Find the magic in Milner Gardens Christmas event

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 5, 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 2014 Milner Christmas Magic event are as follows:

December 5 – December 7, December 12-14, December 17-21  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

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

Old world charm combines with a casual vibe at The Vault

Vintage lusury combines with good food and old world charm for a great combination at The Vault

Vintage luxury combines with good food and old world charm for a great combination at The Vault

If you are looking for a casual meal in a truly wonderful environment you need look no further than downtown Nanaimo and a place called The Vault.

The exterior of the historic building that houses The Vault only vaguely hints at the delightful ambiance to be found inside.  The building was constructed in 1912 from a design by one of the most popular architects of the day, Francis Rattenbury.  Rattenbury had designed the stunning legislative buildings and the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, thus coming to the project for the Merchants Bank of Canada with a considerable reputation. The place is now on the Nanaimo Heritage Register – the sole example in the city of the graceful Free Renaissance style that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It doesn't look all that special from the outside....

It doesn’t look all that special from the outside….

The only exterior features that hint of the charming interior are the elaborately detailed round arched windows featuring radiating mullions. Inside, however, is a whole different story.

...but the interior serves up beautiful antique finishes and a relaxed ambiance

…but the interior serves up beautiful antique finishes and a relaxed ambiance

We instantly fell in love with the relaxed vibe of The Vault.  There is no haute cuisine here, no high-end service.  You walk up to the service bar, peruse the blackboard menu, order and then find a comfy spot to wait and enjoy the intrigues of the interior – of which there are many.  The folks at The Vault have managed to combine all manner of eclectica to provide a casual ambiance that offers old-fashioned elegance and beauty.  Intricately carved wooden ceiling beams combine with beadboard, vintage furniture, lots of natural light and a multi-level structure to provide plenty of elbow room. Meals are served on mismatched vintage dishes, adding to the appeal. There are antique odds and ends all over the place, taking patrons back to another era. Live posies arranged in china teacups grace each table

Comfort good at its best - home-made, home-grown

Comfort food at its best – home-made, home-grown

The food is good, too.  We shared a hearty bowl of from-scratch soup featuring double-smoked farmer sausage and harvest vegetables, accompanied by a yummy open-faced chicken pesto sandwich (on home-made bread) crammed with bacon, spinach, cheddar and cream.  The Vault sources many of its ingredients here on Vancouver Island and the food, as we were told by our server, is ‘made with love.’

Although the menu is limited it all smacks of good old down-home comfort food goodness, which goes hand-in-hand with the atmosphere of the place.  Nightly live entertainment brings in the evening crowds, adding to the revival of downtown Nanaimo.

The beauty of yesteryear reverberates throughout the cafe

The beauty of yesteryear reverberates throughout the cafe

Clearly, the combination of flavourful honest fare, welcoming vibe and heritage chic is working.  During the hour we enjoyed at The Vault all manner and ages of folks wandered in. It seems to have become a favourite spot for Nanaimo residents to study, knit, read, watch street life or enjoy a quiet coffee. It may seem to be kind of an odd combination, mixing casual with old-world refinement, but it works here.wheelchair-lPrice rating: $ – $$

Further information about The Vault can be obtained via the Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/thevaultcafe

The Vault is located at 499 Wallace Street, Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.1636748  Long. -123.93668170000001

N 49 09.820  W 123 56.201

The Vault on Urbanspoon

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Head to Ladysmith for the 27th annual Christmas Festival of Lights extravaganza

 This event is worth planning ahead for and making the commitment to get to the Island from wherever you are. This is the 27th 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.

            The town’s annual Festival of Lights, always held the final Thursday of November (weather permitting, this year November 27), 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.

Entertainers keep kids of all ages entranced while they wait for the light-up and the parade that follows

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 opted last year for a quick, tasty and very inexpensive meal of udon noodles and teriyaki pork at Appetit, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of the business district on First.  Quick service and a table shared with a friendly couple from Nanaimo put us in a happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening. We spent quite a bit of time checking out the many unique shops on First, then headed up the hill to the area occupied by the mobile entertainment stage.  It turned out to be a perfect location – we had a great view of First Avenue all the way down the long, gradual slope, and also were almost directly across the street from the building atop which Santa appeared promptly at 6:30 p.m.to ‘plug in the town lights.’  The light-up was spectacular – 200,000 Christmas lights blazed 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 discovered.

            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)

All snugged up in anticipation of the big night!

            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

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

Hiking Nanoose’s Notch Hill

The beautiful views from the summit are worth the effort to get there

The beautiful views from the summit are worth the effort to get there

With winter coming on and the rainy season threatening here on the Island we grab every opportunity we can to get outdoors and enjoy whatever good weather the Gods bestow on us.  So it was with happy anticipation that we headed out on a sunny -but not too warm – day in November for Notch Hill, located near the upscale development of Fairwinds in Nanoose Bay.

The sign that marks the parking lot on Fairwinds Drive makes this destination easy to find

The sign that marks the parking lot on Fairwinds Drive makes this destination easy to find

Plans to hike this picturesque trail had been on the books for months but other commitments stalled the trip.  In the end, late autumn proved to be a great time to do this hike.

Not for the faint of heart -  this hike is fairly strenuous if you choose the 'straight-up' route

Not for the faint of heart – this hike is fairly strenuous if you choose the ‘straight-up’ route

Notch Hill climbs (mostly straight up, it seems at times) a total of 240 metres or 787 feet: the round trip is 3 km (about 1.25 miles).We opted for the steep ascent on the way up and the gentler, more meandering trail on the trip back down.  It took us about 30 minutes to climb to the top, which included time for rests and dawdling along taking photos.

The trip up the hill is via a pretty well-maintained trail that snakes through Arbutus meadows and a Garry Oak eco system.  While we were delighted with the flora and fauna at this time of year there is apparently even more to see during warm-weather months when wildlflowers are in full bloom.

NH Dog

Dog heaven…..

Notch Hilll is a mecca for families and dog-walkers.  We met folks of all ages and from many walks of life during our adventure, including a couple of energetic young dads pushing their offspring in strollers.

We reached the summit to discover youngsters scrambling around in a large Arbutus, dogs gamboling along the bluffs and a family group perched on the huge boulders enjoying the spectacular views and the quiet, relaxed ambiance. There are stunning vistas in every direction from the high point – we could easily see the Island well past Nanaimo to the south, Mt. Arrowsmith and, of course, the pretty rolling farmland and sparkling waters of the Nanoose area.

The hike wends its way through beautiful Arbutus meadows

The hike wends its way through beautiful Arbutus meadows

We spent quite a bit of time at the summit enjoying the views and the fine weather.  In retrospect it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch, with all the magnificence of the area laid out hundreds of feet below us.

The trail that we opted for on the trip back down was considerably less strenuous, with only the occasional small uphill grade and the opportunity to wander off the trail and enjoy more beautiful scenery from different locations.  The descent took less time (for obvious reasons) but was no less interesting and lovely than our original route.

We saw a couple of dads with strollers on the trail

We saw a couple of dads with strollers on the trail

A few suggestions for those contemplating this hike: bring camera(s) and water. Be sure to wear good walking shoes, and don’t attempt the ‘straight-up’ trail if you aren’t reasonably fit.  A walking stick might be a help for those with aged knees. Finally, be prepared to enjoy some of the most spectacular views on the Island.

Notch Hill is located off Powder Point Road, which turns into Fairwinds Drive, in the community of Nanoose. There is a well-marked parking lot on the right–hand side of the road leading to the Fairwinds community.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.27476739474435  Long. -124.14404860674096

N 49 16.486  W 124 08.643

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lighthearted fun and great food reign at ‘new’ Mad Chef Cafe in the heart of downtown Courtenay

Orange Dragon Bisque finished with a coconut rum crème fraiche

Orange Dragon Bisque finished with a coconut rum crème fraiche

We finally made it into the ‘new, improved’ Mad Chef Café in Courtenay recently. This place has always been one of our favourites, for a whole slew of reasons.  And we were not alone, to the point where the crazy crew there recently pulled up roots at their old haunt and moved to a bigger, renovated space right in the heart of old downtown.

A sampling from the extensive menu

A sampling from the extensive menu

The ‘new’ Mad Chef  is a huge contrast to the restaurant’s initial location, which was much smaller, almost always crowded and kind of funky.  The new digs seat about 60 patrons and have a very industrial feel to them.  There is more elbow room, to be sure, but a completely different ambiance.

I am delighted to report however, that the food is as good as ever and that it continues to come in very generous portions.  I ordered a ‘cup’ of the sublime Orange Dragon bisque, which was closer to a portion that would fill a tureen.  The soup was a flavoursome combination of coconut, cream, curried butternut squash, yams, pears, onions, garlic and ginger.  Took the leftovers home and happily slurped it for lunch for two more days.

The Shroom of Doom pizza - wonderful flavour combinations and plenty of it!

The Shroom of Doom pizza – wonderful flavour combinations and plenty of it!

My husband consumed the Shroom of Doom pizza, a delicious house-made concoction featuring roasted exotic mushrooms, lobster, cream cheese and pesto.  He allowed me one piece which, as so often happens, had me wishing that I had ordered that dish and left him to try something else. But then, I would have missed that lovely soup…

The environment and vibe at the Mad Chef is as wacky, off-the-wall and sometimes, bordering on rude, as it ever was. The extensive menu is a source of great delight as well as great temptations – light-hearted descriptions of what the innovative genius in the kitchen has concocted always leave us chuckling. And salivating.

The industrial interior has an edgy vibe - and a lot more space than the original Mad Chef site

The industrial interior has an edgy vibe – and a lot more space than the original Mad Chef site

The back end of the café features icing sugar artwork (by the chef) and a wide variety of silly signs that may affront some more ‘sensitive’ patrons.  If you are easily offended this may not be the place for you but in all honesty, anyone with a minimal sense of humour and an appreciation for folly will be just fine – especially once the food hits the table.

While I have to admit that the industrial decor finish to the ‘new’ Mad Chef is not my favourite atmosphere in which to dine, we will continue to patronize the place for the simple fact that the food is so interesting, flavourful and fun. Service is good, and prices are in line (especially when you consider the huge servings).  And, of course, there is always the guarantee that you will find something to make you chuckle when you are there.

            Further information on the Mad Chef Café can be found at the website:

www.madchefcafe.net

 Price rating: $-$$

wheelchair-mThe Mad Chef Café is located at 444 Fifth Street, Courtenay

 GPS co-ordinates are:

 Lat. 49.690249984659864  Long. -125.00058280310833

N 49 41.415   W 125 00.035

Mad Chef Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Deerholme Farm’s mushroom foraging workshops highlight all that the wilds have to offer

Mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere - interior of Deerholme Cottage is crammed full of mushroom memorabilia.  Bill at work in the kitchen.....

Mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere – the interior of Deerholme Cottage is crammed full of mushroom memorabilia. Bill at work in the kitchen…..

Autumn on Vancouver Island brings with it many delights, among them the prospect of yummy meals created with the huge variety of wild mushrooms that can be found here. Mushroom foraging is not, however, for the faint of heart or for the foolish, as we learned during a wonderful Saturday spent with mycologist and chef extraordinaire Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm.

Bill with a cauliflower fungus, which makes for very interesting eating

Bill with a cauliflower fungus, which makes for very interesting eating

Among his many projects (cookbook author, guest chef, food consultant, host chef) Bill runs a series of foraging workshops from his small farm in the Cowichan Valley. In the fall the workshops focus on wild mushrooms because that is the main season for them.  Weather plays a huge role in what varieties you can find, and when you can find them, and where.  But a few hours spent in the delightful company of Bill and the nine other folks who attended his workshop had us up to speed and, happily, very well-fed by the end of the day. Bill calls the workshops ‘a general overview of what you need to know in order to keep yourselves alive.’

All ready for lunch....

All ready for lunch….

Our day began with generous servings of Bill’s house-made hummus featuring chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and a long discussion and display of the various kinds of mushrooms found in the Cowichan area – both the edible ones, and those that can kill you.  A generous handout package featured colour photos and written descriptions of the edible types, along with a couple of recipes. All of the lectures and dining are staged in Deerholme’s pretty 1904 renovated cottage

Lecture over, Bill returned to the kitchen to put the final touches on lunch (featuring a variety of mushrooms, of course) while we ‘students’ whiled away the short wait perusing his many cookbooks or hanging over the kitchen counter watching him at work.

The beautiful pork terrine, with house-made mustard and porcini mushrooms - a sublime combination of flavours

The beautiful pork terrine, with house-made mustard and porcini mushrooms – a sublime combination of flavours

Following a sumptuous lunch featuring a tasty terrine, simple romaine salad and filling rice chowder we headed outdoors where we tramped through forest and field, sometimes along trails, other times through dense undergrowth. While the foraging movement is becoming very popular it certainly isn’t a simple walk in the woods. In fact as Bill adeptly pointed out, the further away you are from public spaces the more likely you are to find wild mushrooms. In our particular case the quest led us through farm fields, up hills through dense woodland undergrowth and along trails. Bill took the time to explain the types of terrain preferred by each variety of commonly found mushroom. Dry weather up to the point of our visit meant that not many fungi had emerged on the forest floor but we managed to find a fair number of varieties, all examined closely by Bill and elucidated upon.

Foraging in the forest

Foraging in the forest

Two hours later we returned to the cottage to finish off the day with dessert – a not-too-sweet apple crumble featuring fruit from the Deerholme tree (no mushrooms in this course).  And, because Bill is the ultimate forager, the crumble was accompanied by a lovely tea that combined the needles of Grand Fir (collected during our walk) and honey.

Overall it was a great, relaxed day of camaraderie, learning and great food – a fine, gentle transition from Indian summer into the charms of autumn and all it has to offer.

            Further information on Deerholme Farm and its many events can be found at the website:  www.deerholme.com

            Deerholme Farm is located at 4830   Stelfox Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.7448846  Long. -123.76171590000001

            N 48 44.693  W 123 45.703

 

 

 

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, EVENTS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An evening of good cheer and great food at Innisfree Farm’s farmhouse dinner

Platters of delicious organic food are passed to diners at the first farmhouse dinner

Platters of delicious organic good are passed to diners at the first Farmhouse Dinner

Anything to do with agriculture and local food has always been a favourite excursion with us, and a recent trip to Innisfree Farm in tiny Royston proved, once again, that you can’t go wrong with that combination.

The beautiful - and tasty - amuse bouche

The beautiful – and tasty – amuse bouche

Located on a pretty side road in the small community just south of Courtenay, Innisfree  Farm was hosting its first farmhouse dinner featuring all local ingredients (most of them grown organically right on the property). The fact that the food was being prepared by Cumberland’s Gourmet Girls Global Catering was a draw for us too – we have greatly enjoyed their interesting and flavourful fare at other venues.  And the price – well, $35 for an innovative four-course meal certainly made it affordable.

Thierry collects produce and flowers from the organic gardens for the dinner

Thierry collects produce and flowers from the organic gardens for the dinner

The other thing we love about these events is the surprise element – you never know who you will be sharing a table with.  When 25 of us sat down we found ourselves surrounded by a best-selling cookbook author, a house painter, an itinerant house sitter and a variety of other interesting characters.

The leaves of autumn settle on a rustic table near the pond

The leaves of autumn settle on a rustic table near the pond

We arrived early at the farm and, with encouragement from owners Chanchal Cabrera and Thierry Vrain, spent some time wandering among the raised vegetable beds, tasting the thriving still-sweet autumn raspberries, and enjoying the flower and apothecary gardens and the planted labyrinth.  There is a pretty pond area and a sculpture garden to enjoy as well – all very serene and the perfect opportunity to free up your mind and relax a bit prior to sitting down for the meal.

Food, glorious food ...

Food, glorious food …

As expected, the Gourmet Girls did not disappoint – the meal started out with beautiful and tasty amuse bouche, followed by a roasted squash soup with house-made flatbread crisps. These were followed by the passing of many family-style platters piled high with everything from fire-roasted beets served with a warm crabapple, nettle and horsetail vinaigrette to salad to olive oil-poached wild sockeye salmon. The dessert combo consisted of chocolate cashew fudge, crisp churritos with house-made red wine grape jelly drizzle and Chantilly cream topped with the aforementioned lovely fresh raspberries. Other than the salmon course, the meal was totally vegan. All of it was  delicious and very interesting, which for us is one of the hallmarks of great food.

Thriving raspberries, still producing late into autumn

Thriving raspberries, still producing late into autumn

While creativity was running amok in the kitchen there was much good cheer and an energetic vibe in the dining area. Those attending shared stories and lives while Chanchal, Thierry and members of the Gourmet Girls team brought out platter after platter of tantalizing food and elucidated about what was on them.

...and dessert!

…and dessert!

The evening was one of those unforgettable events where good cheer, great food and a lovely atmosphere all collided in a perfect storm to provide memories that will sustain us through the impending gloom of winter on the ‘wet coast’.  And here’s the good news – Innisfree has scheduled at least two more of these affairs for October and November.  There can’t be a much better way to banish the winter blues.

Further information on Innisfree Farm and the many events it offers can be found at the website:

http://innisfreefarm.org/

Innisfree Farm is located at 3636 Trent Road in Royston, about 5 kilometres south of Courtenay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.6347774  Long. -124.95208869999999

N 49 38.087 W 124 57.125

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

Blue Heron Steel Studio – an unexpected art treasure in the heart of Qualicum Beach

One of the signature blue heron pieces that have created a devoted following for Nelson Shaw

One of the signature blue heron pieces that have created a devoted following for Nelson Shaw

You find the darndest things in the craziest places.  Nelson Shaw’s Blue Heron Steel Studio is a prime example of that, tucked away in a gritty spot on an obscure lot in the heart of Qualicum Beach. But as is so often the case, location isn’t everything when it comes to finding the best ‘stuff’, whether it be restaurants, accommodation or, in this case, exquisite art work. Excellence trumps location sometimes and in the case of this most unique gallery/art studio that is certainly the case.

The detail on these sunflowers exhibits the artist's talent in working with unusual materials

The detail on these sunflowers exhibits the artist’s talent in working with unusual materials

There are more surprises at the Blue Heron studio than you can possibly imagine, among them the owner himself. A talented and formally-trained artist who has earned a Masters in Fine Arts, artist-in-residence posts and art scholarships, Nelson is an affable guy most often encountered with grubby hands, dressed in grimy clothes – as befits an artist who works not with pen and brush, but with steel, wood, glass and machinery.  His ‘studio’ is a jumbled mass of work tables, art-in-progress and the equipment required to create his stunning and most unusual works.

A co-operative effort - glass salmon in steel kelp

A co-operative effort – glass salmon in steel kelp

The ‘gallery’ attached to the workshop displays a huge variety of Nelson’s unique creations. The lighting in the display space  isn’t perfect and there is sometimes dust on the shelves thanks to the close proximity of the workshop, but visitors are invariably blown away by the scope and innovation of the works crammed onto shelves and every square inch of floor space. What always amazes us is the intricacy and fine design aspect of works wrought from materials that are not generally considered useful for detailed artistic endeavours.

A unique garden bug - of the non-destructive type

A unique garden bug – of the non-destructive type

Nelson’s unique larger-than-life blue herons, crafted from recycled steel, are his signature pieces but there is also a huge variety of other garden and home décor available for purchase. Garden benches, beautifully-framed mirrors, wall hangings and three-dimensional works crafted in concert with the glass creations of partner artists consume much of the display space.  Custom metal work created for clients is often on display (we saw an exquisite small table on our last visit). And, if you are just looking for a small garden accent there is lots to choose from in that genre as well, from colourful and inventive bugs to dragonflies, to turtles.  There are whimsical, quirky pieces and serious works, all of which reveal what a talented craftsman Nelson is.  Blue Heron is a wonderful spot to shop for gifts – all of the pieces found there are one-of-a-kind, making for charming and unique gifts that will enhance the home or garden of any recipient.

A three-dimensional piece created in concert with a local glass artist

A three-dimensional piece created in concert with a local glass artist

In a nutshell, Nelson can create almost anything your heart desires. He has been employed to create pieces for everything from multi-million dollar award-winning homes to artful garden gates. No matter how small your home or garden it’s worth popping into Blue Heron if you are seeking something truly unique to enhance your personal environment.  Even if you don’t see anything suitable (highly unlikely) you will be guaranteed to enjoy the experience of seeing the work of this very talented artisan. Take the time to flip through his photo albums, too, to see the wide scope of his ability.  As it says on his website: Hard work is good. Good work is hard. And Nelson Shaw is one hard worker!

Unique home décor such as this mirror...

At Blue Heron you can find unique home décor such as this mirror….

...or beautiful garden benches

…or beautiful garden benches

Further information on Blue Heron Steel Studio can be found at the website:

http://www.blueheronsteelstudio.com/HomePage.html

Blue Heron Steel Studio is located at Suite B (bottom of the parking lot), 127 Fern Road East, in the heart of Qualicum Beach.  Look for Nelson’s Blue Heron and his sign, just half a block south of the traffic light at Memorial Ave. and Fern Road

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.346417008946915  Long. -124.4402923080691

N 49 20.785   W 124 26.418

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ucluelet’s Norwood’s – a culinary gem on the edge of nowhere

Fresh-caught local albacore tuna - pretty as a picture, and even better to eat!

Fresh-caught local albacore tuna – pretty as a picture, and even better to eat!

We rediscovered Ucluelet on the Island’s west coast this past summer and were delighted to find a really outstanding restaurant to share with relatives from England. Norwood’s is a small wine bar-style bistro that serves up some of the best restaurant food that we have consumed anywhere during our travels – such a delightful and unexpected find in a tiny village of 1,600 perched on the western edge of the Island.

Chef Richard Norwood’s menu is an eclectic mix of flavours and textures from Asia, Europe and the Americas, reflecting his many travels and depth of experience in a variety of culinary settings. The small open kitchen facing into the dining area is a model of efficiency, with three chefs working in harmony to create a cornucopia of mouth-watering dishes that are beautifully presented.

Chef and owner Richard Norwood at work in the kitchen

Chef and owner Richard Norwood at work in the kitchen

We enjoyed a leisurely meal that included a multiplicity of flavours. Norwood’s is heavily into the concept of using local products whenever possible and it showed in what arrived at our table.

I opted for the succulent roasted Brome Lake duck breast, presented with a caramelized fennel puree, rhubarb chutney and guanciale roasted vegetables. My husband chose the beautifully-prepared albacore tuna (so fresh and local that the boat that it came off of was named on the menu), which came with a spectacular Asian-inspired barbecue sauce, sesame bak choy, pickled shitake mushrooms and tempura green beans. More than two months after the fact he is still rhapsodizing about the enormous gustatory pleasure of consuming that dish. Both entrees were so beautifully presented it seemed a shame to actually eat them, but we managed to overcome the artful presentation only to be more delighted by the experience of consuming them.

Brome Lake duck breast

Brome Lake duck breast

Our English guests’ special dietary requirements were happily accommodated with local Pacific salmon by the kitchen and the wait staff, and service over-all was good from start to finish of the evening.

We sampled a couple of the desserts on the menu, including a decadent chocolate brownie torte with raspberry coulis and a seasonal fruit tart featuring delectable cherries.

Seasonal cherry tart, with house-made ice cream

Seasonal cherry tart, with house-made ice cream

Norwood’s is small – it seats only 32 guests, and at times the background music combines with the minimal noise from the kitchen and the chatter of patrons to be just a little over the top. But it is a small price to pay for the delight of such outstanding cuisine in such a surprising location, and it certainly won’t stop us from returning.

            Further information on Norwood’s can be found on the website at:

http://www.norwoods.ca/index.html

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Price rating: $$$

 Norwood’s is located at 1714 Peninsula Road, Ucluelet

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  48.9435025  Long. -125.5506532

N 48 56.610  W 125 33.039

 

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Posted in WEST COAST, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Port Alberni’s Stamp River Provincial Park – a hidden gem

The timeless - and very beautiful - Stamp River

The timeless – and very beautiful – Stamp River

It has been almost 40 years since I last visited Stamp River Provincial Park in the beautiful Alberni Valley, and I have to admit that I headed over there recently with some trepidation.  Back in the 1970s the place was wild and essentially undeveloped, 327 hectares (800 acres) tucked in at the far north end of Beaver Creek Road.  Few folks visited – it was little more than a local hidden gem then.  Would it, like so many other natural treasures, have changed for the worse through ‘enhancement’?  It turns out I needn’t have worried.

It's not unusual to see black bears along the river

It’s not unusual to see black bears along the river

We were delighted to find that although things have changed at Stamp Falls, the developments have been minor and truly wonderful. The 23 unserviced campsites are private and nicely scattered through the forest. The two kilometers (1.2 miles) of walking trails are better groomed and more accessible for many visitors.

Picnic tables for a riverside meal...

Picnic tables for a riverside meal…

The four picnic tables perched along the riverside offer a lovely spot for a sit-down and an informal al fresco meal. The well-conceived interpretive signs are a great educational addition to the park.

...or a quiet bit of beach for relaxation and reflection

…or a quiet bit of beach for relaxation and reflection

There is even a television screen serviced by an underwater camera that allows visitors to see the salmon working their way up the fish ladders that were installed at the falls back in the 1950s.

Park visitors gather on the bluff above the falls to watch the journey of the salmon...

Park visitors gather on the bluff above the falls to watch the journey of the salmon…

Happily, the timeless unadorned natural world of the area has remained the same, too.  The Stamp River continues to run clean and clear, a wide, mesmerizing swath of blues, greens and white foam.  Falls and riverThe falls continue to tumble through a nine metre (30 feet) gorge and every autumn, as they have for untold eons, the cohoe, sockeye, Chinook and steelhead make their way up the river and battle through the falls (or the fish ladders) to answer the instinctive call to return to the spawning grounds on the upper reaches of the river and at Great Central Lake.Jumping Fish Black bears appear on a regular basis in hopes of securing a meal – one ambled along the other side of the river and down below the falls during our recent visit, much to the delight of everyone who was perched on the bluff above the falls expecting to see only the courageous journey of the fish.

Interpretive signs introduce visitors to the natural rhythms of the river

Interpretive signs introduce visitors to the natural rhythms of the river

While there are certainly more visitors to the park than in the past it is still a bit of a hidden treasure – during the couple of hours we lingered there we probably saw no more than 30 people, of all ages.  Youngsters gamboled along the pathways and sat, mesmerized, watching the leaping fish. Senior citizens, parents, dogs (on leash only, due to the bear situation) all enjoyed the perfect Indian Summer afternoon. Travellers and locals leaned over fences to watch the water swirl and eddy its way along, lingered at the excellent interpretive signs that explained the natural ecology of the area, paused to chat.

 

Trails are wide and well-groomed - a perfect spot for a family walk

Trails are wide and well-groomed – a perfect spot for a family walk

The fish runs will continue into December, so anyone keen to experience this natural phenomena still has plenty of time to get to the falls.  Even if you are visiting at other times of the year, there is plenty to see and enjoy at this lovely park – the world is still as it should be at Stamp River Provincial Park.   It is so worth the 14 kilometre (8 ½ mile) drive from Port Alberni, any time of year.

            More information about Stamp River Provincial Park can be found at:

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

 The park is located near the end of Beaver Creek Road, which branches off Highway 4 just out of Port Alberni, on the way to the west coast.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34386052916214  Long.  -124.91905185215

 N 49 20.632 W 124 55.143

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, DOG-FRIENDLY, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment