More great food at Qualicum Bay’s West Coast Food House

chicken pesto quesadillas at West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken pesto quesadillas

I don’t know how the tiny settlement of Qualicum Bay got so lucky in the ‘eating out’ department, but a second notable dining option in the form of West Coast Food House is helping put the seaside community on the map for lovers of good food.

It should come as no surprise that the new place is operated in partnership by Ashley Martz, owner of the much-loved and heavily patronized Tidal Taco Shack, just a few hundred feet down the Old Island Highway. The Taco Shack’s reputation has grown exponentially, based mostly on word-of-mouth and its generous and delicious offerings. The West Coast Food House seems destined to follow in the Taco Shack’s footsteps, if the new place’s track record in its first seven weeks is any indication.

Bar area at West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The bar area, as seen from one of the separate dining areas

Normally we wait at least three months after a new place opens to give them a chance to settle in, get menus and service sorted and work out any other kinks there may be in the operation. We broke our own rule this time around thanks to the urging of foodie friends, who accompanied us on our initial venture to West Coast Food House. I am happy to report we suffered no regrets.

Kids room at West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The kids room

The layout of West Coast Food House is kind of interesting – three distinct areas occupy the high-ceilinged cedar-clad building. Two separate dining areas are centred by a large room with a bar area and big-screen television sets. There is also a room for kids, complete with comfy sofas and a big screen TV, where the little ones can occupy themselves watching a movie while their parents enjoy a meal – a stroke of genius, to be sure. The high ceilings and bare floors combined with rather loud music made for a bit of a noisy dining experience, although I am sure that is all muffled when there are more patrons – we went for a late lunch, so not a lot of folks were there when we visited.

Comfort Zone Salad at West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Comfort Zone Salad

And the food? Well – nothing short of delicious. Although the menu is fairly limited West Coast Food House does justice to the varied menu offerings. There is a focus on fresh local seafood, but for those who have other preferences there are options as well, including bison sliders. There is also a kids menu that is inviting for the younger set.

The day we visited West Coast Food House three of our party of four ordered the daily special – a plate heaped with chicken pesto quesadillas with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, spinach and red onion. The quesadillas were accompanied by a green salad with a delicious house-made herb vinaigrette (they should be selling this stuff by the bottle!) and crispy, perfectly-seasoned potato wedges. Plenty of good food, great flavour combinations and a reasonable price – all three in our party who ordered the special decreed it excellent, and all of us are hoping that the offering will eventually appear on the regular menu.

Apple caramel dessert at West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vanouver Island, British Columbia

Mouthwatering apple caramel dessert

Being the renegade that I am, (and wanting photos of more than one menu item for this article) I ordered the Comfort Zone Salad. The combination of generous portions of mixed artisan greens, candied pecans, crunchy nuts, sliced red onion and apple, dried cranberries and a bountiful dollop of a lovely creamy goat cheese combined with a maple vinaigrette to leave me happily full. There is great value in this offering as well, at just $9.

We finished off by sharing a decadent slice of an apple-caramel concoction nestled on a shortbread-style crust.

Exterior of West Coast Food House, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Look for this building on Highway 19A if you need a great meal!

Service, courtesy of our delightful waitress Lisa, was excellent, and we liked the fact that natural light floods in from the many large windows in the place. Lisa let us in on the restaurant’s plans for ‘special’ nights like Taco Tuesday (surprise!), Wing Wednesdays and features like buckets of seafood. (The Coconut Curry Mussels already on the menu come highly recommended by our dining companions, by the way).

Although West Coast Food House hasn’t been open long I have a sneaking suspicion that it won’t remain a local secret for any great length of time. The combination of good, simple food at reasonable prices, great service and a relaxed ambiance is destined to have folks coming from near and far, just as they do for the Tidal Taco Shack. Personally, I can’t wait to get back there.

Further information on West Coast Food House can be found at the website at:

https://sites.google.com/site/wcfoodhouse/home

Price rating: $-$$

West Coast Food House is located at 6060 Island Highway West, Qualicum Bay.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.403678 Long. -124.630058

N 49 24.221 W 124 37.803

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History underfoot at Union Bay’s Washer Creek

Family and dog on Coal Hills Trail, Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Coal Hills Trail is a perfect location for a family walk

On a recent cold, clear day we decamped to a rather obscure walking trail that found us, literally, walking on history. We had passed the parking area for the Washer Creek coal hill trails near Union Bay hundreds of times without ever having the time to stop, but a trip to pick up our regular bread order from Just Like Mom’s Bakery, also in Union Bay, afforded us the opportunity to explore this most interesting site.

Looking south from the Coal Hills trail near Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking south from the peninsula

The village of Union Bay was once a bustling coal port, with high grade coal from Cumberland being shipped by rail to the waterfront where it was washed, processed and loaded onto sea-going ships for delivery all over the world. The slim peninsula that stretches into the water across from the heart of the village is the most prominent vestige of the shipping port, although a wander along that pathway and back along the easternmost edge towards Comox offers up other residue as well.

Railway tie plate artifact at Coal Hill trail near Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Remnants of the colliery abound, including this railway tie plate

Known locally as the Union Bay Coal Hills, the trail network is a popular destination for families and dog walkers. There is a variety of walking options, all relatively easy and flat. Pretty vistas abound in all directions and, as mentioned earlier, the trails and beachfront are riddled with remnants of the yesteryear that saw Union Bay develop beginning in 1887. Several wharf pilings continue to dot the waterscape – the last signs that a 600-foot long pier once jutted out in to Baynes Sound to accommodate the ocean-going vessels. Many of the masted ships were so large that they had to be escorted up Baynes Sound between Vancouver Island and Denman Island by tug boats.

Wooden pipe on beachfront at Coal Hill trail near Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

An old wooden pipe, found along the beach front

In its heyday the peninsula was host to coking ovens, a railway that delivered the coal, machine shops and a coal washer (hence the change of name from Hart Creek to the more commonly -known Washer Creek),

View to Comox from Coal Hill trail, Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view to the north, towards Comox, with some of the old wharf pilings in the forefront

Keep trekking back from the southern point of the peninsula towards the north and you will find bits of old railway grade, wooden pipes, broken bricks and a host of other industrial bits and pieces that speak to the past of the area. Walk even further along and you will end up at the 13 hectare (32 acre) coal hills, comprised of the offal from the coal washing process. This area is privately owned and posted by a development company that, since 2010, has been proposing a 3,000 home sustainable development with a 27-hole golf course, marina, hotels, capping of the coal hills and all the other bits and pieces that seem to go along with high-end developments these days. To date there appears to have been no movement on this, but for anyone interested in the history and remains of this vital area it would be worthwhile to visit sooner rather than later.

old rail bed at Coal Hill trail, Union Bay, Vanocuver Island, British Columbia

It’s a level, pretty easy walk, thanks to the old rail bed route

In any event, visitors to the Washer Creek area tend to hike up the coal hills, posted as private or not, to enjoy the spectacular views of big sky, water and mountains to the north. The slopes are gentle and an easy climb for pretty much anyone. All-told we spent just over an hour exploring the area, but your adventure can easily be made shorter or longer depending on the route you take.

Driftwood at Coal Hill trail, Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaFinding the Washer Creek trails is simple – just a little north of the village of Union Bay on the east side of Highway 19A there is a graveled parking area. You can pull in there and access the trails and pathways very easily.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.587447 Long.-124.887204

N 49 35.247 W 124 53.232

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Deep Bay Marine Field Station

Deep Bay Marine Field Station exterior, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaIt took almost two years to build, start to finish, but the careful design and consideration of natural habitat at the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, combined with a fascinating look at the sea life that surrounds us on the Island, has combined to create a compelling destination.

Fish at Deep Bay Marine Field Station, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe marine station is located a little off the beaten path at Deep Bay, a small waterfront community at the south end of Baynes Sound on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Operated by Vancouver Island University, the centre is home to research facilities, culinary events (usually featuring shellfish), educational opportunities, social events and a myriad of intriguing sea life. For visitors, it offers a glimpse into the spectacular world of the ocean and all the beautiful (and some not-so-beautiful) creatures that inhabit it. touch-tanks-overheadThere is a huge aquarium located on the upper floor and a series of ‘touch tanks’ on the lower floor that encourages kids of all ages to handle the sea life therein. Interpretive signage throughout the building chronicles much of what goes on at the centre, and views of the research labs can be seen from the upper mezzanine, looking downwards.

Upper mezanine at the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, Britiswh ColumbiaThe building itself is an inspired design in the shape of a clam shell – fitting, considering its purpose. It is totally wheelchair-accessible and incorporates hundreds of environmentally-friendly features, keeping with VIU’s goals of sustainability. A glance at the poster featuring current and future plans for development of the site reinforces the dedication to the ‘greenest’ project humanly possible.

Fish artwork at Deep Bay Marine Field Station, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaIn addition to all of the sea life and interpretive displays the field station is graced with some fine-looking artwork in various mediums. On the upper floor there is a small gift shop area filled with beautiful ocean-oriented items courtesy of the Salish Sea Market, a unique shop in nearby Bowser that features local artisans.

Pink and white sea anenome at Deep Bay Marine Field Station, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe field station is open 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. daily with the occasional closing for special events, so best to check the website calendar prior to making a foray in that direction. Admission is a very reasonable $7 for adults, $3 for children (6-17 years) and kids under 6 get in free when accompanied by an adult.

Although visitors primarily partake of self-guided tours of the centre, special events offer a broader taste of what makes the place so special – there is something for almost everyone, young or old.

White sea anenome at Deep Bay Marine Field Station, Deep Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaOne way or the other, at any time of the year, a trip to the Deep Bay Marine Field Station is well worth the effort. It is filled with unusual beauty and educational opportunities not to be found anywhere else on the Island.

For further information on the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, go to the website at

http://www.viu.ca/deepbay/about/Mission.asp

The centre is located at 370 Chrome Point Road, Bowser/Deep Bay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.45652068756555 Long. -124.73173141479492

N 49 27.391 W 124 43.904

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

christmas05[1]We are taking a few 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 fifth 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 5.  Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all.  See you in 2017!

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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

 

We are greatly looking forward to attending this great community event again this coming Sunday, December 4.  This ‘encore presentation’ from last year’s sail past will give our readers a good idea of what fun it is, even in the worst weather.  Thankfully the weather gods are predicting better weather for 2016 – there may even be a little bit of snow to add to the festive atmosphere.  So bundle up the kids, pack up the camera and be prepared for a fun evening that will appeal to every member of your family. The Port Alberni Sail Past festivities are slated to run from 5-9 p.m.

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

 

 

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Milner’s Christmas Magic in Qualicum Beach

Tens of thousands of colourful lights brighten the historic Milner estate for the annual Christmas Magic event

Tens of thousands of colourful lights brighten the historic Milner estate for the annual Christmas Magic event

The magic of the Christmas season arrives at  Qualicum Beach’s  Milner Gardens beginning December 2, offering up a cornucopia of festive delights not to be found anywhere else on the Island.

Every year there are new displays, such as this lighted archway en route to the house

Every year there are new displays, such as this lighted archway en route to the house

The historic Milner estate is a 70-acre blend of forest and waterfront woodland garden anchored by an enchanting gabled house that was completed in 1931. The garden and house are a major attraction for visitors and area residents throughout the year for a variety of events, but the Milner Christmas Magic experience has to be one of its most popular.

            Designed to appeal to kids of all ages, Milner’s yuletide attraction begins with a leisurely walk or shuttle ride along the lengthy winding driveway that leads to the house. The driveway is strung with lights, and static decorative displays along the way draw the eye and build anticipation of what is to come. When the driveway terminates at the house and 10-acre waterfront garden visitors are greeted with an eye-popping blaze of thousands of multi-coloured lights.  They are strung from trees, along the house and from almost any other vantage point you can imagine. It is impossible not to be cheered by the sight.

What would a Christmas event be without Santa and Mrs. Claus?

What would a Christmas event be without Santa and Mrs. Claus?

The light displays, however, are really just the beginning. The folks at Milner do an extraordinary job of creating the ambiance, charm and excitement of an old-fashioned Christmas in so many ways, and in many locations on the estate.

            The gracious old home is the main focus for much of the special activity that occurs. It is decorated end-to-end, indoors and out, with greenery and twinkling lights, evoking memories of a gentler time that preceded the commercial juggernaut of modern Christmases.

           One of the main attractions in the house is the story room, complete with comfy chairs and cushions on the floor. Volunteers spend the evenings reading to book fans young and old.

Christmas stories for kids at the main house - what could be better?

Christmas stories for kids at the main house – what could be better?

The beautiful tea room, complete with handsome fireplace and festive decorations, offers scrumptious treats and warm beverages – again, thanks to the work and dedication of many volunteers. There is a room offering live seasonal music for those who enjoy that aspect of this festive time of year, and another of the rooms is set up as a mini-shop, where visitors can purchase a variety of lovely items.

The tea room at the main house serves up warming deliciousness during the event

The tea room at the main house serves up warming deliciousness during the event

Volunteers also man an outdoor concession near the house where hot chocolate, hot dogs and other sustenance is available.

            There are other special spots on the estate as well, all located near the driveway access that leads to the house. The old gardener’s cottage is transformed into the Teddy Bear Cottage, and the pool house is an expanded permanent version of the shopping opportunity found at the main house.

The Teddy Bear Cottage is always a favourite attraction

The Teddy Bear Cottage is always a favourite attraction

All-in-all, Milner Christmas Magic is one of the best ways to begin the Christmas period. It offers a relaxed two or three hours that will take you back to the festive seasons of yesteryear; and who knows, you might even run in to Santa and Mrs. Claus!

            Comfortable footwear and warm clothing are recommended, and it’s not a bad idea to take a flashlight along. Admission to Milner Christmas Magic is by donation at the main entry gate.

            Dates and hours for the 2016 Milner Christmas Magic event are as follows:

December 2-4, December 9-11, December 16-21  from 5 – 8:30 p.m.

 Milner Gardens and Woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway at Qualicum Beach. Further information can be obtained at the website:

www.viu.ca/milnergardens/index.asp

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.352825  Long. -124.412852

N 49 21.170  W 124 24.771

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Ladysmith’s Christmas Festival of Lights extravaganza

 Ladysmith Festival of Lights street scene, Vancouver Island The Ladysmith Festival of Lights is worth planning ahead for and making the commitment to get to the Island from wherever you are. This is the 29th annual light-up that involves 1,ooo volunteer hours and tons of fun!  

Two hundred thousand Christmas lights grace the town of Ladysmith for the festive season

     For a small town of 8,000 Ladysmith, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Duncan, knows how to do it up right when it comes to kicking off the Christmas season.

Santa ready to light up the town at the Ladysmith Festival of Lights, Vancouver Island

When Santa appears on a rooftop, the big light-up is imminent

The town’s annual Festival of Lights, always held the final Thursday of November (weather permitting, this year November 24), is a great family outing and a huge attraction for those from far and wide. Upwards of 20,000 people attend, coming from all over Vancouver Island as well as from the Lower Mainland/Vancouver area and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

The afternoon gets under way with a big craft and gift sale at the Aggie Hall, and there is a community spaghetti dinner hosted by one of the local service clubs. As dusk falls the bright Christmas lighting and displays in the store windows come into play.  The merchants located all along the town’s main drag (First Avenue) and on several of the small side-streets stay open throughout the evening.   By 4 p.m. there is street entertainment on First Avenue, complemented by various concessions hosted by local businesses and service clubs.

Local merchants are enthusiastic participants with beautiful window displays, special sales and treats for attendees

            While many visitors to the area attend the community spaghetti dinner, we tend to opt for a quick, tasty and very inexpensive meal o at Appetit, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of the business district on First.  Quick service and a table shared put us in a happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening. We spend quite a bit of time checking out the many unique shops on First, then head up the hill to the area occupied by the mobile entertainment stage.  It is a perfect location – we have a great view of First Avenue all the way down the long, gradual slope, and also are almost directly across the street from the building atop which Santa appears promptly at 6:30 p.m.to ‘plug in the town lights.’  The light-up is spectacular – 200,000 Christmas lights blaze to life to the cheers of the crowd.

Everyone loves a parade, and the participants in this one go all out

The light-up is followed by a really great parade full of brightly decorated floats, clowns and participants from a wide variety of community organizations. It lasts a good solid hour, and is special enough to keep any kid (or adult!) enchanted. The evening wraps up with a huge fireworks display, providing the weather behaves itself and there isn’t too much wind. It can get cold, but the various concessions offering hot chocolate and other goodies help to keep energy levels up. A visit to Ladysmith’s Old Town Bakery for some of their scrumptious baked goods isn’t a bad idea either, we have discovered.

Clown at Ladysmith Festival of Lights, Vancouver Island

There is plenty of entertainment for the kids….

For anyone who is a Chrismaholic, loves parades and/or grand community events, this one is a great bet. The historic town, founded in 1900, has lots of interesting nooks and crannies (be sure to check out the antique store in the old Post Office/Customs building on the highway – even if you aren’t an antique aficionado, the building itself is full of history and an interesting look into the past)

Ladysmith Festival of Lights parade, Vancouver Island

Thousands line the parade route

Further information on Ladysmith and the Festival of Lights can be obtained by going to www.ladysmithfol.com/ or visit the visitor information centre at 411B First Avenue, phone 250-245-2112.

 The GPS co-ordinates are: Lat. 48.9926132

                                                 Long.  -123.8163

                                S 124 26.022  W 123 48.982

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Qualicum Beach offers a charming small town kick-off to Christmas with Moonlight Madness

Decorated streets for Moonlight Madness in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver IslandThere’s nothing better than sparkling lights, special treats, beautiful displays and Christmas music to put one in the mood for the yuletide season. The Qualicum Beach merchants do a bang-up job of kicking off the festive period with their annual Moonlight Madness event, this year scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17.

Steet decoration for Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver IslandWe usually venture out after dark to take in the activities and, rain or clear skies, there are always hundreds of people out enjoying Moonlight Madness along with us. Things get under way at 5:30 p.m. and run until 9 p.m. Virtually all of the local merchants stay open late (an unusual occurrence in Qualicum Beach), offering everything from good cheer to great deals to free popcorn, hot chocolate or mulled cider.

Merchant dressed for Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Local merchants are enthusiastic participants.

This year marks the 22nd event for Moonlight Madness, and every time we go there is more to enjoy throughout the evening. It is organized by the Qualicum Beach Downtown Business Association and has become a favourite community fixture over the past couple of decades.

Santa Claus at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Santa Claus is always a big draw.

The 2016 version of Moonlight Madness kicks off around 5:30 p.m with the light-up at Glassford Square, more commonly referred to as the village square or town square. Centred by a fountain, the square abuts the town hall with its’ tall clock tower, so it’s not difficult to find.

Christmas decorations at Moonlight Madness, qualicum Beach, Vancouver IslandEntertainment at the square will include the Legion pipe band, dancers, a barbershop quartet and the Village Voices. The RCMP will be in attendance waiting to welcome Santa Claus, who will then be escorted to the twinkling Santa’s Village, located up Second Avenue at the quaint Chilham Village retail complex.

Shoppers at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Wander the shopping district and enjoy the festive ambiance

Musicians and singers will be scattered throughout the central shopping area of town, and many businesses offer special deals. Most of the restaurants are open for those who might feel the need of a sit-down and a warm drink or more substantial sustenance.

Chilham Village pathway at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Santa’s twinkling village will be tucked away in the courtyard of Chilham Village

All-told, Moonlight Madness is a fun evening for folks of all ages. Wandering the festively-lit streets, listening to the town clock tower playing Christmas carols and enjoying the beautiful yuletide window displays and merchandise makes for an inspiring evening in this quintessential small town.

The best spot to begin your Moonlight Madness adventure is around Second Avenue and Memorial, wandering up along Second to take in all the activity and fun.

wheelchair-lGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.347121 Long. -124.441695

N 49 20.827 W 124 26.502

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Qualicum Beach’s undocumented Town Trail

Qualicum Beach Town Trail on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beginning of the trail, located beside the museum

If you didn’t know it was there, you might never actually find it. There is a lovely trail in Qualicum Beach (we call it the Town Trail) that has virtually no documentation, either in print or on-line. It isn’t listed in the Qualicum Beach Recreation and Parks Guide, it isn’t mentioned in any of the multitudes of internet trail guides – it is mostly just a picturesque local secret that is used as a pedestrian thoroughfare by area residents who prefer not to drive in to the village to run errands.

Bench on the Qualicum Beach Town Trail, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A bench sits in a pretty setting at the Arbutus end of the trail

Actually finding the Town Trail is the first objective, because it isn’t marked with any signage. You can either start your jaunt from the top of the Grandon Creek trail, or hook in to the trail a few hundred yards further along at the junction of Arbutus Street and Hoy Lake Road. Or, you can start out from the local museum located on Beach Road across from the old train station and General Money Park.

Qualicum Beach Town Trail, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe forested trail meanders for 1.1 km (about 7/10s of a mile), sandwiched between the tony Hoy Lake Road community and the railroad tracks. There is a bench located at the Arbutus Road end, a quirky carved stump along the way, and several spurs off the trail that lead to various neighbourhoods. Other than that, the well-maintained, mostly level trail offers little more than a peaceful walk with good footing, pretty vistas and a nice diversion from the everyday world. It took us about 20 minutes to traverse the entire length of the trail – it would have been less if the obligatory pauses to take photos hadn’t been included.

Gnome or fairy house, Qualicum Beach Town Trail, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A home for gnomes? A fairy house?

There is no parking at the Arbutus Road end of the trail, but plenty of space for vehicles at General Money Park, just off Beach Road.. If you want to avoid seeing the same scenery twice you can always turn left up Arbutus at the end of the trail, turn left again on to Harlech or Mill Road and enjoy the ambiance of one of Qualicum Beach’s oldest neighbourhoods on your way back to Beach Road.

Qualicum Beach Town Trail, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe best starting point is at the Qualicum Beach Museum, located at 587 Beach Road.

GPS co-ordinates for the Museum are:

Lat. 49.350062 Long. -124.447896

N 49 21.004 W 124 26.874

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Port Alberni’s La Bruschetta

Perogies at La Bruschetta Bistro, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Hand-crafted perogies served without the usual accompaniments – a nice twist

We weren’t quite sure what to make of Port Alberni’s La Bruschetta Bistro when we looked at the menu posted outside the entrance. ‘Welcome to Tradition’ it trumpeted, leaving us with the impression that we were heading in to an Italian dining experience. To some degree, that was true – there were plenty of Italian offerings. But we were also faced with making a decision between those and such anomalies as perogies (Ukrainian), burgers (American) and Roma Salad Nuovo (described on the menu as a modern twist on a classic Greek salad). Intriguing, to say the least.

Interior of La Bruschetta Bistro, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The interior is spacious and comfortable

La Bruschetta is one of Port Alberni’s newer eateries, having only opened this past February, and it is tucked away in the downstairs of the Italian Canadian Hall in a semi-industrial area . It’s not the sort of location you are going to trip over by accident but it’s worth the trouble to seek it out.

Tortellini at La Bruschetta Bistro, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Roasted garlic and asiago-stuffed bake tortellini

The large room is nicely decorated in calming colours. Tables are spread out so diners are not sitting cheek-by-jowl, offering privacy and space for a quiet conversation. White linen cloths adorn the tables and real fabric napkins are the order of the day. So, a nice environment other than the rather wild rock music, which was totally out of character with the ambiance.

I ordered the plate of hand-crafted perogies, expecting the usual accompaniments of sour cream, bacon and/or onions. The dish that arrived offered only onions, but the medley of perogies (six different varieties, with interesting flavour combinations), nicely presented with wilted greens, lightly sauteed zucchini, very garlicky ciabatta and flavourful grilled sausage offered a refreshing twist on the traditional additions.

Tiramisu at La Bruschetta Bistro, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

House-made Tiramisu

My husband opted for the tortellini and cheese bake featuring pasta stuffed with roasted garlic and asiago cheese, baked in a thick, cheesy sauce. Again, a very generous serving of food, to the point where we decided that our lunch out was supper for the day, which got me off the hook for cooking a big meal later on.

We shared a slice of light and lovely house-made Tiramisu cake to complete our meal – a fitting end, we thought, considering the Italian bent at La Bruschetta.

Exterior of La Bruschetta Bistro, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaTable service is efficient and friendly at La Bruschetta and the menu, while not strictly Italian, offers enough variety for most tastes, including a vegetarian burger, beef stroganoff, steak and ribs. The place is a refreshing addition to the Port Alberni dining scene.

wheelchair-lFurther information on La Bruschetta Bistro can be found at:

www.labruschettabistro.com

La Bruschetta is located on the lower level of the Italian Canadian Hall in Port Alberni, at 4065 Sixth Avenue.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.250323 Long. -124.803028

N 49 15.019 W 124 48.182

Price rating: $$

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