Ladysmith’s Appetit – Food For Thought

Thai pork stir fry at Appetit, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Thai pork stir fry in a mild coconut curry sauce

Hole-in-the-wall eateries are always an adventure, and Ladysmith’s Appetit-Food For Thought is no exception. We first ate there several years ago when we enjoyed a quick, cheap ($4) and hearty dinner when we were in town for the annual Christmas Light-up Festival. It has taken us all this time to get back there and sample the fare in less hurried and less crowded circumstances. There were absolutely no regrets.

Martin Tang in the kitchen of Appetit, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Martin in his kitchen

Chef-owner Martin Tang has been operating his 15-seat restaurant for 17 years in the mid-Island town. Appetit’s appeal is its smallness. Bright orange and green walls and a small bay window looking out onto Ladysmith’s main street can’t fail to improve the spirits of anyone who walks through the door. That lift is further enhanced by Martin’s cheery patter as he visits with patrons from his wide-open kitchen, discussing everything from local affairs to sailing as he chops and stirs.

It takes a special kind of place to build up the kind of customer loyalty that Martin obviously enjoys, and it is pretty clear that a combination of factors has helped in that direction.

Beef wor wonton soup at Appetit, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beef Wor Won Ton Soup

For starters, the food at Appetit is memorable for all the right reasons. Great flavour combinations united with reasonable prices and large servings keep patrons coming back. The diverse menu – I suppose you could call it a fusion menu, although not in the truest sense of the word – also encourages folks to return. At Appetit you can enjoy hearty traditional North American breakfast offerings, Asian-inspired lunches, perogies, soup and sandwich specials, one of the daily specials or something off the ‘value menu’ (smaller portions for $6-$7). So, ‘fusion’ for sure – of all sorts of ethnic specialties allowed to star in their own way with no messing around.

Interior of Appetit, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Small but welcoming describes the interior of Appetit

We managed to engineer our most recent visit to Appetit so as to arrive at lunch time. My husband ordered one of the daily specials – a Thai pork stir fry in a mild coconut curry sauce, jammed with noodles and vegetables. The stir fry was accompanied by the house-made soup of the day, which was a flavourful sweet pea and bacon combination. Both dishes were beyond scrumptious, packed full with pleasant surprises for the palate. The stir fry was large enough for both of us to share, for which I was thankful – the flavour combinations had me swooning with delight.

Sweet pea and bacon soup at Appetit, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sweet pea and bacon soup

I ordered the acclaimed Beef Wor Wonton Soup (accompanied by Caesar salad), thinking that it would be just enough to top up the share on the stir fry. Well, I was wrong on that front – the soup, brimming with a tasty broth and chock-full of meat, won tons, vegetables and noodles, had me defeated by the time I was half-way through it. The remainder got packed into a container for later consumption.

Exterior of Appetite, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaI suppose it should come as no surprise that Appetit has had such a successful long run. Martin trained in Germany and has worked at some top-flight hotel restaurants over the years. His passion shines through in everything that hits a plate in this tiny delight of a place. The welcoming ambiance, Martin’s cheerful presence, efficient service and wonderful food at very reasonable prices ensure that we will dine at Appetit at every opportunity when we are in the Ladysmith area.

Appetit is open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Appetit doesn’t have a website, but the restaurant is on Facebook under Appetite Food For Thought.

Price rating: $-$$

Appetit is located at 534 First Avenue, Ladysmith

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.993634 Long.: -123.818168

N 48 59.618 W 123 49.090

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Bamfield’s Music By The Sea festival

Sheet music at Bamfield's Music By The Sea concert, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are not, I don’t think, enough words to describe the enchanting Music By The Sea concert series held each July in the tiny west coast hamlet of Bamfield. ‘Superlative’ comes to mind, as do ‘magical’, ‘marvellous’, ‘exquisite’, ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘spectacular’, ‘splendid’….well, you get the idea. Essentially, it is an experience I would wish for on behalf of anyone who has a love of any type of music.

Musicians at Music By The Sea, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

What could be lovelier than world-class music performed at sunset…

View from Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

… with a world-class view of Barkley Sound

Music By The Sea was launched in 2006, the brainchild of Christopher Donison of Victoria. Donison has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the musical world, but I have to think that the fulfillment of his dream of creating a gathering of some of the most talented musicians from around the world in a stunning natural setting is the zenith of everything he has accomplished. Happily, music lovers as well as the musicians benefit from that dream.

Christopher Donison at Music By The Sea festival, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

Christoper Donison is the mind behind the magic

Donison’s vision has included a myriad of musical activities during the course of the nine-day festival, but for the general public the big draw is primarily the performances, based at the stunning Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries. The Rix Centre is affiliated with the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the east side of the inlet. It reflects much of what is special about the west coast of the Island – the scallop-shell shape, astounding acoustics and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that look on to breathtaking scenery make the perfect setting for inspirational evenings filled with music and good fellowship.

One of the real beauties of this international gathering (of both musicians and spectators) is the eclectic range of music on offer. Every year and program is different, but classical, jazz and popular tunes are frequently heard in a single evening. Musicians specializing in various genres collaborate between performances and present their combined musicianship for the patrons – another interesting experience. While there certainly are classical pieces scheduled, which might lead folks to think this is a pretty high-brow event, it is far from that. At one point during a performance we were treated to three pianists playing at once – one on the spoons and two others on the piano (including Donison, who plays a pretty mean jazz piece despite his ‘classical’ demeanor). It was fun, upbeat and about as far from snobby as you can imagine.

Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

The Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries – home to the Music By The Sea festival

One of the things we love best about this event is the very relaxed and hospitable mood. The evening concerts are scheduled to coincide with the sunsets, enhancing the exquisite atmosphere. Those attending are able to purchase a glass of wine and visit indoors or on the wrap-around balcony prior to the commencement of the evening performance, or during the break. Attire ranges everywhere from casual to high-end. No one seems to care about the fashion aspect – the music and magical ambiance are what it’s all about.

While Donison is the driving force behind all this wonderfulness it needs to be noted that a legion of volunteers also help to make this special event what it is. They are there helping to serve wine, sell Music By The Sea souvenirs (only tasteful ones, of course) and performing a myriad of other tasks. There can be little doubt that the integral community involvement contributes to all that is special about this most unique and extraordinary event.

Musical instruments at Music By The Sea festival, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

If you plan to go, make sure to stick around Bamfield for a few days so that you can enjoy the full range of musical talents at the performances. If you stay in West Bamfield you may well end up chatting with some of the musicians as they wander along the boardwalk or head for a water taxi –  that informal access makes the entire experience all the more memorable.

It should also be noted if you do stay in West Bamfield and need to get across the narrow inlet to the Rix Centre for the performances that there is a free water taxi ride included in the price of your ticket. Check with your accommodation hosts about pick-up times and locations.

Quite simply, Music By The Sea is one of the highlights of our year, steeped in good will, enchanting music and one of the most beautiful environments anyone could possibly imagine. Its scintillating memory ensures that we will return, year after year after year. If you still need convincing, go to the website listed below and click on the ‘Watch the 2012 Video’ link. It will be enough to have you booking tickets as soon as you have finished watching.

This year’s event runs from July 22 – 30

For further information on Music By The Sea, visit the website at

www.musicbythesea.ca

The Rix Centre For Ocean Discoveries is located at 100 Pachena Road, Bamfield

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.83493590001798 Long. -125.1366376876831

N 48 50.096 W 125 08.198

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Denman Island’s Home and Garden tour

Des Kennedy Garden, Denman Island Home and Garden Tour, British ColumbiaWhat could be more appealing following a long, cold winter and a non-Spring than a home and garden tour on one of British Columbia’s most beautiful Gulf Islands? The Denman Island Home and Garden Tour runs only every second year, and the 2017 version is slated for June 9-10. The tour benefits the Denman Island Conservancy Association, and has been named by the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s top six horticultural events.

Denman Island Home and Garden TourThis year the Denman Island Home and Garden Tour will include an eclectic collection of gardens located everywhere from sea front to forest. Spectacular ornamental and vegetable gardens, flourishing farms and vineyards will draw attendees along pathways to drink in the sweet fragrance of early summer and the visual delight created by endless hours of work and inspiration on the part of the property owners. This year’s tour includes the East Cider Apple Orchard and the ever-popular home and garden of horticultural celebrity Des Kennedy and his partner Sandy.

Denman Island Home and Garden TourThe ‘home’ part of the Denman Island Home and Garden tour will highlight a wide variety of housing styles, from a tiny home to more palatial digs featuring breathtaking ocean views and forested hideaways. Several of the homes are constructed of recycled materials. A century-old church is also on the tour agenda.

Those heading to Denman for the tour are being encouraged to cycle rather than drive, with special prizes being offered for those traversing the island on two rather than four wheels.

Denman Island Home and Garden TourThere is also a popular plant sale being held in conjunction with the Denman Island Home and Garden Tour. This year the sale will be at the community hall, and it will benefit the Denman Island Community Education Society. This promises to be an added delight to the day and may just render souvenir possibilities for the gardens of those visiting and enjoying the tour.

Denman Island Home and Garden TourIn addition to the delights of enjoying a day out, the Denman Island Home and Garden Tour is sure to send attendees home with new ideas for their own properties. For me, this is always one of the best reasons to participate in these events.

Tickets for the Denman Island Home and Garden Tour are $20 and are available at the following locations:

Bowser: Salish Sea Market

Campbell River: Apple Seed Cottage

Courtenay: Art Knapp Garden Centre

Home and Garden Gate

Cumberland: Rusty Rooster

Denman Island: General Store

Abraxus Books

Hornby Island: Hornby Island Gas Bar

Parksville: Cultivate Garden and Gift

Qualicum: Ken Dor Garden Centre

Nanaimo: Green Thumb Garden Centre

For a sneak peek at the homes and gardens on this year’s Denman Island Home and Garden Tour you can go to the website at:

http://www.denman-conservancy.org/home-and-garden-tour/

Hours for the tour are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

GPS co-ordinates for the Vancouver Island ferry terminal where you catch the boat to Denman are:

Lat. : 49.525455 Long. -124.847617

N 49 31.527 W 124 50.857

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Nanoose’s Moorecroft Regional Park

Boathouse at Arabe Cove, Moorcroft Regional Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The old boathouse at Arab Cove is one of the few remaining structures left in the park

I am always at my most content in the natural world. When we find a place like Moorecroft Regional Park in Nanoose Bay, my happiness quotient multiplies ten-fold. Apparently it does that for a lot of people – the day we discovered this magical spot we encountered a number of other visitors who were exploring the park for the first time, and everyone was having similar reactions.

Gertrude Moore cabin at Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Miss Moore’s cabin

Moorecroft has a very long history in the central Island area. It was established in 1934 as a summer camp for girls by Gertrude Moore, and was operated continuously by her until 1954, when her failing health necessitated the decision to sell the waterfront property. The United Church of Canada purchased the property for the princely sum of $50,000, and continued to run it as a camp.

Picnic area at Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanaoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is an upgraded picnic area at the park, overlooking Arab Cove

And what a camp it must have been! Over the years hundreds of young people would flock to the pristine site to share cabins and traditional camping activities, and to create memories that would last them a lifetime. Historical records reveal that the campers were supervised by an average of 90 employees over the course of the summer. The site eventually grew to encompass 17 cabins, staff quarters, caretaker’s house, a dining hall with a commercial kitchen, main lodge and several auxiliary buildings. On our first visit to Moorecroft several years ago many of those old buildings were still standing and that old-fashioned camp atmosphere continued to linger, creating a very unique ambiance seldom found in a public park. Things have changed in recent years – virtually all of the cabins, other than Miss Moore’s, have disappeared from the landscape. The old dining hall and main lodge are no more – dilapidation had crept in, rendering the buildings unsafe and an insurance risk.

Fenced trail at Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanaoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Trails have been upgraded and fenced to protect fragile habitat

Miss Moore’s cabin, perched on a bluff, has the entire roof covered in plastic tarpaulins. We hope that this is a sign that her home will be preserved. The views from that particular spot are spectacular, and left us thinking about how wonderful it must have been to wake up there each morning.

Bridge in Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

No more muddy feet, thanks to well-constructed bridges over damp areas.

When the United Church decided to sell the 85-acre property in 2010 there was a great hue and cry, with many area residents fearing that developers would purchase the land and desecrate what had truly become a regional treasure. The property was listed in September of that year at a price of $7.95 million – a price that only a developer (or a lottery winner) could have contemplated. Happily for anyone who lives in or visits the Nanoose Bay area, the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Nature Trust of British Columbia had had the site targeted for a park since the mid 1990s, and they were able to make a successful offer of $4.8 million. It’s a credit, I think, to both the Regional District and the United Church that this lovely gem of a place will be available to the general public in perpetuity, and that the fragile eco-systems will be protected.

Arab Cove at Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking out from Arab Cove, where campers enjoyed water activities

So, what will you experience at Moorecroft? It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what magic this place must have seemed to campers when they arrived from big cities. Walking paths and trails wend their way along more than 2,800 feet (almost one kilometer, or two-thirds of a mile) of pristine waterfront. There is a serene cove ideal for swimming bounded on one side by a rocky spit (with a peaceful bench at the end of it, looking out to Georgia Straight) and on the other by Vesper Point. There is a fairly long walk from the waterfront through the woods up to what is now called the meadow, which once served as the camp playing field. There is a wetland area. There are 79 acres of natural forest that serve as home to a wide variety of flora and fauna (some of it endangered), including bald eagles. There are gorgeous panoramas of sea and shore. There are perfect picnic spots and places to laze away a sunny afternoon. Finally (and maybe this is because Moorecroft was operated for so many years by a religious organization – who knows?) there is a tremendous serenity, a soothing sense of sanctuary about the place. There is no busy-ness to it, no hum of activity – only tranquility and the beauty of the natural world. It may be as close to heaven as I will ever get.

Bench viewpoint at Vesper Point, Moorecroft Regional Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Spectacular views across the Salish Sea can be enjoyed from a number of viewpoints

Good walking shoes are recommended if you want to experience Moorecroft to the fullest. Dogs on leash are welcome. Further information on Moorecroft Regional Park can be obtained by going to the Regional District of Nanaimo website at:

http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2605

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.2978806 Long. -124.176654

N 49 17.873 W 124 10.599

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Ladysmith’s Kids Pirate Day

Kids Pirate Day, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island. British Columbia

The meet and Greet Committee for Kids Pirate Day

There are pirates everywhere – big ones, small ones, short ones and tall ones. There is a massive bouncy slide for the kids, a bullhead fishing derby. There is live entertainment, a great variety of food, a craft tent for youngsters. There is a treasure hunt, pirate duelling, coast guard demonstrations, harbour tours and a purple martin display.

Bullhead fishing derby at Kids Pirates Day, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The bullhead fishing derby is always a popular event

In a nutshell, Ladysmith’s Kids Pirates Day offers some of the best free family fun to be found on Vancouver Island. There is so much going on it’s mind-boggling, but pleasantly so.

Girl pirate at Ladysmith's Kids Pirates Day, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Dressed to the nines….

The energy level at the festival is the first thing that strikes those who arrive at the Ladysmith Maritime Society’s community marina site on Ladysmith’s pretty sheltered waterfront. There are kids everywhere, many dressed as pirates. Adults get into the spirit too, adding to the maritime ambiance, the silliness, and the fun.

The water’s edge location sprawls outward along floats that house the maritime society’s excellent maritime museum and its collection of beautifully-restored heritage boats. There is colour and activity everywhere, enhanced by bright banners, tents housing various activities and displays and thousands of delighted patrons, young and old, enjoying a great day in the outdoors.

Pirate sword fight at Ladysmith'e Kids Pirates Day, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Avast, me mateys! May the best pirate win!

Ever-mindful of the safety of its young patrons, the maritime society also mans a ‘Kids Don’t Float’ station, where young attendees are fitted with flotation devices as they head out along the wharves towards the water-based events and attractions.

This annual event is some of the most fun we have had in a long time – full of action and interest but laid-back at the same time. A wander through the dozens of appealing displays and the nautical feel to the occasion leaves us in a happy, relaxed frame of mind. We have the opportunity to learn about the efforts of the maritime society on behalf of the western purple martin recovery program, and we always spend some time in the unique floating museum that documents much of Ladysmith’s history. It is one wonderful afternoon, leaving us with happy memories and yet another reminder of what a vibrant place Ladysmith is, with so much to offer residents and visitors alike.

Young pirate at Kids Pirates Day, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaOne of the recent additions that we are aiming to take in this year is the Pirate’s Feast, the first of many bi-weekly Dine on the Dock events at the harbour slated for the summer months. For $20 a head you get a meal prepared by one of the guest chefs from town – it could be anything from salmon to ribs or hamburgers. This year the Pirate’s Feast is scheduled for the Friday night, June 2, with Kids Pirate Day slated for Saturday, June 3.

For current information and updates on plans for this year keep an eye on the Ladysmith Maritime Society website and click the Kids Pirate Day link at:

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

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:

Lat. 48.99552295361928 Long. -123.81512403488159

N 48 59.731 W 123 48.907

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Waterfront dining at Kingfisher’s Ocean 7

Buttermilk fried chicken and polenta fries at Ocean 7 restaurant, Kingfisher Resort and Spa, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Buttermilk fried chicken atop polenta fries

We had one of our ‘junket days’ up to Courtenay recently and decided on the spur of the moment to have lunch on the way home at Kingfisher’s new Ocean 7 restaurant. It was one of our very rare sunny Spring days and a meal overlooking the water seemed like a good idea.

The new dining arrangement at Kingfisher has side-by-side offerings of the casual Aqua Bistro and Wine Bar or the more formal Ocean 7 restaurant. We opted for Ocean 7 on this occasion, but in future are eager to visit the bistro’s spacious outdoor patio, which offers sweeping views of the Salish Sea and mainland mountain ranges.

Calamari at Ocean 7 restaurant, Kingfisher Resort and Spa, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Calamari

Ocean 7, while able to accommodate a large number of guests, doesn’t feel oversized or overwhelming. The layout includes many window tables, with booth accommodation along the back wall. Carpeting muffles the sound issues, making it possible to hold a conversation without having to yell at your dining companions, and white linen table cloths and napkins up the classiness of this new space.

The menu offers an interesting array of dining options, although we were disappointed to hear that both of the dishes featuring mussels were unavailable due to seasonal closure of mussel harvests.

Patio at Ocean 7 restaurant, Kingfisher Resort and Spa, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A view of the patio outside the bistro, which offers great water views and sunshine for al fresco dining

We mulled over the lunch menu for several minutes before deciding, with my husband opting for the KFC (Kingfisher Fried Chicken) and me settling on the calamari.

Both dishes arrived in reasonable time and, while the servings were certainly not large they were plentiful enough for a mid-day meal.

View from Ocean 7 restaurant at Kingfisher Resort and Spa, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view – sweeping beaches and big sky

My husband deemed the buttermilk-marinated chicken very good, if  slightly tough. The polenta fries were a little on the spicy side, although not overwhelming, and the broccolini salad added a nice touch of colour and flavour variation to the dish.

My calamari arrived accompanied by roasted red pepper, roasted onion rings, chopped red onion and shaved scallions. The calamari was coated in a very light batter and fried to the point of crispness without being at all greasy. Again, a nice lunch without being over the top.

Exterior of Ocean 7 restaurant at Kingfisher Resort and Spa, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaBecause Kingfisher is a favourite spa destination for many, Ocean 7 was busy despite our Monday visit. The combination of beautiful waterfront views, good service and an enticing menu seems to have worked its magic. The menu for the bistro is similar but also includes sharing dishes, so for those looking for a more casual option (or al fresco dining when the weather finally warms up) Aqua would also be an option.

Further information on Ocean 7 and Aqua can be found at the website:

http://www.kingfisherspa.com/dining/

Price rating: $$ – $$$

Kingfisher Oceanside Spa Resort is located at 4330 Island Highway South (Highway 19A, or the Old Island Highway), between Royston and Union Bay.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.631720 Long. -124.919901

N 49 37.903 W 124 55.194

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Chemainus – Vancouver Island’s Cinderella town

Mural of steam logging train in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the 40-plus murals that have helped to make Chemainus famous

It’s known on Vancouver Island as The Little Town That Did, and boy, did it ever! Located on the east coast mid-way between Victoria and Nanaimo, the small town of Chemainus rose from the ashes of a floundering forest industry 30 years ago to become one of the Island’s premiere tourist destinations. Thanks to the initiative of residents who could clearly ‘think outside the box’ the former gritty little settlement that relied heavily on logging and milling now flourishes thanks primarily to a vibrant arts and culture movement. It has been an astounding and heartening turnaround – one that I wish we were witness to more often during our many and varied travels.

Willow Street, uptown Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Uptown Chemainus features boutique shops, cafes and lots of history

I swung through Chemainus once when I first ‘emigrated’ to the Island 40-plus years ago, but it had so little to offer visitors then that I never bothered to return until very recently. What we found on our most recent visits was such an astonishing transformation that it still boggles the mind. The drab greyscapes of yesteryear have been replaced with colour and energy at every turn.

Old town Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Old Townj Chemainus – not quite as upscale, but nonetheless charming

The beginning of Chemainus’ Cinderella story came with the installation of huge murals depicting the history of the town. They now number 40, brightening the sides of buildings everywhere you look. As word of the giant works of art spread, so too did the inspiration of the town’s residents.

Horse and carriage tour, Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Horse and carriage tours offer the best way to see the town’s murals and learn about its history

Mural in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another of the murals depicts everyday life in the community

These days Chemainus is home to a thriving live theatre scene that is housed in a beautiful building and annually attracts thousands of attendees from near and far. Both the old town and ‘uptown’ areas are host to unique shopping opportunities, distinctive and excellent culinary adventures, charming bed and breakfasts in historic homes, pretty parks. Smack in the middle of the uptown area there is a ‘secret garden’, where you can purchase a snack or beverage and loll about enjoying the live music emanating from the central gazebo.

Bed and breakfast in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are many charming bed and breakfasts in town

You can take a horse-drawn carriage tour to explore all the nooks and crannies, or you can spend a few hours wandering on your own and discovering the history and magic of this pretty little seaside spot. Things are so relaxed and slow-paced in Chemainus that it’s not unusual to see folks straggling down the middle of what serves as uptown’s main drag as they cross the street. The merchants are hospitable and friendly and there is a happy vibrancy that lifts the spirits and encourages visitors to slow down and stay awhile.

Walkway to old Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It is an easy and pretty walk between uptown and downtown

Waterwheel Park, Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Waterwheel Park

In the meantime, all I can say is: Wow! Good on ya, Chemainus – you are an inspiration and a wonderful example of what a resourceful community can do. May you continue to thrive.

A good starting point for your visit would be the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, located at 9796 Willow Street, across from Waterwheel Park

Further information on Chemainus can be obtained by going to:

www.chemainus.com or www.chemainus.bc.ca

GPS co-ordinates for the information centre are:

Lat. 48.9232863 Long. -123.7181897

N 48 55.397 -123.7181897

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Qualicum Bay’s Lighthouse Country Regional Trail

Bridge on Lighthouse Country Regional TrailIt has been more than four years since we last visited the south loop of the Lighthouse Country Regional Trail system near Qualicum Bay. In the past we have stuck to the easily-traversed and beautifully-constructed main trail, which now also links up with the north loop trail (despite what the Regional District of Nanaimo information tells you.) The last time we tried to tackle what is called ‘the rough trail’ that forms the backside of the loop through Wilson’s woodlot, we battled through mud bogs and underbrush. Several years of work on the part of community volunteers, though, have made a huge difference to the rougher trails to the point where anyone in half decent shape should be able to handle the entire walk without difficulty.

Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Wide, level trails accommodate everything from hikers to wheelchairs

Thanks to the long-term efforts and commitment of many area volunteers, the Regional District of Nanaimo and a job opportunity program, the 2.5 km. (2 mile) trail has undergone major upgrades to the point where it is accessible to those in wheelchairs and on medi-scooters. The wide, level pathway has a fine pea gravel surface and features many thoughtful designs that accommodate the disabled. There is a picnic table that has the table surface extended well past the end of the fixed seating, allowing a wheelchair to be pushed right up to the table.  Wooden logs laid along the perimeter of the trail provide a tapping edge for the visually impaired. The mud bogs and streams that we slogged through in the past are now easily negotiated thanks to the construction of sturdy wooden and aluminum bridges.

Wheelchair-accessible picnic table on Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is a wheelchair-accessible picnic table….

Carved bench on Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and a variety of benches to rest on

The trail meanders through a stretch of Douglas Fir forest, providing a delightful outing for anyone who appreciates the outdoors. A couple of fish-bearing streams and many interpretive plaques add to the interest. There are sturdy benches to rest on, and whimsical wood carvings nestled in the undergrowth along the way surprise and delight.

Wilson's Woodlot, Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The road through Wilson’s Woodlot

For those of a more adventurous bent there is a connector road that leads to Wilson’s Woodlot, a 402 hectare (1,000 acre) preserve that is criss-crossed by hiking trails and roads.

Walking trail at Wilson's Woodlot, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Even the ‘rough trail’ is easily traversed

The trails at the woodlot are not wheelchair accessible, but those able-bodied adventurers looking for more of a challenge (or, simply, a different route back to the trailhead at Lioness Boulevard) may like to veer off the pea gravel and into the woodlot. This was the route we chose this time around and, although I think we may have missed the turnoff for the (allegedly short) ‘rough trail’, we enjoyed hiking through the forest on decent pathways, eventually winding up back at the main entrance to the south loop. All told, we spent 1 hour and 20 minutes, hiking a total of 4.3 miles (7 kilometres). If you do choose this option, good walking shoes or hiking boots are a must.

Stream at Wilson's Woodlot, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A stream on the ‘rough trail’

Now that the north and south Lighthouse Country Regional Trails are linked it would be simple enough to do the entire length of each trail, leaving a vehicle at either end if you don’t feel inclined to walk the whole thing in both directions. Access to the north loop is off McColl Road, where there is a wheelchair-accessible Porta Potty.

Interpretive sign on Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interpretive signage along the trail introduces visitors to the flora and fauna of the area

Kudos to all those who contributed to the successful completion of this lovely community feature – it is a real asset, being one of only three truly handicapped-accessible trails in the area.

Woodland trail at Wilson's Woodlot, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWalkers, cyclists and those in wheelchairs and medi-scooters are welcome on the Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, as are dogs. Motorcycles, trail bikes and other motorized vehicles are prohibited. If you are taking your canine companion please keep in mind that it must be under control at all times in order to ensure the safety of those with disabilities who may be using the trail. Equestrians and hikers with off-leash dogs are also welcome to utilize the woodlot, which commences at the McColl Road end of the trail.

For further information, directions to, and maps of  the Lighthouse Country Regional Trail, go to:

http://www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=2584

GPS Co-ordinates for the McColl Road trailhead (North Loop) are:

Lat. 49.417087727761 Long. -124.65100765228271

N 49 25.025 W 124 39.060

The southernmost trailhead on the Lighthouse Country Regional Trail is near the Lighthouse Community Centre, off Lioness Boulevard.

GPS Co-ordinates for this trailhead are:

Lat. 49.403335950026246 Long. -124.63362693786621

N 49 24.200 W 124 38.018

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Earth Day tours at Qualicum Beach’s Hamilton Marsh

Hamilton Marsh, near Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Hamilton Marsh

Hamilton Marsh is a pristine bit of heaven that offers much to those looking for a brief respite from civilization. The marsh is located just a few minutes from Qualicum Beach and is a great place to appreciate the wonders of the natural world at any time of year.

Children at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Earth Day activities at Hamilton Marsh encourage children to discover the flora and fauna of the area

The marsh is the largest between Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Cumberland, and, of 32 area wetlands studied, is the most prolific brood marsh for waterfowl breeding. This beautiful site is 3 kilometres long (almost two miles) and ½ kilometre wide. Miles of forested trails skirt its perimeter, and the beautiful mountain and water views attract outdoors enthusiasts from young to old.

Visitors on the dock at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Visitors can venture out on the dock to take in the marsh

Our first visit was during an Earth Day tour hosted by the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society. The event attracted nature lovers of all ages and offered an intriguing glimpse into the thousands of creatures that inhabit the marsh and the surrounding woodlands – many of them endangered species. This occasion was an especially engaging one for youngsters, who were encouraged to dip nets into the marsh and deposit their found ‘treasures’ into water-filled white tubs where they could easily see and identify the flora and fauna that they had scooped up.

Salmonberry at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancoouver Island, British Columbia

There is much simple natural beauty to be discovered at the marsh

Fungii at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWhite salmonberry bloom at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaYou don’t, however, have to be an avid naturalist in order to enjoy Hamilton Marsh, and you certainly don’t require guides and interpretive tours to take pleasure in the serene beauty of the place. While it is well-used and appreciated by local residents it is far from crowded. After parking your vehicle in the small area provided you can meander along any number of trails or head straight for the small floating dock that extends out into the marsh. Spend some time out there enjoying the splendid scenery and wildlife activity and any cares you may have brought with you will evaporate. Depending on the time of year that you visit you may enjoy watching anything from wood ducks to trumpeter swans, black bears to elk.

Trail at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The trails are on a ‘use at your own risk’ basis

The history of Hamilton Marsh dates back to the mid-to-late 1800s when it was originally logged. Logging activities continued sporadically until the mid-1940s. Despite several efforts by various conservation groups to purchase the marsh, it may well be logged again by current owner Island Timberlands, which rejected the most recent purchase offer in 2008. At present, the marshlands are open to the public on a ‘use at your own risk’ basis.

Nesting boxes at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nesting boxes help attract a wide variety of birds

Those planning to use the trail system should be aware that while the trails are easily enough navigated they are not what anyone would call ‘well-groomed.’ Wear sturdy walking shoes and be prepared to deal with the occasional muddy spot if you visit during or following wet weather. Dogs are welcome, but due to wildlife activity should be kept on leash.

Earth Day this year is Sunday, April 23 and members of the Arrowsmith Naturalists will once again be offering guided tours of Hamilton Marsh. The tours run between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Further information on Hamilton Marsh can be found at the website:

www.hamilton-marsh.com

Hamilton Marsh is located off Hilliers Road South, about 10 minutes from Qualicum Beach. Take the turnoff for Hilliers Road South off of Highway 4, go 1 ½ kilometres (about 1 mile) and park in the second parking area, which will give you easy access to the trails and the marsh.

GPS co-ordinates are (roughly)

Lat. 49.32081430570934 Long. -124.46316719055176

N 49 19.249 W 124 27.790

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Errington’s North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bald eagle at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWorld class. Those are the two best words I can think of to describe the North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre, tucked away in the secluded – but easily accessible – backwoods of the mid-Vancouver Island area.

North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island,. British Columbia

Viewing areas are rustic and provide plenty of privacy for the animals in the enclosures

The NIWRC, as it is referred to locally, is located on eight acres on a quiet back road in Errington. Founded in 1984 a little further north on the Island, the centre moved to its current home at the old farm site in 1986, and has slowly evolved in to a stunning facility that serves a multitude of purposes – all of them well.

Flight cage at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Flight cage for recuperating birds

The story of NIWRC began with an injured Great Horned Owl and the ministrations of Robin and Sylvia Campbell. It has grown over 30 years to include the care and rehabilitation of thousands of birds and mammals, most notably raptors, black bears, wolves and cougars.

Treatment centre at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The treatment centre

Most wildlife treatment facilities that I have visited over the years have been smallish operations focused solely on the the tasks at hand – getting the patients back out in to their natural habitat. They have been interesting, but not particularly memorable. I don’t think there is an NIWRC visitor anywhere who could say that about the beautiful facility here on the Island. Not only is it interesting and memorable, it leaves guests enraptured. I put that down to the fact that the Campbells, their board of directors and the many staff and volunteers who make this place run have not only a love for wildlife, but an innate respect for it. It shows in every nook and cranny of the place.

Bear enclosure at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The bear enclosure – not too picturesque, but very bear-friendly

The entry to this magical world is through the centre’s gift shop. Which, of course, left me expecting commercial aspects all the way through. I was so off-base on that presumption that it’s embarrassing. Once you exit the gift shop you are transported into a world where nature reigns supreme.

Museum of Nature at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Museum of Nature

The tour of NIWRC begins in the Museum of Nature, a spectacular mortise and tenon timber frame structure that houses dozens of static displays of wildlife in their natural habitat. Detailed information tablets are located in front of each specimen, and the push of a button supplies visitors with an audio experience of what that particular creature sounds like in the wild.

After marveling in this structure for quite some time I wandered past the very well-equipped treatment centre and nursery and on towards the massive eagle flight cage – at 140 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high, the largest of its kind in Canada. The flight cage allows for one-way viewing of many of the eagles that are in rehabilitation.

From the flight cage, on to the black bear rehabilitation area, where natural habitat is the byword – no neat and tidy enclosure here, but rather a tangle of blackberries, a pond and a mess of other stuff that forms the real world of a black bear.

Nesting boxes at North Island Widlife Recovery Centre, errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nesting boxes

The beautiful rustic public viewing area also echoes the NIWRC’s dedication to providing as natural and non-invasive a habitat as possible for its non-releasable residents – while visitors can most certainly see the many species on display the animals are able to maintain their distance and privacy to a very great degree. Again, that intrinsic reverence for the creatures is so very evident.

Release pond at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The release pond

A ramble around the release pond and along the nature trail yields up yet more delight – interpretive signage along the way identifies many species of the plant life to be found at the centre. And finally, a stop in another striking building, the wildlife learning centre. Again, more wonderful displays and innovative learning opportunities, and a video heralding some of the work that NIWRC does. When you visit be sure not to miss this video – it is stunning and inspiring. The beautiful footage of the raptor releases brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

Hands down, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is one of the ‘must see’ attractions on Vancouver Island. The great work that they do combines with the lovely environment and positive vibe to make it an enlightening, heart-warming and very positive experience for even the most cynical among us.

The North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre is located at 1240 Leffler Road, Errington. Please note that the centre is wheelchair accessible (they even have a wheelchair available). The centre is not open year-round, so best to check out their website to ensure that you won’t be disappointed if you venture there. Further information can be obtained at:

www.niwra.org

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.293249490397066 Long. -124.35802459716797

N 49 17.595 W 124 21.481

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