Category Archives: British Columbia

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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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

Jennie’s Masterpiece… the story of Butchart Gardens

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I can picture Jennie Butchart, suspended high up in a bosun’s chair, carefully coaxing soil and vine roots into limestone crevices of the abandoned quarry. She had commandeered the vast gaping hole, and now her Sunken Garden was taking shape.

“You’re ruining the country, Bob, just to get your old cement,” Jennie had reportedly chided her husband. A 1952 article in Maclean’s Magazine described it as thus…

“One day in 1909, in a glade sloping to a salt-water bay on the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island… a woman stood on the edge of an abandoned quarry and began to cry.

Jennie Butchart knew the quarry well. For more than three years she had lived beside it. As a chemist in the cement works of her husband, she had analysed its high-grade limestone. She watched it yield them wealth. She knew its moods in the moonlight and at the height of storm. But the tears came because she hated it more than anything else in the world; its very ugliness so fascinated her, she could not stay away. 

The perpendicular quarry walls, twisted from dynamite blasting, dropped sixty feet to a quagmire of two and a half acres of clay. Out of a subterranean spring percolated a muddy creek which fed a deep pond on the quarry floor. A hummock of grey rock, unfit for cement, rose like a spire from the centre… Jennie Butchart stood and cried.

It was then an inspiration came to her, ‘Like a flame’ she was to say, ‘for which I shall ever thank God.”

The Butchart Estate (pronounced Butch – Art) included both their home and the quarry. Now that Jennie’s creativity and determination had been sparked, debris and rocks were replaced or hauled out. Horses with wagonloads of soil trudged back and forth to the site. Douglas firs, cedars and Lombardy poplars were strategically placed – flowering trees, shrubs and annuals would follow. Jennie envisioned colour and vibrancy. To her, the eyesore was a canvas on which to blend a palette of nature’s rich hues and textures. After all, at heart Jennie was an artist… the world famous Butchart Gardens would become her living masterpiece.

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Born in Toronto, in 1866, Jenanette Foster Kennedy was orphaned at only fourteen. Sent to Owen Sound to live with an aunt and her seven cousins, Jennie thrived in her new family. Both intelligent and artistic, she also embraced outdoor life while attending the prestigious Brantford Young Ladies’ College. Yet when offered a scholarship to continue art training in France, the young graduate declined. Instead, she choose a life with her new beau. The eighteen-year-old married the tall, determined, twenty-seven-year-old Robert (Bob) Butchart.

The young businessman was an innovator and within four years had opened Portland Cement Mill in Owen Sound. Portland cement derives its name from England, where in 1824 bricklayer Joseph Aspdin, patented the blend of limestone and clay. He named it after the local Portland stone it resembled.

In 1902, Bob would hear of a large deposit of limestone at Tod Inlet on Vancouver Island, about 20 km north of Victoria. With two daughters in tow, Bob and Jennie moved across the country and soon established a quarry and processing plant. Vancouver Island Portland Cement Company was the only cement-producing company west of the Great Lakes. The company not only pioneered refinements, but was the first to ship cement in sacks, rather than heavy, cumbersome barrels. Fortunes soared dramatically as Bob began to supply cement to facilitate the rapid building in the burgeoning province and beyond.

Jennie did not sit on the sidelines; she earned a certificate in chemistry to work in the firm’s laboratory. Yet her surroundings awakened her artistic inclinations. Re-envisioning her quaint on-site home, she hosted tea, croquet and tennis parties. Jennie was always forging ahead. The magnificent Sunken Garden was completed in nine years and to this day, cradles Jennie’s breathtaking vision. Yet if the old quarry is Butchart Garden’s celebrated centrepiece, supporting works of ‘art’ accompany this National Historic Site of Canada.

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The rambling Rose Garden, blooms with some 280 varieties. The Japanese Garden, its authentic Torii gate, stepping stones, maple and beech trees evoking serenity. The Mediterranean Garden, a celebration of the island’s balmy, temperate climate. The Coast Salish totem poles, honouring the storied culture of the island’s indigenous peoples. And my personal favourite, The Italian Garden – once the family tennis court – anchored by a sensuous arched wall of green, exotic palms and plants flourishing from around the globe.

For indeed, the Butcharts were also avid travellers. A trip to Rome had inspired The Italian Garden, while travels to the Himalayas, the Pyrenees and the orient garnered yet more unusual plants as well as collectibles such as urns, statues and pagodas.

As Jennie’s gardens were designed, planted and flourished – with flowering plums, magnolia, dogwood, Siberian wallflowers, bachelor’s buttons, peony and so much more – her home flourished as well. After numerous expansions, a welcome sign in Italian hung over the door. The lady of the house epitomised the spirit of ‘Benvenuto‘.

Friends began to visit the gardens, they brought their friends, and their friends brought other friends. Soon the garden opened officially three days a week. By the First World War, sightseers were flocking to the garden in tallyhos, on horseback, aboard country trolleys. Now, Jennie flung her garden gates wide open… and left them open seven days a week.

When strangers peered in the windows of Benvenuto, friends would suggest to Jenny that she should charge admission. “Oh no” she’d reply, “the flowers are fleeting. Why shouldn’t people enjoy them? They’re free for all.” Only one sign asked for ‘privacy’, and still does today. Enclosed by white lattice, it was Jennie’s one retreat – her private garden.

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Bob contributed to the thrilling panoply with rare birds, peacocks, pearl breasted pigeons, English and Mexican canaries, water fowl and German bullfinches trained to whistle. He imported 565 Japanese cherry trees to lavishly line the public road to the estate. At the time, its ‘beauty second only to Potomac Drive’ in Washington DC.

The entrepreneur expanded into timber, steamships, shipbuilding, coal, hardware and trusts. He had one of the first automobiles on Vancouver Island and followed it up with imported European and luxury models. With his chauffeur often in the back seat, Bob was known to cruise at breakneck speeds. When he reached eighty, his concerned wife convinced the police to revoke his driver’s license.

It’s said that Bob had the bearing of a distinguished officer, but it seems the self-made millionaire enjoyed life with a wry sense of humour: games of rummy with his servants, given to piping melodies from his beloved pipe organ into The Italian Garden to serenade lovers on evening strolls, offering a doctor who had performed an operation part cash and part world travel for payment… the doctor took him up on it!

It’s reported that in contrast to her husband, Jennie was ‘as blunt as an Irish washerwoman’. Just over five feet, she was a force to be reckoned, one who cared more about the colour flow of her gardens than the cut and fashion of her dresses. Who can blame her that overalls and a straw hat were her preferred garb. She was an excellent storyteller, loved a good earthy joke… she was generous and kind. Each week, a gardener would don high rubber boots, wade into the wishing well to fish out the coins that visitors had cast in. Wheelbarrowed over to Jennie as she sat on her sun porch, she would help package the coins to donate to charity.

As the unpaid official welcomer for the city of Victoria, Jennie entertained dignitaries, conventions and whole army regiments. She hosted tea parties for the poor and the aged, and delighted in drawing word pictures of the flowers for the blind so they could envision them as they savoured their scents. Sharing the enchantment of her garden was Jennie’s gift. Even when, by 1915, some 18,000 people toured the gardens, she refused to charge admission.

During the ‘off season’, the Butcharts embarked on extensive world tours (today the gardens are open year round.) “It seems lonely when the crowds stop coming,” Jennie lamented and Bob agreed, “I can’t understand how some people shut themselves away from their fellow man. Why, I’m never lonely when I can see so many people enjoying themselves every day.”

In 1931 Jennie was recognised as Citizen of the Year by the City of Victoria. In 1938, the ownership of the gardens was transferred to their grandson, Ian Ross on his 21st birthday… it is still in the family today. In 2015, Jennie was inducted into the Business Laureates of British Columbia’s Hall of fame. Their motto – they built, we benefit – seems tailor-made for Jennie Butchart.

As I wandered the gardens, I mused that her spirit still graces the vistas; from the dramatic Sunken Garden to the whisper of maples gently rustling in the Japanese Garden from the dancing fountain to the riots of colour and the vivacious scents of the blooms. It’s recalled that during Jennie’s time, many visitors didn’t realise the property was a private garden. People plucked flowers and fruit from the trees – this meant fewer to give away to hospitals. A few were known to pilfer coins from the wishing well. A family dog and a garden peacock were carried off. When visitors carved their initials on various trees, Bob patiently designated a tree for that purpose alone.

Yet more often than not, their generous hospitality was repaid in kind. When the King of Siam visited, he invited the Butcharts to visit his palace in Bangkok. The following year, the travelling couple gladly took the King up on his offer, spending twelve days as his guests. The Butcharts lived well, both overseas and in their tucked-away haven on the Tod Inlet.

I vividly envisioned Jennie, weaving her way through her garden, luxuriating in the divine setting she had created. Perhaps this last anecdotal story, during the visit of an English explorer, portrays this inspiring lady at her finest.

“I know one flower you haven’t got,” the visitor piped up as Jennie showed off her 5000 varieties. “You don’t have the blue poppy of Tibet.”

Jennie slyly led the visitor to a bed of heavenly blue poppies. “Why that’s impossible,” the Englishman exclaimed. “I just discovered them myself in Tibet!”

And indeed he had, and had then sent one flower from Tibet to London’s Kew Gardens. But Jennie being Jennie, had wasted no time and had already garnered the seeds from the blue poppy. I like to imagine her re-offering the guest a seed or two from the very flower he had sourced.

If only, if only we could stroll through the gardens with Jennie by our side…

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If you go…

The Buchart Gardens are a short drive from Victoria, or hop on a bus

Visit in the afternoon and stay for the free summer evening concerts… Jennie would be pleased with that!

Enjoy dinner in the Dining Room overlooking the Italian Garden, or at the more informal Blue Poppy Garden

Do buy some seeds in the wonderfully stocked Gift Store

Adhere to the Garden’s Etiquette including no selfie-sticks and quiet conversation…

Read more about Vancouver Island’s other inspiring artist I’ve written of, Emily Carr, and of the island itself

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The breathtaking Bugaboos… a welcome home to a ‘cathedral in the sky’

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I’m now in Canada, dear readers, and I apologise for my absence from these pages. Through my last blogs, you’ll know we left our Indian home of two years. We travelled through Greece, Scotland and England, then a two-month stay in The Netherlands, before finally, beautiful British Columbia greeted us. It was as if our dear mountain home sighed with relief, “Ah, you’ve finally returned.’ It had been nine months.

So, we’re home, perhaps to live (to be decided) but nonetheless, the transition of almost thirty years overseas and now having one address is ongoing. You can read more at Monday Morning Musings.

IMG_8897Call it a welcome home or an initiation back to Canada, recently I was enticed into an overnight hike. Really, it was into a wonderland of chiselled granite at 2230 meters, into a rapture of beauty. It was a profound privilege, yet, it had to be earned.

The world acclaimed Bugaboos are at our doorstep, a range within the great Purcell Mountains – the Rockies are just across the valley. We joined many others who journey from around the world to hike and take on some serious climbing. My hiking partners promised that I would manage the ascent, but as is often the case, I’m the weakest link… the little engine that ‘hopefully can’.

The hike’s end point was to a hut that has seemingly been dropped from the heavens onto a granite outcrop. Flanked by a glacier and granite spires piercing the clouds, the Conrad Kain hut will take us about four hours to reach. A little nervous, I comfort myself with my badge of honour; that eleven-day hike back in the day to the base camp of Annapurna in the Himalayas. There have been many hikes since, but gazing up to this ‘hut in the sky,’ it seems a little formidable.

It begins easily enough, a gentle meander through aged forest and feathery ferns, past dainty wildflowers and lush meadows. That pleasant amble gives no indication of what will soon be asked of us. To tread carefully along steep granite steps and narrow edges. To grip chains for safety and ladder up a boulder. To climb higher and higher, the small green dot of the Kain hut ever-looming in the distance to encourage our progress.

We break in much needed shade for lunch, a carpet of pine needles and knobbly tree roots our bench. We chat with other hikers and guides who encourage their charges up the mountain.

Our unofficial guide is friend and neighbour, John Parker. John exudes calm encouragement, yet there is a task at hand and there isn’t time for idle dallying. But then, this was John’s work and his passion, the commitment to his lifelong career shows as he leads a steady way. “You’re doing great,” “Take small steps on the steep ascents”, he encourages me. By the fourth hour of the hike, I need all the inspiration I can muster.

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My legs are seizing up. My back is aching. Thankfully, my breathing isn’t as bad as I feared, but I am now w i l l i n g each step, hoping for the end. And then, as if nature senses that it’s time, one of the most glorious views reveals itself. A meadow of wild flowers opens up, a crystal-clear melt-water torrent rushes from the glacier, and we cross a simple metal bridge to the final climb to the Conrad Kain hut. Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Anywhere.

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Perched on a granite prominence, the hut with its green arched roof contrasts with its backdrop of glaciers, vast fields of ice, rugged and cracked, harbouring crevasses of the deepest cobalt blue. The hut and the enveloping landscape beckons me as I trudge up the final metres. It seems to say, “You’ve made it, welcome!”

The four of us unburden ourselves of our packs, add our climbing poles to the collection already outside the hut, and hug each other. “Well done, Terry Anne. You’ve achieved this,” John congratulates me. Sonya and Bruce do as well, and I admit to feeling like a school girl who has gained some respect from her teacher. Later that evening, I’ll hear more about John’s students and his career, but first we take in the buzz of the hut.

We’ll join about thirty other people who will spend the night on mattresses lined edge to edge over two upper floors. Sleeping bags claim their spots. But it won’t be a quiet night, what with the snores of exhausted climbers or 2 am alarms set for pre-sunrise departures for distant climbs. Head lamps light the way, for many early trekkers, the hut a staging point for serious climbers. Ropes are wound, helmets wait at the ready, crampons packed, quick-draws checked and counted, ice picks hang nearby.

The communal dining room, with its million-dollar view, is a place for sharing climbing stories and discussing routes, for reading and games, and replenishing weary bodies with freeze dried food. Though wonderfully, Bruce and Sonya on cooking duty would out do themselves – our dinner and breakfast warmed in the hut’s vast kitchen was just what my weary body needed.

Happily, it’s happy-hour, Sonya and I retreat to the side of the hut, exhausted but gleeful. A tin of glacier-chilled wine is our reward… and of course, that view. Surely, Conrad Kain would approve of his eponymous mountain abode. They say that Kain brought glamour and imagination into the sport of mountaineering as few guides had before him.

For nearly thirty years, the Austrian born guide, saw peaks as the personification of  beauty, as living entities to climb – firstly in Europe, then New Zealand and Canada. With his short, stocky stature, the climber achieved more than sixty first ascents, including the Bugaboo Spire in 1916 which now presides over us and the lesser spires like a grand citadel.

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We exhilarate in this cathedral of nature, and while Bruce and John hike upwards to the Applebee camp for a closer view of the ‘citadel’, Sonya and I stay put, entranced by the view. I recall what I had read of Conrad Kain. He eventually settled nearby, largely earning his living as a trapper, a hunting guide and an outfitter. His passion for communing with nature was steadfast. Kain once wrote, “Life is so short, and I think one should make a good time of it if one can. The only thing I enjoy now is Nature, especially spring in the mountains, and letters from friends. Sometimes I think I have seen too much for a poor man.”

Apparently Kain’s principles kept him poorer than he might have been and despite his achievements he sought no fame. With a grateful look across a beautiful alpine scene, he was known to have remarked, “It occurred to me that after all I was a rich man, even if I had no money.”

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I feel that now. The sheer beauty of this view is truly priceless. And somehow, it’s all that much more special because of the effort invested in reaching it. As I watch climbers trek off to the campground, a rainbow of tents pitched on a natural rock plateau, and as others ready their gear, I understand this world a little more. I now appreciate why one of our sons and his girlfriend are passionate about hiking and climbing. I more easily see why, when my husband and another son came back from trekking in Nepal a number of months ago, Bruce remarked, “It’s the sheer uplift of the soul… being part of primal wilderness.”

A few hours later we linger over our well-earned dinner that we had packed up the mountain. I ask John more about his career, surely a celebration of the great outdoors, as he helped design the curriculum for Outdoor Education Ontario, in his particular school. It offered high school students the opportunity to grow, to learn self-reliance, to move out of their comfort zone through outdoor pursuits.

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John Parker

“It might have been rock climbing, hiking, wayfinding, canoeing, winter camping or Nordic skiing. They learned confidence and independence. But I had hoops they had to jump through to earn their place on these trips; they were real achievements.”

John relates the life-changing impact the program had on students, the passion he still feels as a retiree is clear. “Years later, I’ve had calls from former students wanting me to know that I inspired them to become teachers themselves. They’ve told me how the program turned their life around. You really bond when you’re in the wilderness, barriers drop and kids confide in you. And I made them journal their experiences for self-reflection.”

As we listen to John reflect, I can’t imagine there isn’t one of us that doesn’t wish our children had been part of an outdoor education program. Our sons were avid sportsmen and yes, we were often outdoors, but studies show there is something intrinsic and vital about the connection, the challenges, and the healing of nature.

It’s still light outside at 2200 meters and as much I’d love to stay awake to watch the moon rise over the whites of the glacier and the grand citadel, it’s difficult to keep my eyes open. It’s only 9 pm.

The door opens and in bursts a climber, “Ah you’re back,” someone at the table exclaims in a German accent.

“It was awesome, been out for 25 hours straight,” the climber says. He’s draped with ropes and his tired but satisfied smile speaks volumes.

I say goodnight to my own climbing buddies, but realize I have just one more question for John.

“Did your students call you Mr. Parker on these trips, in those outdoor classrooms?”

John answered me in his usual charming, warm tone. “No, I was usually J.P.”

“Ok, J.P, thanks for the day and leading the way… just amazing!”

I don’t yet know, that descending tomorrow will be even worse than the climb. That I’ll take a tumble and that once I’m down the mountain I’ll gaze back up at it in awe. Already missing its serene and hallowed place.

But for now, my aching legs climb the ladder to the loft and slip into the cocoon of my sleeping bag, joining the long rows of sated guests. But still no sight of the moon – only a glacier and a glorious granite spire to lull me to sleep. It takes about two minutes.

Like those students of J.P’s, I feel a sense of achievement and fulfilment. Even though I had stepped out of my comfort zone, through this hike I have re-discovered what it means to be… home.

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*Where The Clouds Can Go, by Conrad Kain, first published in 1935, is meant to be a very good read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Canadian Summer… a passion for mountain towns, Whistler and Kimberley

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For now, I’ve bid farewell to my home in Canada. To my pine trees and my deck, perfectly-placed for moon and star gazing. To a place where the long summer evenings are precious with friends and family. It’s a home, and a town, that ever welcomes me when I return.

Now back in India, the inevitable week of adjustment is always my reality. I reconcile that I can’t jump into my vehicle and cruise the mountain roads or simply walk and breathe the fresh air. I already miss chats with family and not relying on Skype dates. Still, this past week was reserved to get over jet-lag and savour a little time before life gets busy for the rest of the year: final editing on a new book project, an upcoming visit from a dear friend, a retreat to Penang in November and the arrival of family for Christmas. But for just a few more days, I let vignettes of a Canadian summer play in my mind…

 

DSCF5086A passion for trains…for a mountain lifestyle

Kai looked very much the part in his striped train conductor’s hat. Greeting each passenger one by one as they stepped down from the pristine and impressive Rocky Mountaineer, Kai delighted them with a ‘high five’ and a warm “Hello!”

“You’re the little fellow we were told about,” one gentleman remarked. “So I hear you really love this train?” Kai nodded with a broad smile.

The picturesque station for the Rocky Mountaineer is just south of Whistler, British Columbia. We watched the train round the bend, and ease its massive weight to a halt along the edge of Nita Lake.

We were sojourning on its waterfront at The Lodge at Nita Lake. An idyllic place where canoes and kayaks tether to the Lodge’s private dock. We ventured out on early morning paddles – ducks floated gracefully in a line, loons called in the morning mist and a black bear browsed for berries at the water’s edge.

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That afternoon we had cycled along the trails to Whistler, passing families canoeing and picnicking by the water’s edge. As we cycled from lake to lake, we came upon sculptures set in the lush riparian forest and kayakers paddling lazily through waterways. On emerald green waters a floatplane waited alongside a canoe – emblematic of Whistler’s coveted lifestyle.

And if you’re fortunate, you’ll spy another black bear up close. We rolled up to a group of cyclists stopped on the trail. “Wouldn’t go any further,” a local cautioned, motioning to a healthy-sized bear in the bushes up ahead. It was our second sighting of the day, a reminder that Whistler is very much their territory.

“Think we should leave that big guy alone”, the friendly cyclist suggested, hopping back on his bike. “Come on, I’ll show you a different trail.” We cycled further and saw more of the postcard-perfect town, quiet and serene, away from the multitude of tourists – a peek into the daily life of a local. It was late afternoon by this time and I was conscious that the Rocky Mountaineer would soon be arriving at Nita Lake Lodge.

 

As the impressive train slowed into the station just after 6 pm, I immediately noticed Kai. He went about his unofficial duties conscientiously – rolling out the red carpet, raising the Canadian flag then that of British Columbia, then positioning himself to welcome the travellers.

“This little guy is here every chance he gets,” Janice Bondi, the train’s manager remarked with affection. “You’d be surprised how many regulars we have at each stop.” As I watched Kai, I couldn’t imagine a more committed train lover.

 

As his father watched proudly nearby, I knew there was a reason why I too wanted to greet this iconic train in the Rocky Mountains. Its arrival evoked a sense of that slower, older lifestyle that early pioneers must have experienced. Witnessing the passion of a boy named Kai, made it a little bit more special.

 

A passion for Whistler, and for hats

Like me, Erik is fond of hats and considers himself fortunate to work with his passion. It was easy to warm to his friendly and engaging nature. “I ordered my first hat when I was ten years old,” he explained, “I like that you can customize your outfit with just a different hat.”

And Erik knows them well: beanies, flat caps, fedoras, buckets, suns, cowboys and of course the iconic Canadian toque. The Hat Gallery in the heart of Whistler is a place to try something different, or stick with what you love – it’s always a fedora for me.

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“What kind of a pinch do you like in your fedora?” Erik asked as he scanned his displays. He patiently searched and suggested, all the while exuding an obvious love of his job. We found the fedora up high on a shelf – yes it was the perfect choice.

Erik is Canadian and admittedly a bit of an anomaly in Whistler’s workforce. The ski town has attracted thousands of young workers from other countries, especially from Australia and the U.K. I was told that most arrive with a two year work visa, but start the process of becoming a resident almost immediately. It’s an easy decision for them. They choose Whistler for the lifestyle – skiing, paddling, hiking and a mountain that transforms into a biker’s dream in the summer months.

 

Whistler’s pedestrian-friendly town is lively with tourists from all corners of the globe. Enticed by the allure of the mountains, the activities, the cool bars and restaurants, it attracts millions of tourists yearly and has grown beyond all expectations.

Two tribes of First Nations shared this territory before trappers, traders and loggers arrived in the mid 1800’s. All would change when the Phillips, a young couple from the United States, opened a fishing lodge in 1914. Rainbow Lodge enjoyed great success, especially renowned for its fishing package...return train trip from Vancouver, 2 nights at the lodge and fishing for $6.00…

DSCF5057 (1)Visitors could also hike and horseback ride, enjoy a paddle on Alta Lake, or play with Teddy, Mrs. Philips’s pet bear. Myrtle Philips was the pillar of this new community that would eventually spread to nearby Whistler.

A ski hill developed in the ’60’s, a smattering of houses and the village itself in the early ’70’s. When the town needed a centre, town planner Eldon Beck planned a pedestrian village “where one could get lost, where things flowed like a river.” He could not have foreseen the success the mountain city would one day enjoy – being part-host to the 2010 Winter Olympics certainly helped. The Olympic rings are a tourist draw in themselves, a must-have backdrop for photos and selfies.

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Whether it was Erik or other young people I met who couldn’t imagine leaving this outdoor haven, the passion for life in Whistler is palpable.

And of passion, there was one more stop to make. The new Audain Art Museum – ‘where art meets nature, nature meets art’. It is a fine collection of Northwest Coastal Masks, Emily Carr paintings and more. I have a great admiration for the gifted, if wonderfully eccentric, Canadian icon. The Audain is iconic as well. Designed as a modern day longhouse and raised above the forest floor, seemingly one with the trees in which it nestles, it is a recent addition to Whistler’s cultural mix – already an essential counterpoint anchoring the proud past to the present.

 

The pride of a ‘forever hometown’…

We enjoyed a quintessential summer road trip from Whistler, back through Vancouver, and eastward toward the Okanagan, Canada’s wine region, a detour to Banff, and back to our own mountain town in the interior of BC. Like Whistler, not only is Kimberley a ski town, it’s a summer feast of bike trails, golf courses, rivers and lakes. For us this town anchors our peripatetic life. It represents warmth and stability, the place we chose for our family home.

 

 

When a ski trip took us to the small city of 7,000 or so, we were immediately smitten. Situated in the Purcell Mountains with the Rockies as its backdrop, it seemed like an easy choice and we resolved that no matter where we live in the world, this is where we’d return to.

Kimberley was once home to the largest lead-zinc mine in the world and has long been a community that welcomes newcomers. The Scandiavians pioneered our first ski-hill, the Germans and Austrians gave us our Bavarian-themed town centre, the Platzl. It is a setting where, on a Saturday afternoon, you’re as likely to meet a barber-shop quartet as a party of golfers in town for a weekend foray. Kimberley might well be known as a golf and ski destination, but people are drawn to this mountain town for many more reasons. Increasingly young families are choosing Kimberley for its lifestyle, a place to raise children in a safe and active community. But then that is nothing new to generations of settlers.

 

I met Clarence, serenading visitors about to board the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway. Commuter trains no longer run to Kimberley, but this small train wends its way up the ski hill, or tours into the now closed Cominco Mine.

 

Clarence was playing ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, rather fitting considering the wildfires that rendered the mountains hazy through some of the summer. He flashed a wide grin as I identified the song and again when he heard I was an accordion player too. I asked Clarence how long he’s played.

“Oh since I was ten or so,” he remarked speaking fondly of his instrument, then assuring me that he loves keeping the tourists happy. “About ten-thousand rode this little train last year…good for the town.”

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Clarence shared that he has been here, ‘a long while’, drawn here from a neighbouring province. I also made small-talk with the conductor as he waited for the 11 am tour to fill up.

“Are you from Kimberley?” I asked.

“I’ve been here for years, where else would I live?” I’m told matter-of-factly. People here get a little protective about this city, one of the highest in Canada – 1100 meters of altitude and only one stop-light. I hear this kind of unbridled hometown sentiment time and again. As Sonya, a good friend of mine, often comments, “Don’t get me started about how much I love this place.” She and her husband retired here three years ago and it quickly became their ‘forever hometown’.

Like Whistler, Kimberley has its share of locals who are passionate about their jobs and businesses. I’ve long been welcomed home by Robin and delight in her refined taste of home and kitchen wares she offers in her store, Grater Good. 

And I love the quirky and eclectic goods at Old Koots. “Hey Terry Anne, welcome home,” Janet and Wendy greet me as I wander through their door, hoping for that one-of-a-kind find.

The date for my hair appointment at Wolfy’s is always booked the minute I get into the country. While Kellie and her mother Pat fill me in on the latest news, I sink back into the small town vibe and delight in the scene…yes, it’s a little like the set of Steel Magnolias.

 

I stop in at Caprice’s Fine Art Studio to admire her latest works. Caprice and I share the love of art-books and of Emily Carr. We even share the same hometowns, our original, and now our adopted. “Sometimes you just know when something is right,” Caprice tells me.

 

I find myself at my favourite coffee shop, Bean Tree. With its retro furniture, its door always propped open by a ski boot, and its antler-adorned fireplace, its charming atmosphere typifies this unique town.

With friends and family having come and gone, it was time to pack and ‘close up’ the house. And with that, I only just remembered to grab my new hat from its perch on the antlers at Bean Tree. I’ll need it for the days ahead in India. The pattern of my life continues…

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Haida Gwaii…majestic and spiritual home of the Haida

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This is my first guest blog written by my son, Luke H. Wilson and his girlfriend, Trixie Pacis. On a recent trip to Haida Gwaii, they beautifully captured the essence of this remote, yet culturally rich destination in Canada’s Pacific North West. Luke and Trixie blog at Howl
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The Highland Ranger took a sharp turn into a small cove and skidded to an abrupt stop on the pebbly beach of what once was K’uuna village. We disembarked quickly, eager to explore and relieved to be on land after two hours sailing across choppy seas. The rugged shoreline looked much like we had seen of Haida Gwaii so far, an archipelago of 150 islands located between Vancouver Island and the southern tip of the Alaskan Panhandle. On an Easter getaway from the city, we had reached the main island on a small propeller plane—its age belied by lavatory ashtrays.

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The morning mist revealing stunning vistas

Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii was renamed in 2010 as part of a restitution agreement between the indigenous Haida Nation and the provincial government of British Columbia. Despite its pristine wilderness earning it a spot on National Geographic’s list of ‘must-see places in the world’, it seems that relatively few have heard of it. For us, the notion of exploring Haida Gwaii first came from an unexpected source—a chance meeting with a German hitchhiker during Trixie’s solo road trip to Alaska last August. The almost spiritual wonder with which he spoke about the island resonated; we were curious to see if it would evoke a similar response in ourselves.

On the road to the Queen Charlotte harbour earlier that morning, we had no choice but to interrupt a convocation of eagles swooping and circling over their roadkill breakfast; there’s really only one main road on the island. As we passed slowly and reverently, we counted seven Bald Eagles perched in the trees above, piercing eyes ever watchful. Though tempted to linger for this rare and intimate glimpse of nature, we had a boat to catch.

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Captain Volker and Watchman Walter

We arrived at the docks as the morning sun burned through the mist, revealing pine-covered islands and snow-capped mountains. Equipped with extra layers and flasks of steaming coffee, we walked down the gangway to meet Danny, the colourful owner of Highlander Marine Services.

The guiding season doesn’t technically begin until May, and his company doesn’t typically offer guided tours, so it was by chance and generosity that this expedition came together. Coincidentally, Danny had been on our flight to Haida Gwaii, and was able to work some magic for us. He arranged our passage into Gwaii Haanas, the National Park Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site that comprises the southern-third of the island.

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The Highland Ranger, our trusty vessel

Here we were on the Highland Ranger, two of twelve Haida Gwaii first-timers from all over the world. To prove the vessel was sound, Danny wryly explained that the Ranger had once even been used to recover a decomposing grey whale from the harbour. He introduced us to our captain, Volker, who’d worked his entire career on local waters, and our guide Walter, who’d spent many summers leading tours through the historic sites of Gwaii Haanas.

We were told that one such site, a village known as K’uuna (or Skedans by early European fur traders), would be our first stop. As we sped Southwards, we were whipped by crisp winds, sprayed by heavy waves and battered by the abrupt rise and fall of the boat’s metal benches. But breathtaking vistas and a thrilling, up-close encounter with a pod of grey whales made the journey more than worth any discomfort for self-admitted landlubbers.

At first glance, K’uuna didn’t appear to be much. In place of the well-preserved Haida village we had perhaps naively envisioned, we found a lush patch of forest nestled beneath a steep cliff, flanked on either side by a rocky, driftwood-laden beach. The only visible dwelling was a newly constructed cabin housing the summer watchmen who maintain and protect the site throughout the ‘busy’ tourist season. Walter had spent many summers as a watchman and it wasn’t until he began to walk us along K’uuna’s winding trails—marked with bright white clam-shells—that we slowly began to realize the extent of the history they watch over.

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Two mortuary poles, one leaning and one resting on the ground, protected by white clam shells

The ancestors of the Haida Nation first reached the islands of Haida Gwaii as early as 13,000 years ago. They developed a complex culture harmoniously intertwined with the abundant resources of land and sea. At one point, as many as 100 villages had cropped up throughout the archipelago—vibrant enclaves of skilled artists, seafarers, warriors and traders. European contact, which began in the late the 18th century, was initially an economic boon for many Haida clans who used their trading prowess to take advantage of the insatiable foreign demand for fur pelts.

This relationship ultimately had tragic consequences as diseases transmitted by the European traders and subsequent Christian missionaries decimated indigenous populations, wiping out 90% of the Haida people in a matter of decades. The scourge of smallpox, measles, and tuberculosis was so virulent that by 1890, the vast majority of villages had been abandoned entirely. We learned of this as we walked the paths of K’uuna; the white clam shells preventing us from unwittingly disturbing human remains and serving as a stark reminder of the catastrophic fate that had befallen it.

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Fallen roof beams under a blanket of moss

Before the epidemic, the village was home to over 700 people living in thirty communal longhouses lining the sheltered bay. Walter showed us all that remained of these dwellings—rectangular depressions in the soil, now overgrown. Could this be all we’d traveled so far to see?

But our initial disappointment soon faded as Walter began to paint for us the history of his people. As he pointed out four cedar corner posts—waist high and rotting —once supporting a longhouse, he described how numerous families lived, cooked and socialized under one roof. They were clearly once impressive structures, sometimes up to 30 meters long and over 15 meters wide; however, despite their size, custom required them to be constructed in just one day. According to Walter, the superstitious villagers feared that evil spirits would occupy the building site if it was left incomplete overnight.

The residents of a particular longhouse were rarely involved in the building of their own home; that task was given to members of neighbouring clans—a tradition designed to promote peace and unity throughout the community. Intricately carved and painted “house poles’, once adorning the front of the homes embodied totems of revered animals; orca, grizzly bear or mythological thunderbird. Each represented the identity, lineage, and social standing of its occupants. The shores were once also dotted with ‘mortuary poles’ honouring past chiefs and other prominent individuals. The largest of the Haida poles, these had a cavity at the top where the remains were enshrined, allowing the physical body to return to nature while providing an earthly home for the spirit of the deceased.

Few of the many totem poles that once towered over K’uuna remain; some still defy gravity, raked at alarming angles, but most lay on the ground beneath a blanket of moss in various stages of decomposition. Walter pointed to a faded carving of a bear. We crowded around the fallen pole, straining to glimpse the faint outline. Without Walter’s help, the symbolism of the carvings might have been lost on us. He revealed that in his time as a watchman, he had seen such a dramatic deterioration in the poles that he believes, in as little as a decade, the once beautiful and striking poles will be unrecognizable.

Instinctively, we asked: shouldn’t all of this be preserved so future visitors have the opportunity to learn about Haida culture first-hand? Walter paused thoughtfully, “In our culture, we believe that everything should be allowed to return to the earth”. This simple, yet profound, response provoked a fascinating discussion that continued throughout the day as much of what we observed circled back to the delicate and often contentious issue of cultural preservation.

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At Queen Charlotte Cultural Centre

At one point, Walter turned our attention to a mortuary pole and indicated that it was one of many painted by Emily Carr, the renowned British Columbian artist who traveled to Haida Gwaii in 1912. Her depictions of the haunting scene she found in K’uuna are an example of early attempts by outsiders to record Haida history, and she was not the only one to show concern.

Anthropologist Wilson Duff led an expedition to ‘salvage’ artifacts from the village in response to the encroachment of the logging industry in the 1950s, the repercussions of which were still evident in the scarred terrain beneath our feet, and the tire tracks left at alarming proximity to several mortuary poles.

Facing such threats, many were cut down, rolled to the beach using logs, and carted off to various places. (It is suspected that a container of poles—some no doubt from K’uuna—is to this day stored at the University of British Columbia, neither displayed nor allowed to return to the earth.) Though Duff had obtained permission, we got the sense there were, and likely still are, members of the Haida Nation who feel his actions were a sacrilege. Towards the end of our tour we passed a mortuary pole, slanting forty-five degrees but supported by a makeshift wooden brace. Walter shook his head, “I don’t know who did this but it’s not the Haida way—it should’ve been left to fall.”

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The rugged coast

At the end of a long day, which included a stop at Tanu, a larger Haida site and the final
resting place of celebrated sculptor Bill Reid, it was time to return. As the
Ranger pulled away, we were struck once more by the island’s pristine nature; from our vantage point, there was no sign that we—nor 13,000 years worth of thriving, industrious inhabitants—had ever set foot ashore. Sailing north towards the Queen Charlotte harbour, we reflected on what Walter called the ‘Haida way’; an understanding of equilibrium and a willingness to let nature take its course. We realized that behind us was one of few truly wild places remaining in the world, one that wouldn’t exist without the Haida Nation’s continued practice and defense of their ancestral beliefs.

Two weeks later, we found ourselves admiring The Raven and the First Men, a seminal
Bill Reid sculpture featured at the UBC Museum of Anthropology (MOA). We roamed the adjacent gallery of totem poles and wooden chests, taken from Haida villages and put on display in modern, climate-controlled rooms. We roamed the outdoor exhibit where several replica poles and two impressive longhouses stood at full scale. While it helped us to better

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The UBC Museum of Anthropology’s indoor exhibit. 

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The Raven and the First Men by Bill Reid depicting the birth of the Haida people

visualize what K’uuna and Tanu might have looked like, we couldn’t help but notice that they were staged on a man-made beach that was a poor imitation of its wild counterpart. However, we realized that while we were lucky enough to see the sites in person, it’s certainly not sustainable.

With the MOA drawing 150,000 visitors annually, we can only imagine what that foot traffic would do to K’uuna’s lightly trodden pathways. Though the exhibit is well-curated and an effective way for people to discover the richness of Haida culture, we left the museum wondering whether these artifacts were being deprived of their natural resting place.

As you read this, wind and rain are smoothing away the once distinct and beautiful carvings. Tree roots grow through the fallen poles, absorbing and recycling their nutrients. In as little as a decade, the carvings will be indistinguishable, and not long after, the poles will disappear entirely. Though the footprint of the early Haida people on the land may have faded, the ‘Haida way’ lives on—in Walter’s words of wisdom, in the continued carving and raising of totem poles, and in the evolution of the culture to balance modernity with tradition.

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Totem poles in Skedans, circa 1878

We were left with the impression that the people of K’uuna would have been content to see their poles return to the earth, so long as their traditions and values remained. We were moved by the pristine haven that is Haida Gwaii and left with a deep respect for the guardians of this majestic place and a determination to learn from their relationship with nature. Perhaps this is the legacy we should immortalize.

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The UBC Museum of Anthropology’s outdoor exhibit contrasted by Haida Houses

Emily Carr… Victoria’s free-spirited writer and painter

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IMG_3403Jack and Eloise

“Don’t you love her shoes? asks a lady in a cozy hand-knitted bonnet. “But I think Emily might have suffered a little from bunions,” she says pointing to sturdy, laced loafers. Surveying the bronze statue, I agree, then gesture to a monkey perched on Emily Carr’s shoulder. “That will be Woo, her Javanese monkey,” Eloise tells me with a ring of affection.

We happen to have ambled up to the likeness of Emily Carr at precisely the same time. The warmth in my new friend’s voice and the twinkle in her eyes endear me to her immediately.

It seems apt that I meet Jack and Eloise on the corner of Government and Belleville Streets – a window on the soul of Victoria. The grand Fairmont Empress is Emily’s backdrop, kitty-corner from British Colombia’s Parliament buildings, next to the Royal BC Museum; all anchored by the harbour with its schooners, pleasure boats and float planes.

Victoria, the capital of BC, sits at the southern tip of Vancouver island on the Pacific Coast. A short sail from Vancouver, it is a city of glorious blooms – billowy cherries, plump magnolias, abundant daffodils and tulips, heavenly hyacyniths and pansies; a cascade of colour in the crisp April air.IMG_3393 (1)

“Do you know our Emily?” Eloise asks, almost maternally.

“Indeed I do, in fact today”, I tell the friendly couple, “I’m tracking Emily through the city.”

Emily Carr (1871 – 1945) is one of British Columbia’s most beloved figures – a painter, a writer, a free-spirited rebel. Emily proclaimed her profound love for the Canadian West and is best known for lush, haunting forest-scapes and powerful portrayals of totem poles. At heart, she was also a fearless traveller; the essence of her nature was to embrace the landscape and native culture at their source.

IMG_4686I tell Jack and Eloise that as a writer, not only do I love Emily’s words, but I admire her intrepid explorations to capture her favourite subjects. Once vital cultural entities in First Nation villages, Emily seemed prescient in knowing that totems would ‘disappear’ as the Colonial settlers pushed the Coastal First Nations away from their lands, stripping them of their deep-rooted culture.

“Off she’d journey,” I added, “on working steamers, small boats, even dugout canoes. With a dog in tow, she’d arrive on the shores of a First Nation village, taking it on faith that she’d find shelter.”

Emily Carr’s paintings created a lasting, brooding documentation of the proud sentinels that watched over those villages. She was respectful and deeply empathic, “It  must have hurt the Indians dreadfully, to have the things they had always believed trampled and torn from their hugging.” E.C.

Emily became friends with the people of the First Nations and was bestowed with a native name that she proudly proclaimed for the rest of her life…Klee Wyck…it means the ‘Laughing One’.

The iconic symbols of Canada’s First Nations stand stalwart and proud from our vantage point; contemporary carvings by descendants of this land’s first settlers. One totem is nestled by the harbour and another seems to guard the nearby British Colombia Parliament Building. I admire the colours, the symbolism of each carved raven, orca and thunderbird capturing tribal lore, evoking spirit and culture.

“The next time I paint with the locals I’m going off on a tangent tear. There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness, the Western breath of go-to-the-devil-if-you-don’t-like-it, the eternal spareness of it. Oh the West! I’m of it and I love it!” E.C.

It’s obvious that Jack and Eloise also have an appreciation for this island and this city. Like many retirees, they have chosen Victoria for the temperate climes, the ocean, the beauty, the quaint Victorian charm. With a sly grin, Eloise reminds her husband of sixty years that, “I’m not moving again dear.”

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I bid a fond farewell to Jack and Eloise. “Do go see Emily’s family home,” Eloise suggests as she takes my hand warmly.

“It’s on my list,” I promise, “but first I’ll duck into the Empress while I’m here.” “Oh yes dear you must. It’s been refurbished and the Victoria’s are lovely!”

A horse drawn carriage clops past, a London-inspired double-decker bus waits for tourists, while chimes reminiscent of ‘Big Ben’ pronounce the time.

 

The Victoria’s and Anthony

I spot the Victoria’s immediately. They weave history into art with a modern edge and are the perfect backdrop at The Empress’s Q Bar. Then again I muse, perhaps some modern versions of Emily Carr’s paintings might have been apropos.

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I’m distracted by a man’s voice at the bar. He’s weaving a tale of Victoria’s history to the bartender and I’m drawn to his narrative like a magnet. I practically pull out my Moleskin in anticipation as I slide onto the barstool next to him. “You’ve chosen the best seat in the house,’ Anthony smiles, offering his hand in welcome.

Born and raised in Victoria, Anthony declares, “I know every inch of this city and have a fierce love for this Empress Hotel.” Motioning towards the Crystal Ballroom, he fondly recalls this as the setting for his high school graduation and where most Victorians were treated by their parents to their first ‘legal’ drink.

With the Victoria’s as our backdrop, Anthony relates that life as an ‘island child’ was idyllic and a stint away in Eastern Canada from the age of six to ten was more than trying. “I was at peace when I came home again – this is where I belong, who I am.” His sentiments seem to echo Emily Carr’s.

Anthony looks outwards to Victoria’s inner harbour through aged stained glass set into tall window sashes. “I remember when there were no cruise ships, only steamships. I recall the Royal Visit in 1982, peeking into a port-hole of the Royal Yacht Britannia. You know why the Empress was built I’m sure”, he wonders out loud.


I do know that the Edwardian, chateau-style hotel was designed for Canadian Pacific Hotels and opened in 1908. Serving those who journeyed to Victoria by CP’s steamship line, it became a tourist destination from the mid 20’s. The impressive Rattenbury-designed edifice has played host to Royals, movie stars and the famous. “What of Emily Carr?” I ask.

I had read she was known to take tea, dine, attend lectures and concerts at the Empress. “A dull tea with a dull woman at the dull Empress. The pups were the only gay thing about it and the conservatory a joy of airy, fairy, gay colour, too exquisite and upstairs to describe in words, like colour stairways of joyousness leading out beyond earth things.” E.C.

We discuss that it wouldn’t be surprising for Emily to find the Victorian ritual of English Tea (still a major tourist draw at the Empress) too confining and pompous. We ponder the rebel side of Emily. To Victoria’s refined middle and upper-classes who melded into a city said to have been built as a replica of Britain, Emily was regarded as ‘quite crazy, eccentric and bizarre’. Eventually she would embrace the isolation, yet the loneliness never subsided.

After stints at Art Schools in the US and abroad, Emily thought nothing of smoking, wearing trousers and hand stitched clothes, riding cross-saddle, camping, and generally bucking the traditions of acceptable behaviour for someone born into a genteel English family.

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Emily Carr

“We didn’t learn much about Emily in school,” Anthony confides to me. “As a boy I knew her paintings were on stamps and that she once had a pet monkey. You kind of knew she had been an eccentric.”

I comment on the new, also delightfully eccentric murals and ask his opinion about the refurbishment. “Queen Victoria means a lot to me, like Emily Carr, my roots are English.”

Victoria was named in honour of the Queen in 1843, a few years after James Douglas was charged with establishing a trading fort for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The port city later became a supply base for miners, many from the US, en route to the gold fields along the Fraser River. Immigrants from the British Isles were plentiful, enticing families such as Anthony’s for its British ‘sensibilities’. I comment that perhaps it’s fitting that a statue of Queen Victoria towers just across the street – evidence not only of the past, but of Canada’s proud position today as a member of the Commonwealth. Along with the statues of Victoria and Emily, there are others along the harbour that tug at one’s emotions and attest to this harbour’s long, maritime history.

I can well imagine the countless tales that have been woven at this Empress bar throughout the years – the settlers, the travellers, the sailors and the gold miners. Or like today, an illuminating discussion during a delightful chance encounter. Yet it’s time to take my leave from the engaging Anthony and from the royal gaze of the Victoria’s. It’s time to visit the Carr family home.

 

The Carr Family Home

“Father bought ten aces of land, part of what was known as Beckley Farm. It was over James’ Bay and I have heard my mother tell how she cried at the lonesomeness of going to live in a forest….The house was large and well built of California redwood, the garden prim and tended.” E.C.

This ‘forest’ and the environs, only a mile out of the city in 1863, had a profound impact on Emily’s formative years. She was creative, a tomboy and prone to imagination as a child, a contrast to her ‘girlie’ sisters and her strict, autocratic father. Richard Carr was a successful merchant and had a soft spot for his youngest daughter. He had saved her first charcoal sketch of the family dog – perhaps the only recognition by a family member throughout her entire life, that she had any talent. Mr. Carr fired her artistic inclinations with stories of Native culture and the virgin forest he had encountered.

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Today the Carr home is flanked by spring flowers and signage with Emily’s evocative words. “Nothing, not even fairyland, could have been so lovely as our lily field. The wild lilies…did something to the back you your eyes…they were white, with gold in their hearts.” The home’s orchard, lily fields, farmyard and forays into nearby Beacon Hill Park and to the ocean, fuelled Emily’s love of nature. It would offer much needed solace when her mother died, and then her father. Emily was only seventeen.

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Kitwancool 1928

Escaping the stern ‘rule’ of an older sister to study at the California School of Design in San Fransisco, the nineteen year old embraced the freedom and her new outlets for expression, Yet she returned to the ‘big house’ in 1893, setting up her first studio in the barn’s hayloft and teaching art; hoarding her earnings in an old boot hanging from the rafters. A trip to Lake Cowichan, then one to Ucluelet, finds her sketching in the villages. It’s here she acquires the name Klee Wyck from the First Nation families with whom she bonds.

At the age of 28, Emily had saved enough to set out for further study in London. The hopeful beginnings turned to hardship, a spurned romance, a breakdown with 18 months in a sanatorium. Five and a half years later, she returned home via a stop in the Cariboo, further fuelling her love of nature and adventure; her streak of rebellion now firmly rooted. “No woman had ridden cross-saddle before in Victoria! Victoria was shocked. My family sighed…cross-saddle! Why everyone disapproved. Too bad, instead of England gentling me into an English Miss with nice ways, I was more me than ever, just pure me.”

Other acquired habits like smoking further alienated Emily from her family, conservative Victoria was aghast. Another studio was set up, political cartoons drawn for a local publication, a job offer in 1906 in Vancouver took her away from the English confines of Victoria. It seems there was a collective sigh of relief.

Today, the Emily Carr House has not yet opened for the season and so I can only circle the house. I gaze up to what was once young Emily’s bedroom, I notice an easel propped against a wall, I imagine how idyllic the setting must have been for a creative mind. And I play the next years of Emily’s often tumultuous life in my mind.

~ Teaches art in Vancouver. More sketching trips and a cruise to Alaska which confirms her commitment to record the ineluctable march of the aboriginal cultural demise.

~Studies art in France for a year or so. Returns to Vancouver, extensive sketching and painting trips throughout Vancouver Island and Queen Charlotte Islands.

~First exhibit and lecture on Totems in 1913. Muted response to the more than 200 pieces. Hopes of the Government buying her collection not realized. Feels isolated with no fellow artists to commune with.

~From 1913 to 1927, art is sidelined as Emily owns a boarding house and mostly abhors the role of ‘landlady’…the attic becomes her respite. She fires pottery, knits rugs and raises dogs. Her love for her menagerie of animals keeps loneliness at bay.

Emily_Carr_(1939)_Odds_and_Ends

Odds & Ends 1939

~Invited in 1927 to exhibit in the Canadian West Coast Art, Native and Modern Show in Ontario, she meets the famous Group of 7 painters, those capturing the beauty of Eastern Canada. Encouraged by Lawren Harris and accepted by this prestigious group, her life is changed. She bursts with renewed creativity and resolves to become The West’s foremost painter.

~Her most productive period ensues from 1928…Emily Carr is 57 years old. She begins a regular journal, extensive trips, rents cottages for work then buys Elephant, a simple trailer for situating herself to capture the forest, now her main focus.

~Suffers first heart attack in 1937. Groups stories written over an eleven year period. First stories are read on CBC in 1940 to resounding appreciation. Suffers another heart attack, first book Klee Wyck published, wins Governor General’s Award. Book of Small published in 1942, House of Sorts in 1944. Growing Pains, Pause, The Heart of  Peacock, Hundreds and Thousands, Fresh Seeing, all published posthumously.

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The Indian Church 1929

After years of rejection and doubt, of solitude and impoverishment, a woman I feel much admiration for, had found solace, acceptance…happiness. Emily Carr was a great talent, the West she loved so fiercely now celebrates her.

I find some of Emily Carr’s last words before she passed away in 1945. Finally, they ring with joy…

“Outstanding events! work and more work! I sat self contained with dogs, monkey and work- writing into the long dark evenings after painting-loving everything terrifically. In later years my work had some praise and some successes but the outstanding event to me was the doing which I am still at. Don’t pickle me away as done.” E.C.