Friday, April 18, 2014

ANOTHER GULF ISLAND GETAWAY: MAYNE ISLAND

While at Galiano Inn and Spa in March, I took the opportunity to spend the day on Mayne Island, a place I'd never been to before. Like so many who sail from BC's mainland to Vancouver Island, I had only viewed from the deck and seen the lighthouse guarding the channel between the two islands.
Our ferry at Sturdies Bay

The ferry ride is only twenty minutes across Active Pass from Sturdies Bay to Village Bay. I took the car so we could thoroughly explore Mayne in the six hours available. The weather was sunny with a cool breeze off the ocean.

The difference in island culture from Galiano struck me immediately as I headed to Miners Bay a few minutes north of the ferry dock. Here there are more amenities than on Galiano: a shopping centre with a smallish but good supermarket with local products, a gas station, galleries displaying resident artists' work, gift shops, and the post office. The welcome and friendliness started at Tru-Valu Foods — as my husband and I arrived before the daily papers, the checkout clerk said she would put them aside for us to pick up at the end of our tour. And, she did.
Active Pass lighthouse
Active Pass lighthouse 

Mayne Island has a long history, dating back 5,000 years with First Nations fishing activity off Helena Point being dated to three millennia ago. The Spanish visited in the 1700s and George Vancouver camped near the future site of the Active pass lighthouse. The Royal Navy survey Mayne in the mid-1800s naming it after a lieutenant on HMS Plumper.

Our first stop was at Georgina Point Heritage Park where the Active Pass lighthouse now stands. It has been guiding seafarers since 1885 without ceasing —129 years. Now the park is managed by Parks Canada and it is well worth visiting for the view of Active Pass towards Galiano. If you're lucky you'll see one of the big ferries surge past quite close.

From Georgina Point across Active Pass at low tide
Europeans settlers arrived in 1858 along with the miners in the Fraser Gold Rush — hence the name of Miners Bay, which remains the commercial centre of the island. Later Mayne became an apple and hothouse producing centre, supplying the mainland. Japanese also settled on the island in the early 1900s to fish, as well as grow tomatoes and cucumbers before WW2 brought internment. Islanders have honoured them for their social and economic contributions to Mayne — more later....

David Cove
Today farms are plentiful inland, and cattle and dairy cows munched in the fields as we passed, but the hothouse cultivation is long gone. We discovered tiny coves with boat launches and a great book store, Miners Bay Books, smack in the middle of the island, which was filled with titles by Canadians and those living on Mayne.

Another goal was to take a look at the Mayne Island Resort for a possible future vacation spot and have lunch in their restaurant. The inn has been welcoming visitors for a century and offers guests a choice of cozy rooms, cottages and villas, all of which overlook a sheltered, islet-dotted bay.
Bennett Bay from resto at
Mayne Island Resort


The more recently constructed villas have full kitchens and all rooms have free WiFi. The resto is the Bennett Bay Bistro, which attracts locals for it's glorious view and excellent, locally-sourced ingredients. I not only loved the cuisine, but also enjoyed the choice of craft beers and IPA.



Our final stop was the Japanese Memorial Garden beside Dinner Bay Park. It's free but donations for upkeep are welcomed. Local residents funded and built this tranquil spot as a tribute to the Japanese settlers on Mayne Island who contributed so much. Late March meant the cherry blossoms and spring bulbs were on display, and we were told it's a beautiful garden in every season. We'll be back in the summer again.


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

JONES FALLS IN THE RIDEAU LAKES DISTRICT

Travelers must be alert to serendipity on the road. It happened to me when our lunch plans failed in Gananoque on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of the Thousand Islands. The restaurant we had chosen was closed for a private function and the only alternative was pub food, which we'd eaten too much in previous days on our vacation.

Upper lock and turning basin
from Kenney's Hotel

Nothing for it but drive about 50 kms north to Jones Falls, a place I'd never been to on the Rideau Lakes. Parks Canada operates this long canal/river linking lakes and locks that was designated a "Canadian Heritage River" in 2000 and a UN Heritage site in 2007. (More info here.)

The waterway runs from Ottawa to Kingston and visitors can take a choice of cruises of several days to enjoy the whole waterway. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but this time had to visit by road. I'm now determined to book two or three cruises back to back next year.

Jones Falls's locks, a staircase of four, were built in 1830 during the canal's construction and soon a hotel was built close by. The locks proved to be one of the greatest challenges for the builders who had to deal with a drop of 60 feet in the river. They have the second highest lock gates in the world and are still operated manually. Beside them, sits an old storehouse of local stone (now an interpretive centre open in the summer) and the lockmaster's house and a smithy further up river. It is picturesque and considered one of the most beautiful in the system.


Hotel Kenney followed soon after the locks were completed and it was here we headed for lunch.  It first opened in 1849, burned down, was rebuilt in 1877, and added to in 1888. Today it hasn't changed much since the later date, except for A/C throughout and modern bathrooms. The floors slope a bit and the boards creak as you walk through the public rooms into the restaurant. The smell is one of old wood.



Sitting at a window table watching the pleasure craft and kayaks sailing in and out of the lowest lock, I could easily imagine the older, gentler time. Ladies in long summer dresses, big hats, and carrying parasols would walk the lawns on the river's edge and enjoy afternoon tea at tables under the trees. US presidents have stayed here and Princess Juliana used to visit when she was living in Ottawa during WW2. The bar looks original, all wood, and offers a good choice of ale.

The three-course, prix fixe lunch in Hotel Kenney's restaurant overlooking the locks was all home-cooked and delicious. The menu is not haute cuisine, but reminiscent of earlier country-style dishes. It's hearty, tasty, and very reasonably priced. I had a bowl of turkey stew and my husband, fish and chips with all the trimmings that he devoured. Breakfast and dinner are also available for hotel guests and visitors.

We walked across Long Bridge to the locks to shake down our meal as the sky was darkening and warning us of a stormy late afternoon. So we drove back to Ottawa to continue our visits with family, well satisfied with the exploration and our future plan to cruise the whole system with Ontario Waterway Cruises.

Looking downriver from the locks


ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved

Sunday, September 8, 2013

IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEW CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM

Part of the exterior of the Canadian War Museum

I was given a chance of a lifetime, thanks to Ottawa Tourism's assistance, to visit the CanadianWar Museum (completed in 2005) for two meetings and a private tour with the WW2 historian, Dr. Jeff Noakes.

Top of lookout with the hay
field to left and Parliament
framed by the building
On a beautiful September morning, I arrived early at the site on the banks of the Ottawa River. Outside, the building is long and low-slung with a roof that turns skyward at its eastern end and points at the Parliament Buildings in the distance. But the building above ground is the tip of the iceberg—much of the behind-the-scenes stacks, collections, archives, etc. are below the ground.

I followed the signs on the river side and climbed a twisty, long ramp to the lookout and found a hay field on the roof and a spectacular view of the Peace Tower. No happenstance! The roof was designed this way deliberately, and I found many other examples of brilliant architectural ideas inside.

After a discussion with the WW2 historian, he whisked me away for a tour. The interior of the museum is stark and austere with cement walls that rise at all angles. Initially I wasn't sure about this ultra-modern concept but soon discovered how well it worked. First, the walls didn't distract from the art that hung there, some of which is huge and needs big blank spaces. The mid-grey colour was the perfect background, and I thought it complemented the subject of war and military history. (Cheerful colours wouldn't work!)




There were two smaller galleries or spaces that moved me deeply. The first I saw was Regeneration Hall. High, narrow and angular with a window facing east, it contained the original plaster casts of some of the carvings that are part of the Vimy Memorial in France, commemorating the dead of WW1. There is no adornment or explanation: the magnificent sculptures speak for themselves of the horror and pain of war. Through the window visitors see the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill—no accident of design. I was quite overwhelmed.

The second space I wanted to experience is hidden deep in the heart of the museum. Memorial Hall is reached through a narrow twisting corridor whose walls press in on visitors. This opens into a bare rectangular space with a small window high in one wall. I was alone and felt the space was a cross between a dungeon and a Cistercian abbey—no accident either. At waist height on the wall opposite the window is a marble plaque honouring the Unknown Soldier. Every November 11 at 11a.m., the sun shines down through the window and strikes the plaque. Remembrance Day services are held here annually, of course, but need official invitations to attend. My brother-in-law was lucky enough to be invited and told me the experience was one of the most moving in his life. For me, just being alone in that sacred space was a once in a lifetime moment.

Next I browsed through the permanent exhibitions, which guide the visitor through all the wars Canada has fought from earliest times before we were a country to Afghanistan. None spare the visitor from the agony and heartbreak. I was struck that every artifact on display is connected to a Canadian Forces member at war and the story is provided. This focus on the human connection is evocative and often poignant.




In the WW1 section is a tiny, pocket-sized teddy bear with a letter in childish script next to it. The bear was given to a Canadian army officer by his 10 year old daughter "to keep him safe" when he left for the front. It was found in his pocket after he was killed and returned to the family with his personal effects. No one can fail to be moved by displays like this.





There is a huge gallery devoted to military vehicles—tanks, armoured cars, staff cars, torpedoes and an array of cannons and other field artillery. Even a CF 101 fighter jet! Here too, there are explanations that tell the story of the piece. I was looking for displays related to submarines as this is my area of interest, but all I could find was a German midget submarine collected by Farley Mowatt. There was one WW1, 18" torpedo that might have been used by Canada's first submarines in 1914, but the staff can't prove it, despite trying hard.


One battered jeep attracted me the most. It was used in a UN peacekeeping mission and demonstrates how dangerous they can be. Canadians have often been stuck between warring factions trying to keep them from annihilating each other and civilians. The bullet holes through the windshield need no words of explanation. Next on my itinerary was the big exhibition devoted to our peacekeeping missions on land, sea, and air. Very well done.

I also spent some time in the Military History Research Centre that houses textual and image records, a massive library, and ninety journals that the museum subscribes to. I was taught how to access the catalogues for each, so that I can continue my work at home. Technology is a wonderful asset for writers!

Before I knew it, I'd spent the whole day in the Canadian War Museum and, as I left, I vowed to come back. I highly recommend a visit for Canadians to learn about our contributions to maintaining peace with freedom and the human cost that goes with it.

ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 6, 2013

CRUISING THE THOUSAND ISLANDS, CANADA AND THE USA

The blue sky beckoned us as we drove south from Ottawa under skies that threatened rain to the St. Lawrence and our tour boat. We were eager to do a cruise through the Thousand Islands, place we had seen as we drove by but never explored.


Our Gananoque Boat Lines, Thousand Islander, sailed from Ivy Lea a few miles east of Ganonoque. (Other tours leave from their main port in Ganonque.) The blue sky was still distant and we struggled with the light to get good photographs.

The three-deck boat was bigger than I expected and accommodated two bus-loads of visitors on package tours without being crowded. Commentary was in English, French, and Cantonese, and covered history and geography of this breathtaking area.


Islands number over 1800 on both sides of the international boundary between Canada and New York state in the USA. Some are tiny—one was smaller than the house perched on top! Others are large. The border does not cut through the  middle of any but one owner has two islands (L) linked by a bridge—one on either side of the boundary. And this bridge is not the smallest international bridge in the islands; that one is three metres long.

The boat tour meandered past Rockport through islands but the most astonishing  by far is Heart Island that contains Boldt Castle (below) in the US. Built by a multi-millionaire for his wife as a summer home, it is a stunning piece of architecture. Today it is owned and operated by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Our boat did not stop for us to visit, but there are tours that do and these look really worthwhile. I wish we had had the time. The interior images on the castle's website look amazing. 

Aerial view of Boldt Castle and some of the Th...
Aerial view of Boldt Castle
(Photo: Wikipedia)
The aerial view (R) shows the castle's Yacht House beyond Heart Island, which can be reached by shuttle from the castle dock. It's huge and houses slips, workshops, etc. Everything for your own fleet of pleasure craft from a big houseboat to racing launches.

This castle marked the middle of the cruise and as we turned to lay a course to home port, we saw astern of us a large bulk carrier steaming east in the main St Lawrence stream. It reminded me of the importance of this seaway to the economies of both countries that straddle the river.

As the cruise ended, the elusive sun broke through and we headed to Gananoque, a delightful town and on to Jones Lock and lunch at the Kenney's Hotel to watch the boats and canoes navigate the staircase locks from the restaurant.
The Gazebo in the foreground; Boldt Castle behind

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013, except where noted. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

HIGH SUMMER ON GALIANO

After a delicious breakfast in Galiano Inn's resto on our last full day on Galiano, we headed out in the hot sunshine to find some interesting places and people to visit. Once again we took one of the inn's Smartcars and it was just as well we did. We travelled main roads (two lanes) and narrow, country lanes wide enough for a small, very small car.
We wanted to find a few spots that were less well known by tourists and a couple that are favourites.

Heading north, stopped at the glass studio, but it wasn't our cup of tea, and crossed the main road in search of a few galleries on the map that we never found or were closed.

© James S. Ferguson
Next stop was easy—Cable Bay Farm in mid-island. This is the home of Galiano's photographer, Henny Schnare, and her family. What a great place to stop on a Tuesday! Tuesdays are the farm's weekly open house and market day. Henny has a thing about basil and it grows in vast abundance—she gave us a huge bunch for the chef at Galiano Inn. But the small acreage grows all sorts of organic produce for purchase and for the restaurants, pubs, cafés, and B&Bs on the island.

Henny is the most welcoming and enthusiastic person I've ever met. Wildly fun too! She invited us into her farm kitchen as my husband wanted to buy an enlargement of an image of hers. We also met her daughter and husband, who is a retired master mariner. We had a great time and walked out with a huge signed photograph that is now framed and graces our kitchen. Her skills with a camera are legendary on Galiano and you see her images everywhere. They're gorgeous.

Henny directed us to drive across the main road at the end of their driveway and follow the lane to the sea. Soon we could go no further and found Retreat Cove, tucked away and sheltered, with a small island in the centre. There's a cave to explore if you go through a gate on the left at the road's end. Idyllic, does not do this spot justice, especially in high summer. And, there were only six tourists and a couple of locals who were fishing off a rock. Here, Henny and her husband Tom moor their boat.


We drove south to visit the provincial park just off the road to Montague
Harbour. This is a forested park with camping and RV spots that ends at White Shell Beach. When we were there in mid-August, the campground was nearly empty and the beach had only two kayaks pulled up to the high tide line while their paddlers enjoyed a picnic. Galiano's shores are a kayakers paradise, sheltered and calm on the western side away from the Georgia Strait. Visitors can rent kayaks and canoes at Montague Harbour where we planned to eat lunch.

This is the main "town" on Galiano and is really a marina packed with boats in the summer. Many are anchored in the bay and their owners row into the marina for supplies and showers. We joined many of them for a good lunch at the Sea Blush Café with a pint of pale ale. The food is plentiful and mostly seafood, but the view is amazing. We sat and admired it and the marine traffic for longer than we were welcome, given the number of hungry patrons who were waiting!

As the weather was perfection, we returned to Whaler Bay, which we had visited on an overcast morning to meet a local artist whose work we had admired in a gallery. I wanted to get some good images in sunshine. It was worth taking the time to go again.

Whaler Bay is big as the bays go on Galiano and has a government wharf. It sits on the east coast facing the Georgia Strait but is long and narrow so provides sheltered moorage and anchorages with Gossip Island guarding its entrance. Today it was quiet and beautiful.

Of course, many moons ago, this was a place from which small whalers operated and logs were dumped. Today it is clean and a haven for wildlife from land, sea, and air, as well as residents and sailors. Stand still awhile and you'll see osprey, waterfowl, raccoons and mink. The waters are home to fish again.

Our last stop was a left turn at Sturdies Bay on Active Pass and down a windy lane called Gulf Drive. We found three lovely coves here and for about fifteen minutes watched seals playing in a bay as the ferries to Victoria and the mainland sailed by with their sirens blaring.

I found it almost impossible to tear myself away from these tranquil spots so far from the madding crowd. Tourists were few and the locals were always happy to chat and give advice as where we should go next.

Sadly, it was late and we were leaving early the next morning. But first we enjoyed our last dinner on our patio watching the super moon for the third night in a row.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

HEAVEN ON EARTH AT GALIANO INN

After a couple of days rushing about, I decided to take a down-day on Galiano. I enjoyed the morning in the spa with Pam pampering me with a full pedi and a wonderful facial. In the afternoon, I chose to take photos of Galiano Inn's property, our suite, and the VIEW!
The exterior of the spa,
overlooking the beach

The Madrona del Mar Spa is considered to be one of the best spas in Canada, without the astronomical prices, and its rooms look out over Active Pass. The Madrona (Arbutus) bit is the tree growing out from it... It is a serene spot with all a guest could wish for—treatments for couples and singles, mediterranean sea flotation baths, local ingredients, massages to die for, and bliss! I wobbled out after my session, so relaxed I could ooze under a door. The ocean just adds to the ambience a hundred fold. In the spa's garden is a hot tub for the guests' use, especially those staying in the hotel section.

The island runs on its own time, which is infinitely slower than that of cities. The inn is unhurried, quiet, and peaceful, though with impeccable service, and is tucked on the edge of Sturdies Bay with its own little sandy beach.
The inn's entrance

The owner, Connie, had met us at the sea plane dock in Montague Harbour and driven us back to the inn. We entered the inn through the wrought iron gates and arrived in heaven on earth, or at least that's what it felt like to me. Connie checked us into our one-bedroomed unit and we took stock of our home for the next five days.

The ten units looking out over the beach
We had a well-equipped kitchen, a good sized bedroom and living room, but the patio and the bathroom were stars! The patio is covered and has a wood-burning fireplace, an overhead heater, and an efficient, vented electric grill. Here too is a huge jacuzzi tub with a privacy screen, so you can soak while smelling the sea and hearing the ferries swish by blowing their sirens. It's quite intoxicating! (No pix of this feature are suitable for posting!!)

The shower in the main bathroom is big enough for three people and has more nozzles than a car wash! Being shortish, the bank of six under the main shower head hit me square in the face until I realized I could redirect the spray. To the left, is a little seat with an array of ten needle sprays for your back. These were so powerful they hurt, but my husband loved them. Now I'm home I want to renovate our ensuite and put in the same shower...!

















The view from the patio enchanted us. It changed constantly in the varying light and as the tide came in and out. On my first afternoon I watched the big ferries go by and the smaller ones dock right beside us. The super moon rose in front of us as we enjoyed our dinners every night.

Linking the units and the hotel rooms is the front desk, a fine-dining restaurant and a beach bar. Guests can have a hearty breakfast in the resto, lunch and a local ale in the beach bar (the pizzas are thin-crust Italian), and superb haute cuisine in the evening watching the sun go down over Sturdies Bay.

Behind the ocean frontage and the buildings are delightful gardens, including a pond and waterfall. Benches are scattered around and I saw many guests quietly sitting enjoying the plants and tranquillity. Most of the plants have been chosen for their suitability for a dry climate and many are indigenous. There's a yoga studio that looks out on the gardens too.

Galiano Inn at low tide from the seaward side showing the units on left and hotel rooms on right
The most enticing attraction for guests who arrive without a vehicle is the inn's fleet of Mercedes-Benz SmartCars. We rented one almost every day and happily tootled around the island (more about roaming the island in the next post). They are perfect for the narrow country lanes and limited parking. I loved driving one. No good for families though...

TIPS: If you like to cook, take your own knives and a roll of paper towel; buy local produce at the farmers' market on Saturdays and at Cable Bay Farm on Tuesdays at Retreat Cove, otherwise shop at Daystar and enjoy a coffee with them.

All images: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved.



Monday, August 19, 2013

PROWLING AROUND GALIANO ISLAND

Yesterday we set out to explore some of the southern tip of Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. We rented one of the Galiano Inn's SmartCars and visited some of the island's funky stores first.

There is a strong sense of the hippy era here and, indeed, many residents are descended from them and quite a few US deserters who settled here during the Vietnam war. The smell of incense and homemade soap and candles wafted out
of tiny shops as we passed by.

A bit later we explored some of the country lanes that wound to the rocky shoreline and peeked out at the bays. The island is covered in forest and you can't see the ocean from the roads. By sheer luck we ended up at the Galiano Cemetery by Georgeson Bay from which point you can see the ferries crossing each other in Active Pass close up.

With the sunshine slanting through the mossy evergreens we came to the cemetery gate and walked down a path flanked by some very old grave stones, as well as some recent ones with fresh flowers. It was beautiful and tranquil. I said, "I would like to be put in a place like this when the time comes." My husband ignored the sentiment because he doesn't like to think about it.

At the end of the point, where the land drops off sharply, several benches look down onto Active Pass. The tide was sluicing through the
channel and around a reef as I heard the first rumble of an approaching ferry. Next came a siren and another answered it. The two ferries passed each other right by us. Had the tide been low, we might have also seen seals on the rocks.

We continued on our way to see Bellhouse Provincial Park and Sturdies Bay from another perspective than the one we have from the inn. We headed for lunch at the Hummingbird Pub, halfway to Montague Harbour. This is funky and friendly with hearty food. By now we were getting used to the servers letting us know that they were out of certain ingredients. Food deliveries come to the island on Fridays and favourites get used up quickly.

There is no public transportation or taxis on Galiano and I was amused that the pub had its own old school bus for fetching customers from their boats anchored in Montague Harbour and returning them after a few pints and dinner. Of course, if you bring your own vehicle over on the ferry this is not an issue. However, many visitors sail in and a few come by float plane....

After lunch we both wanted to visit some of the many art galleries on the island and especially the studio of Eleanor Coulthard at Whaler Bay. Down a narrow lane we went and popped out at the government wharf where the big bay opened up in front of us. Whaler Bay Studio lies just up the hill and Eleanor was painting in the garden. She offered us a cup of tea as she showed us her work in a large open gallery. She told us about the history of the place and the stories behind her mostly watercolours. We fell for a small oil of a sailboat anchored in the bay and bought it. We'd spent about 45 minutes enjoying the experience of meeting such a welcoming artist.

I was captured by the sandstone at the edge of the bays where the currents and tides erode it into shapes. Some are carved with small pockmarks, but others are huge smooth curves and caves. The best can only be reached by sea, but this image gives an idea of how interesting the sandstone looks at low tide.


IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2013. All rights reserved