HEADING HOME

We are in Edmonton spending time with our son Max and daughter-in-law Aubrie. It’s always a pleasure to be with them and their dog Tipsy. We certainly missed them over the passed two years when Covid kept us apart.

Fall is gentler here than in the mountains, but the leaves are falling and nightfall comes early.

We’ve decided to leave Juniper in Edmonton for the winter and to fly home.

We’ll pick up our travels from here next summer, closer to the mountains and the West Coast. Then, Covid permitting, we’ll finally make the trip to Yellowstone National Park that we planned for two years ago.

It feels like we’re leaving our MVP behind, but Juniper will be safe and snug in a storage facility just south of Edmonton.

Farewell, Juniper. New adventures await next year…

FALL IN THE ROCKIES

I love the Canadian Rockies.

It’s September now and you just never know what the weather will be in the mountains. While in Banff National Park, the overnight forecast was for rain with snow over 2,100 metres. We woke up surrounded by freshly snow-capped mountains.

We drove north along the Icefields Parkway, the famous link between Lake Louise and the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park. The scenery was spectacular, like a pageant put on just for us. The fresh snow brightened the glaciers and highlighted the rocky ledges and contours of the peaks above tree line. In some places, even the evergreens were dusted with snow.

The sun played hide and seek behind swirling clouds. One minute the peaks were dazzling white, the next the landscape took on a muted wintry glow.

We stopped along the Parkway to hike Parker Ridge. The trail takes you to a view of the Saskatchewan Glacier and the fledgling North Saskatchewan River that eventually flows into Hudson Bay 1,287km away. It’s rated as an easy trail. At 5.1km return it’s a comfortable distance with an elevation gain of 250 metres.

We had run into intermittent snow and blizzard-like conditions approaching the trailhead. It was snowing while we had lunch there.

We optimistically headed out hoping that since the weather was changing so rapidly we would have clear skies by the time we reached the top of the ridge. It snowed the whole time we climbed the slope. The higher we got, the heavier the snow and the stronger the wind.

At the top, there was no view of the glacier, only a panorama of clouds and blowing snow with a hint of a river in the valley below. Glaciers create their own weather patterns. Locals would probably have told us that the glacier would be invisible today.

Regardless, we enjoyed our hike and the wonder of unexpected winter weather. And we delighted in our drive along the Parkway.

VICTORIA, BC

What strikes me when I come to Victoria is the vegetation. It is lush and dense and green even after an unusually hot, dry summer. It makes me feel like I’m in a very different place, it’s outside my image of Canada.

Flowers bloom most of the year. The annual Greater Victoria Flower Count happens in early March while most of the rest of Canada is still shovelling snow. From early spring and through the summer and fall there are flowering plants everywhere. Cherry blossoms in the spring along with magnolia, iris and rhododendron. Later, bright fuchsia bushes as big as trees, multi-hued hydrangea, lobelia, colourful snapdragon, showy angel’s trumpet and so many more.

And then there is The Butchart Gardens, which I visited for the first time. The feature flowers at this time of year were dahlias. I had no idea they came in so many varieties.

Ken and I spent a whole day wandering about. If you’re ever in Victoria, go see these gardens. I will go back for sure.

In a year when Covid has deprived us of foreign travel, it’s delightful to find this quasi-tropical abundance on our Canadian soil.

THE REAL WEST COAST

That’s what Ken calls the west coast of Vancouver Island. For us baby boomers, the town of Tofino has always had an exotic aura. In our 20s, it was a destination nearly as enticing as Goa or Kathmandu. Today, it still calls with a siren song for those who love the Pacific coast and for cold-water surfers.

It’s about 175km from Parksville on the east side of the island to Tofino. About 100km of that is a true mountain road across the Vancouver Island Range. Sharp curves, steep hills, countless “slow” signs and spectacular views on mountains high enough to still have snow on their flanks in late August.

Finally, we arrived at a T-intersection, left for Ucluelet, right for Tofino. You can’t go further west. The land here is covered with a rainforest of massive douglas fir, red cedar and new growth hemlock, witch’s hair moss drape their branches. 

And then, in breaks between the trees, the wild Pacific, cold and powerful. Despite the claims made about tropical beaches on far-off islands, I believe Long Beach is the most beautiful in the world. It is wide and covered in fine sand. On one side the endless views over the Pacific, on the other, the rich green of a centuries-old forest. Along the forest edge, tumbled logs washed up by the ocean, bone white. Surfers use the washed-up logs to cobble make-shift shelters where they hang their wetsuits and shelter from the endless wind. There’s a connection with raw nature here. I love walking on this beach. It’s like watching a campfire, ever changing yet constant. Magnificent.

In reality, Tofino and Ucluelet are fishing villages and that’s still an important activity here. Boats go out every morning and small fish plants dot the inlets. Tofino, at the end of the road on the north end, became a destination for artists and chefs years ago. Ucluelet, at the south end, is quickly catching up, but with it’s own distinctive character. The mix of remoteness and sophistication with a surfer dude backbeat is enchanting.

Both villages are overwhelmed by tourists this summer. There isn’t a service we didn’t wait in line for – restaurants and coffee shops, especially. Businesses are understaffed and still accommodate us with a smile. We tourists are a seasonal intrusion surprising well tolerated.

But the wilderness, the raw power of the Pacific and the majesty of the rainforest are what will continue to draw me back to the real west coast.

EVERY CHILD MATTERS

In Kamloops, I met Shayna Taypotat. She’s an indigenous woman from Kahkewistahaw First Nation in Saskatchewan. She had just finished an amazing trek of more than 1,500km on foot from her home to the Kamloops Residential School. She had come to pray over the 215 unmarked graves of children who died there. 

Shayna and her crew were camped at the same campground as we were. I didn’t know about her project but I had seen a pickup truck on the roadside somewhere in Alberta with a banner across the back panel that read A Walk To Healing For All. Speeding down the highway, there was little time to figure out what it was all about. On the campground, I recognized the banner and stopped to find out more.

Her auntie told me that when Shayna heard about the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops in May, she was overwhelmed with sadness. After a time, she was moved to do something and that’s when she decided to walk from Saskatchewan to Kamloops. She hoped to find healing through her walk and her presence at the site.

Shayna is a cheerful, energetic, glowing person. I felt her positive energy as soon as I met her. She was overjoyed and, I think, a bit overwhelmed to have completed her goal. She told me she felt her walk has empowered her to do more. She’s become determined to increase awareness around this issue that has changed her life. 

Check out her FaceBook page. She’s already planning her next project. 

And have a thought and a prayer for all those children, in Kamloops and elsewhere, who died so far from their loved ones in unfamiliar surroundings, and for their families who were forced to send their little ones away and then never saw them return. 

ROGERS PASS AND CRAIGELLACHIE

I like to visit historical sites. Ken probably likes it even more. We are the people who pull off the road to read those blue metal plaques found randomly by the wayside to mark historical events.

On our drive across the Rockies, we made sure not to miss two famous National Historic Sites. Craigellachie, site of the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 which linked the country and was critical to BC joining confederation. The other one was the site of the last patch. If you’re wondering what that is, so was I. It happens to be where the last bit of pavement was laid to link Canada from coast-to-coast by road in 1962.

Now you’d expect these two momentous events in our history to get equal billing. But they don’t.

The last patch was laid roughly at Rogers Pass, which is the highest point reached by the Trans-Canada Highway. A notable fact by itself. Nearing the location, the signage is clear and there’s a lane to let you pull out of traffic. The site includes a large monument commemorating the completion of the highway and the inauguration ceremony held here in 1962 attended by John Diefenbaker, then Prime Minister, and hundreds of guests. 

There are panels explaining how Rogers Pass was initially discovered and used for the railway in the 1880s. Nearly a hundred years later, it was also selected for the highway.

There’s a monument to the workers who built the highway and there’s information about the critical avalanche control that keeps the road open all year. We probably spent close to an hour explore the site.

Now, to Craigellachie. First, it’s easy to miss. Only a small sign warns you that you’re getting close as the traffic speeds along the Trans-Canada Highway. Secondly, the turn-off is not particularly safe and parking is limited. Thirdly, there’s not much to see. It’s a small site with a large stone marker to commemorate, not the last spike itself hammered in on Nov 7, 1885, but the 100thanniversary of the last spike in 1985. Off to the side stands a large reproduction of the famous photograph of Donald Smith, director of the CPR, wielding a hammer with several dozen onlookers.

On the outside wall of the gift shop, built to resemble a train station, a few water-stained posters tell of the completion of the railway, compare the living conditions of the white men and the Chinese men who worked on the project, and display pictures of an event held there by Chinese-Canadians.

A rail car and a small stretch of rail, neither particularly old, complete the site. The whole place feels a bit forlorn and inconsequential. 

It seems to me that the completion of the railway, key to the creation of our country, should have a much grander site, at least as grand as the last patch.

BACK IN THE ROCKIES

Across from the famous Columbia Icefields, there is a trail called Wilcox Pass Trail. The pass was discovered out of necessity by Walter Wilcox in 1896. He was travelling north along the valley that is now renowned as the Icefields Parkway when he was thwarted by the Athabaska Glacier. At the time, it reached right across the valley to the mountain that would be named Mount Wilcox. 

Early one morning, we undertook the Wilcox Pass Trail on the recommendation of a Parks Canada agent. 

The trail starts out in the forest. The path is a spider’s web of roots. On rises, they’re like a staircase that helps us along. Gradually, the trees get smaller. After some time in a forest of stunted conifers, we came out upon an alpine meadow and reached a ridge that provided our first vistas towards Mount Athabaska, Mount Andromeda and Snow Dome with its impressive icecap. None of these was on offer this morning, they were barely a hazy outline in the smoke. The more distant peaks were invisible. 

That is the result of the terrible fires ravaging the forests of British Columbia this year. Yesterday, the air was crystal clear. The mountains and their snowy caps glistened in the sun. Overnight the winds changed and today we are shrouded in a smoky haze that smells of burnt wood. Without having seen any fires, we are reminded of their presence and their impact. 

Even without views, the trail is beautiful. On the ridges, we experience the powerful winds rising up from the valley. They are katabatic winds and they are produced when the cold air off the glacier collides with the warmer air in the valley. In other words, glaciers create their own weather patterns.

From the first ridge, the hike meanders through an expansive alpine environment. Of course, alpine meadows are not flat, so there was still some serious climbing to be done. 

At the end of the Wilcox Pass trail, there is a spur towards another ridge directly across from the Columbia Glacier. It is the most challenging section of the whole hike with some steep climbs and descents. The smoke wasn’t lifting and when we reached the end of the spur, there was only a hazy, smoky view of one of the most magnificent sights along the entire Icefields Parkway. 

We were happy with our hike nonetheless and, although it was only 10:30, we sat down to eat part of our lunch. We found a spot sheltered from the katabatic winds and broke out our sandwiches. Our view was back across the trail we’d just come from. 

While eating, we watched as one man crested a rise some distance away and walked towards us at a fast clip. I said to Ken, he’s going to be here before we’re ready to leave. Sure enough, he rounded the last curve as we were putting on our packs. 

I said, you’re a fast walker, which made him chuckle. Yes, I work at that, he answered. And so started a conversation with Ken, a man a bit older than we are. He is a mountain man, has been all his life, although he still has a full-time job that he loves. He was on his way to climb Mount Wilcox. From where we stood, it was still an imposing peak to the north of us. He explained it’s rated as a “beginner” scrambling peak, which puts people off. In his opinion it’s a hiking trail with a hard rating. 

Although we’d come to the end of the trail we’d planned on, we suddenly took an interest in Mount Wilcox. It is imposing, but several groups had passed us this morning and told us they were going to the top. We felt a bit like we were taking it easy by heading down after having only reached this point. 

So, we decided to go a bit further. To the first ridge, I agreed. Once there, we went a bit higher, and then higher. We finally reached the base of where the pitch of the slope increases significantly, passed all vegetation, even the tiny plants that cling to life between the stones. My Ken was itching to go further, but not me. 

We turned back and found our way across a field with no visible path, passing a gritty snow bank along the way. Eventually, we rejoined the trail and started down. Now passed noon, it was busy with trekkers. It’s quite a different experience to encounter a steady stream of other hikers. We had the trail virtually to ourselves earlier on. However, it is great to see people out in the mountains. 

The smoke had thinned out while we’d been on the high ridge of Mount Wilcox. Was it because it lifted somewhat or because we were higher up, I can’t say. As we descended it thickened up again.

Ken and I can chalk up another great trek in the Canadian Rockies along with a delightful encounter and a lesson in the effects of forest fires. 

ROSTHERN WELCOME

All along the highways that cross Canada, there are small towns like ornaments on a necklace. Some shine brighter than others. This night, we hit upon a real gem. 

Our choice is often dictated by location and time of day and so it was with Rosthern, Saskatchewan. It’s 70 km north of Saskatoon, population about 2,000. Before arriving, I Googled the town out of curiosity and found Motors & Music, an event happening that very evening – a car show accompanied by live music.

Just before 6 pm, the musicians got busy with their sound check and the cars started arriving: a recent Corvette, a flat-windowed hot VW beetle, a convertible Carmen Ghia, a Yenko Chevy Nova, a silver “lead sled,” a show-room mint-green Lincoln plated MINT73, a 1953 Chevy barn find, a monster old black Buick, also a barn find, and several more, courtesy of the Rosthern Car Club.

We paid our admission and were warmly welcomed by Josie the organizer. She encouraged us to visit the railway station that’s now the town’s art centre. Authentic on the outside and totally redone on the inside, it’s a real showpiece. It even has a large theatre for stage productions. Plus, there’s a caboose to visit out back, donated by CN and restored by local volunteers.

Back outside we looked over the cars, met the people who own them and their friends. Owen owns three of the cars on display. According to Guylaine his wife, he’s always got a restoration on the go. Right now, he’s working on a split-window VW bus. Guylaine, or Guy since people have trouble pronouncing her French name, is a francophone from Gravelbourg. She speaks excellent French and we had quite a conversation. She told me about how she worked behind the scenes with the Radio Canada TV production team of “La petite séduction” when they came to town. Owen is the reason she’s moved to Rosthern.

Owen and Guylaine

We chatted with Brad, too. He owns a 1996 VW camper van and he and his wife have traveled the west coast of Canada and parts of Alberta. Longer trips will wait for retirement. 

Later in the evening, Josie came over to see how we were enjoying ourselves. We talked about the drought. No rain since early June. Farmers are cutting down their crops for hay since there will be no yield. At least, they can get some return on hay. This sad situation is particularly bad around Rosthern. On a happier note, Josie is expecting her first baby in September and she’s clearly excited. 

Josie and friends

Over in the garden, people had set up their folding chairs among the flowers beds and were enjoying the music of Joe Callahan, originally from Belleville Ontario we found out, and Tim Campbell, a local talent. They even played Come Monday, one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett tunes. Ken and I danced to that one.

We had parked Juniper next to the show grounds and sat outside to eat our supper so we wouldn’t miss any of the music.

Things wound up around 9 as the sun set. Owen, Guy, Brad, and several other new acquaintances dropped by to say goodbye and wish us well. 

Yes, we’d truly stumbled upon a gem.

Misadventure in Winnipeg

We’ve often spent a night discretely parked on a quiet city street. We’ve done it in places like Toronto, Montréal and Helena, Montana. We didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable when we picked a street in the Osborne Village area of Winnipeg. It’s an eclectic part of town that’s becoming trendy but still has some sketchy areas. 

Around 1:30 am, something woke me up, something, a noise, that set off some alarm in my brain. A couple of seconds later Ken awoke too and immediately knew what was amiss. “Someone is stealing our bikes!”

Our bikes, Azul and Kenworth – photo Ken

Ken raised the curtain on the back window and sure enough there was someone there. Ken banged violently on the window. I looked out the street-side window and saw a guy ride off on his bike. Ken saw someone run down the sidewalk.

Ken decided to go out and check what damage had been done. He thought they might have been stealing components. Turns out they where going for his entire bike. Both wheels were out of the stirrups and they’d removed the hook that holds the bike in the rack. They had probably been trying to use the hook to pry the lock. The hook was nowhere to be found, but they had left behind a can of cold beer.

We decided to leave the area immediately in case they came back for the beer and the bikes. We drove to a WalMart, a haven of security to some extent.

The next morning, Ken assessed his bike. Except for an ugly scratch on the frame, the bike is fine. We drove back to the site of the attempted crime and found all the pieces they’d removed from the rack. Ken was able to reassemble the rack and our bikes are once again secure.

After a nearly sleepless night, our take-away is to be a bit more choosy when selecting a city street for the night. We were very fortunate that our bikes are fine and so are we. In the end, it was an inexpensive lesson.

FORT WILLIAM CIRCA 1816

We stepped back in time at Fort William, a stone’s throw from Thunder Bay. We spent a day exploring this impressive Historical Park. I especially enjoyed meeting the staff who were “in character” as individuals who lived at the fort in 1816. 

Overlooking Fort William – photo by Ken

There were two indigenous re-enactors who were particularly engaging. First, a woman at the native encampment just outside the fort. She told us about Anishinaabe traditions such as how birch bark and roots are prepared for use and how wigwams are built. She told us a wigwam can last up to eight years. Her storytelling was entertaining and informative.

Inside the fort we met a native man who talked to us about how trade with the Europeans brought positive change to the lives of the Anishinaabe people. 

For example, the people had herbs they used as tobacco for ceremonies. By substituting the tobacco they obtained from the Europeans they were able to use their herbs for other purposes, like making medicine. As another example, having access to cloth made life easier because tanning and sewing hides was very labour-intensive. Using cloth instead of hides for clothing left them with more time for other activities. Later, we learned that cloth made up 80 percent of goods traded for furs.

I had never considered the effects of trade in this light before.

The historic site itself has more than 30 buildings reconstructed according to historical sources. You can wander around, entering buildings and chatting with the various characters. You discover the life of the fort during a period when the North West Company was cutting into the territory of the Hudson’s Bay Company. 

Fort William served as a transshipment point. Goods for trade were brought in by canoe from Montreal by the “mangeurs de lard” (pork-eaters) voyageurs. Furs arrived from the West also by canoe thanks to the “hivernants” (over-winterers) voyageurs, those who stayed all winter at trading posts. During Rendez-vous, a few weeks in July and August, the two groups exchanged goods and the “mangeurs de lard” paddled back to Montreal with furs; the “hivernants” were provisioned with trade goods for the upcoming winter. 

All this trade was financed and overseen by the shareholders of the Beaver Club in Montreal, who became phenomenally wealthy when the furs were sold in London.

In 1821 the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company merged and the more northerly Hudson’s Bay trade routes were favoured. Fort William was eventually abandoned. 

Fort William

There are stories down every road.