Pure, sweet maple syrup – Island style

Maple Syrup_edited-1Most of us are familiar with the sweet, sticky substance called maple syrup, which traditionally is harvested from sugar maples in eastern Canada.  But a new (and very delicious) product – bigleaf maple syrup – is being discovered and promoted right here in British Columbia.  We trekked down to Duncan for the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival to learn more.

Sapsucker demonstrates tapping a bigleaf maple for sap at BC Forest Discovery Centre, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Sapsucker Louis demonstrates how to tap a tree

The festival spans two days and is run out of the BC Forest Discovery Centre (http://bcforestdiscoverycentre.com/). Our afternoon adventure began with a video outlining the careful – and sometimes tedious – process of boiling down the bigleaf maple sap into syrup.  It is a procedure that requires many hours and very close attention. And it certainly explains why pure maple syrup is the price it is – it takes 68 litres (71 quarts) of sap to create a single litre (1.05 quarts) of finished syrup.

Tapped bigleaf maple at Duncan, Vancouver Island

Tapped!

Our next stop at the festival was with Louis, the Sapsucker (which is what maple syrup enthusiasts call themselves).  Louis took us on a guided tour of one of the walking trails at the site, taught us how to identify bigleaf maples even when there are no leaves on them, and showed us the basics of tapping the trees.

Cooking down bigleaf maple sap at the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Cooking down sap takes many hours, an outdoor venue and careful attention

Bigleaf maples are apparently pretty much indestructible – Louis pointed out several tap holes from past years that had healed over nicely.  Sugar maples, the common sap producer in Quebec, are much more delicate and can be easily killed.  So, it stands to reason that the bigleaf variety of maple would be the one of choice if maple syrup producers had their ‘druthers’.  At this point harvests are done from wild trees in the forests of B.C., but perhaps down the road it won’t be unusual to see cultivated bigleaf maple farms.

Vendor at Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival, Duncan,. Vancouver Island

One of several vendors at the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival

Louis demonstrated the tapping method – a simple drill hole into the tree, insertion of a spigot and drip tube, which feeds in to a covered plastic bucket.  The covers are necessary here on the west coast because of bear activity in the wilds.

We also learned from Louis that weather and sunshine exposure have a great influence on the amount of sap that a tree will yield. Time of year for tapping is a consideration as well – late winter and early spring are the best.

Bigleaf Maple Syrup foodstuffs at Duncan, Vancouver island

Bigleaf maple syrup can be used in a variety of ways

Following the introduction to tapping we wandered back to an open field where various vendors and bigleaf maple syrup enthusiasts had set up booths.  Much to our surprise there were a number of vendors selling bigleaf maple syrup, produced from trees on their properties.  Tasting opportunities abounded and we discovered that, although the syrups all came from the same species of tree, flavours varied based on where those trees were located.  We are fans of the dark syrup and stronger flavour, but there were also lighter, amber syrups available. Terroir, apparently, has everything to do with the finished product, as it does with tea and wine.

The folks at Teafarm (http://www.teafarm.ca/) were also set up at the festival, offering free cups of their Mad Hatter Tea blended with the local maple syrup – a refreshing and different take on ‘the way of tea’, for sure.

Bigleaf maple syrup on pancakes, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Mmmm! Is there anything better than pure bigleaf maple syrup on pancakes?

Of course, we ended up purchasing small bottles of a number of varieties of syrup, which immediately got served over pancakes at breakfast the next day.  There is still some left and I am thinking it would be very lovely over something simple like a really good vanilla ice cream – the local syrup seems to be thicker than the product from out east and would make an excellent addition to a special dish. One vendor was offering a variety of maple syrup-added foodstuffs that included a maple salad dressing, jam and maple whipped butter – clearly the uses for this sweet local product are varied.

Although the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is over for this year, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the 2017 version.  And if you happen to see any bigleaf maple syrup for sale in your travels, be sure to purchase a bottle – you won’t regret it, guaranteed!

The Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is held at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan at 2892 Drinkwater Road.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.802032  Long. -123.715267

N 48 48.122  W 123 42.916

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Avenue Bistro in Comox offers upscale casual dining

Crispy chicken cordon bleu burger at Avenue Bistro, Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken cordon bleu burger and coconut yam soup

We recently piled in to Comox’s Avenue Bistro for a late lunch that not only saved me from cooking a big supper, but left our palates in a very happy state.

After hearing and reading about Avenue for many years – but never getting around to eating on the ‘other side’ of the Courtenay River – we stepped through the door of Avenue ravenous.  One of the big problems with the Courtenay/Comox area – and what a nice problem to have – is that there are so many great places for a meal that it is difficult to try them all.

With it being January we obviously weren’t going to eat on the spacious outdoor patio, so chose a table near the window, away from the darker interior tables and booths.

It took us a while to work our way through the tantalizing menu. I was trying to decide whether to order a couple of the tempting starters – both the polenta stack and the Togarashi crusted albacore tuna stacks caught my eye – or one of the pizzas that had set set my mouth to watering.  But then I got down to the list of sandwiches and that was the end of my indecision.

Avenue Bistro interior in Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The interior of Avenue Bistro

I ordered the chicken cordon bleu burger – a sublime combination of crispy fried chicken breast, local camembert cheese, Tannadice ham, tomato, arugula, red onion and smoked paprika aioli. The burger came with the soup of the day, a silky and luscious coconut yam soup that left me thinking I needed to ask for the recipe.

My husband chose the West Coast Clubhouse – a combination of salmon, wild Pacific shrimp, avocado mash, tomato and greens on toasted foccacia.  The sandwich arrived with an abundance of skinny fries.

Needless to say, we both had full and happy stomachs at the end of the meal.  There was so much food on my side of the table that I didn’t quite finish the burger.

West coast clubhouse sandwich at Avenue Bistro, Comox, Vancouver Island

West Coast Clubhouse

It was good to see on the Avenue menu that they use many locally-produced foodstuffs – a trend that seems to have really taken hold in the Comox Valley. The ramped-up flavour and freshness of everything from meat to cheeses to greens shines through when meals land on the table.

Avenue describes itself as an upscale casual eatery, and I would say that’s a pretty accurate definition for this place. The menus are varied and offer lots of interesting and flavourful dining options, and the physical space, while perhaps a little on the dark side, is comfortable and welcoming.

Avenue Bistro is located at 2064 Comox Avenue, Comox.  Further information on Avenue Bistro can be found at the website:

http://www.avenuebistro.ca/#modernfood

 Price rating: $$

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.675972  Long. -124.938160

N 49 40.558    W 124 56.290

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Parksville’s Top Bridge Regional Trail

Suspension bridge at Top Bridge Community Park, Parksville,Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The suspension bridge at Top Bridge is a popular destination

It’s a little confusing trying to decide where to start out, but Parksville’s Top Bridge Regional Trail is worth the effort of spending a few minutes on-line to figure out how to access this pretty network of hiking trails, mountain bike tracks, suspension bridge and meandering riverside walks.

View from Top Bridge Community Park suspension bridge, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

View from the bridge, looking up-river

Top Bridge is accessible from several points in the Parksville area, giving visitors a variety of choices as to how far they want to hike and what their preferred activities may be. The trail stretches for 5 kilometres (3 miles) between the very beautiful Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park up to the bottom tip of Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.  Those looking for a bit of a less strenuous outing might want to consider beginning their adventure from Tuan Road in the industrial park (3.5 kilometres, or 2 miles) or it is possible to drive almost right to the suspension bridge on both sides.

Fishermen at Englishman River, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Englishman River is a popular destination for anglers

We began our exploration at the end of Allsbrook Road, where Top Bridge Community Park bumps up against Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.  We scrambled down one of the steep mountain bike trails rather than taking the road down to the 81-metre (265 feet) long suspension bridge.  Completed in 2007, the bridge spans the Englishman River and offers pretty views in all directions.

Man and Irish Setter on Top Bridge Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pretty views abound along the trail, along with sheer rock faces that run right down to trail level

We discovered after crossing the bridge that it is also possible to drive almost right up to the bridge on the other side, (Chattel Road) where a spacious parking lot acts as the jumping-off point for adventurers of all ages. Easy access to the river means folks  – and their dogs – are able to enjoy the rushing water and the many interesting rock formations that, in some spots, run right down to the riverbed.

Englishman River, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Englishman River is beautiful even on a winter’s day

At the end of the parking lot nearest the bridge we found the trail that would lead us all the way to Rathtrevor Beach.

Suspension bridge viewed from Englishman River, Top Bridge Regional Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking up from the river at the suspension bridge

While the trail is a little rough in spots it is very well constructed – good solid footing and substantial railings and stairs made the hike very enjoyable. We marveled at the sheer rock faces running right down to trail level, and dreamed of returning during the warmer months for a picnic on the riverbank.  There are several quiet swimming holes, and even in the dead of winter we saw anglers on the opposite bank. The Englishman is a good spot for fishermen hoping to catch salmon, winter steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Top Bridge Regional Trail, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the sheer rock faces on the trail – massive and very impressive!

The Top Bridge Trail wends its way up hill and down dale, through some private property, under Highway 19 and concludes (if you do the entire hike) in the heart of Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.  We didn’t do the whole trail, but plan in future to work our way up from the Rathtrevor end.

Mountain bike trail at Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

If you are looking for a workout you can scale some of the mountain bike trails….

There is also a comprehensive mountain bike circuit on the Chattell Road side of the bridge, and many minor trails lead off the main one, either into the forest or down to the river.  Plenty of opportunity for exploring and enjoying the wild beauty of this pristine area, thanks to the foresight of the Nanaimo Regional District.

            Further information on Top Bridge Regional Trail, including an excellent map with trailhead markers,  can be found at:

http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2614

GPS co-ordinates for the Chattell Road access point to the trail are:

Lat. 49.297843  Long. -124.266254

N 49 17.871  W 124 15.972

 

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Qualicum Beach’s Butlers at the Mansion

It has taken a while, but what has had the possibility of becoming one of Qualicum Beach’s premier dining spots has finally reached its full potential. Butler’s at the Mansion is located in an historic century-old home that is part boutique hotel, part privately-owned condominiums and part restaurant.

Butlers occupies two large areas of the main floor of the Crown Mansion.  Both the hotel and restaurant retain the grace and beauty of a well-built, well lived-in home.  Coffered ceilings, beautiful fireplaces, crown moldings and wainscoting reflect the luxury and comfort of bygone days. The beautiful restoration makes it entirely possible to imagine what it must have been like in the early 1900s when the likes of John Wayne, Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth and the King of Siam were guests of General Noel Money.

Dining room at Butlers at the Mansion, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Fine dining in a beautiful setting

Happily, that elegant and sumptuous ambiance continues at Butlers.  Fine linens and glassware and warming fireplaces combine with beautiful upholstered chairs, great service and wonderful food to enhance a special meal out.

We recently enjoyed dinner at Butlers on a dreary winter evening, starting with a large serving of calamari, then following on with our main courses.  Always a soft touch for anything with saffron in it, I fell victim to the luscious Linguine al Pesce – a brimming plate of pasta topped with a bounty of shrimp, scallops and prawns napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce.  Again, very generous portions – I took some home for lunch the following day.

Seafood linguine napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce

Seafood linguine napped in a saffron lemon cream sauce

My husband opted for the pork tenderloin with fresh blackberries in a blackberry demi-glace, served with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables – a dish that he deemed very flavourful and, again, very filling.

We finished the evening with an amaretto crème brulee that still makes me wonder at the beauty of it.  A silky, rich custard with just the very slightest hint of amaretto – a transcendent dessert experience if ever there was one.

While Butlers prices are in line with any other fine dining establishment, a special that is offered each Tuesday and Wednesday night will get you a three course meal from a set menu for $29 – great value for the money, and a good way to explore the many lovely facets of the place.

Amaretto crème brulee

Amaretto crème brulee

I have to admit that when Butlers first re-opened in the early summer of 2015 I wondered at the introduction of an ‘Italian’ style menu – it just didn’t seem to fit the physical surroundings of early 20th century Qualicum Beach. By the time we were finished with our meal I was convinced that, while perhaps a little odd, the arrangement works.  The current operators are former owners of a very successful Italian eatery in the Comox Valley, and when they moved to Qualicum they brought their entire staff with them. The end result is great food and service in a truly magnificent setting – and really, who cares about anything other than that when it comes to dining out?            wheelchair-lFurther information on Butlers at the Mansion can be found at the website:

            http://crownmansion.com/restaurant/

Price rating: $$

Butlers at the Mansion is located in the Crown Mansion,  292 Crescent Road East.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.354477  Long. -124.433550

N 49 21.269  W 124 26.013

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Brickyard Park – a hidden treasure in Nanoose

Bench ViewIt’s not very big, but there is a treasure of a park tucked away in the Nanoose area that is a secret favourite of the locals.  Brickyard Park is a five-acre (2 hectare) chunk of rocky waterfront outcrop that offers spectacular views of the Winchelsea Islands, wildlife viewing, swimming, scuba diving and kayaking….or a place to simply sit and contemplate life.

View of Winchelsea Islands from Brickyard Park

Rudimentary trails at Brickyard Park lead to beautiful views

The park was dedicated by the developers of the upscale Fairwinds development in Nanoose.  Surrounded by expensive waterfront homes perched on the cliffs on either side, Brickyard Park (or Brickyard Bay, or Brickyard Cove, as it is sometimes known) is overseen by the Nanaimo Regional District.  The trails are rudimentary at best, but a little exploration reveals pretty views from various points, and a wealth of vegetation ranging from Garry Oaks to arbutus trees.

Brick remnants in Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Remnants of brick from a century ago are still seen embedded in pathways and tree roots

The name for Brickyard Park comes from its history.  In 1911 enterprising pioneers in the area began hauling clay from the surrounding fields to the tiny protected bay area. Barges hauled coal to the site to fire the kilns, and were then utilized to haul away the finished bricks to world markets.  More than a century later there are still remnants of the bricks to be found embedded in tree roots and some of the pathways.   The clearing of the clay laid the base for what is now the local golf course, although it took many years before that facility and the surrounding residential development would become a reality. Original plans to develop a high-end community on the 1350 acres now known as Fairwinds were spawned in 1929.  But, of course, there couldn’t have been a worse time for developers to be planning such an initiative and over the years the land reverted to livestock pasture.  The property changed hands a number of times, and more recent developments have seen the original dream becoming reality.

Pebble beach at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

The small pebble beach offers safe swimming and pretty views

We spent about an hour knocking about at Brickyard Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and saw only two other people.  There are benches perched in various locations that allow different views of water, outlying islands and mountains – a perfect spot for a picnic on a warm day.  The small bay where the brickworks was actually located offers a pretty, protected gravel beach.  And a wander up through the forest reveals bits of brick and moss-covered footings that were obviously part of the actual brickworks.

Benches at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Benches are located at several locations, offering varying views

While the walking at Brickyard Park isn’t particularly arduous the trails are, as mentioned earlier, pretty rudimentary.  To get to the best observation spots be prepared to take your time and work your way over rocky outcrops. Good footwear is a must.  It will all be worth the effort and extra care though – this sweet little hideaway park is one of the Island’s most enchanting.

Sign To get to Brickyard Park you need to get to Amberwood Lane, which is off Andover Road in Nanoose.  There is a sign for the park at the trailhead.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.275667  Long. -124.120206

N 49 16.540  W 124 07.212

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Courtenay’s Locals at The Old House earns highest LEAF certification for environmentally friendly ‘green’ practises

Exterior BestWe begin this brand new year with a story with a bit of a different twist.  But it is the kind of feature that nonetheless has an impact for many reasons – we are writing this week about the first restaurant in British Columbia to earn the top level of LEAF certification – and that restaurant is right here on Vancouver Island.

LEAF is the acronym for Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice.  Founded in Calgary in 2009, the non-profit organization is a third party certifier of sustainability for food service establishments.  The association has three levels of certification, with Level III being the highest.  Locals at the Old House in Courtenay has been working its way up the LEAF ladder for a number of years, and has now reached the highest level of official recognition.

LEAF considers hundreds of matters when a restaurant applies for certification, with the aim of reducing overall environmental impact of the food service industry. One of the major goals is to encourage restaurants to patronize area growers and suppliers. Locals was one of the first ones on the Island out of the gate on that front so it had a running start.

Locals earned its Level I certification while still at its old location in a strip mall, but a move to the beloved Old House on the Courtenay waterfront in 2008 inspired restaurant owners Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre to strive for an even ‘greener’ status.  Extensive renovations at The Old House and implementation of new systems that better supported green practice brought the restaurant up to Level II certification.  More recently Locals reached the pinnacle of certification from LEAF with yet more fine tuning

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

The past year has seen Locals build upon its improvements with a number of adjustments. A switch to a green eco-logo line of certified products from Planet Clean, upgrading of kitchen equipment with Energy Star appliances and development of their own kitchen food scrap management strategies all contributed to the higher certification from LEAF.

The St. Pierres are never content to rest on their laurels, however. Just last month during a meeting with Tricia she was mentioning that Locals is now giving thought to how to reduce their water usage – another laudable goal that puts the Locals folks in the forefront not only for exquisite food, but social responsibility.

            Further information on LEAF, including a list of certified restaurants (Locals is actually the ONLY restaurant certified in all of British Columbia at this point) can be found at:

http://leafme.ca/

 

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

christmas05[1]We are taking a couple of weeks off to spend time with family and friends over the holidays. Many thanks to our readers all over the world for your continued support,  loyalty and ideas – we are now wrapping up our fourth year of producing weekly stories for the website, and have loved every minute of it.  We will be off on new adventures in the New Year, beginning on Thursday, January 7.  Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all.  See you in 2016!

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Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise offers many delights

Pastry case at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The pastry case at Sweet Surprise is bursting with delectable gluten-free goodies

I have always been a sucker for interesting-looking restaurants and cafes.  Whenever we travel we are always on the lookout for unique dining experiences and, with very few exceptions the places that look like they have character are the ones that serve up some of the best food. And so it was that we landed, quite unplanned and unexpectedly in  Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café..  We drove by and I couldn’t resist the charming curb appeal of the place. So we back-tracked.

Strata at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The strata is a perfect combination of flavours

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Let me make it clear that neither my husband nor myself have any major food sensitivities, although our aging stomachs occasionally protest at some off-the-wall dining experiment.  We don’t generally frequent gluten-free restaurants, but we are not averse to sampling their wares on occasion. And, as I have already mentioned, the curb appeal of Sweet Surprise just got me. We also had a friend who is gluten-free travelling with us so…..we had a bunch of good reasons to step through the door into this undeniably cute café.

Dining table at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Sweet décor at Sweet Surprise – casual, warm and welcoming

What we found at Sweet Surprise was a happy combination of reasonable prices, hearty portions of good food and an interesting history.  Opened in July, 2014, the café was an offshoot of a farmers market vendor booth – which was a consequence of, of all things, an international student.

Purple chandelier at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Baklery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Not your average chandelier!

The international student staying in the home of the Sweet Surprise owners was a celiac, so for the entire length of the student’s stay the entire family ate gluten-free.  After the student left the family returned to ‘normal’ eating, but discovered that a couple of family members weren’t feeling as well with the re-introduction of gluten.  So, it was back to gluten free.  One thing led to another, which turned out to be a vendor booth at the wildly popular Comox Farmers Market and that eventually evolved into the charming mother/daughter operated café where we landed on a recent wintery afternoon.

Gluten-free fruit tart at Sweet Surprise Cafe and Bakery, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Gluten-free fruit tart bursting with flavour – a sweet surprise indeed

The menu at Sweet Surprise changes daily, with offerings of delicious soups, pizza, gluten-free sandwiches and a mélange of other options, depending on the day. The three of us settled on a cross-section that included soup that was bursting with flavour, a generous bowl of macaroni and cheese with chicken and spinach, a liberal slice of strata with the perfect balance of herbs and a vegetarian sandwich stuffed with roasted vegetables. We shared three desserts – a luscious cupcake infused with fresh fruit, a slice of heavenly dense chocolate mint bar and a lemon tart, also filled in the center with fresh fruit. All of it was tasty and left us in a happy haze of satiation.

The café is small, but the unusual colour scheme of green and purple works nicely, adding to the coziness and quaint atmosphere.  We enjoyed good, cheerful service, along with the local art (offered for sale) on the walls – it all added up to a pleasant break in a busy day.

            You can find more about Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café and their daily offerings  on their Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/sweetsurprisegf?ref=hl

Sweet Surprise is located at 526 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay

Price rating: $

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.691165  Long. -124.996859

N 49 41.470 W 124 59.812

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Port Alberni’s Great Sail Past

Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Boats came in all shapes and sizes, from small to large

Wow! What a night!  I am fast coming to the conclusion that Port Alberni residents are among the most resilient, tough and fun-loving people on the Island.  That was proven out once again this past weekend when we journeyed to the Alberni Valley to take in the second annual sail past at the city’s downtown Harbour Quay.

Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Being a big fishing town, there were lots of fishing themed decorations on the boats

The weather, in a word, was nothing short of filthy – torrential downpours and winds gusting up in the 70 kmh range – a bit of a challenge for an open air event.  But Port Alberni folks turned out in the hundreds to take in the festivities.

There was a bit of confusion over start times for the affair – some advance publicity had it commencing at 6 p.m., while other missives publicized a 7 p.m. launch.  Ever erring on the side of caution, we arrived shortly before 6 to discover that all the nearby parking spots were occupied – we ended up parking near the heritage train station, just a short walk away, and joined dozens of others headed for the waterfront.            Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWe arrived at the quay to find two huge barbecues (under cover) being used to cook hot dogs, available by donation – or free if you couldn’t chip in any cash. From there we ventured out in to the wind and rain to hang over the railing and enjoy a colourful procession of 18 festively-lighted boats.  They were all shapes and sizes and they sported different themes – every one unique and beautifully executed. Each boat had a number attached so that spectators could vote for their favourites, with cash prizes handed out at the end of the evening.           Decorated fishing boat at Port Alberni sail past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia The lighted boats continued to circle in front of the quay for close to half an hour despite the high winds and driving rain.  And then, a huge barge set off one of the most magnificent fireworks displays we have had the pleasure of viewing – it went on for several minutes and featured some really spectacular pyrotechnics.

The boats headed for cover in the protected harbour following the fireworks – rising winds no doubt were causing some anxiety, and by then everyone was soaked to the gunwales anyhow.

Fireworks at Port Alberni sail past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A spectacular display of fireworks finished off the sail past

We sloshed back to one of several portable firepits (also under cover) to warm up, then headed over to the very busy Donut Shop, a permanent favourite fixture on the quay.  Hot chocolate and donuts purchased, we trundled over to another part of the quay’s commercial area where we discovered Santa, all snug and warm in his own little cubby hole, waiting to greet the children and hand out candy canes.

Several portable fire pits helped add to the cheer - and the warmth - of the evening

Several portable fire pits helped add to the cheer – and the warmth – of the evening

Also tucked over in that vicinity were a number of craft booths, under cover but outdoors.  It can’t have been a great evening for sales for the vendors, but they stuck it out. We couldn’t help but feel badly for them but once again the Port Alberni resilience shone through – they were all cheerful and helpful despite the miserable conditions, and they were exhibiting some really lovely and unique items.

Decorated Christmas tree at Harbour Quay, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

And of course, there is a giant Christmas tree located in the centre of everything

So, another great event on the Port Alberni calendar. Despite the nasty weather we enjoyed every second of the sail past activities and the festive atmosphere. There is an old saying about adversity bringing out the best in people and that was proven in spades – again – this past weekend.  Methinks this gathering is going to become a new annual Christmas tradition for us, come rain or wind or…well, whatever.

I don’t generally acknowledge commercial supporters of events in my articles, but we really need to offer a tip of the hat to the Blue Marlin Inn for getting behind this splendid family-oriented evening. I am sure that with each successive year the sail past will become bigger and better organized. It’s a great contribution to life in the Alberni Valley.

            There is no website for the sail past, but if you keep an eye on the Blue Marlin Inn’s Facebook page you will be able to get all the details for future sail pasts there:

https://www.facebook.com/BlueMarlinInnArlingtonHotel/

            wheelchair-lThe sail past is held at Harbour Quay in downtown Port Alberni.

Alberni Harbour Quay is located at the foot of Argyle Street in downtown Port Alberni.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

 Lat.  49.23442732946449

Long.  -124.81503009796142

N 49 14.066  W 124 48.902

 

 

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

The Soup Pot – home-made goodness in Courtenay

Bakes French onion soup at The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Baked French onion soup – yum!

There isn’t anything much better on a cold winter’s day than a bowl of luscious hot soup.  But finding a place that specialized in this timeless favourite was a no-go for a couple in Courtenay – despite their best efforts there was little on offer in their community other than the restaurants that listed soup on their menus or as a daily special. So, in September Brad and Sonya took over a tiny roadside venue right on the main drag in to town, re-named it The Soup Pot, and went to work.  By October they were offering a medley of soups and other offerings.

The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Brad and Sonya – cheerful owners make for a happy dining experience

Our curiousity (and our grumbling tummies) got the better of us on a recent visit to Courtenay and we popped in to this funky little spot for a quick bite to eat. Although it was well past the lunch hour the place was humming – customers from nearby businesses were showing up in droves to pick up a take-out meal.  We opted to dine in, perched on stools at the counter running along the front windows.  It was almost nice enough to sit at the outdoor tables situated under a big awning, but the winter sun wasn’t quite providing enough warmth for that.

Brad, cheerful and boisterous, happily informed us of what was left on the menu.  With all of the soups and the chili priced at $6 or a variety of sandwiches at $8 we certainly had no quarrel with the cost.  The soups and chili come with a fresh scone, so we each opted for that choice.

The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Customers can either ‘dine in’ at the tiny restaurant or order take-out

My husband ordered the cheese and asparagus soup – a creamy delight that combined the two flavours with subtlety.  I got a taste of it and my mouth still waters at the thought of it.  I went with the baked French onion soup – tons of oniony flavour, topped by the classic combination of bread and cheese, melted to a delightfully gooey finish. Our soups were accompanied by a slice of buttered bread – a new batch of scones had just gone in to the oven and we were too hungry to wait.  We did purchase one to bring home, however, and I can vouch for their light, savoury excellence.  There was so much soup in the generously-sized bowls that I couldn’t finish mine.

Exterior view of The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

There is a covered outdoor eating area as well as a tiny patio at the side of The Soup Pot

Brad and Sonya make all their own soups from scratch, and source as many of their ingredients here on Vancouver Island as they can. The menu changes every day, with 3 – 5 soup offerings, sometimes chili (vegetarian and otherwise) and a variety of sandwiches. The aim is to provide healthy options at reasonable prices, and it certainly appears that The Soup Pot is accomplishing its goal.

In addition to great value for your dollar you get the benefit of a light, bright atmosphere enhanced by the upbeat and friendly owners. Just a couple of months in, they already know the names of many of their customers – a sure sign that the place is popular for all the right reasons.

Price rating: $

            Further information on The Soup Pot can be found on the website at: http://www.thesouppotcourtenay.com/

Thei daily offerings can be found on their Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/thesouppot31/?fref=ts

The Soup Pot is located at 2780 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.674529  Long. -124.981407

N 49 40.472  W 124 58.884

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