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

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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

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Port Alberni’s Swept Away Inn will sweep you off your feet

 

The Swept Away Inn

The Swept Away Inn

Big smiles. Warm welcomes. Amazing slow food. And, the most unique bed and breakfast experience you are ever likely to have.  Roll it all together and you have the distinctive, snug and delightful Swept Away Inn, berthed at Centennial Pier in Port Alberni.

The inn is housed in a 100-foot retired minesweeper/tugboat/fishing lodge that dominates the new pier in the heart of downtown Port Alberni. It took a full year for hosts Daniel and Bouchra to refurbish the boat in Port, by which time their initial plans to move on to Tofino had vanished.  The couple fell in love with Port Alberni and its people and made the decision to stay right where they were.  Since late summer of 2014 they have been running the B&B and offering dinner club-style meals that have proven to be a hit with local residents and travelers from all over the world.

The dining and lounge areas exude comfort and warmth

The dining and lounge areas exude comfort and warmth

The couple’s efforts have not gone unnoticed – they recently were selected as one of the top five nominees for a BC Small Business Award. As we discovered on a tumultuous rainswept winter day, all the praise for their efforts is not unfounded.

The sturdy tug has weathered the 70 years of its west coast existence with a good deal of grace, helped along by Daniel’s ministrations. Step into the combined lounge/dining area and you are immediately enveloped by the cozy ambiance and the  one-of-a-kind appeal that only a shipboard experience can offer. Combine that with the warmest of welcomes from Daniel and Bouchra and there can be little doubt that you are headed for an extraordinary time.

Bouchra works her magic in the galley kitchen

Bouchra works her magic in the galley kitchen

Bouchra grew up in Morocco and learned to cook at her mother’s side.  Her innate talent for flavour combinations and her dedication to what she calls ‘real, slow food’ shines through in every dish that arrives on the table. The combination of local ingredients and hours spent in the galley kitchen produces a wide variety of amazing taste sensations that keeps people coming back for the Swept Away limited-seating dinners.  The night we were there we were treated to a traditional Moroccan meal that included a mouth-watering tahini, home-marinated olives and a traditional chicken dish featuring preserved lemons, olives and Bouchra’s own combination of  time-honoured spices.

A traditional Moroccan dinner

A traditional Moroccan dinner

By my estimation it was three hours, start to finish, before dinner arrived at the table.  But all through those hours we enjoyed the company and conversation of Daniel and Bouchra. Both of them are very engaged in the local community, so discussions range from our travels to their concerns about a possible coal port on the Alberni waterfront and revitalization efforts in town.

‘Our goal is to see the world through our guests’, says Daniel, and from the sounds of it they are doing exactly that.

The packet freighter Frances Barkley is berthed just a stone's throw away, making the Swept Away Inn a convenient overnight stay for travellers heading out early on the Barkley

The packet freighter Frances Barkley is berthed just a stone’s throw away, making the Swept Away Inn a convenient overnight stay for travellers heading out early on the Barkley

Dinner finished, we hang out in the beautiful lounge area for a while before heading off to our small (but comfortable) quarters. Bunk beds are the order of the day here – nothing has been changed from the traditional accommodation found on older vessels, and we are fine with that (although we giggle a lot at having to pass each other going sideways in our small state room). We have a porthole that looks out to the wharves where the fishing fleet and the venerable packet freighter Frances Barkley are  docked and, with wind and rain buffeting the boat we are rocked gently to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning is another Moroccan delight – Bouchra prepares barghrir, or ‘crepes with a thousand holes’, topped with a flavourful brown sugar sauce and bananas.They are substantial enough to sustain us well into the afternoon.

Traditional accommodation on a ship - comfortable bunks, small staterooms - a very unique experience for many

Traditional accommodation on a ship – comfortable bunks, small staterooms – a very unique experience for many

While the Swept Away Inn is not what anyone would class a luxury bed and breakfast it is most certainly clean, comfortable and more than welcoming. The food is amazing, the hosts are even more so…and really, how many people can say they have stayed on a 70-year-old retired minesweeper? It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that we wouldn’t have missed for the world.

            The Swept Away Inn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to keep track of their dinner offerings and inquire about the bed and breakfast availability you can find them on Facebook at:

            https://www.facebook.com/sweptawayinn

 The Swept Away Inn is located at Centennial Pier at the bottom of Argyle Street, adjacent to Harbour Quay, Unit 1, 5505 Argyle Street

            GPS co-ordinates are:

             Lat. 49.23507867084177  Long. -124.8163073878357

            N 49 14.105  W 124 48.978

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The Wild Pacific Trail – one man’s dream creates an internationally-renowned legacy

Oyster Jim Martin - the dreamer, and the dream

Oyster Jim Martin – the dreamer, and the dream

One man’s dream. One magical internationally-renowned legacy. That best sums up Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail – a spectacular network of easily accessible walking trails  that stretches for a total of 10 kilometres (6.25 miles)  along the awe-inspiring headlands of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast.  There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe this beautiful-beyond-words trail. And there probably aren’t enough words in the English language to thank Oyster Jim Martin, the affable, low-key fellow who came up with the idea way back in 1980 and finally is seeing his dream come to fruition after 25 years.

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of Oyster Jim and the Wild Pacific Trail evolved because Jim enjoyed fishing and hiking along the rough coastal headlands near the small fishing village of Ucluelet. He conceived of a walking trail that would allow folks of all ages, abilities and financial status to enjoy the sublime beauty of the wild coastline. His initial efforts to interest the community fell on deaf ears – fishing and logging were the mainstays of the local economy early on and there was little, if any, interest in developing the trail.

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Things began going sideways with the traditional employment tracks in the late 1980s however, and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out of both sources of income for many local families.  Oyster Jim, with his quiet persistence, convinced the community that a trail that offered stunning vistas might help boost tourism.

Mesmerizing.....

Mesmerizing…..

It all sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact the maneuvering that it took to acquire the co-operation of developers, First Nations, private property owners, federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments and logging companies is almost as mind-boggling as the finished product.  Oyster Jim credits Charles S. Smith, former director of real estate for the now extinct MacMillan Bloedel  forestry company, with much of the success of acquiring access to the headlands, but it is clear that without Oyster Jim’s perseverance nothing would have happened.

The story of the destruction of the  barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The first leg of the trail, a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) loop, wends its way through old growth rainforest, along craggy promontories,  out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse and back to a well-marked parking lot.  The loop trail opened in 1999 and has been a popular destination for locals and travelers alike.  We got our first taste of it at sunset during a brief summer stopover and were so entranced that we made immediate plans to return, to see more and take in the stunning sweeping vistas, the wildlife, the forest – the enchantment of a truly wild, unspoiled and inspiring place.

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

The Lighthouse Loop is an easy walk, and pretty much anyone should be able to manage it with ease.  There is even wheelchair access at the lighthouse; anyone in a wheelchair with a strong companion would probably be able to enjoy the entire loop with little trouble.

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Further along the peninsula there is an additional 7 1/2 kilometres (4.6 miles) of trail that straggles along the coastline, providing more spectacular scenery looking out to the vast Pacific Ocean. Various sections of the trail are divided up with names such as Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs, Artist Loops, and Big Beach and Brown’s Beach.  There is also an interpretive trail at Terrace Beach, very close to the lighthouse loop.

Depending on where you decide to start and finish your exploration (there are several access points) you will find picnic tables, a children’s interpretive area, viewing decks, beaches, surge channels, pounding surf – well, the list of delights is endless and always varied depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit. You can certainly rest assured that you will never be bored, and you will never see the same thing twice – the varied moods of the ocean and the bordering bluffs and forests guarantee that.

There is excellent signage at the access points

There is excellent signage at the access points

One of the best features of the trail is the fact that it allows visitors to marvel at the massive gray whales (upwards of 20,000 of them) that migrate through the area between March and May each year. There is plenty of other wildlife as well, including bald eagles, sea otters, occasional bear, deer, cougar and wolf.

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

While some visitors may feel a little nervous about the possibility of encounters with larger predators, Oyster Jim offers a succinct answer to their concerns: “If you act like bait, you get treated like bait.” There are tips on dealing with wildlife in the trail brochure, which is available at the access points to the various sections of the trail.

Virtually all of the trail is well-marked and very well maintained – Oyster Jim spends 48 days a year on the maintenance aspect alone. The actual meticulous building of the trail, viewing platforms, bridges and other features seems to take up most of the rest of his time, but despite the long slog to make his vision a reality he still exudes a quiet enthusiasm for all it offers.

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff - not a recommended  place to be when the surf is crashing in

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff – not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

Along the trails visitors will find benches (many of them in memory of Ucluelet pioneers), interpretive signs, brochures, donation boxes, maps, distance markers and bags for doggy excrement.  The entire trail system is so well planned, laid-out and maintained that one is left marveling at the minds and hearts that have created it all. Donations from all quarters help to support the trail, and a dedicated 12-member volunteer board of directors steers the affairs of the non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society.

I have only one warning about the Wild Pacific Trail – if you expect to complete hiking the various sections in the suggested times on the brochures, forget it. We took more than twice as long on a couple of sections  – not because of any difficulty with the trail, but because at every turn there was another breathtaking view that meant we paused, took hundreds of photos and reveled in the moment (which often stretched to several minutes). I am sure that Oyster Jim and his dedicated team will be pleased to hear that – it is what this wonderful trail is all about.

Further information on the Wild Pacific Trail can be obtained by going to the excellent website (be sure to watch the 22 minute video there) at:

www.wildpacifictrail.com

GPS co-ordinates for the first leg of the trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, are:

Lat. 48.92369104633025  Long. -125.54015174761571

N 48 55.421  W 125 32.409

wheelchair-m

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Matterson House evokes the charm and pace of yesteryear

Historic Matterson House was built in 1931

Historic Matterson House was built in 1931

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

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

Shrimp-stuffed mushrooms

Shrimp-stuffed mushrooms

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

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

Oyster main course

Oyster main course

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Matterson House is located at 1628 Peninsula Road in Ucluelet.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.94255362591963  Long. -125.5486269110429

            N 48 56.553 W 125 32.918

            Price rating: $ – $$

Matterson House on Urbanspoon

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

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

Herring fishery at night

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

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

Sea lions

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

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

Spectators watch the herring fishery

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

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

Seagulls at Qualicum Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles

Bald eagles are not an unusual sight

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

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

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

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

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

One of the abandoned Japanese residences at Spring Cove

One of the abandoned Japanese residences at Spring Cove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.subtidaladventures.com

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

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.94487296732658  Long. -125.55765529999996

N 48 56.692  W 125 33.459

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are California sea lions everywhere - including on the docks

There are California sea lions everywhere – including on the docks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information on Ucluelet can be found at the website:

http://ucluelet.ca/

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.946763473886804   Long. -125.56546757372553

N 48 56.806  W 125 33.928

 

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Modern architecture backdrops the historic downtown shopping area

Modern architecture backdrops the historic downtown shopping area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not your average restaurant outdoor seating area...

Not your average restaurant outdoor seating area…

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

 http://www.dnbia.ca/
wheelchair-lThe retail section of the downtown core stretches from Church Street, along Commercial and down to Wallace, an area covering several blocks.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.1669289789983 Long. -123.93707719262505
N 49 10.016 W 123 56.225

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

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

Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday crowds in the civic centre

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

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

Information on heritage tomatoes at Seedy Saturday

Information displays abound at Seedy Saturday events

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

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

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

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

Vendor discusses products

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

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

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

 http://www.qbseedysaturday.com/

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

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34626334450604  Long. -124.4491982460022

N 49 20.776 W 124 26.952

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