Sombrio Beach offers ethereal beauty and interesting history

 

Sombrio Footprints

There is an ethereal beauty to Sombrio Beach.  Perhaps it is the salt spray and ever-pounding surf, or the endless miles of cobble beach, the waterfalls and caves, the never-ending horizon that looks out to the wild Pacific.  Or maybe it is the unique history of the place.  Whatever it is (and I suspect it is a combination of all of these factions) it has become one of my favourite spots on the southwest coast of the Island.

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

Sombrio Beach is situated along remote Highway 14, part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) south of Port Renfrew, it retains much of the wild splendour that first attracted surfers and a community of squatters to it in the 1960s.

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

The surfers continue to come to the beach; the squatters, including one family that raised 10 children there, were kicked off the beach in 1997 when the provincial government moved in to create park space.  Several of them continue to live in the Port Renfrew area and often visit Sombrio, to surf and to reminisce.

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it's not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it’s not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Getting to Sombrio takes a little perseverance.  The access road off paved Highway 14 is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) of totally unmaintained, pothole-filled gravel disaster owned by a logging company.  Once you get past that however there is plenty of good parking and a wide, easily traversed gravel trail down to the beach. You can take one of two directions, each half a kilometer (1/3 mile) to the beach.

We chose the left fork in hopes of seeing some of the waterfalls along the beach.  There is an exceptionally lovely one located back off the beach, a First Nations sacred site that, unfortunately, has been defaced and in the not-too-distant future may have access blocked because of the disrespectful graffiti that now adorns the moss-covered surroundings.  There are also a couple of other waterfalls well over a mile along the beach, but the tides were working against us and we were unable to access them on this trip.

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

We had a long discussion with the park ranger, who pointed out a very rocky outcrop with caves hidden in it.  Exploration of that area certainly brings home the power of the sea and of nature – sheer cliffs with huge trees hanging off them loomed over us as we clambered around.

But for me, the stunning cobble beach was what captured my heart. Every step brought a profusion of photo opportunities – the stones along our pathway came in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The power of the ocean and an eternity of wind and weather were revealed in every step. (The rocks made for some tough walking, but it was well worth it).

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

We lingered for a long while during our visit, reveling in the wild, sweeping vistas, the untamed and ever-changing surf and the timeless mysteries of the natural world. We were mesmerized for so long, in fact, that we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to take the right fork of the trail to explore the second area set aside for wilderness camping. But that’s just fine with me – there is always next time, and my heart tells me that there will, indeed, be a next time.

If you can’t get to Sombrio Beach, I highly recommend Manly Media’s one-hour documentary ‘Sombrio’, available for rent through Vimeo or for purchase.  It is an excellent piece chronicling the beauty of the place and the history of the squatter community.

            The best way to find Sombrio Beach is to keep your eyes peeled for the directional signs on Highway 14.

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

            Lat. 48.479236  Long. -124.272294

            N 48 28.754  W 124 16.338

 

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Pacific Marine Circle Route offers a wealth of experiences

Botanical Beach

Botanical Beach

The Pacific Marine Circle Route is one of the lesser-known – but nonetheless very worthwhile – adventures within easy reach on the Island.  There are activities for all ages and levels of ability, including wheelchair access. There are lots of dog-friendly venues, plenty of good places to stay and eat.

Sombrio  Beach is still a popular spot for surfers

Sombrio Beach is still a popular spot for surfers

We have recently completed a four-day exploration of this coast-to-coast trip, commencing out of Duncan, south to Sooke and up the west coast to Port Renfrew and back through Lake Cowichan to the east coast of the Island. Herewith, some tips and highlights of the trip, to be followed in the coming weeks by a closer look at many of the activities that we enjoyed.

French Beach Provincial Park

French Beach Provincial Park

Although many claim to have driven the Pacific Marine Circle route in a day – and it is do-able, at 255 kilometres/160 miles long – I can only think that other than the scenery it must have been little more than a waste of time for them. There are so many delightful adventures to be enjoyed for those who take the time to explore the many beaches, eateries, accommodations and historical attractions. Four very full days weren’t enough for us to cover everything we would like to have seen, as we kept discovering yet more ‘stuff’ as we travelled what is essentially still a pretty wild and unsettled area.  It is so remote in parts, in fact, that there was no cell phone service and no cellular data service. There are also no gas stations between Sooke and Lake Cowichan heading up the west coast (although one marina does sell gasoline during the summer months).  So, be sure there is plenty of fuel in your vehicle to drive the 129 kilometres/81 miles between the two communities.

On the trail to Sandcut Beach

On the trail to Sandcut Beach

Depending on what you are interested in seeing you will find that time and tides will dictate some of your travels.  Botany Bay and Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, for instance, are best visited during low tide so that you can enjoy the myriad aquatic flora and fauna that thrives in the tide pools.  The same applies to historic Sombrio Beach, where tides dictate whether you are able to get to the waterfalls just over 1 kilometre/1 mile along the waterfront.

Whiffin Spit, near Sooke

Whiffin Spit, near Sooke

There is a host of other spectacular beaches and provincial parks along the way, along with the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail and Avatar Grove, home to the gnarliest tree in Canada. French Beach offers campsites and easily accessible picnic tables, firepits and waterfront. Sandcut Beach is a tougher hike in but worth the effort – it is a little wilder than its neighbour and thus, less populated by visitors. Sombrio remains a surfing haven and a rock hound’s dream.  The sound of  eternally pounding surf and the multitude of spectacular vistas is enough to take the breath away of even the most seasoned traveler.

There is no lack of great meals to be had on the route - this is dinner at Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew

There is no lack of great meals to be had on the route – this is dinner at Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew

We began our trip with a leisurely visit to the excellent Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, then moved on to an afternoon walk along Whiffin Spit before settling in at our bed and breakfast near Sooke for the night.  The following morning it was on to the beaches and in to the parks, then two nights in Port Renfrew (population less than 200).

Sandcut Beach

Sandcut Beach

Despite the remote location we had no trouble discovering comfortable accommodation and some really great places to eat along the way. Virtually everyone we dealt with was friendly, welcoming and most helpful, as is so often found in small, isolated communities.

 

The gnarliest tree in Canada, at Avatar Grove

The gnarliest tree in Canada, at Avatar Grove

If you are planning to travel this route be prepared for the fact that much of the best scenery involves getting out of your vehicle and walking, either along well-groomed pathways or over very rough trails.  Good footwear is highly recommended – sandals and flip-flops simply won’t cut it on some areas of some trails. Many of the beaches are ‘’cobble’ beaches, not sand, so walking on them in inappropriate footwear can be a challenge as well.  But all the effort is worth the great rewards of seeing some of the most magnificent scenery anywhere.

Fairy Lake, on the road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan

Fairy Lake, on the road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan

Although we began our journey at the southern end of the route it is also possible to begin at Lake Cowichan and head west towards Port Renfrew.  The road is paved all the way, but the section between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew slices through what is still an active logging area, so be prepared to see log trucks coming at you.  There are many one-lane bridges and sharp curves along the drive as well.

In the coming weeks we will be writing in more detail about our discoveries, with many photos (we shot 1,141 pictures during the course of the four days).

If you plan to begin your journey from the south end of the route we suggest checking out the Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, which offers great insight into the history and heritage of the area.

            Further information on the Pacific Marine Circle Route can be found at:

http://www.pacificmarinecircleroute.com/

            The Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre  is located at 2070 Phillips Road, Sooke.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.384369  Long. -123.706173

N 48 23.062 W 123 42.370

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Ladysmith’s Pirates Day is all about the kids

Pirates Day in Ladysmith

Cap’n Jack Sparrow and his scurvy crew

The following feature is an ‘encore’ presentation, originally published after the 2014 Kids Pirates Day. We are publishing it early this year so parents (or grandparents) can plan to take the kids in their family (little and big, young or old) to this great community event.

It was all about the kids, there was no doubt about that.  Ladysmith’s Kids Pirate Day was pretty much the most fun anyone could hope for, young and old alike.  The combination of dozens of ‘grown up’ volunteers, hundreds of youngsters, a huge variety of activities and a sunny Saturday on the pretty waterfront at Ladysmith proved to be an irresistible amalgamation that left us in a very happy state of mind.

Ahoy, mateys!

Ahoy, mateys!

The folks at the Ladysmith Maritime Society have split their popular Maritime Festival over two weekends after ‘almost killing our volunteers’, in the words of one local, when in the past the entire festival centred on a single weekend.  So now, Maritime Heritage Day is the first event (May 30) followed by Kids Pirate Day which this year is Saturday, June 6.

We arrived around 10 a.m. at the harbour and were delighted to find so much on the agenda for the day. The bullhead fishing derby was already in full swing, adult pirate volunteers were gearing up to man the barbeques set up on the float, and the free harbour tours were in the offing.

The Kinsmen Bullhead Fishing Derby is a very popular attraction

The Kinsmen Bullhead Fishing Derby is a very popular attraction

We started out with the harbour tour, cruising off in the delightful 11-passenger Maritimer for a 45-minute look at the flora, fauna and beautiful scenery in the hidden nooks and crannies that can’t be viewed from the docks by landlubbers.

We arrived back at the wharf in time to take in some of the dozens of youngsters (many attired in pirate garb) participating in the fishing derby, grabbed a hamburger (prepared by pirates, of course) and dawdled through a leisurely lunch, during which Captain Jack Sparrow arrived on the scene.  So much of the fun of this event is generated by the many pirate volunteers who remain right in character throughout the day. Their swashbuckling antics can’t help but bring smiles of delight to anyone who encounters them as they swagger along the docks, always happy to be photgraphed or have a word with a youngster.

Face painting was a big hit at the festival

Face painting was a big hit at the festival

The land-based activities for the kids were many and varied, too.  Up the ramp on the outcropping of land above the harbour we found a craft table with youngsters who were busy creating pirate hats, face painting, a huge bouncy castle, an even larger bouncy slide and a very popular small petting zoo featuring goats, a pony and a calf. All of the activities were swarming with kids – a sure sign that the day was a success, no matter how you looked at it.

We always marvel at the magic that a town the size of Ladysmith (population 8,000) manages to create with its special events.  There is so clearly great support from the town’s indefatigable volunteers as well as the business community.  We owe great thanks to all of them for another superbly-orchestrated event that put smiles on faces and created many happy memories.

Kids had an opportunity for up-close-and-personal encounters with a few farm animals

Kids had an opportunity for up-close-and-personal encounters with a few farm animals

            Further information on the Ladysmith Maritime Festival (including the events planned for Maritime Heritage Day on May 30) can be found at the website:

http://www.lmsmarina.ca/events/kids-pirate-day/

A big hit with the youngsters - the bouncy slide

A big hit with the youngsters – the bouncy slide

To get to the marina follow the signs for Transfer Beach Park and keep your eyes peeled for directions to the festival site, which will be to the left (north) of the park area.

GPS Co-ordinates for the community marina site are:

 48.99552295361928  Long.-123.81512403488159

N 48 59.731  W 123 48.907

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Controversy surrounds Comox’s serene Mack Laing Nature Park

This is the beautiful view from Mack Laing's final home, Shakesides

This is the beautiful view from Mack Laing’s final home, Shakesides

I have come away from Comox’s serene Mack Laing Nature Park conflicted, to say the least.

We recently enjoyed a visit to this tranquil refuge stretching along Comox Bay, where early Spring sunshine filtered through tender green leaves and blooming lilac, splashed against the huge abandoned vegetable garden, infused Laing’s two former homes with a soft light. It is those beautiful old structures that have left me arguing with myself about what their future should entail.

The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home and one of the two he built that is slated for demolition

The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home and one of the two he built that is slated for demolition

Hamilton Mack Laing was an internationally-renowned artist, naturalist and ornithologist who purchased several acres along Comox Bay in 1922.  He developed a thriving nut farm and lived a simple life, collecting specimens for museums and harvesting much of his food from the woods and waters that surrounded him. He wrote copious numbers of feature articles for nature publications, developed relationships with other artists and naturalists, and has been described as the forgotten Roderick Haig-Brown (also unknown to most for his conservation work and writings).

Laing eventually sold off some of his holdings, which he originally purchased for $150 an acre, and ended up with several acres of sweeping waterfront featuring wind-blown sea grass, tidal flats and saltwater marsh. In the 1970s, well before his death in 1982 at age 99, Mack Laing donated the property and the last of the two homes he had built there to the town of Comox.  Apparently he had hopes that at least one of the houses would be used as a natural history museum.  To ensure that his wishes would be honoured he bequeathed $55,000 to the township upon his death in 1982, with the stipulation that it be invested in order to fulfill his wishes for the property.

Baybrook, Laing's first home, sold off after his wife died of cancer. The memories of their happy years together there were apparently too much for him to bear.

Baybrook, Laing’s first home, sold off after his wife died of cancer. The memories of their happy years together there were apparently too much for him to bear. Built in 1923 from a house kit, it is also slated for demolition

The house was not maintained, and early this year the Comox council voted in favour of tearing down both houses, which have been vacant for years. There has been much controversy over the decision, and much bitterness amongst Comox residents as to what should happen and what the house should be used for, if at all.  Which….is why I am conflicted.

These days when you visit Mack Laing Nature Park there is nothing but the soft sigh of the wind, calls of bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers. The ghost of Mack Laing lingers in Shakesides, his final home – he lived independently until his dying day and although access to the home is blocked you can still see remnants of his life through the windows. The huge lilac continues to thrive, part of his woodpile remains out back. There is/was a massive vegetable garden, still protected by high deer fence but growing little but horsetails these days. Look around and you see the signs of a life that was well, but simply, lived.

This memorial cairn was erected in the park by friends of Laing after his death in 1982.

This memorial cairn was erected in the park by friends of Laing after his death in 1982.

The park also features meandering trails and all manner of flora and fauna, enhanced by large picture boards. A productive salmon stream bisects the property. There is a commemorative cairn in honour of Laing.  A wander to the waterfront offers vistas of mountains, glacier, the town of Comox and Comox Bay.  There are a couple of benches and a short boardwalk, maybe a couple of other visitors but essentially, the place is much like it must have been when Laing first saw it almost a century ago. Quiet, peaceful, with nothing but the sounds of the natural world to enhance a soul-reviving experience.  Sit in the sunshine on one of those benches and you come away a changed person.

 Information boards about the flora and fauna of the site make this a true nature park - an excellent but unobtrusive addition

Information boards about the flora and fauna of the site make this a true nature park – an excellent but unobtrusive addition

So, my question is this: although it appears that Mack Laing’s wishes will not be fulfilled, would he be so upset about it?  While we abhor the destruction of anything that has an historical footnote and we certainly don’t advocate flying in the face of final wishes, I find myself wondering how distressed he would be.  The property is safe from development and will, house or no house, be preserved as a calm natural oasis for humans and wildlife. Perhaps that is going to have to be enough; at the very least, it is something.

Further information on Mack Laing, his activities and the current controversy can be found at the excellent website of the Mack Laing Heritage Society of the Comox Valley at:

http://macklaingsociety.ca/about-mack-laing/

 To access the Mack Laing Nature Park, go to the far end of Comox Road, park your vehicle on the street and enter along the path adjacent to the park sign.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.671781  Long. -124.912534

N 49 40.307  W 124 48.443

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Port Alberni’s SteamPunk Café brings new energy to a town in revival mode

SP ExteriorIn a town that is transitioning from an industrial heritage to an outdoors and retirement mecca, Kevin Wright and his SteamPunk  Café and Coffee House have hit a home run.

Located exactly in the centre of Port Alberni’s old uptown business district, the café is attracting a varied and interesting clientele that speaks to the diversity of its residents.  The fact that the place offers not just home-made goods but also caters to current dietary trends (gluten-free, vegan) doesn’t hurt either.

Not your average café interior.....

Not your average café interior…..

The SteamPunk was designed to become what Kevin terms the ‘social nexus’ of the uptown area, and judging from our recent experiences there that seems to be exactly what is happening.  The unique décor has an industrial flavour to it – it wouldn’t be difficult to believe you were walking into some sort of factory or mill, thanks to Kevin’s artistic and construction talents.  There is old ‘stuff’ all over the place – vintage typewriters, factory signs, memorabilia from days gone by when Port Alberni was a thriving forestry, mill and fishing town. It is the sort of environment that pays tribute to the past while looking to the future.

Home-made beef barley soup and a ham and cheese Panini make for a filling and delicious lunch

Home-made beef barley soup and a ham and cheese Panini make for a filling and delicious lunch

There is a lot of other quirky stuff too, including a unique method of garnering tips for the friendly, efficient staff.  Every day at the order counter there are ‘decision of the day’ jars set up with a question above them – patrons can cast their vote by dropping tips into the jar of their choice.

One of the creative and beautiful coffee drinks

One of the creative and beautiful coffee drinks

The food is typical café food with a happy difference – everything is made in-house. Chef Alison, who has 27 years in the food industry and some serious culinary ‘chops’ begins her workday at 4:30 a.m. and by the time the doors open the home-made soups, scones, muffins and other tempting tidbits are waiting for the first customers. There is a wide range of paninis and wraps that can either be consumed on-site or taken ‘out’, several unique and healthy salads and, of course, artful and tasty coffee concoctions.  Alison is given free rein in the kitchen, and it shows in the creative and flavoursome offerings that show up at the front end.

The SteamPunk Classic Panini - a flavourful medley to roasted vegetables, cheese ... and bacon!

The SteamPunk Classic Panini – a flavourful medley of roasted vegetables, cheese … and bacon!

There is also a unique and beautifully-constructed deck in front of the café for al fresco dining in fine weather.  It has taken up a couple of parking spots and is the first such deck that city hall has allowed in the hundred-year history of the town.  There are industrial touches out there too in the form of some large, brightly-painted gears that add to the overall charm of the place.

At the moment Kevin is in the process of adding a book shop that will connect to the coffee house in a space next door. The book shop will feature new and first and second editions only, will include more of Kevin’s interesting décor and  will no doubt prove to be a valued and unique attraction.  His hope is that comfy seating, good coffee and interesting books will bring in more of the new ‘emigrants’ who are fleeing the cities for Port Alberni’s friendly, inexpensive and spectacular environs.  In the meantime though, it’s great to see that there is life in the old girl yet thanks to a vibrant and enthusiastic business community committed to re-invigorating a town that has so much to offer.

Further information on the Steampunk  Café and Coffee House can be found on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/steampunkcafeportalberni

 Price rating: $-$$

The SteamPunk Café and Coffee House is located at:

            3025A Third Avenue, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. : 49.233655  Long.: -124.807388

N 49 14.019  W 124 48.443

 

Posted in INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family fun and feasting at Qualicum Beach’s Fire and Ice Street Festival

Chili galore!

Chili galore!

A little bit of madness will hit the streets of the village of Qualicum Beach on Saturday, May 2 when the 21nd  annual Fire and Ice Street Festival gets under way. Upwards of 5,000 people flock to the village centre’s closed-off streets to take in a wide variety of attractions that combine to make for a great family day.

            The ‘fire’ aspect of the event is the Chili Cook-off, a heated (if you’ll excuse the expression) competition between local businesses, politicians, restaurants and resorts. The  competitors set up  street-side booths and dole out offerings of  their specialty chili  to anyone and everyone who is keen to try it.  A mere $4 gets you an opportunity to  eat your way from one end of town to the other.  I should note here that my husband and I have yet to manage to down samples from every entrant, but there are those, apparently, who do pull it off. The organizing committee took a year off in 2013 and has come back  with some new innovations that will encourage the participation of restaurants who do not normally sell chili, but will be able to offer other hot foods for sampling.

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

The fun thing about the competition is the variety of flavours on offer, the weird ingredients that sometimes go into the chili, and the ‘extras’ such as corn muffins, tortilla chips, and all manner of other stuff, that come with the main attraction. The Peoples’ Choice Award is the most coveted of the day and is decided by those who take the trouble to place ballots in boxes at the booths. Participants can also cast ballots for Best Professional Chili, Best Amateur Chili, and Best Decorated Booth (and believe me, there are some dillies in this category!)

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ‘ice’ aspect of the festival is a popular ice-carving competition that has the contestants set up at various locations intermingled with the food booths. The 15 master ice sculptors turn out some genuinely amazing works of art, and their expertise with everything from chain saws to picks and drills is something to behold.

Keeping with the theme of ‘ice’ there will also be new attractions featuring icy food items, including ice cream making.

            The day also features all sorts of kid-friendly activities such as face-painting, pony rides, story time and the ever popular balloon man.  There is music galore – several main stage feature acts are complemented by melodious offerings from buskers who wander through the crowds.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Another new addition to the day’s festivities is the theme, which this year is The Fairy Tale Life – Princesses and Villains.

            Over-all, this is just one of the most relaxed, fun events imaginable. The festival atmosphere permeates every aspect of the village and provides a pleasurable beginning to what everyone hopes will be the onset of summer.  Be prepared for a great day of feasting and fun!

             The big day gets under way at 11 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m.

              Further information can be obtained at: www.fireandicestreetfestival.com

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

                  Lat. 49.34719366303581  Long. -124.4416344165802

           N 49 20.832  W 124 26.498

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Coombs’ Coastal Carvings Fine Art Gallery features diverse contributions from First Nations artisans

One of the turnings designed by Jeremy Humpherville and created by Douglas Fisher

One of the turnings designed by Jeremy Humpherville and created by Douglas Fisher

 

The collection of buildings and businesses that comprise the tiny community of Coombs these days is diverse, to say the least.  Most folks head for the famous Coombs Market, better known these days as Goats on the Roof. But while the market and its assorted neighbouring businesses hold certain charms for many we prefer the quiet oasis just across the bridge that serves as home to Coastal Carvings Fine Art Gallery.

Coastal Carvings is operated by Jeremy Humpherville, a big, friendly bear of a guy, and his wife Darlene.  Jeremy was born and raised in Haida Gwaii (or the Queen Charlotte Islands, if you prefer), where he learned the fine points of creating native art from his uncle. It is a talent and a passion that stretches back for generations in the Humpherville family, and it has been honed to a peak of exquisite beauty by Jeremy and his brother Jerett.

Jeremy’s work first came to my attention late in 2012 when I was working on a freelance story about the spectacular award-winning Music By The Sea home being constructed on the waterfront in Qualicum Beach. His creative eye was evident in every nook and cranny, creating a series of breathtaking works of art throughout the home. That project, he says, was ‘a gift’ – it’s like a complete portfolio all in one house.’

Tsimshian artist Dorothy Jarvis contributes oil paintings that relay the ethereal loveliness of the remote northwest coast Native villages

Tsimshian artist Dorothy Jarvis contributes oil paintings that relay the ethereal loveliness of the remote northwest coast Native villages

But, I digress. The gallery started off originally as a showcase for Jeremy’s work, but soon expanded to include a total of 41 indigenous artists.  Things have been pared down a little since the early days and the century-old residence that now serves as home to the gallery currently houses the work of 28 First Nations artisans.

If you are thinking that all you are going to see at Coastal Carvings is the usual traditional Native art, think again.  There are both traditional and contemporary First Nations creations on display – all of them beautiful for very different reasons.

The gallery’s bright rooms display a unique and diverse collection ranging from original oil paintings to sculpture, to Jeremy and Jerret’s beautifully-crafted furniture pieces and turnings. When I visited the gallery recently there was an exquisite pair of moccasins, Native jewellery, a traditional native head dress…and a saxophone bearing the artwork designed by Jeremy for Juno-award-winning Phil Dwyer’s Sea Wind musical instruments line. There were huge wall sculptures, large works and small works, all with varied pricing depending on the artist and the work.

A unique original piece of furniture created by Jeremy and his brother Jerett

A unique original piece of furniture created by Jeremy and his brother Jerett

While Jeremy is the first to admit that Coastal Carvings’ offerings are not inexpensive, he also justifiably points out that a piece purchased there will never be seen or duplicated anywhere else. When something takes a year to create and is one-of-a-kind there is a certain value to those aspects alone, not to mention the enhanced beauty that such a piece creates in a purchaser’s life.

Jeremy is keen to make the gallery all-inclusive of the many talented people who contribute to the finished pieces seen in Coastal Carvings..

“At present we represent only aboriginal artists, but a lot of them collaborate with other craftsmen, and we want to acknowledge everyone who is involved in the final results,” he says.  “So, we are thinking of diversifying a little in order to accomplish that.”

Sculptures of all shapes, sizes and subjects can be found at the gallery

Sculptures of all shapes, sizes and subjects can be found at the gallery

Jeremy and Jerett work closely together on design and construction of various furniture pieces, which are assembled in their workshop in Qualicum Beach.  And, says Jeremy, Jerett also offers input on the designs that go into his carvings and other projects when he is working on custom pieces and home designs.

“By doing that, we refine each others’ work” says Jeremy.

Clearly, Coastal Carvings is a labour of love.

‘We want to make the gallery thought-provoking,” says Jeremy. “We put our heart and soul into it. The gallery is really like raising another child, and you just hope it comes out right in the end.”

Traditional First Nations head dress

Traditional First Nations head dress

Judging from the exquisite beauty to be found at Coastal Carvings, it’s pretty clear that the Humpervilles are doing a fine job of raising their ‘other child’.

Coastal Carvings will host an open house on Saturday, May 9 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Guest artists will be on site.

A saxophone is not what you expect to find in a Native art gallery, but Jeremy designed the logo and artwork for Sea Wind Musical Instruments

A saxophone is not what you expect to find in a Native art gallery, but Jeremy designed the logo and artwork for Sea Wind Musical Instruments

Further information about Coastal Carvings can be found at the website:

http://coastalcarvings.com/

            Coastal Carvings is located at #6 (the blue house), 2340 Alberni Highway

(Highway 4A) Coombs, just west of the Coombs market, across the bridge.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.305593  Long. -124.425391

            N 49 18.336  W 124 25.523

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radius Food Co. brings bright new flavours to Qualicum Beach

Exterior

It’s not what anyone would call ‘fine dining’, but Qualicum Beach’s newest addition to the restaurant scene is off and running, having found itself a nice little niche market that is attracting a wide-ranging demographic.  Radius Food Company is owned and operated by hometown girl Kyla Campbell, who has undergone a transformation from splendid musician to sous chef, and her partner James Hannah.

Radius took up residence March 1 in a small, purpose-built restaurant just a stone’s throw from the beach, across the road from the historic St. Andrews Lodge and Glen Cottages. Ever since the doors opened diners have been flocking to the place to sample Kyla and James’ unique twists on modern food, locally sourced.

Fish tacos featuring local ingredients, great flavours and textures

Fish tacos featuring local ingredients, great flavours and textures

Normally we give a new restaurant at least three months to settle in before visiting, but reviews of Radius had been so consistently good in the first few weeks that we headed for a spur-of-the-moment lunch there just 3 ½ weeks after they opened.  Happy to report that, other than a couple of minor glitches on the service end, we were not disappointed.

While the offerings on the menu (which is the same for both lunch and dinner) are fairly limited they do offer a vast range of flavours to please the palate.  Ingredients like herb-crusted albacore tuna, quinoa, Sloping Hill pork, Tea Farm tea and La Boulange organic bread pop up all over the menu in everything from sandwiches and wraps to soups and salads.

Thai tomato soup and The Local sandwich

Thai tomato soup and The Local sandwich

The couple is dealing, as much as possible, with local suppliers, and the menu also offers gluten free options.

The restaurant is smallish (we figured it could seat about 30 patrons at a time), but James and Kyla have made it a casual, welcoming spot.  A couple of unique room dividers and comfortable leather sofa and chair mark off the waiting area.  Tables are spaced well apart, so there is no jostling for chair or elbow space among patrons.

The waiting area is comfortable and welcoming

The waiting area is comfortable and welcoming

Although the menu is somewhat restricted it took us several minutes to decide on our lunch choices – so much looked good and really interesting.  I finally settled on the three fish tacos, a delightful combination of local fish cubes crisply battered in rice tempura combined with shaved cabbage, marinated tomato, sprouts and chipotle-basil aioli. The trio of small soft corn tortillas served as a flavourful container – it was messy, but offered up interesting flavours and textures.

My husband opted for the soup of the day – a spicy tomato-Thai creation and The Local sandwich featuring Salt Spring Island chevre, tomato, greens, roasted vegetables, sprouts, tumeric aioli and salsa verde.  There wasn’t a morsel or a drop left by the time he was done which, I guess, says enough about the quality of that meal.

We split a brownie for dessert – one of the most decadent, rich and mouth-happy ones I have ever enjoyed.  Topped with Vancouver Island Salt Co. salted caramel sauce, the dessert literally melted on the tongue.

It's worth walking in the door just for the decadent brownie topped with salted caramel sauce.....

It’s worth walking in the door just for the decadent brownie topped with salted caramel sauce…..

Radius is also offering all-day brunch on Sunday with a variety of Eggs Benedict, tacos and granola parfait.

Service, although a little spotty, was cheerful and swift.  Ambiance has been kicked up a notch from the building’s predecessor and thanks to the energy and upbeat attitude of the wait and hostessing staff. So if you are looking for a unique casual meal in a fun spot, where you will see everyone from little kids to seniors enjoying their food, give Radius Food Co. consideration. It is a great – and different – addition to the eating-out scene in a town that badly needs just that.

Further information about Radius Food Company can be found at the website:

http://radiusfoodco.com/

 Price rating: $-$$

  The restaurant is located at 3298 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach

GPS co-ordinates are:

                     Lat. 49.359786  Long. -124.472452

N 49 21.587   W 124 28.347

Radius Food Co. on Urbanspoon

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grandon Creek Nature Trail offers a short but lovely excursion

The trail wends its way along the ravine bordering Grandon Creek

The trail wends its way along the ravine bordering Grandon Creek

It’s not a particularly big or impressive excursion in the whole scheme of things, but a pretty tucked-away hike in the west part of the village of Qualicum Beach has been a long-time favourite of ours.  Grandon Creek nature trail has undergone some changes since our family first discovered it more than 30 years ago, but they have been changes for the better.

Grandon Creek

Grandon Creek

The park can be accessed from two locations, either off Hoy Lake Road West, or at the junction of Crescent Road West and Beach Terrace, just off Highway 19A (or the Old Island Highway, as it is known by locals) The entrance to the trail near the old highway offers a small parking area, so is probably the best starting point if you are in a vehicle.

Remnants of days gone by - a felled tree, complete with logger's notch, acts as host for new growth

Remnants of days gone by – a felled tree, complete with logger’s notch, acts as host for new growth

We spent a very pleasant hour hiking (mostly uphill) Grandon Creek on a recent lovely Spring morning. We were delighted to find that what was once a rough trail cutting along the streambank has been rejuvenated and upgraded with bridges over boggy areas.  There are still muddy spots, but nothing like the trail of old.

Trillium  can be found alongside the trail in early Spring

Trillium can be found alongside the trail in early Spring

Thanks to the efforts of the Town of Qualicum Beach and the Qualicum Beach Streamkeepers Society the creek is being restored as a spawning and rearing site for Coho salmon and cutthroat trout.  Sedimentation and human disturbance over the years has had significant impact on the fish populations, but with the efforts now underway it is hoped that Grandon Creek will in future be home to thriving communities of the two aforementioned species, as well as to Chum salmon.

Skunk Cabbage - or Swamp Lantern

Skunk Cabbage – or Swamp Lantern

Although the maple and alder leaf canopy hadn’t yet unfurled when we visited, there was plenty to see and enjoy on our adventure.  There is green everywhere – a huge variety of mosses cling to almost everything, massive ferns dominate the slopes of the ravine and, of course, there are the native cedar, fir and balsam.  Trilliums had sprung to life, brightening the trailside with their graceful white blossoms, and the perennial skunk cabbage, a sure herald of spring, brightened streamside with their vivid yellow presence.

Signs of the ravine having been logged many years ago remain – massive stumps still bear the scars of loggers’ notches. But there is new growth, too – some of it springing from the very trees that were cut down decades ago.

A fallen tree acts as a nurse tree for moss and ferns

A fallen tree acts as a nurse tree for moss and ferns

All along the trail there is the delightful sound of running water and bird song in the background, a soothing addition to the overall loveliness of this most enjoyable short hike.  If you want to continue further on you can hit the wood chip trail at Hoy Lake Road West and walk all the way in to the village, or skirt the village and explore the Arbutus Trails. For us, on this particular day, the hike up to Hoy Lake and then back down the ravine to West Crescent was just enough to give us a taste of Spring, fresh air and the outdoors – always an invigorating experience after the rains of winter.

Further information on the Grandon Creek nature trail (and a map) can be found at the website:

http://viewer.visitparksvillequalicumbeach.com/publication/4f82932c#/4f82932c/18

GPS co-ordinates for the West Crescent parking area are:

Lat. 49.3572374292841  Long. -124.46750235666803

N 49 21.434  W 124 28.050

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

Ucluelet’s Blue Room serves up fresh food and casual comfort

 

Blue room sign

‘Come hungry. GET STUFFED. Leave happy’ –  tag line of The Blue Room Bistro

The small fishing village of Ucluelet is full of pleasant surprises, not the least among them one of the best all-day breakfast joints on the Island. The Blue Room bills itself as a west coast bistro and to a great degree that description fits. It is a casual, comfortable place and the food is fresh, plentiful and reasonably priced.

We blew in to The Blue Room for breakfast on a sopping wet February morning and were quickly seated by our friendly waitress. Coffee arrived promptly and we spent a few minutes perusing the drool-inducing menu amidst the cheerful Saturday morning patter of a small, slow-paced village.

Smoked salmon Eggs Benny

Smoked salmon Eggs Benny

With our orders placed we had an opportunity to take in our surroundings – basically a large room (painted blue, of course) with big windows that offered 200-degree views of the harbour.  The décor is very simple, with clean lines and a lack of pretension dominating. Large windows ensure the place is bright, even on the dreariest of days. As I noted earlier, casual and comfortable.

It took a while for breakfast to arrive – the place filled up quickly shortly after we walked in the door. The wait for our meals wasn’t excessively long though, and we were happy to just relax and visit with our friends.

The Breakfast Scrambler can feature pretty much anything your heart desires

The Breakfast Scrambler can feature pretty much anything your heart desires

It turned out that the wait was worth it, as it usually is when food is being prepared fresh and ‘from scratch’. My husband had ordered the smoked salmon Eggs Benedict, which he proclaimed some of the best he had ever enjoyed.  They arrived with a generous serving of The Blue Room’s signature hash browns (no pre-frozen pulpy stuff here, you can rest assured!). My order of the ‘build your-own’ breakfast scrambler featured three eggs and fresh spinach and mushrooms, accompanied by lovely, dense multi-grain toast.

The Blue Room also serves lunch, which receives good reviews too. The lunch menu offers everything from the ubiquitous fish and chips to salads, wraps, sandwiches and burgers.  There is a kids menu as well, which features whale-shaped pancakes for breakfast.

Clean, simple lines, water views and a lot of blue are the hallmarks here

Clean, simple lines, water views and a lot of blue are the hallmarks here

During the warm weather months there is a pretty patio that offers sweeping views of the harbour. Which has me thinking that we have a perfect excuse to return to one of our very favourite communities and The Blue Room to enjoy the patio and try out the lunch menu.  It doesn’t get much happier than that.

            Further information on The Blue Room Bistro and its offerings can be found at the website:

http://www.theblueroombistro.com/Home.html

wheelchair-lThe Blue Room is located at 1627 Peninsula Road, on the main drag into the village

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.94212482490295  Long. -125.54698062796183

N 48 56.527 W 125 32.819

 Price rating: $ – $$

The Blue Room Bistro on Urbanspoon

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