Fort Langley – Days 61 & 62

This is a very special post because Isabella wanted to share her thoughts about our next destination herself. She felt so strongly that Fort Langley was a key destination that she is sharing this journal entry.

Fort Langley once was a trading fort. The settlers who lived there would exchange things with the First Nations people. The First Nations people would have furs, fish and cranberries which they traded for metal tools, blankets and rope.

The tents were truly in the middle of the fort
Dad loved having keys to a National Historical Site.

Today, Fort Langley is a National Historical site outside of Vancouver. Not only can you visit Fort Langley but you can you can also stay in an Otentik inside the fort. There are only 5 tents inside but we got one for two nights. Dad was so happy because he had keys to the fort!

At 5 o’clock, the fort closed so the kids staying there could go into any of the open exhibits and could bike everywhere like to the gold panning station and to the bunnies. Fort Langley was a huge play pen so I just got on my bike and said bye to mom and dad and went over to the goats.

Isabella carrying furs to complete her Xplorer booklet

We learned a lot about people at the fort like the cooper (he makes barrels), the steward (he makes the food) and the blacksmith (he makes the metal tools). There was also a garden and animals like bunnies, goats and sheep.

Once the fort closed, the kids could ride their bikes anywhere.

One of my favourite parts of visiting national historical sites is collecting dog tags. To get dog tags, you have to do a Parka or Explorers booklet which teaches us stuff and is absolutely fun. In this booklet, I had to be a cooper, steward, the master and a trader (carrying an enormous bundle of furs on my back).

Fort Langley, in my opinion, was the best place we ever camped.

Names Isabella gave the animals:

  • Goats: Talker, Walker, Soccer & Locker
  • Bunnies: Dots, Snowy and Snowflake
  • Sheep: Wooly and Mully

By the numbers:

  • Number of nuggets we found in the gold panning station: 4
  • Age kids started work at the fort: 5
  • Times we visited the pool nearby: 2
  • Hours we’ve driven so far: 200

Bye

Isabella

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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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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We made it! – Kluane National Park – Days 29-31

We planned for Kluane National Park to be the furthest point north that we’d venture before turning south. Michael had always dreamed of going to Nahanni in the NWT but when he realized that required a float plane, he decided that Kluane was a little more realistic. We were surprised to find out that my mom also dreamed of seeing the Yukon and its rugged wilderness. She signed up to join us for this leg after flying into Whitehorse to meet us.

Otentik at Kluane National Park

My mom is a seasoned world traveller who loves adventure but camping has never been her cup of tea. We were genuinely surprised when she agreed to stay in an Otentik with us at the National Park (not sure if she quite knew what she was agreeing to). While the pictures might make an Otentik seem like glamping, I can assure you that it was a rustic camping experience. There were no flush toilets within 20 km and there were a lot of bugs making it hard to be outside in the evenings. Despite the basic nature of the facilities, Kluane’s ambiance and scenery are pretty special and the camp is quirky and fun.

Our favourite park leader was Ryan

Every night there was a campfire chat hosted by a Parks Canada employee (with free tea or hot chocolate to stay warm). We learned about birds, mountains, moose, grizzlies and the First Nations people who co-manage the park. Kluane is also home to Canada’s highest peak (5,959-metre Mount Logan). It was unfortunately on the other side of the giant park and not visible from where we were at Kathleen Lake – a glacial blue/green lake like those in the Rockies. Michael did a polar plunge into the frigid water (something that he told us he would repeat each day but unsurprisingly did not).

Can you spot the bear tracks?

A highlight for me was a river raft tour (which we thought was going to be a motorized zodiac tour) but turned out to be more like a raft floating tour. The girls put paddles in a few times as we floated down the Dezadesh river and admired the scenery. We stopped and made bannock on a small island and the girls found fresh grizzly tracks in the mud. The guide brought a dog along telling us that she’ll be sure to find and alert us to any bears before they come near. We trusted him but I watched the dog sniffing quite carefully. The guide himself was very eccentric telling us about half a dozen different lives that he had lived before becoming a guide (everything from special operations in the British military to teacher to Oxford University student).

Julie making bannock

We also took a waking tour with Lionel from Belgium – a recent Yukon transplant. We started by driving across a creek in his Toyota Rav 4 then we hiked to Alsek glacier valley.  The kids had walking poles and we all jumped over creeks and small streams. Some of us (not naming names) got their feet wet! By the end of the hike, Julie was an expert creek jumper and Isabella was a seasoned pole-vaulter.  In a different life, we would have just continued the hike (which veered up a spectacular mountain) but instead we turned around since Julie was approaching her 3 km limit.

Overall we felt humbled to visit this part of the Yukon and so grateful to have experienced it with Mom/Pat/Nan. We know that the kids will have lots of memories from here too. Julie still asks about having bannock again and Isabella asks when we can jump over rivers again!

Animals Seen:

  • 1 big black bear
  • 1 grizzly bear: I am not sure what “Kluane has North America’s most genetically diverse grizzly population” means but we were reminded often of this while we were there.
  • 1 bat: did not eat enough of those mosquitos
  • 1 elk
  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • Dahl Sheep (specks on a hill that we watched with binoculars)

By the Numbers:

  • Total Kilometres: 8100
  • Number of visits to Village Bakery in Hains Junction: 3
  • Number of Nanaimo bars consumed by Mike at the Village Bakery: 3
  • Number of Nights Paige let Isabella sleep on the top bunk: 1 (but I barricaded her with a broom to make she would not roll out)
  • Cans of bug spray finished: 2
  • Pieces of bannock that Julie ate (they were large): 3

Paige

Whitehorse – Airbnb time – Day 26-28

A common question we get is whether we book everything in advance or if we just find places to stay as we go.  It has been a mix of both but when you end up with an Airbnb as good as the one we had in Whitehorse, you come to appreciate the “book early and find the most awesome place”.  We knew that my mom would be joining us for part of the time in Whitehorse so we booked a nicer place than we usually do. Even still, this place far exceeded our expectations.  It was a two-bedroom penthouse condo (3rd floor but that’s high for Whitehorse) with a great kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows.  It was really nice having our own space for 3 nights in a row.  It made us concentrate all the more to book longer stays in one place.

The most striking thing you notice in Whitehorse is the sunset at 11 pm.  Getting kids to bed is pretty challenging when 10 pm still feels like midday.  The condo had blackout curtains but also had a wraparound balcony and we liked the bizarre feeling of sunlight at all hours so we rarely shut the curtains.

Whitehorse also surprised us because it felt less isolated than we would have expected.  We had been driving through remote areas that felt very remote with things like exorbitant prices on fruit and 5 oil worker trucks for every car.  Whitehorse did not feel remote.  The grocery store had the best selection of organic and gourmet food that I’d seen since Toronto.  The Kind Cafe next door to our condo offered 4 kinds of milk and “dairy” seemed to be far less popular than oat or almond milk.  I even got to have an avocado toast with pomegranate, dukkah and pickled onion. Yummy.

Now on to what we did in Whitehorse. I am working to overcome my fear of bears but as we are now firmly in grizzly country, I finally bought a bear spray.  Most hikers here seem to carry one so I felt justified in having one too.  Hiking in and around Whitehorse is magical.  Michael and Izzie did an early morning walk down the Yukon River while Julie was still asleep (not surprising since it took until midnight to get her to sleep in the “daylight”).  We also did a walk on the cliffs overlooking the town and the majestic river (and for the record, it is as majestic as you imagine it to be). But the best hike of all was the guided tour we took in Miles Canyon.  The Yukon Conservation Society offers these free tours and we saw a notice pinned up in the visitor centre.  Given my fear of hiking around bears, I jumped at the idea of going with a group and a guide.  The guides that we had were not native Yukoners (they said that the society had trouble finding locals this year due to the labour shortage) but they had just completed an intensive training course on the flora of the Yukon.  They taught us to identify lots of plants and trees and the kids were in heaven soaking up the knowledge.  For the rest of our time in the Yukon, Izzie and Julie would quiz us on the sunscreen properties of the trembling aspen or the way to correctly identify a lodgepole pine.

Fish Ladder: This ladder was built to help salmon who are returning to their spawning ground after a dam was built which blocked their route. It is the longest wooden fish ladder in the world.  The first day that we tried to visit, we couldn’t because a beaver had decided to perch himself on the tourist boardwalk.  It was a first for us -closed because of beaver!  A few days later we returned and we were able to see the ladder and its workings.  The Chinook salmon run is about two weeks away though so only a few lonely fish were using the ladder.  

Canada Games Centre: For a travelling family, a great pool is an awesome find.  I do not think that I have ever been to a better pool than this one.  It had a waterslide, a sauna, a hot tub and most exciting of all a jet-powered lazy river.  The kids went twice.

We also visited the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre – a first nations spot with a collection of Native Art. Julie just loved watching artists there doing beading.

For the three days in Whitehorse, I cooked and we ate “normal for us” meals which was a treat.  It made us realize that an Airbnb nice enough that I want to cook saves us in restaurant bills.  However, the grocery bill does increase (as does the stockpile of things that I keep in the cooler).  My cousin already told me that soya sauce might not be an item that every camper carries with them across the country.  I’m glad she saw the cooler before Whitehorse when Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and other “staples” were added.  Essential right?

By the Numbers:

  • Total Kilometres: 7556km
  • Bags of English Peas Consumed: 3 (along with 3 trips to the BC fruit stand)
  • Bear Spray Purchased: 1
  • Pamphlets collected at tourist information: At least 12
  • Number of times Mike asked if I had written “By the Numbers” while I wrote this post: 5

Bring on the Yukon – Watson Lake – Day 25

Woman posing at Yukon Border Sign

This was the leg that had us worried. It was just under 900km, all of it on the Alaskan Highway. There were huge gaps between stops. How would the kids handle that amount of time in the back of the car? How would we handle it? What was the highway going to be like? All these thoughts were in the back of our minds as we departed Fort St. John early in the morning. The morning walk had to be postponed to hit our 6:30 departure. Anyway, all the worry was for naught. This leg would turn out to be my favourite of the trip and the kids loved it.

The drive was like a northern version of African Lion Safari. We will just dive into the wildlife update as it is longer than normal.

Animals Seen:

Moose feeding in marsh
  • 3 Moose – Paige goes her whole life without seeing moose then sees one in Thunder Bay.  And today we stumble across moose three additional times.  And these aren’t far off in the forest viewings.  We stopped the car for five minutes and watched one feed in a marsh, completely ignoring us.
  • 1 Coyote – It was just running down the ditch beside the highway
  • 1 Wolf – flatter face than the coyote and much larger
  • 20+ Bison – There was an electronic highway sign telling us there were bison on the highway 150+ km further down the road. We rolled our eyes. What were the chances that the update would be even remotely accurate? But a couple of hours later, we see one bison, then ten minutes later two more, and then 15 minutes later an entire herd. 
  • 1 Grouse – It seemed to be playing chicken with the traffic – it survived but not sure for how long
  • 4 Mountain Sheep – crossing the road and Paige had to stop to let them go by
  • 1 Grizzly Bear – The previous day we saw a black bear, today it was time for our first grizzly.  The kids could see it out the window as it grazed up a hill on the side of the road.   It was eating berries and paid us no attention. Isabella suggested it was a brown black bear. But we could see the hump, meaning grizzly.
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Time for the Big Drives – Fort St John – Day 24

Giant Beaver Roadside Attraction with Family

This was a long day for us. Before departing Edmonton the kids needed to go visit Elk Island National Park with their Nan. It was funny as we had been to that park four years ago so we knew where to look for the bison. Yep, you go to Elk Island to see bison and not elk. Also, there is no island. Regardless it is a great park and the wildlife is easy to spot from the highway. We had brought the bikes to the park too for the kids to hone their skills. Fortunately, they did not crash into any buffalo. We spent a couple hours at the park and then really needed to be on our way as we had a 7+ hour drive ahead of us. The kids said goodbye to their nan (who had planned to meet up with us in the Yukon in a few days) and off we went.

For lunch, we took the kids to Wendy’s for their first “chain” fast-food of the trip. They got happy meals and for some reason, we substituted their drinks for Frostys. Paige then bought us a medium Frosty to share. Needless to say, I ended up eating half a medium frosty and 3/4 of a kid’s frosty twice. If my math is done correctly, that is enough calories to run a marathon.

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