Brickyard Park – a hidden treasure in Nanoose

Bench ViewIt’s not very big, but there is a treasure of a park tucked away in the Nanoose area that is a secret favourite of the locals.  Brickyard Park is a five-acre (2 hectare) chunk of rocky waterfront outcrop that offers spectacular views of the Winchelsea Islands, wildlife viewing, swimming, scuba diving and kayaking….or a place to simply sit and contemplate life.

View of Winchelsea Islands from Brickyard Park

Rudimentary trails at Brickyard Park lead to beautiful views

The park was dedicated by the developers of the upscale Fairwinds development in Nanoose.  Surrounded by expensive waterfront homes perched on the cliffs on either side, Brickyard Park (or Brickyard Bay, or Brickyard Cove, as it is sometimes known) is overseen by the Nanaimo Regional District.  The trails are rudimentary at best, but a little exploration reveals pretty views from various points, and a wealth of vegetation ranging from Garry Oaks to arbutus trees.

Brick remnants in Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Remnants of brick from a century ago are still seen embedded in pathways and tree roots

The name for Brickyard Park comes from its history.  In 1911 enterprising pioneers in the area began hauling clay from the surrounding fields to the tiny protected bay area. Barges hauled coal to the site to fire the kilns, and were then utilized to haul away the finished bricks to world markets.  More than a century later there are still remnants of the bricks to be found embedded in tree roots and some of the pathways.   The clearing of the clay laid the base for what is now the local golf course, although it took many years before that facility and the surrounding residential development would become a reality. Original plans to develop a high-end community on the 1350 acres now known as Fairwinds were spawned in 1929.  But, of course, there couldn’t have been a worse time for developers to be planning such an initiative and over the years the land reverted to livestock pasture.  The property changed hands a number of times, and more recent developments have seen the original dream becoming reality.

Pebble beach at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

The small pebble beach offers safe swimming and pretty views

We spent about an hour knocking about at Brickyard Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and saw only two other people.  There are benches perched in various locations that allow different views of water, outlying islands and mountains – a perfect spot for a picnic on a warm day.  The small bay where the brickworks was actually located offers a pretty, protected gravel beach.  And a wander up through the forest reveals bits of brick and moss-covered footings that were obviously part of the actual brickworks.

Benches at Brickyard Park, Nanoose, Vancouver Island

Benches are located at several locations, offering varying views

While the walking at Brickyard Park isn’t particularly arduous the trails are, as mentioned earlier, pretty rudimentary.  To get to the best observation spots be prepared to take your time and work your way over rocky outcrops. Good footwear is a must.  It will all be worth the effort and extra care though – this sweet little hideaway park is one of the Island’s most enchanting.

Sign To get to Brickyard Park you need to get to Amberwood Lane, which is off Andover Road in Nanoose.  There is a sign for the park at the trailhead.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.275667  Long. -124.120206

N 49 16.540  W 124 07.212

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Courtenay’s Locals at The Old House earns highest LEAF certification for environmentally friendly ‘green’ practises

Exterior BestWe begin this brand new year with a story with a bit of a different twist.  But it is the kind of feature that nonetheless has an impact for many reasons – we are writing this week about the first restaurant in British Columbia to earn the top level of LEAF certification – and that restaurant is right here on Vancouver Island.

LEAF is the acronym for Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice.  Founded in Calgary in 2009, the non-profit organization is a third party certifier of sustainability for food service establishments.  The association has three levels of certification, with Level III being the highest.  Locals at the Old House in Courtenay has been working its way up the LEAF ladder for a number of years, and has now reached the highest level of official recognition.

LEAF considers hundreds of matters when a restaurant applies for certification, with the aim of reducing overall environmental impact of the food service industry. One of the major goals is to encourage restaurants to patronize area growers and suppliers. Locals was one of the first ones on the Island out of the gate on that front so it had a running start.

Locals earned its Level I certification while still at its old location in a strip mall, but a move to the beloved Old House on the Courtenay waterfront in 2008 inspired restaurant owners Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre to strive for an even ‘greener’ status.  Extensive renovations at The Old House and implementation of new systems that better supported green practice brought the restaurant up to Level II certification.  More recently Locals reached the pinnacle of certification from LEAF with yet more fine tuning

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

Tricia and Ronald St. Pierre continue to strive for improvements at Locals at The Old House

The past year has seen Locals build upon its improvements with a number of adjustments. A switch to a green eco-logo line of certified products from Planet Clean, upgrading of kitchen equipment with Energy Star appliances and development of their own kitchen food scrap management strategies all contributed to the higher certification from LEAF.

The St. Pierres are never content to rest on their laurels, however. Just last month during a meeting with Tricia she was mentioning that Locals is now giving thought to how to reduce their water usage – another laudable goal that puts the Locals folks in the forefront not only for exquisite food, but social responsibility.

            Further information on LEAF, including a list of certified restaurants (Locals is actually the ONLY restaurant certified in all of British Columbia at this point) can be found at:


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Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise offers many delights

Pastry case at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The pastry case at Sweet Surprise is bursting with delectable gluten-free goodies

I have always been a sucker for interesting-looking restaurants and cafes.  Whenever we travel we are always on the lookout for unique dining experiences and, with very few exceptions the places that look like they have character are the ones that serve up some of the best food. And so it was that we landed, quite unplanned and unexpectedly in  Courtenay’s Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café..  We drove by and I couldn’t resist the charming curb appeal of the place. So we back-tracked.

Strata at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The strata is a perfect combination of flavours

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Gluten-free macaroni and cheese with spinach and chicken

Let me make it clear that neither my husband nor myself have any major food sensitivities, although our aging stomachs occasionally protest at some off-the-wall dining experiment.  We don’t generally frequent gluten-free restaurants, but we are not averse to sampling their wares on occasion. And, as I have already mentioned, the curb appeal of Sweet Surprise just got me. We also had a friend who is gluten-free travelling with us so…..we had a bunch of good reasons to step through the door into this undeniably cute café.

Dining table at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Sweet décor at Sweet Surprise – casual, warm and welcoming

What we found at Sweet Surprise was a happy combination of reasonable prices, hearty portions of good food and an interesting history.  Opened in July, 2014, the café was an offshoot of a farmers market vendor booth – which was a consequence of, of all things, an international student.

Purple chandelier at Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Baklery and Cafe, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Not your average chandelier!

The international student staying in the home of the Sweet Surprise owners was a celiac, so for the entire length of the student’s stay the entire family ate gluten-free.  After the student left the family returned to ‘normal’ eating, but discovered that a couple of family members weren’t feeling as well with the re-introduction of gluten.  So, it was back to gluten free.  One thing led to another, which turned out to be a vendor booth at the wildly popular Comox Farmers Market and that eventually evolved into the charming mother/daughter operated café where we landed on a recent wintery afternoon.

Gluten-free fruit tart at Sweet Surprise Cafe and Bakery, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Gluten-free fruit tart bursting with flavour – a sweet surprise indeed

The menu at Sweet Surprise changes daily, with offerings of delicious soups, pizza, gluten-free sandwiches and a mélange of other options, depending on the day. The three of us settled on a cross-section that included soup that was bursting with flavour, a generous bowl of macaroni and cheese with chicken and spinach, a liberal slice of strata with the perfect balance of herbs and a vegetarian sandwich stuffed with roasted vegetables. We shared three desserts – a luscious cupcake infused with fresh fruit, a slice of heavenly dense chocolate mint bar and a lemon tart, also filled in the center with fresh fruit. All of it was tasty and left us in a happy haze of satiation.

The café is small, but the unusual colour scheme of green and purple works nicely, adding to the coziness and quaint atmosphere.  We enjoyed good, cheerful service, along with the local art (offered for sale) on the walls – it all added up to a pleasant break in a busy day.

            You can find more about Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Café and their daily offerings  on their Facebook page at:

Sweet Surprise is located at 526 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay

Price rating: $

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.691165  Long. -124.996859

N 49 41.470 W 124 59.812

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The Soup Pot – home-made goodness in Courtenay

Bakes French onion soup at The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Baked French onion soup – yum!

There isn’t anything much better on a cold winter’s day than a bowl of luscious hot soup.  But finding a place that specialized in this timeless favourite was a no-go for a couple in Courtenay – despite their best efforts there was little on offer in their community other than the restaurants that listed soup on their menus or as a daily special. So, in September Brad and Sonya took over a tiny roadside venue right on the main drag in to town, re-named it The Soup Pot, and went to work.  By October they were offering a medley of soups and other offerings.

The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Brad and Sonya – cheerful owners make for a happy dining experience

Our curiousity (and our grumbling tummies) got the better of us on a recent visit to Courtenay and we popped in to this funky little spot for a quick bite to eat. Although it was well past the lunch hour the place was humming – customers from nearby businesses were showing up in droves to pick up a take-out meal.  We opted to dine in, perched on stools at the counter running along the front windows.  It was almost nice enough to sit at the outdoor tables situated under a big awning, but the winter sun wasn’t quite providing enough warmth for that.

Brad, cheerful and boisterous, happily informed us of what was left on the menu.  With all of the soups and the chili priced at $6 or a variety of sandwiches at $8 we certainly had no quarrel with the cost.  The soups and chili come with a fresh scone, so we each opted for that choice.

The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

Customers can either ‘dine in’ at the tiny restaurant or order take-out

My husband ordered the cheese and asparagus soup – a creamy delight that combined the two flavours with subtlety.  I got a taste of it and my mouth still waters at the thought of it.  I went with the baked French onion soup – tons of oniony flavour, topped by the classic combination of bread and cheese, melted to a delightfully gooey finish. Our soups were accompanied by a slice of buttered bread – a new batch of scones had just gone in to the oven and we were too hungry to wait.  We did purchase one to bring home, however, and I can vouch for their light, savoury excellence.  There was so much soup in the generously-sized bowls that I couldn’t finish mine.

Exterior view of The Soup Pot, Courtenay, Vancouver Island

There is a covered outdoor eating area as well as a tiny patio at the side of The Soup Pot

Brad and Sonya make all their own soups from scratch, and source as many of their ingredients here on Vancouver Island as they can. The menu changes every day, with 3 – 5 soup offerings, sometimes chili (vegetarian and otherwise) and a variety of sandwiches. The aim is to provide healthy options at reasonable prices, and it certainly appears that The Soup Pot is accomplishing its goal.

In addition to great value for your dollar you get the benefit of a light, bright atmosphere enhanced by the upbeat and friendly owners. Just a couple of months in, they already know the names of many of their customers – a sure sign that the place is popular for all the right reasons.

Price rating: $

            Further information on The Soup Pot can be found on the website at:

Thei daily offerings can be found on their Facebook page at:

The Soup Pot is located at 2780 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.674529  Long. -124.981407

N 49 40.472  W 124 58.884

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Port Alberni’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery

You get a couple of unexpected bonuses when you walk through the doors of Port Alberni’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery – the beautiful aroma of cedar permeates every nook and cranny. And, in addition to enjoying the striking work created by a variety of indigenous artists, visitors also have the opportunity to see some of the beauties actually in the process of creation.

Native artist Gordon Dick works on a First Nations carving at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Gordon Dick works on a commission piece at the gallery

Native artist Gordon Dick was working on a massive commissioned piece in the middle of the gallery when we visited recently.  With a diameter of about six feet and weighing in around 250 pounds, the work was in its early stages.  When it is completed it will be shipped to a new owner in Rye, New York.  This drives home the fact that our First Nations artists are widely recognized for their talent and creativity – it’s no longer a matter of finding native artwork only in mass-marketed chain stores but, rather, in smaller more intimate spaces operated by the artists themselves.

First Nations art at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

There is an eclectic mix of First Nations art at the gallery

Gordon built the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery with lumber from trees felled on the road-side property where the gallery now sits.  The building itself is a work of art, with a beautifully-carved entrance way and unique security doors designed by Gordon in a First Nations theme. The gallery opened for business in December 2008, and since then there has been no looking back.

Woven cedar bark basket at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Woven cedar bark basket

Although the gallery is not large – about 1,000 square feet – it houses a treasure trove of artistic works from a dozen First Nations artisans.  Content varies of course, depending on what sells, but we were pleased to see a nice cross-section of superb work that included everything from reasonably-priced jewellery to wall hangings, masks, cedar bark baskets, original paintings  – and a small canoe.

Carved First Nations spoon at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver IslandGordon has worked in several mediums during the past 20 years and has created paintings, drawings, ceramics and jewellery.  His talent as a wood carver has been widely recognized and he has been commissioned to design and help create unique doors for several public spaces in the Alberni Valley, including the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, the new high school and the Tseshaht administration building, perched on the edge of the Somass River. Gordon was also the head carver on a 23-foot, 6,200 pound totem pole that was recently raised at the site of the old Alberni Residential School.  Each piece tells a story, created after what has obviously been many hours of consideration.

First Nations themed security doors at Ahtsik Gallery Port Alberni, Vancouver Island

Even the security doors have a native theme

The Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is special for many reasons, our favourite among them being the opportunity to see Gordon at work and to come to understand what goes in to producing some of the pieces in the gallery.  The relaxed ambiance (along with the laid-back owner) makes for a great opportunity to linger, enjoy and admire. That all-embracing aroma of cedar, so evocative of the west coast, doesn’t hurt either.

Silver First Nations bracelets at Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island


Further information on the Ahtsik Native Art Gallery can be found at the website:

Ahtsik Native Art Gallery is located at 7133A Pacific Rim Highway, Port Alberni.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.274182  Long. -124.876517

N 49 16.451  W 124 52.591

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comox’s historic Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park transports visitors to another era

Filberg Lodge ExteriorSigh.  I can only begin to imagine what life must have been like in the 1930s when Bob and Florence Filberg built their stunning waterfront home facing across to Comox Bay and the Comox Glacier.   Now known as the historic Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, the lovely old home and nine acres of groomed grounds serve as home to many special functions throughout the year, the summertime Filberg Festival the most famous among them. But visitors can access the site even when there is nothing special going on, which we did one recent fine autumn day.

Living room at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The living room benefits from the warmth of wood finishes and the massive stone fireplace

The impetus for our visit was the fact that, although we had attended special events at the park, we had never had the opportunity to tour the house – and that, alone, is worth making a special visit.  Never mind the gorgeous grounds, scattered with rare trees, waterfront views, beautiful gardens – if you see nothing other than the interior of this abode it will be time well spent.

Master bedroom at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The downstairs master bedroom

Originally designed as a vacation home, the plans for the Filberg Lodge were drawn up on the back of a cardboard carton.  Bob Filberg was a logging magnate, so it stood to reason that the home (which eventually became the family’s full-time residence) should be constructed and finished with the finest of woods, inside and out.  That plan rendered a home that, to this day, exudes comfort, warmth and solidity. Constructed of solid Douglas fir framing, wood finishes predominate inside and out – cedar shakes on the exterior and yellow cedar on the interior.  The beautiful arts and crafts design includes many features that would be considered to be an asset in any modern home of the 21st century.

The dressing room, modelled after the Filberg's accommodation on the Queen Mary

The dressing room, modelled after the Filbergs’ accommodation on the Queen Mary

The large kitchen and small sunny breakfast nook feature mosaic tile floors.  Because the house was constructed during the Depression, it is thought that the mosaic came about to keep craftsmen employed.  The large tiles had originally arrived intact, serving as ballast in ships that arrived in Comox to pick up lumber. But of course, breaking the tiles up and piecing them together for the floors would have taken much more installation time, thus putting food on the table of the craftsmen for a longer period.

Upstairs bedroom at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

One of the upstairs bedrooms, with sweeping views of Comox Bay

The huge downstairs master bedroom features two sitting areas (one with a cozy fireplace, one with a view of Comox Bay). Off the master suite there is a dressing room that replicates the accommodation that the Filbergs enjoyed during a voyage on the Queen Mary.  There is built-in storage at every turn, a stairway railing that features the trunk and limb of a Pacific Yew tree.  Hand-hewn exposed beams are everywhere, and the huge rock fireplace is topped with a massive hand-crafted mantel. A stunning copper portrait of St. Celia, the patron saint of musicians, is embedded in the rockwork above the mantel and if you look closely enough, you will also find a cannonball and a petroglyph ensconced down one side of the rock work

Upper park area at Filberg Heritage Lodge, Comox, Vancouver Island

The lodge is located on nine beautiful acres of parkland

Ultimately the Filberg Lodge ended up as a five bedroom, five fireplace, four bathroom residence – a magnificent tribute to the fine craftsmanship and superior materials utilized during the era.  Walk through that 300-pound solid Douglas fir door and you will find yourself enveloped in a slower, more genteel world, guaranteed.

            Further information on the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park can be found at the website:

Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park is located at 61 Filberg Road, Comox

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.671798  Long. -124.916249

N 49 40.308  W 124 54.975


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Café Talia – good simple food in a charming vintage setting

Cafe Talia in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, British ColumbiaIt was just too intriguing to pass by.  We were wandering around downtown Ganges on Salt Spring Island recently when we happened upon the most interesting tiny building – obviously of vintage provenance and offering food and drink under the moniker of Café Talia.  Who could resist?

Café Talia has wended its way through a number of iterations since its construction way back in the 1930s.  The tiny, two bay-window structure began life as a private residence, later becoming Salt Spring’s first telephone exchange and the first  forest ranger station.  Over the years it also served as a bike shop before morphing, once again, into the exceptionally charming café that it has become.

Pastries at Cafe Talia, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Owner Aletha Humphreys, behind the pastry display case

The cafe is obviously a favourite local hangout, where residents meet to enjoy the European ambiance indoors (seats 12) or, on fine days, the small outdoor patio. Although the place has served as a café since some renovations in 2007, it was taken over early in 2015 by Aletha Humphreys, an escapee from mainland madness. Aletha and her friendly staff have created a warm and welcoming atmosphere that is complimented by good service and tasty, simple food.

Although the baked goods in the pastry case were very tempting we opted for a light lunch.  The daily menu is posted on a chalkboard and, while not extensive, offers up enough variety that even those who are gluten-free or vegetarian will have some options. The emphasis is on local and fresh, right from the coffee to the pastries. While much of the sweet-tooth stuff is produced off-site by master bakers, the lunch offerings are created in-house.

Frittata at Cafe Talia, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Yummy in-house made frittata

My husband ordered a ham and provolone sandwich, which arrived on an exquisite crusty ciabatta bun, crammed with the main ingredients. I opted for the generously-sized frittata of the day, bursting with the flavours of artichoke, sun dried tomato and feta.  Both meals were more than enough to satisfy our tastebuds and our grumbling tummies.

While the exterior of Café Talia may look ‘run down’ to some, that vintage look is intentional, adding a certain appeal to passersby. There is a new roof under the rusted metal, and other upgrades have made the place a wonderful spot for a casual meal or a meet-up with friends. It is its own kind of ‘fancy’ in a very special and distinctive way.

A note to those interested in historical aspects of Salt Spring – there is an information board outside the café (ask the staff for location) that will tell you more about the background of the Café Talia building and the old jam factory behind it, constructed in the 1920s.  Nice to see the historical buildings on the island being preserved and used!

Further information on Café Talia can be found at the website:

Price rating: $

            Café Talia is located at 122 Hereford Avenue, Salt Spring Island.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.853615  Long. -123.502074

N 48 51.217  W 123 30.124


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Salt Spring Saturday Market – a feast for the senses

Overview of Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

A beautiful waterfront location enhances the ambiance of the Saturday Market

Oh my! We have visited some pretty impressive farmers markets over the years, but Salt Spring Island’s famous Saturday Market outdoes them all.

Vegetable vendor at Salt Spring Island Saturday Market

There is an abundance of beautiful produce at the market

The last time we visited 20 years ago, the market was a thriving operation with, perhaps, 80 vendors – very impressive in the days before farmers markets became ‘the thing.’ Two decades later the number of booths has rocketed to 140-plus, occupying a huge portion of the oceanfront Centennial Park in downtown Ganges. While the market is large it was gratifying to see that there is also tremendous depth of quality in the products offered – the mantra of ‘make it, bake it or grow it’ resonates on Salt Spring, for many years a hotbed of inspired artists and a dedicated farming community.

Home baking at Salt Spring Saturday Market

Decadent goodies from Tony’s Tarts

The other great thing about the market is that most of the food items are concentrated in one area, with many of the craftsmen and artisans located along the leafy walkway of the park.  It makes it easy to just pop in and purchase your groceries for the week if you are so inclined, without having to wade through huge crowds.  But for visitors to Salt Spring a thorough tour of the entire market is advised – there is such a massive range of beautiful items that it is worth the time to meander along and enjoy the experience.

Flower vendor at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Flowers galore…..

We began our explorations at the food end, marveling at the abundant displays of fruit and vegetables, many of them organically grown. We enjoyed samples of such diverse treats as sprouted peanuts and organic cheese. Artisan bread and decadent pastries (some from an authentic French patisserie) shone in tempting displays and a huge booth crammed with gorgeous floral arrangements stole my heart.

Child playing violin at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Pint-sized buskers, earning money for more violin lessons

For those needing a pick-me-up (or a quick lunch) there were luscious looking pot stickers on offer along with other hot offerings.

Hand-crafted felted slippers at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Cozy felt slippers in a rainbow of colours and styles

The crafts offered for sale are all of such splendid quality that it wouldn’t be difficult to do all your Christmas shopping in this single location.  Gorgeous colourful felted slippers, unique clothing items, jewellery, pottery, wind chimes, fairy doors, garden and home décor, bags created from discarded clothing, giant metal bugs – the list is endless and engaging.

hand-crafted table runners and placemats at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Colourful and unique table runners and placemats

All-told, we spent a couple of hours wandering about, enjoying the ambiance of the waterfront location and the atmosphere of one of the most eclectic farmers markets in the area. This is not a place you should expect to visit and be done with in just a few minutes – the enchantment of so much excellent product to enjoy will draw you in, guaranteed.

hand-crafted giant metal bugs at Salt Spring Island Saturday Farmers Market

Beautiful giant metal bugs

The Salt Spring Saturday Market runs outdoors from Easter weekend to the last weekend in October.  Vendor booths are open for business between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

            Further information on the market can be found at the website:

wheelchair-lThe Salt Spring Saturday Market is held at Centennial Park, bordering the waterfront in downtown Ganges.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.852390  Long. -123.498634

N 48 51.143  W 123 29.918




Pumpkin Fest a great autumn outing for all ages

Pumpkin fields at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver IslandWe had the best time this past weekend at one of the ‘harvest festivals’ that are ubiquitous on the Island at this time of year.  But the Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest isn’t just any old event created as an adjunct to the Black Creek winery’s everyday business – it is a focused, meticulously planned family affair with amazing attention to detail, providing a first-class experience for young and old alike.

Hay bale maze at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The hay bale maze is a big hit….

Pumpkin Bowling at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

…as was the pumpkin bowling

Located just a few kilometers north of Courtenay off a pretty rural road, Coastal Black Estate Winery specializes in producing fruit wines and mead. Its 400-plus acres sprawl between fields of pumpkins, gourds and, of course, fruits. At the rate things are going however, it may soon be that the popular annual Pumpkin Fest, now in to its third year, eclipses the winery side of things.  Organizers estimate that they will see anywhere between 15,000 and 18,000 people of all ages attending the festival this year.

Pumpkin catapult at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The new pumpkin trebuchet

We headed up to Black Creek on a lovely Saturday and joined hundreds of folks, mostly with little kids in tow, to take in the wonders of Pumpkin Fest.  One of the things that I loved about the event is that portions of the nominal entry fee are donated to worthwhile charities.  But there was lots of other stuff to like too!

Hay wagon ride at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

Hay wagon rides were a popular draw

The covered event barn was a major activity centre, with pumpkin bowling, pumpkin ring toss and a hay bale maze, all of which had the little ones on the go.  The Country Kitchen offered up simple sustenance under cover as well.

Pumpkin signsWe spent quite a bit of time watching the youngsters enjoying themselves, explored the hay bale maze, then headed down the hill along a pumpkin-lined path to enjoy a ride around the farm on one of the two hay wagons.  And, the new star attraction this year – a solar-powered pumpkin trebuchet/catapult that launched pumpkins chosen by attendees towards distance markers.  It’s funny how something so simple can hold the attention of so many for such long periods, but that it did. Who would have thought that watching pumpkins go splat in a field could be so mesmerizing?

They found the perfect pumpkin!

They found the perfect pumpkin!

Heading back up the slope towards lunch we paused to watch families hunting down their perfect pumpkin in the fields, washing them off in the unique pumpkin bath, and then hauling them back up the hill to the weigh and pay station.  There are dozens of different varieties to choose from – orange, white, smooth, warty, big and small.

Pumpkin bath at Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest, Black Creek, Vancouver Island

The unique and strangely beautiful pumpkin bath

We enjoyed tasty wood-fired artisan pizza for lunch, opting for a picnic table in the shade rather than the sunny patio area where we also could have ordered a local ale. We finished lunch with (what else!?) a slice of pumpkin pie.

Part of the pumpkin walk

Part of the pumpkin walk

While this is obviously a hugely successful family event, it appeals to those of us in our more sedate years as well. The energy and engagement of the kids was a happy thing to see, and it was lovely to see families out together enjoying the rural ambiance, fresh air and fine autumn weather.

Artisan wood-fired pizza to complete the day

Artisan wood-fired pizza to complete the day

The Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest runs every weekend in October, plus Thanksgiving Monday, so there is still plenty of time to make the trek and enjoy this most extraordinary event.            wheelchair-lFurther information on the Pumpkin Fest can be found at the website:


            Coastal Black Estate Winery is located at 2186 Endall Road, Black Creek

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.817998  Long. -125.139939

            N 49 49.080   W 125 08.396



Tiny Tidal Taco Shack earns a big following – for good reason

TTS Sign‘Dining out’ has a whole new meaning when you eat at Qualicum Bay’s Tidal Taco Shack.  There is no other option – you eat at the picnic tables overlooking the sweeping vistas of Georgia Strait and the Coast Mountains, or you can eat in your car.

Tidal Taco Shack at Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Tidal Taco Shack is tiny….

Tidal Taco Shack is one of those secret gems with a humble beginning that has grown into something of a local phenomenon. And, we discovered recently, for very good reason!

The tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery opened in 2014 as a project to keep owner Ashley Martz occupied.  It has certainly done that, and then some – she now has three employees helping out at her operation, and judging by the constant flow of customers she may need more in the future.

Beef burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beef burrito – no lack of good food here!

The Tidal Taco Shack is a tiny built-from-scratch structure located just off Highway 19A (the Old Island Highway) on a leased chunk of waterfront.  But its’ lack of stature belies the wonderful food that comes through the order window on a regular basis.

Picnic at tidal Taco Shack in Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Picnic tables, water and mountain views and great food – it doesn’t get any better

The menu includes both burritos ($7.50) and tacos ($4.50) with a variety of generous fillings ranging from chicken to beef to fish and shellfish.  The burritos are huge – enough to keep anyone going through an active day – and if we order them for a late lunch they get me off the hook for cooking a big dinner.

Fish burrito at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The fish burrito combines panko-crusted whitefish with a cornucopia of other flavourful ingredients

We recently took guests from Alberta to the Tidal Taco Shack for lunch, and every burrito that hit the table was consumed with gusto and sighs of contentment. Sitting at a picnic table on a lovely autumn day, taking in the spectacular scenery, provided a quintessential Vancouver Island experience for the drylanders – and for us.

Diners at Tidal Taco Shack, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Taco lovers of all ages flock to Tidal Taco Shack – and it’s dog-friendly, too!

A word of warning – the Tidal Taco Shack is open from noon – 7 p.m., Thursday-Sunday  during autumn, winter and spring, and keeps longer hours during the summer months.If you arrive near ‘traditional’ meal times, be prepared to wait 45 – 60 minutes for your meal. Everything is made fresh, and with the pile-up of customers at lunch and dinner hours you need to be patient.  We usually head there between the rush hours and have never waited more than 15 minutes.

On a recent wind-blown pouring-rain day my husband drove by the place and even then, there were folks sitting in their cars enjoying the fruits of the labours of Ashley and her staff’. The fact that customers drive up to an hour each way to get to the Tidal Taco Shack is further testimony to the excellence of the food that comes out of that miniscule cedar shake-clad edifice.

So, another new ‘dining’ favourite for us – great food in plentiful quantities at good prices, topped off with a spectacular setting.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

            The Tidal Taco Shack doesn’t have a website, but further information can be found on their Facebook page at:

wheelchair-lPrice rating: $

The Tidal Taco Shack is located at 6001 Island Highway, Qualicum Bay

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.402917  Long. -124.626482

 N 49 24.175  W 124 37.589