Furries, feathers, and fireflies

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you are no doubt aware that hubby and I love to camp, hike, and kayak. Here in Canada, the season for enjoying those activities is short and if we’re not careful our calendar fills up with other activities such as the meetings that we’ll be attending next week as delegates for our church. Sometimes we have to be creative in order to carve out time for the things we most love doing, so that’s what we did this past week.

Hubby had a medical appointment in Vermilion, a town a little less than an hour and a half northeast of here. (You know you’re in Canada if you measure distance by how long it takes to drive somewhere!) Vermilion happens to border a provincial park with a campground, an extensive network of trails, and a reservoir suitable for kayaking. What could have been a day trip for a doctor’s appointment became a three day camping trip instead!

IMG_4167

We quickly discovered that Vermilion Provincial Park is built on a giant gopher colony. These furry little creatures, a bane to farmers when they take up residence in their fields, were absolutely everywhere! At any given moment, we could see half a dozen or more of them grazing, standing like sentinels, or wrestling and playing on the grassy slope in front of our trailer. The young ones were particularly entertaining to watch. They were very curious about us too!

Vermilion is hometown to Beckie Scott, Canada’s most decorated cross-country skier. A three time Olympian, Beckie won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, becoming the first Canadian (and the first North American woman) to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. The road leading into Vermilion Provincial Park is called Beckie Scott Trail and the Vermilion Nordic Ski Club, based out of a renovated 1905 train station in the park, maintains groomed ski trails during the winter which are used for hiking in the summer.

We did a 7.5 km hike on Thursday afternoon. While much of the hike was fairly level, as we made our way up and down some of the hills along the way, I was glad I was on foot and not skis! As a former cross-country skier, I knew that some of those uphill slopes would have been gut-busters!

As we set off on the trail, we noticed a “Bear in Area” sign. According to other campers, it was a mama with cubs. Not wanting to come face to face with her, we kept our bear bell jingling as we walked and we also had bear spray close at hand in case it was needed. Thankfully, it wasn’t. The only wildlife we spotted was these two bunnies who didn’t seem too concerned about our presence.

IMG_4158

Much of the time, the trail followed the edge of the Vermilion River reservoir. The water was almost dead calm, unlike the previous afternoon when we contended with a fairly stiff breeze while out in the kayak.

IMG_4150

Red-winged blackbirds are a common sight when kayaking on Alberta lakes and rivers, but I managed to get better photos of these ones with my feet solidly on the ground than I’ve ever been able to get from the boat.

IMG_4154

After a day in the fresh air and an invigorating hike, we were ready to let the campfire die out and head for bed by 11 PM, but I had to stay up later. Earlier in the day, a couple camped near us had told us that they’d seen fireflies the night before, something we’d never seen in Alberta before. At this time of year, however, with the longest day of the year less than two weeks away, the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10 PM and it isn’t fully dark until close to midnight. I had to stay up long enough to see those fireflies! Sure enough, when I stepped back out of the trailer just before crawling into bed, little dots of light flashed all around! It was magical!

Hoodoos and buffalo beans

The last time we hiked the Meeting Creek Coulee near the village of Donalda was late in the fall. The trees were bare and the landscape was shades of gold and brown. Today’s hike through the same area was entirely different! 

IMG_1808

IMG_4124

Everything was so green and there were wildflowers everywhere, especially the bright yellow buffalo beans that bloom across the southern half of Alberta and Saskatchewan at this time of year. 

IMG_4119

I’ve always wondered why they were called buffalo beans, so when we got home today I consulted Google and learned that the flowers appear around the same time as the Indigenous people of the prairie used to conduct their spring buffalo hunt. Apparently the plant produces bean-like seed pods later in the season, but they shouldn’t be eaten as the entire plant contains poisonous alkaloids.

We started today’s hike on the woodland trail that follows the rim of the massive coulee, the northernmost part of the Canadian Badlands, but we soon dropped down into the valley. As we wandered up, down, and around the bluffs that form its walls I spotted an impressive looking hoodoo emerging from the bushes on the hillside above us. Of course, we had to climb up and take a closer look.

IMG_4131

IMG_4125
 We decided to sit and eat our lunch on the hillside where Richard is standing in this photo.

IMG_4126

As I looked at our backpack perched on the hoodoo’s capstone, I thought of all the places it’s been with us over the years. It’s even been to the top of Mt Fuji, the highest and most famous mountain in Japan! 

IMG_4127

The view from our lunch spot included a perfect mound protruding from the flat valley floor. I decided that when we finished eating, we should hike down and walk around it which we did. We considered climbing it, but it would have been a challenge and since we still had to climb back up out of the valley, we quickly rejected that idea. 

IMG_4132

Eventually, after wandering for awhile longer, we made our way back up the hillside and rejoined the woodland trail that took us back to our vehicle. After a long cold winter, it’s so good to be able to get out on the trails again! I wonder where else our feet will take us this summer. 

The Great Sand Hills

Today’s photos might lead one to believe that we traveled to Morocco or Mongolia, but we were actually exploring a very unique bit of Canada, the Great Sand Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan! 

IMG_4044

The Great Sand Hills is approximately 1,900 square kilometres (730 square miles) of desert-like sand dunes, native grasses, and small trees and shrubs. Sediment deposited by glacial meltwater during the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet approximately 13,000 years ago, then shaped and reshaped by strong winds, created this unique landscape. The first of the giant sand hills is just a short walk from the parking lot. Climbing up the dune, you truly feel like you’ve entered a different world, a world of sand and sky!

IMG_4046

IMG_4047

We soon spotted a series of faint trails leading off toward more dunes in the distance, so of course we had to investigate. 

IMG_4059

IMG_4082

IMG_4071

Climbing up the steep side of the dune, we were greeted by another vast expanse of soft, powdery sand. After walking around a bit, I had to take my shoes off and feel its warmth between my toes! 

IMG_4077

IMG_4083

Can you spot Richard on the horizon below? 

IMG_4093

Canada has it all… mountains, prairies, forests, rugged coastlines, rivers, lakes, and even a wee bit of desert! 

First hike of the year

Here in Canada, tomorrow is a federal holiday known as Victoria Day. Initially, the holiday always fell on Queen Victoria’s birthday (May 24), but since 1952 it’s been celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25. The connection to royalty has been gradually lost over the years and now most people simply refer to it as the May long weekend. It’s the unofficial start of the summer season and the first weekend of the camping season for many. Rather than camping, since the nights are still very cold, we’re visiting my younger brother and his wife in the small village of Irvine in the southeast corner of Alberta. This afternoon, while our sister-in-law was working, the other three of us set out for our first hike of the season.

The 464-acre Chinook conservation site, a native grassland area, lies just 8 kilometres south of Irvine. Very different from the hiking that we do closer to home, there are no trails, just wide open expanses begging to be explored.

IMG_4039

Leaving the vehicle, we set off across the grassy plain toward the hills some distance away.  Of course, once we reached the top of the first bluff, we had to carry on up the next one, and then the third.

IMG_4023

Here’s the view from the top of the third hill with the second one in the foreground and the first, much lower one below it. Can you spot our vehicle in the distance? How about the little bit of cactus at the bottom of the photo?

IMG_4025

Here’s a closer look at some of the ground cover. This is snake country, but fortunately, we didn’t see any of those!

IMG_4024

After returning to the vehicle, we crossed the road and made our way across more rough grassland and through the bush to Ross Creek where we saw lots of evidence of beaver activity.

IMG_4031

In the final photo, you can see one of the peaks that we climbed way in the background.

IMG_4037

Along the way, we also saw clear signs of the deer and pronghorn antelope that inhabit the area and were reminded of the old western song, Home on the Range. “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play!”

If the weather cooperates, tomorrow will be another adventure.

A new hat

Logo by SamOn Tuesday’s walk from our Victoria hotel to Chinatown and back, we passed many little souvenir shops that sell pretty much the same things that we might find in Banff, Jasper, or one of several other Canadian tourist destinations. Those stores didn’t particularly appeal to me, but then I spotted Roberta’s Hats! I rarely pass a hat shop without stopping in “just to look”!

Roberta’s Hats is an eclectic little shop that features a wide selection of styles for men, women, and children, many at very affordable prices. There were berets in almost every colour imaginable, but I still have the one I bought in Paris three years ago and didn’t feel the need to buy another one. As much as I loved the section of hats that looked like they came right off Downton Abbey, I knew that I didn’t have anywhere to wear one of those. Then I spotted the corduroy newsboy caps. The moss green one would go perfectly with the spring/fall anorak that I was wearing. Of course, I had to try it on! And then I had to buy it! I simply had to!

IMG_3842

It was a chilly morning, so I had the lady behind the counter remove the tag and I wore it out of the store. I’ve been wearing it almost constantly ever since! I have a fairly large collection of hats, but most of them don’t get worn very often. I don’t foresee that happening with this one though! Until the weather gets too warm, I expect that I’ll be wearing it a lot. It just feels like me.

There are many good reasons to wear a hat. Sometimes it provides protection against the elements… shading your eyes from the sun or adding warmth in extreme cold. Often, however, a hat is an accessory that adds panache to an outfit and gives a woman a look of confidence. It’s also a quick and easy solution to a bad hair day!

If you’re a hat lover like me and you’re ever in Victoria, make sure to take a short walk up Government Street from the harbour and visit Roberta’s Hats.

Salt water and sea air

On our first day in Victoria, we walked approximately 10 km. Today, our last day before heading toward home, we walked at least 7 more!

We woke to a chilly, wet morning. In fact, there was even a bit of snow in the air. Thankfully, however, the forecast promised better things to come. After a leisurely breakfast in our hotel and a little while spent relaxing back in our room, the rain stopped and we headed out. Our first destination this time was the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

IMG_3838

I’m thinking that it must also be one of the smallest. Barely more than two blocks in size, there are a number of authentic Chinese restaurants and businesses, but I was also surprised to see a sushi shop, a schnitzel restaurant, and a taco place! 

Victoria’s Chinatown is perhaps best known for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. Only 0.9m wide (about 4 feet) at the narrowest point, the alley is filled with boutiques and shops selling clothing, jewelry, music, and other items to both tourists and locals. In its early days, however, it was home to a variety of less savoury places including gambling and opium dens. 

IMG_3837

On Sunday, we walked the beach at Cordova Bay and yesterday we did a harbour tour on one of Victoria’s little green “pickle” boats, so-called because of their colour and shape, but I’m a coastal girl at heart and I wanted a bit more of the sea before heading back to the prairie. 

IMG_3827

After returning from Chinatown, we drove about 20 minutes to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites. Consisting entirely of original structures, Fort Rodd Hill, a west coast artillery fortress on active duty from 1895 to 1956, is one of the world’s best preserved and most complete examples of its kind. The buildings are closed during the week, but the grounds are open and many interpretive signs make it an interesting place to explore. Until our visit, I had never really thought about how vulnerable the Victoria area must have felt after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. By 1944, 17 powerful searchlights clearly lit up the Victoria-Esquimalt harbour area. One of them was housed in this building, camouflaged to look like a fisherman’s hut, complete with a ramp and boat!

IMG_3873

In the background, you can see the Fisgard Lighthouse which was built in 1860 as the first permanent light on the west coast of Canada. Although administered together with Fort Rodd Hill, it is a separate national historic site and there is no historical connection between the two. 

I absolutely love lighthouses, but I won’t subject you to all 24 pictures that I took of this one! I’ll try to restrict myself to just a few favourites. 

IMG_3851

IMG_3856

Though the light has been automatic since 1928, prior to that time it was manned.

IMG_3868

The lighthouse is now connected to land via a manmade causeway, but in those days it stood offshore on a tiny island. The only means of transportation that the lighthouse keeper had was a rowboat like this one. Every item he needed had to be rowed across the bay from Esquimalt. Unfortunately, in 1898, the unoccupied boat was found floating in the bay with just one oar still in it. Joseph Dare, the keeper at that time, had fallen overboard and drowned while trying to retrieve the other oar. Had he been wearing a life jacket, he likely would have survived. 

On the rocky point beyond the lighthouse, we found a pair of the red Adirondack chairs that have been placed in National Parks and Historic Sites across Canada. Of course, we had to sit in them and enjoy the view. 

 

IMG_3862

After visiting the lighthouse, we walked the long beach in front of Fort Rodd Hill and then returned to the vehicle via a well-kept nature trail. 

IMG_3871

Now that I’ve enjoyed a fix of salt water and sea air, I’m ready to return to the prairie feeling refreshed! 

 

Tea at the Empress

IMG_3824

Victoria’s iconic Fairmont Empress hotel, overlooking the city’s inner harbour, started serving Afternoon Tea when it opened on January 8, 1908 and continues to serve freshly prepared scones, pastries, and tea to over 80,000 guests every year! Yesterday, we joined that number.

IMG_3816

From our comfortable corner table by the fireplace, we had a gorgeous view of the harbour as we lingered over our lunch.

IMG_3818

The set menu, made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, arrives on a three tiered tray. On the bottom layer are raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. I must admit that, until yesterday, I didn’t know what clotted cream was! The name brought to mind something lumpy and gross, but it is far from that! It’s smooth and soft, similar in flavour to a high-quality unsalted butter and somewhere between butter and whipped cream in richness. The second layer consisted of finger sandwiches, mini quiches, and cold smoked salmon on tiny blinis. It doesn’t look like a lot of food, but we were getting full by the time we reached the top layer that held five delectable mini desserts for each of us. We ate two of them and packaged the rest to bring back to our hotel for later.

IMG_3815

We had our choice from a vast selection of teas, so we chose two different ones and sampled both. The original china was gifted to the Empress by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) on a visit to Canada in 1939 and the pattern is reproduced exclusively for the Empress.

Tea at the Empress is pricey. So pricey, in fact, that my frugal nature almost convinced me that we shouldn’t indulge. Hubby insisted, however, and I’m glad he did! It’s definitely worth doing if you’re ever in Victoria.

IMG_3822 2

Which house was it?

On our way to the coast we stopped in Jasper for a few hours to visit my 98-year-old aunt who lives there. When I told her that we were coming to Victoria, she reminded me that she and my mother lived here for a year when they were young children. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and, like so many other men at that time, my grandfather was out of work. His brother had found employment at the paper mill in Powell River, so he went there to apply for a job and then proceeded to build a small house for his young family. In the meantime, my grandmother and her two little girls shared a single room in a boarding house here in Victoria not far from where his parents lived. Curious, I asked Auntie Norma if she remembered what part of the city they lived in. I could hardly believe it when she told me that they lived on Government Street within a block or two of the BC Legislative Building. That’s less than a kilometre from our hotel! 

I decided that when we got to Victoria, we’d go for a walk down Government Street. I didn’t expect to find a trace of what was there 90+ years ago when two little girls walked down the street and across the parking lot behind the Legislative Building on their way to school. I thought I’d find modern apartment or office buildings or perhaps stores and hotels. Instead, I found a street lined with heritage houses! Was one of them the boarding house where Nana, Mom, and Auntie Norma lived? 

IMG_3764

IMG_3755

IMG_3754

I was enthralled as I walked up and down the street taking photos of house after house and wondering if Auntie Norma will recognize one of them when I show her the pictures. Of course, they’ve probably undergone many changes since she was here, but I’m hoping that something looks familiar.  

IMG_3765

IMG_3767

I love the contrast of old and new in this photo…

IMG_3757

Even if Auntie Norma doesn’t recognize any of the houses, this little confectionary should bring back memories. It’s been standing on the corner of Government and Michigan Streets since 1915! 

IMG_3762

This building, now the Rosewood Inn, is located kitty-corner from the little store. Could it have been a boarding house at one time? 

IMG_3753

What must it have been like for my grandmother and her little girls to spend a year sharing a single room in a house full of boarders? Auntie Norma did say that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Apparently, the woman who ran the boarding house befriended my grandmother and became like an another grandma to the two little girls while they lived under her roof, but I’m sure that they were all very glad when the little house in Powell River was ready and the family could be together again!  

Victoria on foot

I’ve always said that the best way to see a city is on foot and Victoria is no exception. We purposely chose a hotel in the harbour area so that we’d be able to walk to most of the things we wanted to see. Today, I’d estimate that we walked approximately 10 km (6.2 miles)!

First, we joined the David Foster Harbour Pathway across the street from our hotel and followed it along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. 

IMG_3731

On the way, we stopped to find a couple of geocaches. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this high-tech adult treasure hunt, you can learn all about it here.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a unique destination with working fishing vessels, pleasure boats with live-aboard residents, float homes, and commercial businesses all moored at the docks. I loved the colourful float homes. Imagine living in a house that gently rocked with the movement of the water! Richard, a lifelong prairie boy, didn’t think he’d like that, but as a displaced coastal girl, I’m pretty sure I’d love it! He did have a point when he commented that there’d be no place to park our golf cart though! 

IMG_3732

IMG_3746

IMG_3748

After a delicious lunch of fish and chips on the Wharf, we continued our walk eventually ending up at beautiful Beacon Hill Park, the crown jewel of Victoria’s park system. 

IMG_3770

IMG_3771

IMG_3775

IMG_3778

We found several more geocaches while exploring the park. We even had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with another couple who were also hunting for the hidden caches. In addition to the ducks and geese that make the park their home, this gorgeous peacock was just a few feet away from one of the caches and seemed completely unconcerned about our presence. He didn’t oblige us and spread his beautiful tail though. 

IMG_3783

These turtles sunning themselves on a log on one of the park’s ponds appeared to have about as much energy as I have after our very long walk!

IMG_3777

Eventually, we made our way all the way through the park to the oceanside where we could look across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Washington State in the distance. 

IMG_3789

IMG_3792

As you can see, it was a sunny, but very windy day. Perhaps that’s best illustrated by this, one of the windsurfers we saw riding the waves. 

IMG_3791

Before beginning the long trek back to our hotel, we stopped at the monument marking Mile 0 on the Trans Canada highway that spans the country from Victoria to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Our geocaching pals offered to take our picture there and I suggested to Richard that perhaps we should visit the other end of the highway this year too. A trip to Newfoundland has been on my mind since acquaintances of ours moved there a few months ago and started posting amazing photographs and videos on Facebook!

IMG_3799

Nearby stands a bronze and granite monument to Canadian hero, Terry Fox, as this was where his Marathon of Hope would have ended if cancer had not returned and claimed his young life before he was able to complete his cross Canada run. 

IMG_3800

And now it’s time to go soak my weary muscles in a hot bath, but do stay tuned. I’ll be back with more of our Victoria visit soon. 

What I wore for a walk by the sea

Logo by SamWhether you like to read about travel or fashion, there’s something in today’s post for you. I seldom write “what I wore” posts, but I figured that that was the best way to squeeze in a Fashion Friday post this week!

For the past eight and a half years, since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, I’ve had an injection of Sandostatin every 28 days. Until two months ago, a nurse came to the house to administer theScreen Shot 2022-04-06 at 9.35.43 PM jab, but that service has been discontinued. Now, I get my monthly injection at my doctor’s office, but I can still easily arrange to have it done anywhere in Canada. Yesterday’s appointment, for injection #110, was at a clinic in West Vancouver.

One end of the popular 1.7 km West Vancouver Centennial Seawalk is just 3 blocks from the clinic. The weather was beautiful, so as soon as I was done, we went for a walk.

IMG_3688 2

Along the way, we saw a couple of harbour seals poking their heads out of the water some distance offshore and this long-legged heron standing guard closer in.

IMG_3689

At the end of the Seawalk, we made an unexpected discovery, The Beach House restaurant. The restaurant’s beachfront patio opened for the season yesterday and we were the first to sit at our table for two overlooking the shore. The service was impeccable and the food delicious!

IMG_3695

IMG_3696

And now for what I wore…

IMG_3701

IMG_3704 2

Everything I’m wearing has been in my wardrobe for quite awhile. The olive chinos were purchased almost two years ago at Mark’s. They’re a nice alternative to jeans and perfect weight for spring and fall. I’ve had the short-sleeved animal print top from Laura for so long that I don’t actually remember when I bought it. In spite of the fact that it’s been in my closet for a long time, I haven’t actually worn it a lot, but it’s been coming out more often lately. I added the anorak from Reitmans to my spring/fall wardrobe three years ago. It’s wind and rain resistant making it a perfect jacket to wear here at the coast, but it gets lots of use at home too. My white leather sneakers, also from Mark’s, are two years old and still like new. They’re super comfortable for long walks like yesterday’s.

IMG_3707

Though you can’t see it in the previous two photos, I wore my Shirttail Cardigan from cabi under the jacket. Layering is key to staying warm at this time of year. The sweater is over five years old and still going strong. It has been an absolute workhorse in my wardrobe and has appeared on the blog many times before. I don’t know what I’ll do if it ever wears out!

Before I go, did you notice my new Fashion Friday logo? It was designed especially for me by my 12-year-old grandson, Sam! He’s one of the young artists in our family. Thank you, Sam!