Capturing Olympic Glory? Vancouver & Whistler – Days 58-60

Children inside the Olympic Rings at Whistler

A decade ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Winter Olympics that were held in Canada (not the Calgary ones, I’m not that old). I believe that at that time, my brother and I got to see Vancouver and Whistler at their absolute best. We rode the newly built Sky Train, meandered aimlessly through the streets of Vancouver and bused our way up to Whistler on the expanded Sea-to-Sky highway. As for the events, we were very fortunate as we saw Canada win their first medal of the games and also got to watch the men’s hockey team score eight goals in their opener. The sporting memories are some of the most vivid of my life and we still laugh about how lucky we were to secure tickets. Over time these memories have overshadowed some of the hiccups (like the bus lineups, the rain, and the protestors). I was looking forward to reliving some Olympic glory. But alas, where Paige got fortunate with Saltspring living up to her memories, the same could not be said about Vancouver and Whistler.

Don’t get me wrong, the setting is still beautiful and they both still had some great moments. Once again we were fortunate with the weather as it was sunny with temperatures near 25 degrees. In Vancouver, we stayed at the gorgeous campus of Simon Fraser University with the idea of taking public transit into the core. We did not realize that the R5 rapid bus from the University runs right down Hastings street and the Lower East Side. Areas of Hastings street are in “rough” shape with tents lining the streets for many blocks in a row (Read about it here). We were caught off guard on the bus and our kids had a lot of tough questions for us.

That evening, we decided to eat at the Vancouver outpost of Tacofino (a famous food truck in Tofino where you wait 2 hours for a taco). We were happy to find a location in Gastown without the huge lines. We had a super-friendly waiter who brought the kids some really cool colouring mats that turned into a Tacofino truck. But just when the meal came, a couple of people wandered into the adjacent laneway (and by adjacent I mean 4 feet from where we were seated) and injected themselves. We quickly ate the meal and left. Overall the experience left us saddened.

We still did the standard Vancouver tourist stuff and visited the Granville Market, walked the UBC campus and explored the seawall. In retrospect, I am happy that I had never toured these campuses after highschool. I would have ended up going to school in Vancouver and would have had a very different life. At UBC campus, Paige and Julie went to the Museum of Anthropology and came back with a wealth of information about totems. Whenever we now see one, Julie has to take the time to identify all the different elements of the sculpture. “Dad, do you see the bear.” “No! That’s not a raven, it’s a thunderbird!”

Child pointing to Native American carving

As for Whistler, it was packed. I can’t even fathom what the town is like in the winter when you can actually ski. And the prices were ridiculous. The gondola was $90 for us to go to the top. No skiing, just an individual gondola ride. And yet despite the tourist craziness, it still can have its charm. We stumbled upon bike paths that were off limits to allow toad migration! We sat on a bench and watched a ginormous black make its way across the road and onto the golf course. And we camped at a provincial park just up the highway where we pretty much had a waterfall all to ourselves. It wasn’t the Whistler of a decade ago but it was a little bit closer to what I was expecting.

When I started writing this about a week ago, it was a much harsher blog post. I might have mellowed since we were there but I can say we were happy to move on to the next destination.

Where we stayed (5 words or less):

By the numbers:

  • Distance travelled so far: 12,350km
  • Length of time I waited to buy doughnuts in Granville Market: 16 minutes – it was sooo worth the wait
  • Iphone batteries fixed: 1 – after many attempts elsewhere, the apple store solved Paigey’s problem

Ciao for now

Mike

Salt Spring Island – A Return Home of Sorts- Days 52-57

My family had a summer cottage on Saltspring Island for 24 years.  My dad used to spend a few months on the island every summer (when his television program was on hiatus) and the rest of us used to come for two weeks every July.  I lost my dad when I was 17 but there’s nowhere that I have fonder memories of him than on Saltspring Island.  I think of him teaching me to drive a boat, catch crabs and drive a Yamaha scooter (well before I turned 16). I have such happy memories of the place that I was terrified to go back as a tourist without a “home” to stay. Yet my desire to show the place to the girls outweighed this fear.  To make it even more special, my brother flew to BC for a long weekend to be able to return with us.  We rented side-by-side Airbnbs (on a different part of the island from our old cottage) and we crossed our fingers hoping that the trip would bring happy new memories and not just make us sad.

The magic of Saltspring was still there.  Leif and I were reminded of all the things we loved about the place and we weren’t sad -only grateful for getting to spend so much of our childhood here.  We were shocked at how much was the same after 8 years but also managed to find some new island gems.

A little about Saltspring Island

It is a relatively large island between Vancouver and Vancouver Island (you must take a ferry or float plane to get there).  The island has a history of farming and it is very pastoral in appearance.  In the 1960s, Saltspring became a haven for artists and hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle and this culture very much still exists on parts of the island.  It became a “cottage destination” for people from Vancouver and Victoria. Impressive houses have been built on many of the waterfront properties.    

A few things that I love and reasons to visit Saltspring

The ocean: Muskoka might have stunning lakes but Saltspring has the ocean (which is better!).  My kids checked out a different beach each day.  The girls seemed a little young to explore the open ocean but next time we’ll have them kayaking around the bays!  Tidepools, spitting clams, crabbing from the pier – it is all magical. We especially loved our hike in Ruckle Park -somewhere we had never discovered in our decades visiting the island.

Mike eating a tart at the market

Farmers’ markets: I love a good farmer’s market but the Saltspring one will always be my favourite.  Some years there is one market per week but currently, there are two (one for all things touristy on Saturdays and one for food on Tuesdays).  Since Saltspring remains a mecca for artists, you’ll often find them selling their creations at the market so you can find everything from tie-dyed clothes to silver jewellery to Tony’s Tarts (Mike’s choice)!

A fun town to explore: When it comes to cottaging, I get antsy when there isn’t a cute town to visit because I grew up with Ganges as my example. Whether it is buying groceries, looking at galleries or shopping for a new book, Ganges is a great little town. I had fun going to all the old shops that we used to visit and checking out the new ones too. We had a great meal at the new Wild Cider (apparently it has been there for 8 years but it was new to us!). I also discovered Boogaloo Bubbywear which is my new favourite bamboo kids’ clothes brand – affordable and made in Canada.

Island Time: This is something that I often associate with the Caribbean but Saltspring has its own version of Island time.  Here are a few rules that I had to teach Mike who kept saying “we can go there later”.  Ignore posted opening hours because they are almost never correct.  A store may say that it is open until 5 pm but it may well close at 3:30. If it is open, you should visit it now because it may well never be open again for many days. Next, do not think that things will be open because it is the weekend (i.e. the busiest time on the island).  Popular places like the bakery are closed on the weekend because they do not want to deal with the crowds. Lastly, go with the flow on Saltspring. We saw a sign saying that the local camp still had spots. We ended up signing up the kids for two days which might have been their best camp of the summer. They visited with the local firefighters and learned a great deal. They had a leader named Soleil who had died her hair like a watermelon (including the black seeds). I am now going to spend the next year convincing Isabella that she cannot have watermelon hair.

Overall Saltspring was great. My brother’s visit was the highlight and we’ll miss him as we head off to the mainland again. Are we really heading east now? Yikes! P.S. Some of you may notice that we’re a little behind with the blog but I am going to publish how far behind we are so that we have pressure to catch up.

By the numbers:

  • Times we ate a the Treehouse Cafe: 3
  • David Wood Saltspring Cheese‘s consumed by Mike: 3 plus the cheese we ate while we visited the farm
  • How long it takes Saltspring’s fastest Fire Fighter to get dressed: 48 seconds
  • Number of people who went in the hot tub at Uncle Leif’s Airbnb: 2 (you can guess who they were)
  • Number of times we said we missed uncle Leif after he left: too many to count
  • Blog Posts Overdue: 7 (Vancouver, Fort Langley, Vernon, Jasper, Banff, Calgary, Dinosaurs and Grasslands)

Where we stayed (five words or less):

Orchard Cabin: Too Small but Great Location

Wildlife Spotted:

  • Deer
  • Tide Pool Critters
  • Free Range Farm Animals: Turkeys, Sheep, Goats
  • 2 Free Range Kids
After camp pickup
Bathing suits, facepaint and balloon animals!

Time to play with other kids – Smonecten – Days 46-51

Family at picnic table in Smonecten

Months ago, Paigey sat online waiting on the clock for summer camp registration to open up in Sidney. This was the week we were to benefit from those efforts. Five days of kids off on their own at summer camp while we got to enjoy all the Victoria area had to offer. It wasn’t just the kids that were excited. I relished the routine of bedtimes, wake-ups and even packed lunches. Paige was excited about the weather and lunches without crayons or kids’ menus.

As it turned out, camp was a mixed bag. The day before, we found out Julie’s class had got cut to a half-day camp due to labour shortages. In the end, it worked out for the best as her organic farming camp took place entirely in a farmer’s field. 3 hours each day in a farmer’s field is probably all she could have handled in the 30-degree heat. Plus, some great memories are from just the three of us going for lunch in the town. And then there was the kids magic show at the local library we would never have stumbled upon if we didn’t have Julie with us in the afternoon. As for the organic farming, each day Julie brought home a new vegetable from the garden. By the end of the week, I had a perfect deconstructed greek salad. She insisted each day on wearing Izzy’s straw hat calling it her “farming hat”.

Child with flower at organic farm Sidney

Isabella’s tennis and basketball camp went off without a hitch. She hadn’t played either before and we were skeptical as to how it would turn out. Indoor tennis was manageable and, since it got quite hot, basketball which took place on pristine outdoor courts got replaced with swimming most days. Since this was BC, it meant the town had another top-notch aquatic centre that the day camps took full advantage of. The waterslide was so intense that it had a height restriction! Izzy was more than happy with her camp (waterslide) experience.

Child poking crab on wharf

While the kids were at camp, Paige and I took care of some necessary “trip” admin. We could finally get a spot at a service centre for the Jeep and brought it in for a check-up. We had been concerned with some noises that fixed themselves but wanted our fears allayed before driving back across the country. With that taken care of, we decided to give the Jeep her first car wash of the trip. The picture makes it looks like I did a good thorough job, but the dirt is so caked onto the vehicle, it was a futile exercise.

A final note about Sidney / Victoria: We had some delicious meals (every restaurant in Sidney seems to be 4+ stars online) but we had to wean ourselves off the restaurants. In the latter half of the week, we opted for some spectacular picnics along the shore instead. Thrifty foods became my new favourite grocery store. Plus each night after our oceanside picnic, the kids would walk the pier and help crab fisherman throw back their undersized catch. We even got to share this culinary experience with Uncle Leif. Spoiler alert, we have a visitor for the next leg!

By the numbers:

  • Visits to the Aquatic Centre: 3
  • Visits to the laundromat: 4 (don’t ask)
  • Iphones fixed: 0 (they did not have the part so we will have to wait for Vancouver)
  • Friends made: 1. Isabella met a girl at our campsite who was riding a bike across BC with her family.

Where we stayed (five words or less):

Wildlife Spotted:

  • Dungeness Crabs
  • Red Rock Crabs
  • Bunnies a plenty

Denman Island (an island just off an island) – Days 44 & 45

Family walking on beach with tide out

One of those places where the journey is better than the destination. That’s Denman Island to me. Paige and I had to fill a couple days before the kids started summer camp near Victoria so we decided on a two-night stay on Denman Island. I didn’t know anything about the place but it had availability and fit into the budget, so we gave it a shot.

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Port Alberni – Days 42-43

Two children holding up a tree

It was raining when we broke camp in Tofino. We find it easier to leave a place you love when it is raining (at least emotionally easier). However, packing a wet tent sucks. It causes you to rush and amid the chaos we left behind Isabella’s bike lock. It was the first piece of gear we had “lost” on the trip. If anyone finds it, feel free to use it. The code is 61014.

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Tofino and Pacific Rim – Days 38 – 41

Let’s start by saying 4 days in Tofino ain’t bad (even if you are not a surfer).

We woke up in the morning after our ferry to Port Hardy and blitzed to Tofino. We stopped only in Coombs to find a cute market with goats on the roof that we remembered from our last trip to Vancouver Island. Instead of a quaint market, we found a zoo of shops selling every piece of tourist junk you could find. Our ice cream hole-in-the-wall was replaced by a gelato store trying to look like a french cafe. It’s one of those dangers of going back to places you’ve been to before. Your awesome memories get replaced by new crappy ones. Oh please … do not ruin the “Mike and Paige newly in love memories” from Tofino!

We started our adventure in Tofino with a resort with a view of the beach -one night to relax, have a nice shower and prepare ourselves for camping again. We used our Best Western points (from 10 days of staying in Best Westerns earlier) which got us a free night (saving budget for Tofino dining!) We loved our beach room but we were equally excited to move to Pacific Rim campground the next day. This is probably the hardest campground in Canada to book. Reminiscent of booking early rounds of COVID vaccines, you wake up early on a special day and log in to get your place in line (in our case it was 1500 and something). We were so excited when Mike snagged one of the 114 spots.

Girls were ready for a beach
Julie with surfers in the distance

It’s hard to forget the first time that you see Long Beach in Pacific Rim National park. Imagine a 16km strip of undeveloped beach with the backdrop of a lush emerald green rainforest. There’s practically no one on the soft sand beach and the ocean (albeit chilly) has the perfect waves for playing with the kids. The only complaint people have about this paradise is that you very rarely see the sun. Somehow we got 4 days of total sunshine and it only rained as we packed up our gear on the last morning. Michael spent hours jumping in the waves with two little girls (who only agreed to wear their wetsuits after their lips were a dark shade of purple).

Julie in tree picture for scale

Our campsite was up a trail in the rainforest with trees that seemed straight out of Cathedral Grove. Bears, cougars and wolves frequent the park and so the park staff are vigilant about keeping a BARE campsite. I had never seen anything like these little golf carts driving up and down the path ready to pounce on any left-behind water bottle or bottle of shampoo. The park staff wants to ensure that the wildlife stays very far away from people to avoid having to deal with wildlife that is not afraid of us. We heard stories of emboldened wolves a few years ago that had to be put down because they were attacking pet dogs (on leashes). We never saw any scary animals but went on a guided hike and found their tracks which kept my bear spray tight in hand when venturing out after dark.

Isabella and Julie’s tidepool obsession began here after visiting Chesterman Beach’s rocky outcrops at low tide. They saw everything from anemones, crabs, barnacles and mussels. Isabella did get a scraped arm in all the excitement (there was little chance of avoiding it) but all we heard for days after was “when can we see tide pools again?” I was sad to learn that sea star wasting disease (hadn’t heard of it) has decimated the population here. We did see sea stars but far fewer than I remember.

The town of Tofino was a welcome change after being in the Northern parts of Canada for several weeks. We were suddenly in the world of kombucha and smoothies again! We scrapped the idea of cooking at the “Bare campsite” and frequented the many restaurants instead. We had four great meals in Tofino (2 of them at Shelter). Unfortunately, red tide meant that oysters were a no-go in this area but we finally got to eat BC Salmon and crab and the kids were back in the land of kids’ meals that did not always have fries on the side (Salmon and veggies was a big hit). Having just seen bears and whales, we did not find the need to go on these tours from Tofino but we just enjoyed visiting bookstores, playgrounds and coffee shops again.

Wonderfully paved route
must stop for snails!

Another huge bonus about the Tofino area is the bike paths – the best of which just opened this spring. The Canadian government spent $51 million building this path which runs for 25km and took us from our campground all the way to the Tacofino parking lot (it would have taken us right into town but my riding partner was exhausted). Isabella and I rode 15km (by far Izzie’s longest ride to date). The trail was truly spectacular including features such as boardwalks and generally great infrastructure. Seems like a hefty price tag but I can definitely think of worse things on which the government has spent a fortune.

We also did go to Ucluelet which is the town on the other side of Pacific Rim Park. They have a fabulous mini aquarium which strengthened the kids’ tide pool obsession. We went here for breakfast twice enjoying the little cafes and people-watching.

By the Numbers

  • Score for the Parks Canada Slug presentation: 10/10 – we are still being lectured about the breathing and sensing abilities of banana slugs
  • Ice Creams: 3 – we were back in the world of ice cream parlours
  • Trips into town before finding Tacofino – the famous taco truck: 4 and we never ate there (not wanting to wait 2 hours for a taco)
Slugs, slugs and more slugs

Where we stayed (five words or less):

Wildlife Seen:

  • 25+ Starfish – both the purple and orange varieties
  • Bazillion crabs – lift a rock and catch em
  • Oysters – just don’t eat them
  • Mussels – Didn’t eat em
  • Anemones – I taught Julie how to poke em
  • Beach hoppers – Julie learnt about them at a Parks Canada session
  • Barnacles – Izzy was the first to cut herself on them (wouldn’t be the last)

Drive to the Ferry – Days 32-36

Totem Poles erected in a field

So with Kluane in our rearview mirror, we could begin to get excited about the next “WOW” destination of the trip, Vancouver Island. There was only one problem, we were nowhere near Vancouver Island!

First, we needed to backtrack 400km across the Yukon, then we would take a highway down the middle of B.C. and then we would cut back to the coast to the port city of Prince Rupert. It was going to be easy. The little lines on the map connected the cities, we just had to drive the road. The reality is far different. Firstly, not all highways are treated equally. Secondly, this was the first section where we really didn’t have accommodations booked. Thirdly, we were coming off the high of having stayed in one place (the Yukon) for 6 full days. And finally, we had to say goodbye to our Nan who was heading home after a short visit. As they might say on the amazing race, this was a tough leg.

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