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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Qualicum Beach’s Nature’s Garden Trails

Smiley face whimsies in the Nature's Garden trails in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

You have to look very closely to see some of the hundreds of whimsies in the Nature’s Garden trails

Thanks to a group of intrepid neighbours and an indulgent town administration (at least, we think it’s the town administration) there is an absolutely delightful, dog-friendly network of forested trails smack in the middle of Qualicum Beach. This is not an ‘official’ trail – in fact, the handful of neighbourhood volunteers in the Arbutus Street area isn’t even sure who owns the rambling acreage that they have been enhancing and maintaining for the past 20-plus years. This also isn’t just any old network of trails – at every turn along the meandering miles of the Nature’s Garden trails there is delight and education thanks to the efforts of long-time resident Hugh Gilmore (who, sadly, passed away in his eighties in 2016) and a small group of younger helpers.

Whimsy in Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaFace in tree, Nature's Garden Trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe trail system, which rambles off Arbutus Street at the edge of town, has no official name or designation, but it has had hundreds of volunteer hours poured in to it over the years. Bridges have been built over Grandon Creek, sawdust has been spread, blowdowns have been cleared and general maintenance has been performed on an ongoing basis. Although the township appears to have turned a blind eye to all of the ‘improvements,’ it has supplied official looking signs at each of the many entrances to the Nature’s Garden trail system advising that it is an ‘unmaintained, natural’ trail that may not be suitable for all users.

Whimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Whimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s not real, but it sure is pretty!

Overall the trails were in excellent shape when we visited recently, if a little muddy. They ramble and criss-cross all over the place, meandering through who-knows-how-many acres of pretty woodland and over Grandon Creek. But the absolute best part is all the whimsical adornments that have been added by the community volunteers over the years. At every turn it seems, there are quirky woodland ‘creatures’ and creations of all shapes and sizes. Some of the embellishments are so small it wouldn’t be difficult to miss them altogether – look up and you may see a tiny elf sitting on a fungus attached to the side of a tree, look a little off to the side and there may be some totally charming (but indescribable) creation peeking out of the undergrowth at you. You may run in to Eddie-the-tree person, or a concrete bullfrog perched on a railing, or you might choose to rest on the bench set out as a memorial to all the beloved dogs who have delighted in the trails over the years. There are educational additions, too, including a couple of signs listing the ‘real’ wildlife that calls this enchanted place home. There are literally hundreds of charismatic characters to greet and delight visitors.

Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWhimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaOur hour-long-ramble didn’t come near, I know, to seeing everything there was to see in this captivating wonderland of whimsy. I can’t wait to go back and explore more, to wander the trails, quite possibly get lost, and discover what else Hugh Gilmore and his great crew have tucked in the nooks and crannies of this lovely spot. Such fun!

Entry to Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Main entry to the Nature’s Garden trails

Sign on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe trail network is most easily accessed off Arbutus Street, at Schley Place. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and be aware that you may run in to wildlife (the living, breathing kind).

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34559232998887 Long. -124.46402549743652

N 49 20.736 W 124 27.842

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Port Alberni’s Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

Bottles of Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup is available in two sizes of bottles

Oh my!  Those were the only words that came to mind when I recently had my first taste of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. The thick, buttery/caramel/maple flavour of this very unique product is a sensory delight in so many respects. Produced by the ubiquitous Bigleaf Maples found only on the west coast, it offers a completely different maple syrup experience from the product generated by the sugar maples on the east side of North America.

Although there has been some small-scale production of Bigleaf Maple syrup here on the Island for some time now, the Kleekhoot Gold is the first major commercial production. The syrup project is the undertaking of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni which, 18 months ago, had no inkling that such a business was even a possibility. But a serendipitous moment and a questioning mind brought the idea together, and this past winter the band tapped 600 Bigleaf Maples on their traditional land. The sap is flowing now through the band’s sophisticated tapping system, and state-of-the-art processing equipment in the band’s newly-built sugar shack reduces the clear liquid to a thick, creamy delight.

Sugar shack for processing Kleekhoot gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The sugar shack

At the moment the source of the sap is a stand of Bigleaf Maples at the confluence of the Sproat and Stamp Rivers, part of the Hupacasath Kleekhoot territory. The wetness underfoot provides the perfect terroir for Bigleaf Maples and the sap that they produce. It takes 60 ounces of sap to produce one ounce of Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, as a opposed to a 40:1 ratio for syrup production from sugar maples. Some of the trees being tapped at the Kleekhoot site are 1 ½ meters in diameter, and the band is being very selective so as not to tap trees that might be too immature. The beauty of the Bigleaf Maple is that the drill holes for tapping heal over within a few months, making the trees a valuable, renewable resource that have the potential to enrich the Hupacasath for generations to come.

The real delight of this whole thing is that Bigleaf Maples have generally been considered little more than a weed and nuisance species on the west coast. Forest companies had no hesitation in replacing Bigleaf Maple stands with conifers, valued for their timber. However, with no need for reforestation and the natural healing abilities of the maples they may well prove, over the long haul, to be a more valuable resource than any timber company could ever have imagined.

Syrup concentrator used to process Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

A state-of-the-art syrup concentrator processes the sap in to Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

The Hupacasath business plan for Kleekhoot Gold was originally a slow, steady escalation of the number of trees tapped, topping out at 3,000 by the year 2020. However, initial demand is so high – 42 retail outlets have already expressed interest in marketing the product, and private pre-orders are coming from all over the country – that the aim now is to tap upwards of 5,000 trees over the winter of 2017-2018, just to meet the demand. All the trees are on band property.

So, anyone looking for a delightful culinary treat might be wanting to consider trying a bottle of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. I am told by those in the know that it is particularly good over ice cream.

Further information on Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup (and how to pre-order) can be found on the Hupacasath web site at:

http://kleekhootgold.ca/

Posted in FARMERS MARKETS, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Port Alberni’s All Mex’d Up

Chicken quesaddilas at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken quesadillas

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a connoisseur of Mexican food. But I know what I like and the fresh, satisfying flavours of the recently re-opened All Mex’d Up Taco Shop at Port Alberni’s Harbour Quay definitely fall into the ‘liked’ category.

Matt Dunk of All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Matt Dunk recently purchased the taco shop

Young and enthusiastic new owner Matt Dunk purchased the business over this past winter and went to work brightening the place up. Cheerful colours abound and there is a distinct Mexican ambiance to the décor. Big, bright windows at either end of the small shop let in an abundance of natural light, even on the dreariest of days.

Crispy Fish Tacos at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Crispy Fish Tacos

We ventured over to All Mex’d Up for lunch a couple of times, sampling the various offerings on the shop’s menu. This most definitely is not just a taco shop – there is a varied selection of Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and nachos available. The menu describes a tempting array of flavour combinations that is enough to get anyone salivating. There are also daily specials.

Ensalada at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Ensalada with a cilantro citrus vinaigrette

Our lunch choices included Matt’s excellent special crispy fish tacos – a combination of fish, Baja sauce, pico de gallo and slaw on flour tortillas. I ordered the flavourful chicken quesadillas, which arrived with a generous serving of pico de gallo and sour cream. My mouth is watering at the memory of them even now, several weeks later.

Interior of All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The cheerful new colour scheme brightens the interior – and the spirits of patrons

During the course of our culinary adventures at All Mex’d Up I also enjoyed the ensalada – a lovely crisp green salad that included greens, vegetables, feta cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and jicama. The inclusion of the latter two ingredients made for great taste and texture, complimented by an unusual creamy cilantro citrus vinaigrette. For those who are not keen on cilantro – and I know there are many out there, although I can’t understand why – there is also the choice of ranch dressing for the salad.

And, of course, there is dessert – a choice of either deep fried ice cream tossed in cinnamon and sugar or churros, tossed in the same mixture. Loved the churros, with their crisp sweet crust encasing a soft, gooey centre.

Churros at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Churros

In addition to the good food, the very casual atmosphere and warm welcomes from the staff make for a really delightful experience. We saw many young families come in for lunch in what is a very kid-friendly space. Youngsters were offered colouring supplies while they waited for their food.. There is a thoughtfully-designed self-serve coffee and water bar that allows adults to serve themselves while meals are being prepared. Service is quick, friendly and efficient. And the prices…well, I don’t know many places anymore where you can get a huge, beautiful salad for less than $7 or another substantial lunch choice for less than ten bucks.

Once the good weather arrives the huge garage-door-style front window will be raised to allow in the fresh breezes off the Alberni Inlet and the activity of Harbour Quay. An eating bar out front will, I am sure, be a popular gathering point for those enjoying the fruits of All Mex’d Up’s labours. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a little down-time.

Price rating: $

All Mex’d Up doesn’t have a website, but you can find them on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/AllMexdUpTacoShop/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

All Mex’d Up is located at #6, 5440 Argyle St. at the waterfront Harbour Quay, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.234930 Long. -124.815719

N 49 14.096 W 124 48.943

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

Cowichan’s Kinsol Trestle

Kinsol trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The historic Kinsol Trestle is a vital link on the Cowichan Valley Trail

There are a lot of people on Vancouver Island (and, doubtless, elsewhere) who would argue the wisdom of spending $7 million to rehabilitate a crumbling old train trestle in the middle of nowhere. We are not among those skeptics; in fact, we are very grateful for the foresight of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the many others who saw the opportunity to open a whole new world to Island residents and visitors when they began campaigning to save the historic Kinsol Trestle, nestled in the heart of the Cowichan valley near Shawnigan Lake.

View from Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the trestle to the lower viewing platform

The Kinsol Trestle has proven to be a vital and popular link in the Cowichan Valley Trail route, a 76 mile (122 km) stretch of wide, well-maintained packed gravel and dirt trails open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians. The trail meanders through some of the loveliest countryside on the Island, includes other trestle crossings, washroom facilities and picnic sites, and is relatively level, so an easy outing for virtually anyone who is reasonably mobile. It is also accessible from a variety of locations, so users can easily choose to do short or long excursions. The Cowichan Valley Trail is also part of the Trans Canada Trail, which stretches 16,800 km (or 10,400 miles) from Atlantic to Pacific.

Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The trestle offers a wide, easy surface perfect for walkers, cyclists and equestrians

Until July of 2011, however, there was a major gap in the Cowichan Valley network – the historic Kinsol Trestle was dilapidated to the point where the access at each end had been removed due to safety concerns. The only way to cross the Koksilah River was via an 8 km/5 mile detour through difficult terrain – not an appealing option for hikers, and certainly not high on the ‘to-do’ list for cyclists.

Power box at Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Photos of days gone by – this power box is wrapped with the image of a steam logging train crossing the trestle

Happily for those of us who enjoy the outdoors the regional district saw an opportunity to preserve the Kinsol and thus increase tourism and recreation in the area. Also happily, a prestigious and very capable firm located in Cobble Hill, right in the heart of the Cowichan area, proposed a conservation strategy that proved acceptable and workable.

Cowichan Valley Trail, located at either end of the Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Cowichan Valley Trail abuts either end of the trestle

The restoration of the Kinsol Trestle was no simple undertaking – at 145 feet high and 617 feet long, it is the largest wooden trestle in the Commonwealth and one of the highest railway trestles in the world. Started in 1911, it was completed in 1920 as a major thoroughfare for the logging trains that serviced the Island’s thriving forest industry. The last train to cross the Kinsol did so in 1979, and the trestle was abandoned a year later. Over the years it deteriorated to the point where it was in danger of being demolished altogether.

Cowichan Valley Trail sign at Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Information sign about the Cowichan Valley Trail, which runs for many miles north and south of the trestle

The work on the Kinsol began in July 2010, and just over a year later it was reopened to the general public. Today it offers very safe passage to thousands of visitors a year. The wide solid plank walkway, high railings and various viewing platforms both on and off the gently-curving trestle leave one marveling at our good fortune in having this gem of a link, and at the ingenuity that spawned this magnificent structure a century ago and rehabilitated it so recently. It is a great, thought-provoking connection to Vancouver Island’s history, an awe-inspiring sight and yet another reminder of just how lucky we are here on the Island.

Good walking shoes are recommended if you plan to explore any distance along the trail. Dogs are welcome, on-leash.

Further information on the Kinsol Trestle, getting there, its’ history and restoration can be obtained at the Cowichan Valley Regional District website:

www.cvrd.bc.ca/index.aspx?nid=1379

or at the website operated by the Shawnigan Lake Museum at:

www.shawniganlakemuseum.com/kinsol.html

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.66837688828138 Long. -123.69390964508056

N 48 40.103 W 123 41.635

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, DOG-FRIENDLY, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments