Author Archives: terryannewilson

About terryannewilson

I'm a writer who enjoys traveling, diverse cultures and tales that inspire.

Glamping Under a Fabled Elm… Serene and Soulful Kaslo

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  • Glamping Site Three and Four, Kaslo, British Columbia
    • N49 Degrees, W116 Degrees, Altitude 591 Metres

Every small town has its story, its treasures, perhaps its aching past. With its serene beauty nestled along Kootenay Lake, we chose Kaslo for our next glamping spot for all of those reasons.

I couldn’t have anticipated that we’d be sheltered under the grandeur of one of the town’s treasures – a magnificent more-than-century-old elm tree – at Kaslo’s Municipal Campground.

Situated at the end of Front Street, Kaslo’s main street, only a narrow road separates the campground from the indigo waters of Kootenay Lake. The narrow fjord-like lake divides the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges. As one of the largest in BC, the lake is a traditional waterway to the Sinixt and Ktunaxa peoples. Once part of their seasonal migration and trading route, Kootenay Lake is now more likely to be arrayed with kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and sailboats than traditional birch bark canoes.

We were fortunate to be offered the elm site, its outspread branches like an expansive umbrella protecting her, and us, from the intense but glorious summer heat. As with previous campsites our canvas tent, named Lupin, only just squeezed under the tree’s majestic leafy canopy.

Lupin and the elm quickly became the darling of the campsite. “What’s it like inside? How long does it take to set up? Looks like a movie set, especially with that tree.”

And a comment that really intrigued me. “Have you heard the history behind the elm?”

We noticed what looked like a graft on the tree, as if two trees had merged into one. I was even more curious when our campground hostess revealed that Lupin was pitched under a Camperdown Elm, a name has nothing at all to do with camping. In fact, the ulmus glabra camperdownii’s history is firmly rooted in Scotland.

Around 1840, in the grounds of Camperdown House near Dundee, a young forester made a discovery. David Taylor worked for the Earl of Camperdown and on a jaunt in the woods discovered a young contorted elm tree. Taylor speculatively grafted it onto a larger Wych Elm in the Earl’s estate garden. As the years passed, the twisted yet elegant branches formed into a vast, lush canopy. The tree and those that derived from it became a status symbol, satisfying a mid-Victorian passion for curiosities in ‘Gardenesque’ style gardens. Eventually they graced the gardens of stately American universities and it seems Kaslo’s camperdown elm made its way to Canada from across the border.

Arriving in town in 1893 with Mr. C.W. McAnn, Kaslo’s first solicitor, the tree was just a two-foot high treasure and planted at his residence on 5th and Avenue B. In 1910, Charles F. Caldwell moved the elm to his home in Upper Kaslo, only for it to be dug up thirty years later by A.F. McPhee. McPhee envisioned it as a shelter at the fish hatchery and it there it remained, even as the hatchery evolved to become part of Vimy Park that eventually surrounded the campground.

The elm as it stood at the hatchery, circa 1950’s

In Kaslo, the presence of the elm is said to reflect the perseverance and strength of the community. And, as we strolled the charming streets, I was reminded that this was a place where resilience came very much into play – the serene mountains and majestic views belying darker episodes in its history. Yet Kaslo is also a town of welcoming verandahs and profuse gardens, of tinkling wind chimes and wide rambling streets; fondly proclaimed as the Lucerne of the Kootenays.

The town’s roots harken back to 1889, first a sawmill site, then rapid expansion due to a silver boom. When, in the early 1890’s, a 120 ton galena boulder was discovered nearby, the massive lode of silver and lead beckoned prospectors and speculators. Many arrived flat broke – some left as newly minted millionaires in only a matter of years.

Dozens of silver mines traverse this area and by 1893 Kaslo was a boomtown with a population of 3000, the fifth largest settlement in British Columbia. As with many mining towns, along with the more dignified settlers and ladies in finery, a more salacious wild atmosphere prevailed that catered to miners – gambling, saloons and brothels. Much of that new money flowed south to Spokane, Washington where mansions of the silver barons stand still today.

The unbelievable wealth came to a crashing halt as the price of silver plummeted. Businesses shuttered, banks foundered, and depression ensued. The final blow came in 1894 when a ravaging flood, then a devastating fire brought the town to its knees. Yet despite a large decrease in the population, the town didn’t fade away. The great number of ghost towns in British Columbia attest to the many that did. 

Kaslo holds onto this past in the form of elegant buildings, spired churches, frontier-like storefronts, perhaps best embodied in the oldest intact passenger steam vessel of its type in the world. The S.S. Moyie carried passengers on Kootenay Lake for fifty-seven years. Now dry-docked, refurbished and an impressive tourist site, fondly referred to as the ‘sweetheart of the lake’, she pays homage to the vital role that sternwheelers played in mountain regions.

‘She pulled in and blew her whistle like a trusted old friend – there weren’t yet roads to these mountain communities,’ is one quote I read. The S.S. Moyie carried everything from fruit to sheep, from locomotives piece by piece, to automobiles and passengers; some of very little means and those few who could indulge in the refinement of a state room.

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I’ve also heard Kaslo referred to as ‘one of the prettiest towns in British Columbia’… quiet charm in soulful surroundings. For me its sublime and soulful setting on the shore of Kootenay Lake is heightened by knowledge of the towns profound history as one of numerous sites where Japanese Canadians were interned during World War Two. The story of how these Canadian citizens were grievously wronged deserves to be told, it is a story of pain and loss and yet also of resilience and triumph of the human spirit. Of this I will devote a full blog soon.

We canoe and paddle board, and even have the good fortune, by happenstance, to sail the waters with friends. In such moments I gaze out towards the layered mountain ranges and hope that this serene view offered solace for those who had been interned and cut off from previous lives, for those whose tribal lands had been sequestered in the expansion of Canada, for those who arrived in Canada from afar – and perhaps even a fleeting thought for those who hadn’t realized their fortune in the ephemeral silver boom.

Early each morning we enjoy our coffee, lakeside. The rising sun glints on the carpets of green pines, the peaks with already-snowy-wraps, the gentle rippling of the waters. I hear the great cawing and flapping of the resident crows and the odd splashing of trout. I feel glacial-deposited pebbles on bare feet. I savour the moment.

I muse on how edifying and giving these glamping experiences have been. How they’ve helped define our summer, enabled us to explore in our own backyard and spend more meaningful time together.

Ambling along the shoreline, pebbles in autumnal arrays seem to hint at the approaching change of seasons. And in all of us, perhaps an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, especially during this pandemic… a reminder to savour the simple moments.

As I return to the campsite, the morning shadows are dancing beautifully on Lupin…

Sanctuary At A Lavender Farm… “The journey is the treasure”

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Last summer, on the island of Hvar Croatia, I swooned for lavender. As the sun lowered in the late afternoon sky, rich orange hues danced on field upon field of profuse purple stems. As far as the eye could gaze, we were entranced by the island’s signature crop in bloom – the view, the scent, was simply intoxicating, a moment etched on my traveller’s heart.

On a fine summer day this past week, once again I wonderfully found myself surrounded by heavenly lavandula, but this time it would be a hands-on experience. We had been invited to help harvest, so ‘the girls’ and I drove west from Kimberley, through the old mining town of Moyie, past the quaint stop at Yakh where you might just glimpse those roof-top goats grazing improbably above the Yakh Soap and Candle Co. Then onwards toward the Creston Valley, a veritable cornucopia of farmland, orchards and vineyards.

We started with an ‘obligatory’ wine tasting at the Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery, named for the Anglo-Austrian aristocrat who made his way to the valley in 1882. While on a hunting expedition with the future United States president, Teddy Roosevelt, the explorer saw the possibilities of the region. Granted a ten-year lease of almost 50,000 acres from the government, William Adolf Baillie-Grohman settled in the valley, creating a dyke system to reclaim fertile land from the Kootenay River, operating a steamboat to facilitate the passage of goods and settlers to the area, and he also found time to serve as Justice of the Peace for the Kootenay district.

More European settlers arrived to the area from the mid 1880’s and a general store, sawmill, clearing and planting of orchards soon followed. Today, the hillsides around the picturesque town of Creston are credited as the first to capitalise on the area’s potential for fruit bearing trees and, as we sample wine at the Baillie-Grohman Vineyard, there’s no doubt it’s the ideal first stop in the valley. Capturing the essence of the Creston valley, the row on row of grape vines cradled on the slopes of gentle mountains evoke serenity amidst the quiet productivity of the valley.

But we’re here for another delightful crop, lavender, and so we wend our way a little further north of Creston to Wynndel. Once dubbed the ‘strawberry capital of the world’, Wynndel now flourishes with livestock, dairy and hay farming. When we reach our destination for the afternoon, Sanctuary Lavender Farm, immediately we see that we are in a place of sanctuary, a haven of serenity, as if drawn into a canvas by Monet. I’m instantly transported back to Croatia, even to France, then at once I’m full of gratitude that this is in our own ‘backyard.’

We’re welcomed by Jade, the resident long-haired Siberian Forest cat, and her owners Kevin and Alanna. I had already read an article about the two lavender farmers. I was curious to learn why they had sold a successful business in a popular mountain town near Vancouver to take over a lavender farm. I was interested in the harvesting process and the products that they create. And, naturally, we were eager to start harvesting, and strangely excited to wield a scythe.

Alanna had sent a message after we had settled on the day and warned us that there might be mosquitos as we worked in the fields. And she added, “So before you say yes, I want you to know about that… but this is offset of course by the aroma and the peace, and the buzzing of our friendly bees.”

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Her description of the lavender farm she and Kevin bought almost three years ago summed it up succinctly. Yet until you’re standing amongst the rows and rows of lavender in bloom, the peace and serenity is difficult to convey. The plump bumble bees only compliment the living palette as they continuously buzz and busy on the lavender – part of nature’s cycle that we soon feel in tune with. With scythes handed to each of us, Kevin demonstrates how to take a small handful of lavender stems, cut carefully, repeat until a bunch is formed, secure with a band. As the bunches slowly grow and rest on the harvested lavender beds, bees buzz languorously, Jade slinks and suns herself, billowy clouds drift above, we savour deep breaths of lavender-lush air.

There are close to seven hundred lavender plants on the Sanctuary Farm; today we’re harvesting French lavender. An ancient flowering plant of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, the name lavender comes from the Latin word lavare meaning to wash given that it was commonly used by the Romans and in medieval Europe to scent water for washing clothes and for bathing. In Tuscany, it was used to ward of the evil eye. In ancient Egypt, lavender essential oil was one of many herbal oils used to preserve bodies for mummification; inexpensive, readily available, valued for its antibacterial properties.

Many of us well know the stress-relieving, calming properties of lavender, something I imagine Kevin and Alanna benefit from daily as they breathe in the atmosphere and soak in their tranquil setting.

“I still can’t believe I live here,” Alanna muses as we take a moment to gaze over the rows of lavender, and beyond. Rays of sunshine are dappling the late afternoon vista – tidy, diminutive knolls of purple against imposing emerald peaks.

As we’ve chatted, alongside one another, or scythed in silent harmony, an entire row has been harvested. It’s been over an hour and feels like a quarter of that. Countless bunches now await their placement into Kevin’s wagon where they’ll be trundled to the small drying shed. The French lavender will remain hanging, ‘bloom-side down’, for two weeks of drying. They’ll then be lovingly fashioned into Sanctuary’s retail products; candles and soaps, lavender wands and neck pillows, wreaths and sachets, or in their delightful elemental bunches. The products now grace local markets and stores in the Kootenay region and have become a go-to choice for gifts for many of us.

Laying down our tools, we gather on the shady terrace for a coffee and some lavender infused biscotti. The conversation meanders to Kevin and Alanna’s journey, of their transition to a slower-paced family life – their son Shem is with extended family this weekend.

“If you want to fly, you have to give up the ground you’re standing on,” Kevin says with the wisdom of a sage.

Even as their flower/event business in Squamish flourished, the couple reflect on their desire for more privacy and family time; they dreamt of making a change.

“We put our intention out to the universe, we wanted to be grounded with the senses,” the two explain.

“I had been perusing the real estate listings one evening.” Alanna continues, “we might have had Nelson in mind. Just as I was about to close my laptop, an ad for this property popped up. My heart started racing. I got tingles. The house and position on the slope of a hill was what we had aspired to. Oh, and then there was the lavender…”

There was still a business and a house to sell, their family split between two locations for a time as they transitioned. In time, it transpired into a home, a community and a lavender business they adore, Sanctuary Lavender Farm.

Kevin, originally from Sydney, Australia, chuckles that he’s gone from a flower shop to a lavender farm. As I take a photo of the two of them, Alanna wonders if her hair is alright. “You’re beautiful, just beautiful,” he says to his partner in life and business.

When Alana talks about their journey, she mentions that they both grew up with single moms.

“We drove a battered car and worked three jobs to open our flower shop.”

The couple radiate an intrinsic joy and calm spirt that seems to invite those around them to celebrate life. I hear one of them mention that the farm is like a botanical garden and can easily imagine the panoply of colours that play out as the seasons change.

As we finish our second session amongst the lavender, it’s difficult to pull ourselves away. Alanna shows me the lower beds. Ayla, Trixie and Jade pose for photos. Kevin has taken our precious bundles to be hung.

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Alanna I discuss a future collaboration, maybe a writing workshop amongst the blooms? She motions to the girls who are engaging Jade to pose for a photograph.

“How lucky are you to have those two lovely young ladies in your life… and they you,” she says. Of course I agree wholeheartedly.

It’s been a fabulous day spent together. How did Kevin put it earlier?

“The journey is the treasure.”

 

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Many photos contributed by Trixie Pacis at http://www.trixiepacis.com

 

 

Roaming Close to Home, part 2… of the Beginnings of Glamping

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This is part two of Roaming Close to Home

The decision to glamp began as a discussion on how to spend a milestone anniversary, something that blossomed into a way broader conversation. “How can we replace traveling for the time being?” “What if we take the basics of camping and spice it up a bit?” And from me, ever the amateur designer, “Oh exciting, I could have so much fun with this!”

Already, the rewards are ample.

We camped often when I was a child – rather a rite of passage in Canada – and we camped with our own children wherever we were living. We’ve slept in Arabian tents in Qatar and Oman – images of camels shuffling slowly past as the sun slips over the bronzed desert dunes. We’ve camped in the high country of West Texas – chancing upon ghost towns, sun-dried horns, fist-sized tarantulas and otherwordly cacti. We pitched a tent in the deeply etched valleys of Mangistau in Kazakstan – pinnacles rising like citadels, a landscape unique and ethereal.

And it was through camping that we introduced Canada to our boys, happily armed with kayaks and canoes as our ‘toys’ – encountering the odd foraging bear, the loon’ s lyrical calls at sunset, the evocative drift of campfire smoke as stars twinkled above.

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Glamping Site One* ‘The Farm’ in Southern Alberta

N 49.78, W 112.15 degrees, Altitude 815 metres

 

With the decision to glamp agreed upon and the tent acquired, the first ‘glampsite’ to host Lupin – the name given to our Sibley 500 tent on account of the way she gathers droplets of water like the leaves of a Lupin – was at my parent’s acreage, their once farm where we had been married all those years ago. Nestled beside a statuesque May Day tree and framed by mature pines, we immediately fell in love with the spacious, graceful lines of the tent, with the connection to nature while cocooned under the protection of canvas. A heart-warming anniversary celebration, time with family, and even a reshoot of one of our wedding photos – knee-deep in a canola field – we had come full circle to where it had all started.

For this first glamp, a world theme mostly developed in our new abode. Bed linens from India stamped with my beloved traveller’s palms paid homage to the last overseas country we had called home. The world vibe continued with lanterns illuminating Persian carpets, with delicate wicker weaves from Asia, with excellent UMAMU wine from a friend’s vineyard in Australia to mark the occasion.

And poignantly perfuming it all were lush, frilly peonies from my mother’s garden… a final and symbolic touch, almost as if my wedding bouquet was mirrored in these showy intoxicating blooms. Like my parent’s garden and homestead, they represented the grounding of home, hearth, and family.

In the early mornings, shadows played on Lupin’s walls as birdsong serenaded us awake. In the evenings, candlelight danced in evocative shadows as the hooting of owls called to us from nearby trees. One magical evening, we were treated to a brilliant symphony of light and sound as a thunderstorm rolled across the vast prairie sky. The boom and barrage of thunder, great flashes and streaks of lightening, and the rain – from the gentle pitter-patter of whispering raindrops to deep washes rollicking down Lupin’s sides.

Then the wind. The rattling of the door’s hefty zipper, the agitated sway of hanging lights, the plaintive rush of air through pines. Even under the protection of the canvas it felt like an open window to the outdoors, all senses awakened, nature’s forces rich and elemental.

With wine poured, books illuminated and wooly wraps to warm, I glanced towards my trusty fedora and knew that glamping was a gift. I doubt it is something we would have considered had we the liberty of still being able to travel at this time. Dare I say that it’s been another silver lining of Covid, almost an entreaty to embrace home and reach back to elemental simplicity, to feeling more rooted.

So it seems it all awaits. The lakes and woods, the bike trails and highways, the experiences and encounters, yet on this special occasion we were where we were meant to have been all along.

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Glamping Site Two* Larchwood Lake, British Columbia,

N 49.57, W 115.48 degrees, Altitude 882 metres 

 

A few weeks later, our first mountain glamp was indeed at one of those lakes we had scouted out on those joyous day trips. Larchwood Lake is just under an hour from home, and yet the feeling of being ‘away’ is complete. With a long stone’s throw to the lake, we find a spot nestled by lodgepole pines and a baby and mama pine tree that seem to guide our eye to the small, milky-blue lake beyond. At once, we’re conscious of Lupin’s substantial size. She barely squeezes into the camping spot, but with set-up complete (an hour and a half later) the picnic table and fire-pit become the perfect extension of our small enclave.

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This trip, it’s mostly about Canadiana and pieces that will be the basis of Lupin’s ‘retinue’, so to say. Over the past month or so, I’ve delighted in curating ‘glampanalia’ that are preferably a little vintage, reused, repurposed and definitely not plastic. So, plates and bowls of pressed bamboo, milk and water bottles of glass, enamelled basins of a certain age, cloth napkins and naturally the reliable old family axe. Wood and canvas chairs that can easily be moved inside or out were purchased new, but, for the most part, everything else has a story.

I started with a small foldable wicker table, reclaimed from my mother’s home it was the perfect option for a fireside table. A label fixed to the underside reminds us that we had used it camping back when we lived in Oman. Oh how that brings me joy!  

And I was fortunate to glean a number of collectibles from my parents. You’ll often find that people are only too happy to know that something, unused for years, will once again be cherished. A cast-iron frying pan, once my grandmother’s, was happily reconditioned by our youngest son and had its inaugural use this trip – the food couldn’t have tasted more delicious.

Procured from my father are his vintage binoculars purchased in Hong Kong while on a late ’60’s cruise to the Far East, and the warmest of Mexican blankets from a trip in 1965. I consider it a privilege that they’ll once again be used, treasured for years, and eventually passed on once again. And the lambskin? Years ago, a dear family friend gifted it to me, pleased that I would use it in my new mountain home. Sadly, Carol passed away recently, but I’d like to think she’d be thrilled that her lambskin is part of our glamping essentials.

I’ve also come across some items that are true Canadiana. When I spotted the wicker hamper in our local collectable boutique – Old Crow Emporium – I knew it was ideal for a storage chest. And oh how I wish it could tell me its storied past! With thick rope handles and stitching of animal sinew, its worn-smooth wicker speaks to a settler’s journey.

IMG_4944It’s also at Old Crow that I discovered the weathered wooden paddle and the well-used fishing basket, a creel. The creel now serves as a repository for old maps of the local area.

And I’m particularly pleased with the Beacon lanterns gifted to me by those astute kids of ours. Beacons were primarily used for signalling on the railways, produced from 1927 onwards by General Steel Wares. The Canadian company graced their lanterns with names such as Cold Blast, Dashboard, Searchlight and the Planet Hot Blast, each proudly marked ‘Guaranteed Wind Proof.’ I picture them swinging from a station master’s hand or perched in a caboose, signalling and lighting the way in the dark of the night. Now, far less flammable with strings of battery-powered lights, even still they emit a warmth and historic bonhomie.

IMG_4687We’re welcomed at Larchwood Lake by campground hosts Jim and Lynne who clearly love their summer retirement job.

“This is our third year with Recreation Sites and Trails. How fortunate are we that we get to live onsite for four months!” the couple tell us as they welcome.

Donning green vests, broom at the ready, after dinner each evening the couple make their rounds, checking on the campers and welcoming newcomers. Jim and Lynne are friendly faces with an easy manner bringing a gentle order to each camper’s experience. As they collect our fee, I admit I’m rather pleased to receive my first ‘glamping receipt’ for a Recreation Site Permit – $28 for two evenings. We hear how much the campground has improved over the last few years, chat about the local flora and fauna and aren’t too surprised when we’re told that there hasn’t been a tent set-up like this before!

“Be sure to use the blue canoe over by the dock. Anytime at all,” they entreat us. But the next day we’re happily out on the lake with our paddle boards. We’ve long been kayakers, but there’s a special pleasure in communing with water and wildlife on a paddle board.

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We glide slowly along the water, surveying and revelling in the local habitat. Western Painted Turtles sun themselves on driftwood, then, startled, they dart under profuse pondweed. Wild flowers sprout along the sandy shore, rainbow trout are spotted, along with the odd garter snake. As we glide through reeds, straight and slender, dragonflies as blue as a Bombay Saphire Gin bottle dance around us. As their brilliance contrasts against the emerald reeds, I’m enthralled with what an idyllic platform for observation paddle boards are. That day, we go out twice!

We finish the second paddle session with, naturally, Bombay gin and tonics. With drinks poured, the cheese-board laid and wild flowers plucked, I jot down a few Glamping Moments. As trifling as they may seem, my glamping is all about enjoying the simple, yet slightly elegant pleasures, the natural beauty and the serene moments. Here’s Just a few…

  • finding the last ice in the deep recesses of the cooler for those G & T’s
  • butterflies flitting through camp
  • just gazing out to the lake
  • a chipped porcelain cup brimming with soft shades of whites, creams and yellow wildflowers – this site’s bespoke flower bouquet
  • the exuberance of kids playing on the lake
  • the delight of dogs launching themselves gleefully into the water
  • the rustle of the wind, shadows playing on Lupin
  • the great crackling of fire that just happens to help ward off the mosquitoes
  • campfire food, campfire Scrabble, campfire with my sweetheart

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Roaming Close to Home… of Legacies, Lakes & Lilacs, part one

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With a special occasion at the end of June, we decided to invest in a tent and go glamping to celebrate… searching for the perfect camping spot was underway. Our plan had been to be in Europe for this milestone anniversary, yet the silver lining of Covid 19 has been the opportunity to discover and appreciate our own backyard. For many people, travel restrictions within their own region, province or state has created virtues from that unprecedented necessity. For us, it means a summer where home is our playground.

After months of isolation, we cruised the open roads in search of the perfect glamping spot. We are spoiled for choice. From our home in Kimberley, the East Kootenay region in the southeastern corner of British Columbia is graced with countless lakes. We steeped ourselves anew in the beauty of this region where jagged mountain peaks of the Rockies rise in parallel with those of the Purcells, Selkirks and Monashee ranges, valleys giving way to crystal clear rivers and lakes. Places where wooden docks host fishing, suntanning, boating and starting points for kayaking and standup paddle boarding. Where adirondack chairs sit poised for the long, hot days of summer.

While searching for the lake of our choice, we meandered down well-travelled roads and bounced along dusty back-country tracks. Narrow roads where cattle graze under serrated, snow-capped mountain peaks, where an unexpected turn might lead to cascading waterfalls, abandoned gold rush towns or meadows overbrimming with wildflowers.

As we cruised the mountain roads that day in search of ‘our spot’, we took the time to stop and appreciate those sites we always promise to, but rarely take the time to do so. Perhaps a chance to marvel at the iconic bridge over the Kootenay River or that outdated, yet charmingly retro campground sign at Skookumchuck that has always caught my eye. Skookumchuck is an Indigenous word that means ‘strong waters’. In local parlance, if something is skookum, it’s strong, impressive, or cool.

And finally, after years of driving past a wooden statue of a local Indigenous Chief, we stopped to ponder the past. Following the retreat of ice age glaciers ten thousand years ago, the Kootenay area of British Columbia was inhabited by the Kutenai or the Ktunaxa [Tun-ah-ha] people. I was fortunate to meet with Ktunaxa elders a number of years ago. I heard their legends and stories, their hopes for the future, of how they had endured the insult and outrage of the colonial residential school system. The arrival of the colonials forever changed the course of the Ktunaxa people and that past is particularly on display in this area. St. Euguene’s Mission, a residential school opened in 1890, still occupies their ancestral land. But today, St. Eugene’s is not only a hotel, casino and golf course, it stands proudly as a meeting place of reconciliation and healing.

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In the early 1800’s, David Thompson, an explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company, journeyed through this basin on his exploration of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. Thompson soon established trade with the Ktunaxa who were hunters, fishermen, gatherers… stewards of these beautiful lands. In the late 1860’s, the Galbraith family secured land in the basin, not from the Ktunaxa but from the nascent Provincial government, ranching and setting up the settlement of Galbraith’s Ferry to capitalize on the burgeoning gold rush trade. Fur traders, missionaries and settlers followed in their footsteps.

The Ktunaxa soon witnessed the appropriation of their homeland. Eventually, the stalwart protector Chief Isadore would protest “that all grazing land should remain free for all people to use, that no man had the right to erect fences.” As vast tracts of the Ktunaxa’s land disappeared to the railway, to the government and the colonists, it was clear there would be no return. Chief Isadore petitioned that the land allocated to his people was “unfair and unequitable“. In 1888 Colonel Sam Steele, stationed at Galbraith’s Landing (later renamed Fort Steele), played a role in mediating, convincing, and undoubtedly placating Isadore to accept the de-facto property rights of the Ktunaxa Nation’s very own ancestral homeland.

Of Chief Isadore, in his memoir ‘Forty Years in Canada’, Steele writes, “Isadore was the most influential chief I have known. Crowfoot, the Blackfoot chief, or Red Crow, dare not, in the height of their power, have exercised the discipline that Isadore did.” But, despite his disciplined and principled stance, Chief Isadore could not turn back the tide of change.

While writing this piece, we happen to cycle the Chief Isadore Trail. It follows portions of the once Crowsnest Railway Line, through the lost small station at Mayook, and onto Cranbrook which partly serviced Kimberley’s North Star and Sullivan lead and zinc mines. The trail roams through grasslands, ponderosa pine forests and saltgrass prairies. The lofty Rockies stand majestically over us.

We pass by ample serviceberries or saskatoon berries, once so essential to the Ktunaxa. They were eaten fresh, as flavour for fish and meat, or dried for trading in the winter months. The bark of the shrub was used as an eyewash to treat snow blindness. The hard straight stems to make arrows, tipi pegs, pipes and spears. I can almost feel the presence of the impressive and dignified Chief (standing centre in bottom photo) as he surveyed the land, lamenting its loss, attempting to reconcile his people to the future.

Chief Isadore would eventually withdraw to a piece of land on the Kootenay River, allocated to him by the Provincial authorities. Devoting his last years to improving his farm, influenza attacked his people during the winter of 1893-94. Many of the elderly succumbed. Chief Isadore was among them.

As the Ktunaxa land was eagerly purchased by Canadian and European newcomers the settlement of the valley gained momentum. Notable was Colonel James Baker who named the town Cranbrook, after his family estate in England. Baker was closely allied with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), who in 1898, successfully convinced them to establish the Crowsnest Railway line through Cranbrook rather than Fort Steele. Baker would go on to play a prominent role in the politics of the region. Cranbrook was incorporated as a city in 1905. Baker had returned home to England in 1900, leaving his townsite business to his son.

My brief relating of this history should be a gentle reminder of what the Ktunaxa have lost and of their suffering. Their vision today is one of a strong, healthy community that proclaims and celebrates their heritage. As a self-governing, thriving Nation working to revitalise their language and culture, they take a leading role in the stewardship of their land. And, as I look across the broad valley of the Rocky Mountain trench, my understanding of what has gone before helps me treasure all the more, the privilege of sharing this land.

Framed by the Rockies and vast blue skies, the city of Cranbrook’s colonial roots are very much on display. Edwardian architecture of brick and sandstone speak to the city’s development throughout the early 1900’s. Original surviving buildings of the CPR, now the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, pay homage to ‘how the west was built.’ Striking heritage homes in the Baker Hill area, nestle close to where Baker himself settled on the hilled area to the south and east of downtown.

What we noticed most on that late spring day in June, were the lilacs – so many beautiful lilacs! Profuse in colour and in their intoxicating scent, lilacs often flank the entrance or front gardens of earlier buildings in Canada. Whether in towns or on homesteads, lilacs seem to represent home, stability, and have coloured the landscape for generations.

Originally known as philadelphus, supposedly after an Egyptian King, they’ve been interpreted in many ways throughout history. The Celts saw lilacs as magical because of their sweet scent. During the Victorian age, lilacs were a symbol of an old love—widows often wore lilacs during this time. In Russia, holding a sprig of lilac over a newborn baby was thought to bring wisdom. I like to think that that they are markers of the complexity of Canadian heritage and history – embodying the hopes and dreams of the settlers and homeowners who planted them.

But I am meandering in much the same way that we had roamed on our mission of finding the ideal lake for camping. In going out into the land we had taken the proverbial time to ‘stop and smell the lilacs’, time to become better acquainted with and to embrace the local history that surrounds us.

Indeed, the silver lining of Covid these past months was the licence to be near, to better know our own neighbourhood without venturing far, and in the end we would choose none of the lakes we came upon. We decided that our first glamping experience should be where it was meant to be all along… at my parents acreage where our own history is firmly rooted. There, it wasn’t lilacs in bloom, but gorgeous peonys to perfume and help christen our inaugural glamping experience. To be continued…

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The time of magical celebrations…

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On reflection we’ve always been a family who celebrates well, one that puts effort and thought into a day to be marked. We’ve had two such events this past week, and I ponder if self-isolation due to Covid19 has rendered things just that little more special? Is it a period when even more thought and creativity has surfaced? Maybe a time for vivid gratitude for what we have, for those we love, a time for a little more effort… a time for, shall we say, the possibility of magical celebrations?

We are now nearing almost two months of isolation and social distancing. I realise how fortunate I am to be ensconced in a mountain town with clean air and open vistas. And wonderfully, with all of my family in one place. For the first time in ten years we not only all live in one country, but for a spell, we’re all now in one town. It’s a gift I couldn’t have imagined, yet it’s not to say it’s always been easy. Like many of us, there’s the worry of the virus itself, the separation from other loved ones, the concern for our health workers and for the families and those who have suffered, for those who have passed away alone. I think of them often and when I first wrote of Covid19, I mentioned the struggle of finding equilibrium as we cope with our own mental health while being mindful of others’ well being.

Now as we speak of the ‘new normal’, I get the sense of a certain shift of back to the basics that feels like it might well remain. For us it’s meant homemade bread and baking, favourite family recipes prepared, hand-crafted cards and homespun gardening. For the first time in this home, we’re planning a vegetable garden and seedlings are now nestled with hope in tiny pots. We inspect them daily, watching for the miracle of sprouts; tomato, kale, zucchini, parsley, coriander and peppers – arugula was the first to make its welcome appearance!

Admittedly for me, this is very much a pleasant distraction as I lament the loss of travelling. This time last year, I was sojourning for a month in Malaysia. I had just met up with my ‘global tribe’ in Bangkok. Time in Slovenia and Croatia with family was still to come. I miss exploring and traveling with every fibre of my being, yet we’ve all had to find ways to compensate for those elements of our life that have been put on hold. Some days are easier than others and I’ve learned that we have to allow ourself the time to lament for what we’re missing, what we’ve lost during these unprecedented times.

I give gratitude for all my blessings and our recent celebrations certainly ring true to this. It was my husband’s birthday this past week and it’s likely been ten years since we were all together to enjoy the occasion. On the eve of his birthday we mandated a family stroll to one of our favourite viewpoints. We meandered through deep golden wildflowers, gazed out to the still-snow-draped Rocky mountains and popped champagne as a soulful moon made its appearance. The evening was simple, evocative, meaningful.

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The next day choosing the theme of Mexico, just as we had chosen India the previous month, the drinks and food were specific to that place. With restaurants not yet open for dining in our town, we celebrated in style nonetheless. The evening began with margaritas, my ‘famous’ homemade salsa and guacamole. A separate surprise ‘bar’ on the lower level of our home was the next stop with Mexican beer, music, then the birthday boy’s, birthday quiz – the one who knows him best conjures up twenty questions about his life. Answer individually or form teams. A fiesta of Mexican dining followed, a cake made with love, the giving of hand-written cards. Of course it had all taken some effort and planning, but therein lies the beauty in it and the birthday guy couldn’t have been more pleased. And it afforded us the chance to get dressed up and break the daily routine!

Yet as poignant as celebrations have become during Covid19, I’m mindful of loved ones who can’t be with us. Mother’s Day was another reminder that just as I could not be with my mother, the two young women now in our family had to celebrate the day many hundreds of miles distant from their own mothers. I feel keenly, and have heard this echoed by others, that beyond the loneliness of this long separation from loved ones, we all ponder when we will finally unite normally in a way that we once took for granted.

Despite, or perhaps conscious of these separations, my family planned a Mother’s Day celebration that will forever be etched in my maternal heart. Early photos of me and my three sons decorated a table set with flowers and candles as we sat down to a lovely brunch. Unknowingly foreshadowing of what the day would bring, I had decided to read journal entries to each of my sons. I had discovered messages written in my diary to my children when they were just babies and now, all these years later, I offered them as readings, small gifts to my grown boys.

IMG_3225At precisely 3 pm, I was led downstairs to our lower level. To my complete surprise, a poster announcing a writer’s workshop greeted me at the door. I entered to the most perfect ambiance, set with attention to detail… a vase of flowers next to the same iconic typewriter that I lug to my workshops, candles flickering, essential oils perfuming the air, handmade raffia-bound journals awaiting our missives.

Six family members were already seated, all having agreed to participate in the gift of words, reminisces, even poetry. Yes we’re a family of writers and editors, yet still this bounty of coming together to give me such a unique and colourful Mother’s Day gift was incredibly moving.

And so we conjured words, we listened, we discovered voices of humour we hadn’t known. We strolled in silence for ten inspiring minutes to our neighbourhood viewpoint… with a mandate to create the perfect haiku. Over two treasured hours our  readings elicited tears, laughter, admiration and, above all togetherness.

As I write today these treasured handmade journals with writings are mine to cherish. They are more than words. They’ll forever be memories of how we became a little more giving and creative during this extraordinary time… beautiful reminders of magical celebrations.

 

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A Smattering of Writings… 

 

Mothers Day means giving thanks to those who are there at the beginning.

The root of all life that brings us to light,

Whose love and nature push us even further.

And those who have come before.   ABW

 

To grow a garden,

The seed is planted without much ado in some cases.

In others it comes with some fanfare and great expectations.

Will it be a plump red tomato, a wonky zucchini, or a string bean?

Time will tell.

You sit and watch the seedlings… germinate.    LHW

 

Gratitude is like a gentle wave,

Feeling too treasured, too special, yet resplendent in the bask of motherhood love.

Hands clutch pens,

Tea in ancient Japanese cups,

Candles flicker, in unison.

A soft green typewriter perched, flowers decorate, proclaiming the ‘The Joy of Motherhood Workshop.’

Think back, always our family recalibrates… think forward, to the patter of tiny, precious feet.   TAW

 

“She died giving birth'”

The words, a contrast 

to give

in the most selfless way,

while gaining

the greatest loss.

A mother’s love

knows no bounds.

A mother’s love is unwavering.

A mother’s love empties its cup until it is dry.

A mother’s love will break that cup

and give it to you piece by piece.    AS

 

You’re always there to put a smile on my face.

Thanks for being the constant brightness in my world.    MCW

 

Mother’s Day marks the passing of winter to spring. The celebration unfolds as

mountains shed their wintery coats; as snow and ice find a path to the sea; as saplings

sprout towards the sun sheltered by maternal trees.

Why does Mother’s Day take place in spring?

Perhaps because there’s no better time to revel in natures rhythms; just as plants must be 

nurtured to grow.

Mothers are water, soil and sunlight.

Mothers are course-setting winds. 

Mothers are roots and rocks. And it is mothers who make the world spin.   TP

 

Today is a universal celebration of motherhood – let’s look at it for wherever we gaze.

In our human society or in the browsing deer that amble through our neighbourhood, mother and fawns.

Or in the bears that forage in nearby woods introducing newborn cubs to the simple joys and tastes of spring.

We can find motherhood even in the trees. Newborn saplings rising under the arms of overarching mothers’ boughs.    BW

 

HAIKUS… attempts at Haikus

 

Lonely leaning pines

Branches reaching to embrace

Arms too short to touch

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Shivering matchsticks

Shedding wintery blanket

Little leaves unfurl

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Glaciers rush to sea

A weight off mountain shoulders

Perennial sigh (of relief)     TP

 

Scarred, charred and oozing sap                                                   

Whack, crash, chop – piled high in stacks

And still green buds grow

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The green tendrils sprout

From elephant-skinned bark

Grow where you’re planted    LHW

 

Breeze cools exposed skin

My fingers attempt to write

The sun will soon shine       AS

 

Ethereal white peaks preside

Wind rustles, hues of spring’s green

I’ll awaken, flourish, bathe in warmth, live again

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Winter and your lingering ski hill snow

You can go, vanish, exit, retreat

Now depart, say sayonara, farewell, ciao… now get lost       TAW

 

Tall pines reaching skyward

Foursquare sentinels, strong, proud unflinching

Silently witnessing times passing      BW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 6 Years… a video chat

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Hi Everyone,

Join me for a video reading to celebrate the sixth year anniversary of ‘notes’… pour a coffee or a glass of wine, depending on your time zone, and allow me to muse just a little.

Many heartfelt thanks to all my readers, to my writing tribe scattered here and there, to my friend and mentor Jo Parfitt; everyone’s support has meant so much.

And a special thanks to my parents and to my dad, for having faithfully printed off each and every blog through the years… they came in ever so handy today!

Enjoy and be safe,  Terry Anne xx

 

 

Blame It On Michelangelo…. An Ode to Travel

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Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 10.54.40 AMI was meant to be giving a writing workshop today, in my childhood hometown of Coaldale, Alberta. Yet here I am, cocooned in my office… at home where most of us now find ourselves in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic.

When it was announced recently that I had been awarded the Community Artist of the Year Award from the town I left when I was only eighteen, I gladly offered to give my Joy of Writing Workshop. I was also looking forward to reconnections, to spending a weekend with my parents, and to the honour of receiving recognition for my work from the place that conjures so many memories.

I’ll write soon on this alarming and incredibly sad situation now gripping the world, but for now I present this ode to travelling… a pleasure now largely on hold for people the world over. Most especially, this blog pays homage to Italy, a country and people I adore… people who are suffering tragic losses. It is perhaps also a message of hope. Despite the present crisis, those passions and dreams that we harbour will hopefully still be realised.

I had planned to speak about this in my workshop today, of how our dreams are like a seed, planted within us, rooted, sometimes latent, waiting until the time is right to act upon them. And I would have spoken of how our passions, whatever shape they take, are a part of who we are and give our life meaning. My passion has ever been to travel, to journey, to revel in the sheer experience of our world.

I took my first flight at the age of 17, a high school trip on Easter break to Italy. My parents remind me still that it almost didn’t happen. I’m thankful that it did, and for the wanderlust that ever since has filled my soul… I can only blame it on Michelangelo!

It was the beginning of grade 12 when I came home with news for my parents about an early grad trip to Italy. Although it sounded interesting, I didn’t think I’d go. I was busy as the President of the Student’s Council, a cheerleader and softball player. My school grades were fine but I never really excelled, except perhaps in English and History; in retrospect my love for it was always there. I hung onto every lesson and vividly recall our history teacher depicting Mao’s so-called Great Leap Forward on the classroom’s vast chalkboard. I couldn’t know that nine years later I would find myself escaping from China during the Tiananmen Square massacre.

During those school years, I would often go home and verify historical facts from our World Book Encyclopaedia volumes. For a tantalising period, one book would arrive every month, an interminable wait when one is hoping to read up on Wales or Yemen! There were always a couple of books perched on my bedroom desk, their faux leather binding a contrast to my vivid purple walls. With matching purple-flowery curtains and bedspread from the Sears catalogue, it was a dreamy space to read up on my favourite historical periods. I find it surprising that to this day I have a deep dislike for the colour purple, considering the many hours spent in that mauvy oasis.

“What do you mean you’re not going to Italy? It’s right up your alley,” my Dad remonstrated with me one evening. I was reclined on my bed trying to concentrate on my homework as a Cheap Trick album spun on my turntable. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, then over to my mother who was leaning against the doorway, arms folded, ready to back him up.

“But I’m busy,” I said with emphasis, “and you do remember I have a serious boyfriend!”

My parents looked at each other knowingly. “All the more reason you’re going,” my mom retorted. “And if you fly through Amsterdam you’re going to meet some of your Dutch relatives. It might snap you out of this relationship you think is the be all and end all!” And with that, it was decided. I would be going to Europe for the first time in my life.

Four months later in Florence, I stood in front of Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of David. The statue in Piazza della Signoria is only a replica, imposing and evocative enough in its grand surrounding – but to be completely mesmerised you must gaze upon the true David at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

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I have visited Florence often since then, but with absolute certainty, that first time David awakened something in my soul. I could feel the glory and enlightenment of the Renaissance, of history captured in storied stone. As I gazed up at Michelangelo’s chiseled marble, it represented not only this most beautiful age of art, one that would shape the course of history, but it embodied the promise of travel and the wonders that the world held in store. That first trip had a profound impact on how my life unfolded.

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Six years later, David would surface again. I had moved to Calgary after graduating from college where my first real job, as a Personal Assistant, awaited me. Next, I would manage a health spa. I then settled into advertising. During that time I again traveled to Europe, to Asia, and by degrees I started plotting. How might I leave Calgary and live in Europe? Perhaps I could go live with my Dutch relatives whom I had gotten to know. Might I become an au pair in France? These were the days before internet and I would pour over newspapers and travel brochures for ‘possibilities’, ever hopeful that an ad would present itself and I would happily traipse off to that new life.

Of course, it couldn’t happen that easily. I kept working to save money. Earning money to travel is what really mattered to me. Oh the joy back then of taking your savings book to the bank and watching that total grow! In between jobs, I went on a six week Contiki Tour – touring nine countries with young people from around the world. We met in a designated hotel in London and as the bus journeyed us through European capitals, to castles perched on improbable hilltops, to a ferry that would sail us to the sandy shores of Corfu, the thrill of it all was intoxicating. I confess that there might have been a bit of partying, but ‘geeky me’ was equally enraptured with the history and the architecture. I plied our Australian tour guide with questions and took ample notes – still today I am a compulsive about note-taker. Not surprisingly when I returned to Calgary after that Contiki tour, I became even more obsessed with leaving Canada.

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My wanderlust would become a detriment to relationships as I daydreamed of where I would travel and live. Sundays were the worst. The strains of Bach and Ravel would accompany me as I studied my oversized Atlas (another gift from my parents) laid out on a newly purchased glass-topped dining table. It was on monthly instalments, part of a furniture purchase made with my live-in boyfriend. I was 25, had a well paying job in advertising, and furniture that represented what I didn’t yet want… stability and commitment.

Besides my full time job, I often cocktail waitressed a few nights a week to boost my travel fund for that not-so-secret ‘world wide trip’. That’s when David again ‘appeared.’

I finally thought that I had found a way to work in Europe and applied for a job as a tour guide. Some months later, there I stood in London before a hiring panel, for none other than Contiki Tours.

“My presentation today is about David, Michelangelo’s magnificent Renaissance masterpiece…” With that introduction, the job interview began. Surely it would be the perfect marriage of learning and presenting history while traveling. Yet I would almost all but forget that I had applied.

By the end of that year, having saved for three years, I bought a one-way ticket to Asia. I quit my jobs, gave up my apartment and stored my sports car at my parents… a little insurance just in case I came back! And serendipity had interceded. He came in the form of a handsome Scotsman who had somehow landed in Calgary after a stint of working in Africa.

“Can I travel with you for a few months?” Bruce asked after we had dated for a short period. I agreed to just a few months. After Asia, I was set to meet a good friend in Australia, yet I wouldn’t know that my future was about to change course. Bruce has been my travel companion ever since; come this June, my husband of thirty years.

I had put my hopes and dreams into a 55 litre backpack and jetted off to Bangkok. Lounging poolside before backpacking started, I learned that I had been offered that job by Contitki after all. It seems life had other plans… I was already meandering down a different path.

Still today, I blame it all – respectfully, adoringly, most definitely on Michelangelo!

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Pont Vecchio in the distance. A bridge over the Arno, Florence

I dig out my albums from those first trips that were so pivotal in my early days of traveling. I find a group photo of us high-schoolers posing in Rome… the days of big hair, tube socks and traveller’s cheques. Still taped into the back of the album is a typed copy of the itinerary. Particularly novel is the message to parents; “If you wish to contact your children in case of emergency, you should call the CETA office in Montreal. The representatives will contact us through their Rome office.” And the helpful message to be, ‘sure to pack the copy of your traveller’s cheque numbers in your suitcase, don’t keep it on your person with the cheques, your ticket and your passport!”

I also examine the group photo from that Contiki trip in 1984. We were travellers from around the world… especially Canada, the US, Mexico, South Africa, Australia and the UK. All within the age group of 18 to 30, we formed fast friendships on that six week journey. It was simply brilliant and still today I can feel the sheer joy of the experiences captured in the photos, etched on my traveller’s soul.

For nothing could be truer; we are the sum total of our experiences and dreams – both realised and not. And still in this uncertain time, we can draw on those memories, recall the pleasure of experiences with the hope that at the end of this crisis, we will look upon the world and its myriad people again with fresh eyes and new optimism.

And as this day was intended as a Workshop, I gently encourage you to write about a trip that is etched on your soul. And I’d so love to hear them – terryannewilson@mac.com

 

Vancouver… Embracing its Architectural Heritage

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It’s surprising, perhaps even amusing, to think that one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist areas is named after someone who told stories… someone who talked, a lot. In fact so verbose was Jack Deighton, he was known as ‘Gassy Jack’. The story goes that with $6 in his pocket and a barrel of whiskey, the English steamboat captain rowed into town – now Gastown – and bribed the locals into helping him throw up a saloon. With the promise of a few drinks, a mere twenty-four hours later, the ambitiously named Globe Saloon opened its doors.

Today as I gaze upon Gassy Jack’s statue in Maple Tree Square in Gastown, a stetson-clad gentlemen chats with another, and I easily envision the days when the settlement was a rough and ready point for loggers, miners and shipping crews. It prospered as the site of Hastings Mill Sawmill, then with a beehive of warehouses, chandleries and outfitters. Once the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus was sited here in 1886, Gastown’s lively, burgeoning future was all but sealed.

In 1886, the town was incorporated as the City of Vancouver. Captain George Vancouver had explored the inner harbour back in 1792, the name Vancouver itself originating from the Dutch ‘Van Coevorden’ – denoting someone from the city of Coevorden. Tragically, all but two of the original 400 wooden buildings perished in the Great Vancouver Fire that same year. Rebuilt with brick and mortar, the area thrived until the Great Depression of the 1930’s, but as Vancouver spread out, Gastown became a largely forgotten neighbourhood and fell into decline.

Today it’s a vibrant area of bars and restaurants, bespoke boutiques, and a well-visited tourist destination due partly to its iconic but rather underwhelming steam clock. I watch tourists excitedly take their turn for a photo op with the steam-powered clock, built in 1977, but I’m far more drawn to the buildings that surround us.

Now designated a national historic site that includes some 141 buildings – most built before 1914 – I notice the styles ranging from Victorian Italianate to Romanesque Revival. I come upon an unusual shaped building, the once Hotel Europe.

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Built in 1909 on a triangular lot, the Hotel Europe was commissioned by hotelier Angelo Calori. Modelled after the Flatiron building in New York, the hotel was reminiscent of curious-shaped buildings at the time in Paris and Milan and must have looked both odd and ostentatious here in Gastown. Calori ensured the hotel housed one of the city’s finest bars where much of the business of the commercial district was soon conducted.

Still intact with its original tile floors, marble and leaded-glass windows, the hotel benefited from the proximity of the nearby steamship docks and a dedicated bus service for its guests. In 1916, however, the Hotel Vancouver opened its grand doors and the popularity of a newer, more opulent hotel quickly shifted the heart of the city away from Gastown to the southwest. With the eventual demise of steamship service, the employment crisis that emerged as the commercial district declined, Hotel Europe fell into disrepute, eventually housing a brothel.

Today the hotel is often used in Vancouver’s thriving film industry, despite its reputation for curious paranormal activity. It’s said that when the upper floors were being converted into affordable housing during the ’80’s, contractors were known to have walked off the job – unexplainable scratching noises and a ‘man’ dressed in a black coat with a flat cap were a little too much to contend with!

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Yet as intriguing as the architecture of Gastown is, the downtown core of Vancouver is where stately buildings have stamped their mark and defined the city; with structures such as the Hotel Vancouver and the Provincial Courthouse, now the must-visit Vancouver Art Gallery.

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Close by, I also come across the unique Marine Building on Burrard Street. Now flanked by steel and glass, it held the coveted title of the tallest building in the British Empire when completed in 1930. The tallest skyscraper in the city until 1939, The Marine was intended to evoke ‘a great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold’. I marvelled how on previous visits to the city, I had managed to pass by without noticing its outstanding Art Deco entrance. And once inside, the massive brass-doored elevators, inlaid wood and depictions of sea snails, crabs, turtles, carp and sea horses, speak to its then exorbitant building cost of $2.3 million.

The Marine replaced an old mansion, there from the days when this area was known as ‘Blueblood Alley’ where the wealthy settled before the West End and Shaughnessy Heights were developed. Unfortunately for the Marine’s developer, a former rum runner, the Great Depression resulted in the loss of the building and it sold to the beer-magnate Guiness family. All lost for a paltry sum of $900,000, and yes, there’s rumours of ghosts here too!

I find delightful Art Deco elements throughout the city. Although some shrubs and spring flowers are already in bloom, the still-barren trees encourage me to observe above eye level. And what a gift it is… street lamps in delightful flowery silhouettes that remind of Paris, apartments in simple designs yet with statuesque portals, meandering outdoor stairwells, artsy wrought-iron flourishes, and theatres with dramatic signage beckoning in classic neon illumination.

Of course Vancouver isn’t complete without wandering along the water front and the seawall, strolling through Stanley Park and catching a lift on the water ferries. My favourite jaunt? Hop on at Yaletown and cruise to Granville Island at sunset. As apartment lights twinkle their magic and bridges elegantly light the way, Vancouver confirms its reputation as one of the world’s most picturesque cities.

Still, I confess there are two areas of Vancouver that I favour above all. They’ve become like home… those familiar spots that you embrace with fondness and familiarity, yet with a certain excitement each time you visit. Thanks to one of our sons who lives here, Kitsalano and nearby Granville Island, now feel like my own neighbourhood.

Vancouver, and the area known as Kitsilano, has been home to indigenous people for as long as 10,000 years ago. The name Kitsilano is a derivative of an esteemed Squamish chief. The city is located in the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish people, their way of life changed forever when explorer Simon Fraser became the first-known European to set foot here in 1808.

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At the heart of ‘Kits’, as the locals fondly refer to it, is its wide-open beach –  for contemplation, gazing across to the mountains, for swimming, beach volleyball and kayaking. It anchors a sought-after neighbourhood – though one with steep property and rental prices to match – ideal because of its proximity to downtown, quiet tree-lined streets and its hip shopping on West 4th.

Yet in the 1960’s not only was the area still inexpensive, it was a creative hotbed of the hippie culture. It’s here that Greenpeace and the Green Party of Canada was founded, where some of the first vegetarian and vegan restaurants sprang up, where many of the first neighbourhood pub licenses were issued. Kitsilano is an example of an area that become gentrified by that then-trendy new group of professionals… the yuppies. They sought out and evolved a neighbourhood.

On Valentine’s Day, the corner store – yes just around the corner – has a flourish of customers. Owner Jim has a sunny rapport and his shop is a veritable treasure trove of all you might need on any given day. Today as he helps locals choose their bouquets, his friendly banter and smile is infectious. Jim tells me he’s been here ‘a long time’ and when he greets customers by name, along with their canine pets, I’m reminded of how vital a close-knit neighbourhood is, especially within a large city.

The charming streets of Kits have long been a community with its own identity and speaks to its different periods – of middle and working-class homes built before WWI in the California or Craftsman Bungalow style with broad verandahs and pitched gables. Of low-rise apartment buildings from the ’60’s and 70’s, palm-trees decorate out front, with fanciful names like The Flamingo and The Palm Breeze. And of once well-appointed suites like The Norman, The Croydon, now subdivided into as many apartments as city bylaws permit.

When electric street-car service wended its way to the area in 1903, West 4th became the ‘High Street’ of Kitsilano and is still the place to be, to shop, to dine and drink. The eclectic mixed assemblage of buildings is fascinating and whether it’s the former stalwart and classical Canadian Bank of Commerce or an adobe-style restaurant, there’s a happy mishmash of building styles and reinventions.

Admittedly, the attraction of Vancouver itself is obvious. The ocean and mountains meld into beautiful co-existence, the architectural delights of downtown and in places like Kitsilano, Gastown, and amongst the vibrant colour on Granville Island, all unfold subtly, then dramatically… all forming Vancouver into one of my favourite cities, anywhere.

 

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Wintery Postcards from British Columbia…

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It’s a sunny winter’s day as I write from our home in Kimberley and I wish you all a very Happy New Year! My apologies for the delay in offering you my best wishes. I hope that 2020 brings joy and fulfilment for us all, but also much strength for what may come our way.

I’m ever-so thankful that our immediate family was gathered here to ring in the new decade… all of us under one roof for the first time in two years! In the midst of Christmas preparations, shopping, and champagne popping in the morning before gift opening… not to mention exuberant gaming, fireside chatting, mulled-wining and dining, I’ve also pondered on how much this location has shaped our family time this season.

We’ve hosted family and visitors from Vancouver, as well as long-lost friends from Australia, and in the messages penned in my well-worn guest book I read echoes of my own sentiments.

‘There is no shortage of love, laughs, and activities here in Kimberley.’

‘We’ve enjoyed so much of what makes Kimberley very special.”

”Kimberley is beautiful… I now know why you love it.’

Yet if you’ve followed me the past year through my musings… you’ll know that transitioning from India, and from a global life of thirty years, to a quaint Canadian mountain town has been a gradual process. But when I see our family and friends delight in what this friendly community has to offer, there’s a feeling of contentment and wonderment. I’m reminded of the many simple joys on our doorstep. As a good friend gently advised this past year… ‘Remember why you first came to this mountain haven and appreciate it for what it has, for the many ways that it can fulfil you, don’t rue what is missing.’ 

I’ve mused on that statement often… when I’ve missed the vibrant chaos of India, the lively piazzas of Italy, or the charm and colour of Malaysia. I appreciate that you might be reading this from your home in tropical climes, perhaps never having experienced cold and snow – today’s -15 degrees might be hard to fathom! This snowy landscape is indeed special, even a little mysterious, as messages from some of you have hinted.

Can winter be long, frightfully cold and dark? Yes, though thankfully this area is particularly sunny, even in the winter. Can the roads be treacherous and snow-clearing of driveways and decks a constant task? Yes again… but if you love winter, this is the place to come. Here, it’s all about the ample winter activities, the sweeping majestic scenery, and the simple vignettes of our frozen landscape.

I don’t always enjoy the cold, but appreciate it for for the landscape it faithfully sculpts each year. For the beauty, for the senses that are awakened, for the activities that the cold and snow provide. And the more we embrace this, the more I realise what a gift it is to welcome our family and friends into this winter oasis.

I’ve been mindful to soak up many of the simple pleasures over the past weeks and I’m delighted to share some wintery postcards with you. Call it the subtle art of finding shapes and patterns in nature, and just as no two snowflakes are the same, no two days are alike in winter. Footprints in the snow obscure with fresh falls, lines of a snow-angel soften from wind blown flakes, frozen lakes transform to skating rinks, ski hills are groomed and preened. Champagne powder piles high on rooftops, nestles on firewood stacks, bends the limbs of statuesque snow-laden pines, and obscures the green of nival flora. And the serene of quiet trails are guarded by frost-decorated trees.

Patterns also form uniquely in crystalline sculptures hanging from my front porch. Icicles inch steadily downwards here each winter as the temperature dips and climbs and melting snow drips slowly down translucent rods, frozen before the fall. I am fascinated by these natural sculptures of such intricate beauty.

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Beyond the gentle appreciation of nature, is the more active… snowshoeing, skiing – both cross and downhill – skating and yes, even snowman building! The joy of them all is the time shared with others, or spent in peaceful solitude. Whatever climate and landscape that you may find yourself in, I encourage you to find new ways to appreciate your surroundings. Savour the subtle, relish the dramatic, but if you’re yearning for a winter’s adventure, I know where you just might find it!

Wherever you may be, I wish you a beautiful beginning to the year and leave with you my favourite wintery postcards… Happy New Year dear readers!

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Snowshoeing at Trickle Creek Golf Course

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The View from the 11th hole – The Rockies are obscured

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Snowshoe to the Ridge at Dreamcatcher

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Looking out over Kimberley Alpine Resort

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The small Outdoor Skating Rink at the Resort

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Photo opportunity on the hill

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Clearing the snow on Wasa Lake

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A game of shinny on Wasa Lake

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The ‘gang’ on ice

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Fritz The Snowman

October on Prince Edward Island…

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Lucy Maud Montgomery

 

As we tour Prince Edward Island this is indeed my prevailing thought, but they are the words of the island’s most famous author, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Are they not precisely the sentiment that her beloved character, Anne, of Anne of Green Gables would exuberantly exclaim?

The island in October is simply stunning with hues in their autumnal glory, but it isn’t only the natural flora that wows. Whether in the cities, hamlets or countryside, the islanders truly delight in the season with elegant pumpkin-lined porches and flourishes of wreaths.

Prince Edward Island’s narrow roads wend through the forested and pastoral countryside – explosions of burnt reds, oranges, and golds line the way. Road signs suggest that you just might just be required to give way to a horse and carriage. The island does have that feeling of serenity, of simpler times, of history that lingers still.

My mom and I are first-time visitors this far east in Canada. It’s the ideal time to visit this ‘Garden of the Gulf’, yet be forewarned, many sites have already closed for the season. As the smallest province of Canada, PEI is a graceful canvas of quaint harbours, colourful bait shacks, tidy homesteads and lush agricultural land. It produces 25% of the nations potatoes, complimenting its fisheries, tourism, aerospace, bio-science and renewable energy endeavours.

It wasn’t too long after crossing the Confederation Bridge to the island that we chance upon Victoria by the Sea. With its squat lighthouse – traditional white, trimmed red – the small harbour town welcomes with a hearty bowl of seafood chowder, local crisp white wine, and glimpses into a fisherman’s daily life. Ropes, nets, buoys, and boats are at the ready for forays out to sea.

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In the summertime, the small harbour would be astir with visitors. Now we wander happily along the quiet streets and chance to meet Ben. Positioned just across from the lighthouse, this artisan moulds candle holders from the iron-red sandstone and clay of the island. The light glimmering from Ben’s tiny studio brightens up the gloomy October afternoon.

“This was once a healing house,” Ben tells us. “In the early years, diphtheria took many lives. Instead of going to the sanatorium, if a family had the means, they’d build a small cottage on the property for their loved one’s isolation… and hopefully recuperation.”

Ben’s perch has a view of the quaint wharf and the water, he finds it peaceful… just the way he likes it. Happily posing for a photograph with my mom, he gives us a few pointers for the island. “Don’t forget to say hi to Anne,” he says with a friendly laugh. “She keeps the tourists coming!”

After time in Nova Scotia, we’re touring for four days and chancing upon the unexpected, meeting locals, is very much part of the journey. Ben’s friendliness is matched time and time again in the days ahead.

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“The legend is that the island was formed by the Great Spirit placing on the Blue Waters some red crescent-shaped clay. We called it Epekwitk – cradled by the waves.” The Mi’kmaw, First Nations

The accent of many islanders hints at their roots, of the vast number of Scottish, English, Irish and Acadians who settled. Yet long before this time, the Mi’kmaw First Nations thrived on the island they called Epekwitk – the long pristine beaches, sand dunes and red sandstone cliffs inspiring their creation story.

IMG_0403I was fortunate to meet Bernie – not long after leaving the island –and I consider it an honour to have met this proud, compelling elder of the Mi ‘kmaw nation.

Gathered one evening around a blazing campfire, Bernie Francis greeted our writing group in the tradition of a powwow. With a healing drum and the gift of cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass and sage, Bernie’s soulful tunes wafted over us, spiritually connecting us to the land, to traditions, to storytelling.

The reverence for his nation’s people, who once moved with the rhythm of seasonal hunting and gathering, was palpable. We felt enveloped in a honeycomb of stories, heritage and soulful lyrics. As a Mi’kmaw elder, Bernie exemplifies the keeper of wisdom and traditions bestowed upon him.

As a linguist, he helped design the now official orthography, the writing of his people’s language. There had not been one, and this achievement earned him honorary doctorates and grateful accolades. Leaving home, and the country at 14, Bernie would eventually return in later life to work as a Director of the Court Worker Program, ensuring fair and just treatment of his people. His accomplishments are many, yet around the campfire that evening as Bernie serenaded us in Mi’kmaw, Spanish, and English, he taught us the gentle art of humility and generosity. For me, our evening with Bernie was the apogee of my trip.

Back in Charlottetown, I learn about the irrevocable change for the Mi’kmaw people. In 1763, The British, claiming dominion over the Maritimes, called the land St. John’s Island. Then a name change to Prince Edward Island, in honour of the fourth son of King George III, Prince Edward the Duke of Kent, Commander-in-chief of British troops, North America.

Hostilities grew as the island was soon divided into a mere 67 lots of properties – allocated to the King’s supporters by means of a lottery, most were absentee. Prince Edward was the father of Queen Victoria and in the course of her long reign, many more were encouraged to settle here, though the French were the first colonial settlers in Charlottetown.

In 1720, not far from the present-day city at Port La Joye, they staked their settlement bringing along Acadian settlers. Some forty years later, it was besieged by the British and renamed Charlottetown after the King’s consort. Then followed the tragic, wrongful expulsion of the Acadian settlers by the British –  an indelible stain in Canadian history.

Today, Charlottetown is widely remembered as the birthplace of confederation, where meetings and negotiations took place to discuss the forming of the nation – official on July 1, 1867. Paradoxically, Prince Edward Island declined to give up its status a colony of Britain, declining to join the fledgling union. Soon, it would be the railway that sealed the bargain.

“The railway moved mourners to funerals, brides to weddings, brass brands to picnics, hockey teams to tournaments. It got farmers’ produce to market, children to boarding schools… Islanders moved and mingled to the whistle of the train.” A signboard near Charlottetown’s first train station of 1907 

For many, before the railway came to Prince Edward Island, one could live ten miles from another village and barely know it existed. In 1871 this changed dramatically as railway branch lines slowly criss-crossed the island. Yet with too few passengers, too little freight, too many stops (every few miles) and unable to pay the debt, the colony faced bankruptcy. In 1873, Prince Edward Island reluctantly agreed to become Canada’s seventh province – the new nation would assume the island’s railway debts. Not only did this create jobs to compliment the long established fishing economy, railway coincided with the rise of shipbuilding and new wealth from shipping and timber.

The charming streets of Charlottetown attest to this. Perhaps a grand mansion such as Beaconsfield, its rooftop glass belvedere viewing out to the sea, its wealth of William Morris wallpaper speaking to its privileged past. Or wander the walkable streets and admire simpler homes, their facades in heavenly painted shades, their heritage and names proudly on display. I revel in the rich architectural past and their various styles – Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate, simple Island Ell and Four Square – each with their own unique elegance.

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“It’s delightful when your imagination comes true, isn’t it?” Lucy Maud Montgomery

Back into the countryside, it was time to make our way to the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ house in Cavendish. As a writer, I wanted to know more about the author who created the spunky, loveable Anne Shirley. What had inspired Montgomery? Was the setting for her inspiration as beautiful as portrayed in her books. If you haven’t watched the current CBC series, Anne with an E… I simply implore you to do so!

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The drive from Charlottetown to Cavendish provides another showcase for the island’s beauty, but the town itself disappoints. With not much more than the church where Montgomery once played the organ, the small post office (already closed for the season) and the local cemetary the attraction is the home of a relative where Montgomery spent much of her time. The setting does feel like a storybook and it’s clear why she felt such a deep connection to the landscape. Embraced in the Cavendish community, Lucy was raised with a love for natural beauty… for the woods, the fields, the shores. Her imagination transformed it into a vivid, fictional world.

From the age of fifteen, the author began submitting poems, essays and stories. She partly credited fireside storytelling for her gift, ‘the romance of them in my blood.’ Despite the constrained expectations of women in the Victorian era, Montgomery was independent and strong-minded. She went away to Dalhousie University, became a school teacher, habitually rising early to write before class. After years away from home, she returned to care of her ill grandmother who ran the Cavendish post office from the kitchen of her own home.

It once stood near the present Cavendish post office, and the often lonely and dispirited young author discreetly sent out submission after submission from the humble surroundings. The manuscript of Anne of Green Gables, once stored away in a hatbox and safe from further rejection, was finally accepted on the sixth try. Published in 1908 to wide acclaim, it was an instant success. Lucy never shied away from the issues – the emancipation of women, freedom of speech, the struggle of identity, even the colonial treatment of the Mi ‘kmaq.

Anne Shirley’s adventures continued in numerous books – even as Montgomery struggled with her own depression and that of her husbands, a preacher, who ministered near Toronto. The author was stricken with the Spanish flu and almost died in 1918, afterwards almost divorcing her husband for his uncaring treatment. Difficult to obtain in Canada until 1967, Lucy ultimately decided against a divorce believing it was her Christian duty to make her marriage work. She returned to her beloved island as often as she could.

Awarded an OBE, many other awards, she is one of the most prolific authors in Canadian history. Upon her death 1942, Lucy Maud Montgomery was buried in Cavendish, the place she had always loved and that had given her so much inspiration.

As I wander the grounds, a single bus load of tourists from Japan is soaking up the surroundings, reminding me that from the outset Lucy enjoyed an international following and this continues today. Indeed, I get a true sense of the writer and her muse… this evocative place that she called home.

 

“On a cold day a winter sleigh ride and a picnic to survey the land for the best placement of the island’s first lighthouse. 13 miles across the frozen bay… basket lunches of bread and cheese, and fortifying wine was consumed by all.” Historical notes, March 31st, 1840

 

I had this one last destination in mind, Prince Edward Island’s oldest lighthouse. After all, I had been ‘collecting lighthouses’ throughout this trip. With the wind whipping up the waves and cold air biting, I venture out into the Atlantic wind to savour the lighthouse up close. My mom wisely remains in the warmth of the vehicle, as I peer up, then out, and around, to fully appreciate this vital structure.

Once the location for Point Prim Lighthouse had been determined by the surveyors that freezing day in 1840, it ended five years of petitioning, planning and funding. Simply put, as Charlottetown grew and shipping traffic increased, shipwrecks were piling up along the rugged shores. Merchants and fishermen often faced ruin and loss of life. Between 1770 and 1845, up to 100 ships had foundered in the island’s waters. The traditional bonfires at a harbours entrance now no longer sufficed.

As I guard myself against the roar and the spray of the ocean, I spare a thought for the lighthouse keepers. Their job was often one of loneliness and danger, but also of meaningful industriousness. The keeping of logs to record weather patterns, the buffing of the lights copper reflectors and the gleaming of salt-sprayed windows. And the summer months of tending gardens, farms and fish traps. Their names are recorded for posterity at many of the lighthouses and here at Point Prim, their contribution to the community is poignantly mentioned… ‘those enduring contributions.’ It strikes me that here on Prince Edward Island, community is and has always been the bedrock of this intriguing, compelling land.