pasta napped with a tasty sauce and brimming with seafood.  The fourth member of our party opted for the oysters, which he deemed ‘perfectly wonderful’. Five plump gems arrived on a plate crammed with vegetables and rice. There was no chance that any of us were going to leave Matterson House hungry.

We finished our meal with a shared order of a large and very filling piece of mixed berry pie – again, more than ample serving size, packed full of fruit.

The interior of Matterson House is small, but not cramped, and offers a level of warmth and comfort from yesteryear

The interior of Matterson House is small, but not cramped, and offers a level of warmth and comfort from yesteryear

I think one of the miracles of this little gem is that it has been successful despite the complete lack of an internet presence, other than reviews that have appeared on the likes of Urban Spoon, Fodor’s and Trip Advisor. Matterson House does not have a web site; nor does it have any social media profile.  You can’t look at their menu on-line, you won’t see many foodie photos of what gets put on the table. What it does have though, is good word-of-mouth advertising in the community – ask almost anyone in Ucluelet about good places to eat and Matterson House invariably crops up. Word is that they do some of the best breakfasts in the village, so that is on our agenda for the next trip to the west coast.

Matterson House is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.  Reservations (for dinner at least) are a good idea – you can phone Matterson House at (250) 726-2200

            Matterson House is located at 1628 Peninsula Road in Ucluelet.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.94255362591963  Long. -125.5486269110429

            N 48 56.553 W 125 32.918

            Price rating: $ – $$

Matterson House on Urbanspoon

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Forces of nature combine to create unique magic in the annual Spring herring fishery

FB Cover There is a magic that descends on both the east and west coasts of the Island late in February or early in March each year.  There is no set date, nor agenda. It is, for those who know about it, one of the major happenings of the year – an event orchestrated by nature, not the hand of man. Some years it lasts upwards of a week; other years, it lasts less than 24 hours.  It draws many thousands of residents and visitors to the beaches to watch in rapt attention, a mesmerizing and, somehow, exciting occasion that is a sure harbinger of Spring.           

Herring fishery at night

Once the fishery is open fishermen work day and night , creating the effect of a city on the water when darkness falls. Thousands of gulls swirl around the boats, sea lions bark and the thrumming of the boat motors becomes a unique lullaby

Ever since the 1970s, when I first experienced the annual herring fishery on the west coast of the Island I have marveled at the combined forces of nature that draw  humans, seals, sea lions, sea birds and, of course, the main attraction – the millions of tiny silver fish that bring them all together in a flurry of activity.  For the humans, of course, the attraction is the fishery that produces thousands of tons of herring roe – a delicacy in Japan.  The creatures gather too, not just for the roe of course, but for a good feed that will sustain them through migration or mating season.            Herring sunset The sense of anticipation builds at the marinas and harbours late in February as fishboats await word of the opening from the Department of Fisheries.  For many, the  fishery is an opportunity to make some serious money in a short time frame so it is important to be in the right place at the right time. The length of the fishery is predicated upon Pacific herring stocks, which vary from year to year, and on demand. Some years the opening sees a veritable city of sea-going vessels on the water, engines thrumming and fishermen working 24/7 to get their share of the haul.  Other years, like the one immediately following the earthquake in Japan, there is almost no activity because there is no demand for the end product. 

Sea lions

It’s not just the activity on the water that attracts people – hundreds of sea lions, brant geese, seagulls and bald eagles make their presence known during the fishery too, taking advantage of easy prey

So every Spring, we wait and hope, keeping an eye on the waterfront, checking with friends and acquaintances up and down the coast. The sights and sounds are captivating enough that we have found ourselves driving considerable distances to take them in, for the herring are fickle and spawn in different areas each year. What may be a frantic scene of activity on the Qualicum Beach waterfront one year may another year see the same area entirely bereft of boats.  There are no guarantees, so watchfulness is essential.           

Spectators watch the herring fishery

The many footprints in the sand are testimony to the throngs that gather at the beaches to watch the action. There is an appeal for all ages.

If you are fortunate enough to be near a fishery opening, don’t be surprised to see hundreds of other people joining you along the waterfront, night or day.  Some folks even bundle up the kids, pack hot beverages and folding chairs, and head down to the beach in the dark to take in the magic and excitement of a spectacle that will, guaranteed, remain in the mind’s eye forever.  Before you head to the beach be sure to pack binoculars and cameras.  Dress warmly and wear warm, waterproof footwear.  

Seagulls at Qualicum Beach

Thousands of seagulls gather on the beaches to feed on the herring spawn, which is sometimes ankle deep

You may think you are just going to spend a few minutes watching but, guaranteed, you will be so enthralled with all of the activity and excitement, with the huge variety of wildlife that gets in on the act, and with the overall impact that this natural phenomenon has on you, that you will end up lingering.  If you aren’t totally entranced, I can only surmise you must be dead.


Ucluelet’s Subtidal Adventures offers a delightful peek into another world

Brian Congdon on his retired 65-year-old Coast Guard vessel

Brian Congdon on his retired 65-year-old Coast Guard vessel

There is a whole lot of beauty, history and wildlife packed into Ucluelet’s harbour that one might never know about if not for Brian Congdon and his Subtidal Adventures.

CormorantsWe recently enjoyed a couple of hours on the water with Brian, who has been running his eco-tourism adventure tours off the west coast of the Island since 1978. A former park warden at Pacific Rim National Park, he was the first to come up with the concept of eco-tourism in Ucluelet and over the years has introduced thousands of visitors to the wonders of one of the most spectacular areas anywhere in the world. Subtidal Adventures is also the only company in Ucluelet to offer tours on a year-round basis. Even if you are there in the dead of winter you can delight in an on-the-water experience – wind, waves and weather permitting.

A hopeful sea lion joined us for a portion of the trip

A hopeful sea lion joined us for a portion of the trip

Subtidal is not what anyone would consider a big corporate presence in Ucluelet – one delightful 65-year-old former Coast Guard cabin cruiser and a single Zodiac may not sound all that impressive. But the intimate knowledge of the area and sheer affability of the skipper make for an engaging three or four hours on the water.


Bald eagles are not an unusual sight

We were in Ucluelet in early February and enjoyed a basic harbour tour on a foggy, breezy and threatening-rain afternoon. Despite the less-than-stellar weather we came off the Dixie IV with dozens of photos and a new appreciation for all that makes Ucluelet unique.

Before we even pulled away from the dock Brian pointed out a regal blue heron perched on a piling high above us.  From there we wended our way past myriad fishing boats of all shapes and sizes, fish plants and a seaplane hangar constructed during World War II.  We hadn’t been on the water more than a few minutes when a lone sea lion, hoping that we were a fishboat that would supply an easy lunch, began tagging along beside us.

A view out to the open Pacific Ocean on a foggy day

A view out to the open Pacific Ocean on a foggy day

Further along the narrow inlet we encountered several bald eagles and a gaggle of cormorants and gulls perched on a chunk of rock.  A detour into a small bay in search of sea otter proved fruitless on that particular day.

One of the abandoned Japanese residences at Spring Cove

One of the abandoned Japanese residences at Spring Cove

We crossed the inlet, buffeted at this point by a little rough water, and journeyed into Spring Cove where derelict houses and wharves revealed the sad story of the Japanese internment during the Second World War. A couple of the families returned to their homes there following the hostilities but there is a poignant aura that permeates the place and leaves one feeling reflective and a little sad at the turn of events so long ago.

A west coast scarecrow, meant to keep sea lions off the wharf

A west coast scarecrow, meant to keep sea lions off the wharf

Back in more protected waters, we headed past more fish plants and a west coast scarecrow – a mannequin dressed in bright yellow rain gear, fishing rod in hand – designed to keep sea lions off a wharf.

Brian is incredibly patient when it comes to offering the best opportunities for photographs, and he is a walking history book when it comes to the past of his home of more than 40 years.

This is all that is left of the wharf at Spring Cove, a thriving Japanese fishing community prior to WWII

This is all that is left of the wharf at Spring Cove, a thriving Japanese fishing community prior to WWII

Although our touring options were pretty limited in the dead of winter we were grateful for the chance to appreciate and explore Ucluelet from the water.  Subtidal’s adventuring opportunities expand to whale, bear and other wildlife watching, sunset tours and exploration of the spectacular Broken Group Islands beginning in March and stretching through the summer and autumn.  We can’t wait to re-join Brian to learn about and see more of this beautiful and intriguing area.

Further information on Subtidal Adventures can be found at the website:

Subtidal’s headquarters is located at 1950 Peninsula Road, Ucluelet

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.94487296732658  Long. -125.55765529999996

N 48 56.692  W 125 33.459

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No rain…no rainbows. Ucluelet is an all-season charmer


Much of Ucluelet's history is linked to the maritime industry

Much of Ucluelet’s history is linked to the maritime industry

It has been more than 45 years since I made my first trip to the stunning west coast of Vancouver Island, in the days when you got there by traversing heart-plummeting logging roads and switchbacks high above Kennedy Lake. At that time Tofino was a tiny settlement of 400; the working fishing village of Ucluelet, at the other end of the coastline that is home to the world-famous Long Beach, clocked in at just over 1,000 residents.

The Wild Pacific Trail is a major draw for locals and visitors alike

The Wild Pacific Trail is a major draw for locals and visitors alike

A new paved road, the establishment of Pacific Rim National Park and some masterful marketing in the area have changed a lot of things on the coast. Tofino now has about 2,000 year-round residents, Ucluelet has about 1,600. During the height of the tourist season Tofino sees as many as 22,000 people a day.  Ucluelet, I am happy to report, is a lot less commercialized, a lot less crowded and a lot more peaceful.

There are California sea lions everywhere - including on the docks

There are California sea lions everywhere – including on the docks

We re-discovered Ucluelet during a brief visit last summer – there was just enough time to whet our appetites for more, to make us want to explore this village that has remained essentially true to its original nature.  So, on a recent slashing-rain February day we headed west to spend more time in this ‘safe harbour’ and, ultimately, to be totally charmed by pretty much everyone and everything there.

The aquarium is backdropped by Whiskey Landing Lodge, one of the small-but -excellent hostelries in Ucluelet

The aquarium is backdropped by Whiskey Landing Lodge, one of the small-but -excellent hostelries in Ucluelet

What we loved most about Ucluelet is its total lack of pretention – this is a community that takes great pride in its working roots, even though to some extent those roots have in recent years trailed off in new directions. Slumps in the fishing and logging industries, once the mainstay of household incomes in Ucluelet, have necessitated some considerable inventiveness and an acknowledgement that tourism can be a good thing. But the folks in the village remain what I like to call ‘real’ people – they are friendly and very helpful, more than happy to share information about the village and its history. Smaller establishments are mostly the order of the day there, whether it be dining, accommodation or adventuring.  There is a still a human feel and scale to things in Ucluelet.

Quirky shops (and quirky sights, like this old fishing vessel in permanent drydock) are not unusual

Quirky shops (and quirky sights, like this old fishing vessel in permanent drydock) are not unusual

Other than the fact that we loved the ambiance of the village we found plenty to keep us busy, even during the rainy winter season. You can take a tour of the harbour on a delightful 65-year-old retired Coast Guard vessel, hike the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Wild Pacific Trail, browse galleries and quirky stores, go beach combing, dine on everything from gourmet hot dogs to great barbeque to fresh albacore tuna, chill out or warm up at the myriad  small coffee shops and bistros, go storm watching. There is also an engaging First Nations presence and influence in Ucluelet that is reflected in everything from some of the architecture to galleries and shops.

History is honoured with commemorative plaques - this one for the general store built in 1901 and still in use

History is honoured with commemorative plaques – this one for the general store built in 1908 and still in use

There seems to be wildlife at every turn – we encountered a wolf (at a safe distance), California sea lions, harbour seals, bald eagles and a huge variety of sea birds. Come the Spring the sight of migrating whales is not uncommon.

We missed a visit to the small but highly-regarded aquarium, which is closed during the winter months but re-opens in March.  And once finer weather arrives opportunities for new adventures ranging from whale watching to kayaking to sport fishing abound. There is the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March, Ukee (the local abbreviation for Ucluelet) Days in July and a profusion of other events to intrigue and delight.

Commercial fishing continues to support some of the local economy, but sport fishing is also very popular and generates tourism dollars

Commercial fishing continues to support some of the local economy, but sport fishing is also very popular and generates tourism dollars

Yes, Ucluelet has changed since my first foray there so many years ago, but the village and its people have managed to retain the essence, beauty and sensibilities of a genuine real place, where you can go to adventure to your heart’s content or just kick back, relax and savour the natural world. In the coming weeks we will be writing in more detail about some of our recent adventures there. Because we are always searching for new things to share with our readers we seldom return to a place, even if it is one of our favourites. We know in our hearts, however, that Ucluelet will draw us back – it’s just that kind of community, with so much to experience.

Further information on Ucluelet can be found at the website:

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.946763473886804   Long. -125.56546757372553

N 48 56.806  W 125 33.928


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Downtown Nanaimo offers eclectic shopping and dining alternatives blended with a dash of history

Modern architecture backdrops the historic downtown shopping area

Modern architecture backdrops the historic downtown shopping area

History, character, eclectic dining options and great personalized service most certainly aren’t the hallmarks of the behemoth shopping malls that have mushroomed throughout North America during the past few decades. But for those who prefer something other than the same old chain stores and food court dining, there are options. One of those is the downtown Nanaimo Commercial Street shopping district.
We have grown very fond of the area, which was formerly a pretty seedy part of town. The merchants have upped the ante, many streetside improvements have been installed, and the inclusion of Diana Krall Plaza, a conference centre and a
regional library have brought fresh life and vibrancy to the city’s core.

Just one of the many beautiful items to be found in the downtown shopping area - try finding this in a mall!

Just one of the many beautiful items to be found in the downtown shopping area – try finding this in a mall!

All of these factions have helped to bring a new charm to the historic area, which is chock-a-block with extraordinary old buildings that now house everything from restaurants to a hostel. The juxtaposition of the beautiful aged structures with the modern office buildings and high-rises looming behind makes one think that maybe – just maybe – the town planners of the old days had it right. Create walkable, engrossing streetscapes and ‘they’ – meaning the general public – will come. Apparently the Canadian Institute of Planners agrees with that concept – Commercial has been designated by the organization as ‘The Greatest Street In Canada’.

The China Steps mark the first of Nanaimo's four Chinatowns

The China Stairs mark the first of Nanaimo’s four Chinatowns

But the real beauty (to us, anyhow) of places like downtown Nanaimo is the discovery of unusual shops that offer items that you will probably not find anywhere else in the city. There are a number of galleries featuring the work of local artisans, so anyone searching for a one-of-a-kind gift is bound to come up lucky. There is an amazing shop packed to the ceilings with beautiful and unique children’s wear. There are accessory boutiques for body and home, amazing book shops, a store dedicated entirely to lingerie, clothing stores featuring unique designs that won’t be found in a mall.
The dining options are great and varied. You can pretty much find anything your heart desires, including an authentic 1950s diner, high-end (but small, owner-operated) places for breakfasts and lunches, vegan, organic, gluten-free – or a casual dinner in a spectacular 1912 Francis Rattenbury-designed building that originally served as a bank. There are ethnic dining options as well.

Not your average restaurant outdoor seating area...

Not your average restaurant outdoor seating area…

In addition to the many lovely old buildings there is a lot of other history in the area. The three-storey brick building that houses the Masonic Lodge is home to one of the oldest chartered Freemasons organizations in British Columbia, which applied for a charter in 1865. There are the China Steps, a commemorative feature complete with information kiosk, marking the location of the first of four Nanaimo Chinatowns. Take a little detour down the steps and you will discover a mostly-hidden commercial area that features a number of funky shops.
Overall, this shopping and dining district is worth a leisurely visit – it’s not hard, with all the discoveries to be made, to spend at least a couple of hours wandering about and enjoying the ambiance of an area that has done a pretty darn good job of re-invigorating itself.
Further information (including where to park) about Nanaimo’s downtown core can be found at the Downtown Nanaimo Business Association website at:
wheelchair-lThe retail section of the downtown core stretches from Church Street, along Commercial and down to Wallace, an area covering several blocks.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.1669289789983 Long. -123.93707719262505
N 49 10.016 W 123 56.225


Seedy Saturdays herald Spring – or at least the hope of it

Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday crowds in the civic centre

Seedy Saturday in Qualicum Beach is a major community affair, as evidenced by the large crowds that turn out

They are popping up as readily as weeds in a garden, but the dozens of Seedy Saturdays planned for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands can’t help but lift the spirits (and, perhaps, hopes, that this year’s events will reveal a magical method of eliminating weeds permanently?).

Information on heritage tomatoes at Seedy Saturday

Information displays abound at Seedy Saturday events

Seedy Saturdays have sprung up all over the place thanks to the renewed interest in gardening and home-grown food that has flourished over the past 10 or 15 years. Even if you aren’t a gardener and have no aspirations to become one, a visit to one of these diverse events will instil a new spring in your step and a lightness of heart.  The Seedy Saturdays are, of course, the precursors to the gardening season, and if that is the case can warmer weather and sunny skies be far behind?

            So, what exactly is a Seedy Saturday, you may be wondering. There are actually no hard and fast rules on this one, but the general concept is to introduce the general public to new and/or existing information about gardening, whether it be flowers or foodstuffs. Most often there are seed swaps and many of the larger events have vendors, speakers, demonstrations, raffles, door prizes, information booths. It is entirely possible that you will find heritage seeds to purchase (remember those marvellous, flavourful tomatoes your grandmother used to grow? You may well be able to grow them too). There are often ‘started’ plants available, you might find the perfect piece of ornamentation for that difficult spot in your yard, or you may have an opportunity to speak to some of the local growers who comprise your area’s farmers markets. There are frequently Master Gardeners to consult for free gardening advice. One of the beauties of these events is that you are able to talk to growers in your own area, which means they have a good idea of what does – or doesn’t – do well in your particular region.

Outdoor vendors Seedy Saturday
The Seedy Saturday at Qualicum Beach has become so large that vendors spill out of the civic centre

            One of the grand-daddies of the Seedy Saturday concept is located in Qualicum Beach, where it has flourished for many years.  It is the first such event each year to be held on Vancouver Island proper; until recently it was the first each year in all of western Canada. All of the features mentioned in the paragraph above, and many more, can be found at the Qualicum Beach event.  It is always the first Saturday in February, and since its inception has grown to the point where vendors now overflow into the parking lot at the large Civic Centre site. In excess of 2,000 visitors pour through the doors to enjoy the varied displays and lectures, and to revel in that first breath (or at least, hope) of Spring.

Vendor discusses products

Vendors at Seedy Saturdays offer a wide range of products and expertise

The Seedy Saturday series kicks off this coming weekend (January 31) on Denman Island, followed on February 7 by the event in Qualicum Beach. After that there is one almost every weekend somewhere on the Island(s) until early April. Some events have become Seedy Sundays, but a quick look at the events listing on the Seeds of Diversity website at will tell you exactly what is on, and where. Virtually all of the Seedy Saturdays are organized and run by legions of volunteers in their respective communities, so be sure when you attend to thank them for all of their hard work and dedication to the cause of local, sustainable growing and marketing practises. They truly do make a difference.

             Further information on the Seedy Saturday  at Qualicum Beach can be obtained by going to the website at

Wheelchair accessibleThe Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday is held at the town’s Civic Centre at 747   Jones Street

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34626334450604  Long. -124.4491982460022

N 49 20.776 W 124 26.952

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

THANK YOU flowers

Today marks the launch date for this blog/website in 2012, and we would like to take this opportunity as we swing into our fourth year to thank all of our readers and advertisers for their support. It has been a great ride discovering so many special places and people and introducing them to our readers all over the world; we look forward to continuing the adventure.

Posted in WELCOME | 2 Comments

Tina’s Diner brings the 1950s back to downtown Nanaimo

tina's signWe felt as if we had been in a time machine recently when we walked into Tina’s Diner in downtown Nanaimo. We headed there for a late Saturday breakfast after hearing about this unique spot, and we weren’t disappointed.

Tina’s is an authentic 1950s diner that has survived for more than 60 years by providing simple, basic food at a reasonable price. The fact that the distinctive décor and relaxed ambiance remains intact may have something to do with it too – in fact, it probably has a lot to do with it.  There’s nothing like a good dose of nostalgia to start the day.

The warm butter-yellow walls in Tina’s are dressed with old vinyl records, period prints, photos of 50s-era movie stars and many other items that bring back the 50s for those who knew them.  There are booths (with vinyl-covered seating) featuring arborite table tops, a long counter with seating, and radio music coming from the sound system – no elevator muzak in this place – it didn’t even exist in the 50s, so it’s in keeping with the theme.

Tina's exudes old-fashioned warmth and friendliness - not to mention a healthy dose of nostalgia

Tina’s exudes old-fashioned warmth and friendliness – not to mention a healthy dose of nostalgia

The service at Tina’s is friendly and quick, which is a good thing because the place is popular.  All told, without counting the couple of outdoor tables Tina’s can seat about 35.

We ordered off the traditional fifties-style menu, which includes basic old-fashioned offerings like Eggs Benedict, corned-beef hash and a variety of bacon-sausage-eggs combinations. There is a bit of a tip of the hat to modern times in that wraps are offered on both lunch and breakfast menus. But the hash browns are real, cooked-from-scratch potatoes and the French fries are house-cut. The eggs are what we call ‘real’ too – none of those pale, insipid grocery store eggs, but specimens that are obviously fresh, with bright yellow yolks.

Good old-fashioned Eggs Benedict

Good old-fashioned Eggs Benedict

As I have mentioned, the food here is basic 50s diner-style.  No gourmet twists, no ostentatious seasonings, no claims to be organic, gluten-free, vegan or any of the other trends that have invaded many menus these days – nothing fancy, just plain-simple food from plain, simple times.  My husband’s eggs benny were flavourful and filling. My corned beef hash was a generous serving accompanied by two poached eggs – had to jazz it up a little with extra salt, pepper and HP sauce, but it worked for me.  The accompanying multi-grain toast was made from really nice bread that had some texture and flavour to it.

We spent about an hour in Tina’s, watching the world go by and expecting Fonzie from Happy Days to saunter in the door at any moment – the place truly does reflect the atmosphere of the 1950s to that extent.

Another throwback to times past – cash only is accepted, and all menu items have tax included. You get bottomless cups of coffee. We liked that we could figure out exactly what our meal was going to cost without having to pull out a calculator.

Further information on Tina’s Diner can be found at:

Price rating: $-$$

Tina’s Diner is located at 187 Commercial Street in downtown Nanaimo.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.166373330064836  Long. -123.93693272387531

N 49 09.982  W 123 56.216

Tina's Diner on Urbanspoon

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Royston’s Seaside Walk offers beautiful views, wildlife, history

BenchsittersIt’s amazing what can be accomplished in the tiniest of communities, as we discovered recently on a trip to the hamlet of Royston, just south of Courtenay. The settlement is home to just over 1,500 residents – and to a spanking new seaside walkway that provides a pretty walk (or jog) along the waterfront.

The Royston seafront walk is a great spot for folks of all ages - this family enjoys a little winter beach time

The Royston seafront walk is a great spot for folks of all ages – this family enjoys a little winter beach time

Although we found it a little confusing as to the actual length and location of the walkway and parking facilities, we decided the simplest plan was to start our adventure at the far south end of Marine Drive and just keep walking.  As it turned out, it was a good decision that provided a delightful outing.

The Marine Drive end of the walk features picnic tables and a large stone fireplace

The Marine Drive end of the walk features picnic tables and a large stone fireplace

The Marine Drive portion of the walkway straggles along beachfront that looks across to the community of Comox.  There are picnic tables and a huge stone fireplace, built as a centennial project and documenting all the youngsters who helped to haul stones from the beach for its construction.

Since 1937 derelict ships of all shapes and sizes have formed a breakwater in the bay

Since 1937 derelict ships of all shapes and sizes have formed a breakwater in the bay

At low tide walkers can continue for 600 metres (656 yards) along the beach to connect up with the level gravel portion of the walkway.  We visited when that was not possible, so detoured up the hill at the end of Marine Drive, and trundled briefly along a roadside trail next to Highway 19A before dipping back down to the waterfront at Lince Road.

The trail is easily accessed and easily traversed

The trail is easily accessed and easily traversed

The level, groomed trail commences at the bottom of Lince and wends its way along for 1.1 kilometres (just under a mile), with delightful views of the water, wildlife and a unique breakwater locally known as the Royston Wrecks.

A history lesson along the way - the story of the Royston Wrecks

A history lesson along the way – the story of the Royston Wrecks

The Royston Wrecks (or ghost ships, as some call them) have a long history in the area – beginning in 1937 wrecked tugs and sailing ships were sunk to create a breakwater for the log booming grounds in the Comox Harbour. The ship graveyard includes a three-masted windjammer built in 1876, a number of five-masted barquentines, a four-masted barque, whaling boats, navy frigates, freighters and tugboats.  While the breakwater and its ship remains certainly can’t be described as beautiful there is a sense of times gone by and wonder at the sight of history slowly sinking into the sea.

From the bottom of Lince Road we ambled north, through the parking area at Hilton Road and all the way along to the end of the trail at Chinook Road.  There is a wheelchair-accessible porta-potty at the parking lot, and the trail is easily navigable for motorized scooters or wheelchairs – it is level, wide and well-groomed.  There are benches at various points for those who need a rest or simply a place to contemplate the natural beauty and wildlife of the area.

Dogs are also welcome on the trail, as long as they are leashed

Dogs are also welcome on the trail, as long as they are leashed

We spent a couple of hours on the trail, although that time can certainly be shortened by parking at the Hilton Road lot and just doing the north end of the walkway.

We are so delighted that what was once an abandoned logging railway grade that was being destroyed by erosion has been rehabilitated for the enjoyment of the general public.

Further information on the Seaside Walk and a map of the trail can be found at:

             wheelchair-lGPS co-ordinates for the trail, beginning at the Hilton Road parking lot, are:

Lat. 49.6524742306177  Long. -124.95285429416503

N 49 39.148  W 124 57.171


Buttertubs Marsh – a little bit of heaven in the heart of Nanaimo

A view of the pretty and serene marsh, located in the heart of Nanaimo

A view of the pretty and serene marsh, located in the heart of Nanaimo

With the feasting, partying and indoor activities of the Yuletide season often comes the desire to just get outdoors for a bit of fresh air and exercise. There is a perfect spot right in the heart of Nanaimo that will fulfill that need without killing you if there have been excesses of food and drink in your life of late. Buttertubs Marsh is a lovely, level 100-acre man-made bird sanctuary that offers wide walking trails, peace and quiet and exercise as gentle or rigorous as you care to make it.

The level loop trail offers varying vistas of the marsh and its inhabitants

The level loop trail offers varying vistas of the marsh and its inhabitants

We still haven’t managed to figure out why this marsh was given its name.  Buttertubs is actually an area in the Yorkshire Dales of England that features 20-metre (65 feet) limestone potholes.  When farmers were on their way to market during hot weather they would pause to rest at Buttertubs Pass and lower their butter into the potholes to keep it cold.

Looking for lunch.....

Looking for lunch…..

Name confusion notwithstanding, the Nanaimo Buttertubs is a lovely spot that offers pretty sights from viewing platforms and the opportunity to enjoy a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

The buttertubs in England, where farmers travelling to market would stop for a rest and lower their butter into the chasms to keep it cool

The buttertubs in England, where farmers travelling to market would stop for a rest and lower their butter into the chasms to keep it cool

Our recent outing was pretty quiet wildlife-wise – we apparently had just missed seeing Trumpeter Swans, managed to observe a few ducks and one hungry hawk on the hunt for lunch.  However, it is apparently not uncommon to see great blue herons, mallards, Canada geese, ring-neck ducks, hooded mergansers, and American widgeons. Violet-green swallows and red-winged blackbirds are not unusual in the spring. Virginia Rails and American Bitterns are vocal denizens of Buttertubs Marsh Bird Sanctuary, which is also Vancouver Island’s only documented breeding site of American Bitterns.

Someone with a sense of humour dressed up a downed tree

Someone with a sense of humour dressed up a downed tree

Regardless of the lack of ‘things on the wing’ – or in the marsh, for that matter – we ambled along greatly enjoying the various views and the crisp, sunny day.  English oaks arch over the trail at several points, and hawthorn and blackberry bushes provide a cornucopia of feeding options for the winged residents.

Buttertubs Pass in England

Buttertubs Pass in England

There are a number of benches located along the trail, and a raised viewing platform offers the perfect vantage point for bird watching or photography.

Bullruishes Because it is a sensitive conservation area dogs (even on-leash), bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Narrow gates at the entrance to the 2.4 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail around the marsh conservation area ensure that no wheeled modes of transportation can access the area. So, the speediest trail user you are likely to encounter will be a runner.  If you aren’t up to anything more than walking (or even if you are confined to a wheelchair) you will be in good company.

The brick miner's cottage

The brick miner’s cottage

At the end of our wandering we also discovered an historic brick miner’s cottage off to the side of the conclusion of the loop trail.  Built around 1910, it is the only brick house known to have survived.  The bricks were made in nearby Wellington and the building now serves as a meeting place.

            Further information about Buttertubs Marsh can be found at the website:

Buttertubs Marsh Park is located at 1780 Jingle Pot Road


GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.166538123883136  Long. -123.97196259412396

N 49 09.992   W 123 58.318