Island Time:Vancouver Island N + Quadra

IMG_1249After cruising around Denman and Hornby Islands (see previous blog) we headed north. The road and the vegetation made me feel like we were headed for the Yukon. But this was north on the island. Right after Campbell River there were no more towns, no gas stations, not many side roads. Just a road north. The clouds settled in low and grey. The drizzle was steady. After a few hours we managed a quick picnic at a rest area. We had not seen any stores or restaurants since we left Campbell River so we were glad to have our own food with us. We drove into Port Hardy and I was surprised at what a small town it is. Gas was 15 cents per liter more than down south. We tried a few hotels/motels and all were well over 100.- for a simple room with a bed. After a stop to the local tourist information office, we walked over to a backpackers’ hostel. A private room was 50.-. Good deal. The place was interesting since it was in a converted movie theatre. A hallway, kitchen and rooms had been build in what was the theatre part. Bathrooms had been added and everything was neatly painted and decorated. It was clean and the managers exceptionally friendly. IMG_1239

With a cheap room, we decided we had earned a nice diner in the pub next door: fresh prawn and mango taco’s. IMG_1203

The following day we drove slightly south to the ferry in Port McNeill, a small seaside town. We stopped in a small hamlet on the way,
Fort Rupert, where old totem poles lined the water front. A beautiful First Nations gravesite was full of decaying totems, carved from cedar, with proud ravens and orcas.
Then continued to Port McNeill where we boarded the ferry for a 45 minute ride to Cormorant Island and the tiny town of Alert Bay. IMG_1216This First Nations village has many beautiful totems ranging from new to ancient. We walked along the wooden boardwalk, saw the run down buildings that were a cannery, fishery and net storage. A tiny library, cute shops, even a bannock place. It felt like Alaska or the Yukon. The best place to visit was the impressive Cultural Centre with many masks and other artifacts and films about potlatches. I highly recommend a visit to this remote, unique village.IMG_1209

Back on the main island we drove just minutes out of Port McNeill, down a dirt road, to a newly developed golf/disk golf resort with a small RV park and cabins. The one room cabin we had booked online turned out to be a nice, new and quite large room with a bathroom and sitting area. We enjoyed a glass of wine outside, looking out over the water, a cruise ship chugging by, and Cormorant Island in the distance. Bald eagles glided over and perched in trees around us.

Driving south, the clouds had lifted and the drizzle was replaced by blue sky and sunshine. It seemed a different world. We made our way down the coast to Telegraph Cove. IMG_1260

We had heard a lot about this picturesque village on the northern coast but were quite disappointed. A few buildings were indeed perched on stilts in the water. But not an entire town. The cove itself was chockfull of a marina. The few buildings there seemed to all be part of the same tourist resort. It was nice to see history preserved, with old buildings and wooden boardwalks, and plagues describing the history of the original town. But overall it felt like a tourist trap, not truly worth the drive in and out.
From here we drove south in one stretch, straight to the ferry terminal in Campbell River and from there to Quadra Island, the largest of thIMG_1270e Discovery Islands. We had found it difficult to find much concrete information about facilities and accommodations prior to visiting this island. Even at the ferry terminal we couldn’t find a map for the island. We had made a reservation at a campground. Turned out to be at the Heriot Bay Inn, an old pub and restaurant. The campsites lined the cove, with murky waters but a bustling marina. At $37.- per night this was not great since it felt like a parking lots, with our neighbours less than a foot away when sleeping in our tent. We didn’t use the sewer or power in the site but still had to pay extra for a shower. The pub was fairly noisy at night. If we go again, we would likely try to find a spot at Wewaikai Campground ( which had more attractive coast views and beach access. IMG_1224

We did enjoy driving every road on Quadra, from the lighthouse on the southern tip, through the First Nations village with a cultural centre, having coffee at Café Aroma, browsing at the fabulous bookstore, to exploring the rugged north end. The best part, I think, was hiking Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park, with the sheltered bay on one side and the open waters of the Strait of Georgia on the other. IMG_1237

Island Time: Northern Vancouver Island

IMG_1142IMG_1190We have a week and a half to explore close to home. Often our trips take us across the world. This time, we don’t need to content with carry-on luggage or airports. We simply load up the car and leave home.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are close to some of the world’s most beautiful natural areas. We have seen much of it but have never been to northern Vancouver Island.


Most visitors come to the large island, about the size of The Netherlands, to visit Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. And while this is a gorgeous, friendly city with lots to do, the island has so much more to offer. On a previous trip we took our Westfalia camper through Victoria to Sooke and around the southern tip of the island to Port Renfrew and back to Cowichan. On this trip we saw stately rain forests, bears and isolated beaches.


Cable ferry

We’ve driven through Port Alberni across the island from east to west to visit the small, quaint towns of Ucuelet and Tofino on the breathtaking west coast where surfers roam white beaches and hippies inhabit the coffee shops in town.


Qualicum First Nations Campsite

But this time, we drive north through Nanaimo and Qualicum to our first camping spot on the shore of the Salish Sea: the Qualicum First Nations Campground. This beautiful piece of land along the east coast of Vancouver Island offers many RV sites right along the water. Each site had water and a picnic table, several had sewer service. There were no toilet buildings but a few very clean, odourless port-a-potties did the job. We enjoyed staring over the water and listening to the waves as we fell asleep in our tent.


Only on the islands…

The next morning we packed up and drove north to the ferry to Denman and Hornby Islands. I hadn’t, until then, realized that you need to go to Denman first to get to Hornby. The brand new cable ferry ride took about 20 minutes. The fee of around 40.- was for two people and a car and allows us to stay on either island for as long we like, return fare included.

We decided to work our way back and scooted straight across Denman to Hornby. There we were surprised to find much still closed, even on the last day of May. The pub/restaurant by the ferry landing was closed. The bookstore was closed. And several signs along the way said ‘closed’. We drove several of the few roads on the island and liked what we saw: pastoral farms, very green, forests of tall evergreens and ferns. We found an eclectic cluster of Coop store, coffee shop, craft and clothing shops.



The detailed (free) island map showed a B & B, which did not seem to exist in reality. But a resort which, according to its website, was closed turned out to be open. Moral: don’t believe it until you see it.


Sea Breeze

The resort where we ended up staying two nights because it was so wonderful, is called Sea Breeze:

It offers spacious cottages right along the coast line. We sit on our porch in adirondack chairs to sip our morning coffee. The cottages are very private. Ours has a kitchen and fireplace. At $145.- this was not cheap but the kitchen allowed us to make all of our own meals, which made it the same or less expensive than a B & B room plus having to eat out.

There’s even a very good hot tub to soak in. And on the blustery nights we spent here, we sure enjoyed the fireplace. IMG_1164

We managed to go for a wonderful hike during the only time it rained while we were on Hornby. We did the return Ford Cove to Shingle Spit Trail, about 2.5 KM one way. Gorgeous setting, relatively level and a well maintained trail along the coast, amid towering cedars, ferns and gleaming arbutus. Nice to spot lots of fossil rocks along the way. But no cafe, no patio, no pub on either side. Just a marina at Ford Cove with a little store.

From Horny we drove back to Denman, which is apparently nicknamed ‘Hornby’s speed bump’ since most visitors race across it to reach the ferry to Hornby. To us Denman did indeed seem less attractive. Many of its roads were unpaved and we saw a plethora of signs telling us to “keep out” and “no trespassing”. There were not many services on the island – we did’t find a patio on the water, nor a cute little pub. We did discover a very good coffee shop, well hidden inside the local hardware store! In the back, a secret garden with brand new adirondack chairs invited us to linger. The bookstore next door was open and well stocked with good titles.



A 15 minute ferry ride took us back to the main island and we drove north to Comox, where we had booked a perfect AirBnB: the ground floor of a brand new house. A small living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom offered luxurious bedding and towels and everything we needed in a kitchen including muffins, fruit and coffee. For 75.- this was a perfect find and highly recommended.

Next blog: Port Hardy, Alert Bay and Telegraph Cove



Welcome to Ferry Land: The Southern Gulf Islands

2014-08-26 19.20.40_2PigWar-boundariesMore and more people are discovering Canada’s best kept secret: the jewels that are the Gulf Islands.

If you look at a map of the Pacific Northwest, you will see lots of small islands off the coast of the mainland, both in the US and in Canada.

In the mid 1800’s, a pig caused the border between the two countries to become well defined because neighbors were tired of one farmer’s pigs rooting up their gardens. A clear boundary was drawn which established the San Juan and Gulf Islands. The San Juan’s are the American islands, including Orcas Island, San Juan Island and Lopez Island:

See also our earlier blog:

In Canada the island group is called the Gulf Islands and is separated into southern and northern Gulf Islands. They include islands such as Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne and many more.

IMG_8376Travel between the islands in Canada is made possible by BC Ferries. Even though the ferry is an extension of our highway system, you have to pay dearly to make use of the ferries to reach the islands. But it is worth it. The islands are a truly unique part of Canada, with a feeling more European than North American. There are no straight roads, not even any traffic lights. Patios and funky pubs line the picturesque harbours. You can buy produce from farm stands. Some islands have almost no facilities while others offer a wide range of services, so it pays to do your homework and book ahead.

A BC Experience Card is available to help reduce ferry costs, although many restrictions reply:

The card is only valid for ferry travel between small islands and Vancouver Island, not from or to the mainland, so it is mostly used by those living on the islands. It is used like a kind of debit card by uploading money. It may reduce your fare by some 15%.

You can make reservations on some routes but not on all. On busy summer weekends it pays to have a reservation instead of waiting for 1 or 2 sailings. You can even make reservations if you walk on, without a car.

IMG_8358From the mainland, you travel from Tsawwassen to the Gulf Islands or to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. If you travel via Swartz Bay to one of the smaller islands, you pay a through fare but you do need to tell them your destination. Returning, the same thing goes but it is tricky because you don’t pay for, or even buy, a ticket when you leave a smaller island (you paid a return fare when you came). This means that when you leave i.e. Salt Spring for the mainland via Swartz Bay, you have to buy a ticket from the machine on the boat to prove, once you get to Swartz Bay, that you came from Salt Spring. There you pay the remainder of your fare to the mainland, which is almost half the price of a ticket not originating on Salt Spring.


Trust me, it is very confusing and nowhere on the BC Ferries website is this explained.

But the Southern Gulf Islands are a wonderful place to spend a holiday, whether it is a long weekend, a week or more.

Pender, Galiano, Mayne and Saturna are the smaller, less developed islands where hiking and camping are great activities. There are wineries and coffee shops but not the many services offered as on Salt Spring, the largest Gulf island with wineries, a cidery, many restaurants, patios, and over 30 art studios.

You can learn details about Salt Spring Island’s favourite spots to visit here:

P7180025-1024x768We live on Salt Spring at the edge of Ganges, the main town. We actually run a booklovers’ B & B here called Between The Covers, so you can come and stay with us: or chose from many other B & B’s, 3 small hotels and several cottage resorts or campgrounds.

IMG_8048The islands are often promoted as ‘ideal for cyclists’. I beg to differ. The islands are very hilly with narrow, winding roads and do not offer much of a shoulder. I would rather hike than bike here. There are many good hiking trails all over the islands, with incredible views – close to towns or out in the bush. There is a public transit bus that meets each ferry and can get you around the island. Hitchhiking is also very common and generally safe, on the islands.

Another option to ferries is to come by floatplane. This is a fabulous way to see the Salish Sea. A plane ride from Vancouver Airport (South terminal) is 20 minutes – way too short and oh so gorgeous and convenient. Check out:


In our next blog, we’ll share our adventures on some of the northern Gulf Islands.

Nunavut: Canada’s Cherry on Top

IqaluitTraveling from Canada’s south to Nunavut, its northern most territory, is quite trip. Twice I have been privileged to visit ‘Our Land’ as Nunavut is called in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit.

The first time, Kees and I traveled north together to visit close friends who lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital, for a few years. It was also the year of the Arctic Winter Games being held – a good reason to visit. The second trip was made possible thanks to Canadian Children’s Book Week. During both visits, I conducted readings at schools and libraries. 


The entire light part is Nunavut!

me parka

First I flew to Winnipeg, Manitoba where I stayed overnight. Then on to Churchill, Manitoba the next day. I had no idea the plane would stop there or I would have made plans to spend a day to see the polar bears. Churchill is famous for its many polar bears around and even right in town. As soon as I walked into the small terminal, a lady came up to me and asked “Are you the writer who came to our school in Kimmirut three years ago?” I knew then that I was back in the Arctic, a huge region but so small people-wise! 

I was met in Rankin Inlet by the librarian from the John Ayaruaq Public Library and taken in a taxi to the B & B where I would stay at for three nights, and which was run by Tara Too-Too, an impressive, busy lady. I told her I hoped to see Northern Lights. “They are best above the cemetery behind my house,” she said, “two days after someone dies.” It is an ancient Inuit belief that the Northern Lights are the spirits of the dead.

An hour after I arrived I was at a local coffee house to do some storytelling, a fundraiser for Literacy in Nunavut, coordinated by Michael Kusugak, an Inuit children’s writer and long time friend. Early the next day, we drove out “on the land” – everything outside town is called ‘on the land’, the bare tundra. My hosts showed me that many people in town have a small, square cabin outside town, often near a lake where they go to hunt and fish.

By 1:00 PM I was at the Public Library for a reading. Despite the cold (-30) and howling wind, some 80 children and adults showed up. This being late October, I had brought Halloween candies and a pumpkin (one pumpkin cost $50.- in Rankin since everything here has to be flown in). That night I enjoyed supper of caribou stew and apple pie with Michael Kusugak’s family. Michael picked me up on his dirt bike. There are almost no cars in town, everyone here rides a dirt bike. I had to climb on and huddle behind Michael’s back as we roared across town in the dark and biting wind. He said “We call this a Honda. Even though my Honda is a Bombadier, it is still called a ‘Honda’.” Everyone rides these quads around town until they can ride snowmobiles again. There wasn’t any snow on the ground yet, which worried people. The caribou do not come until the snow comes. me snowmobile

On Sunday I walked around town to take photos and buy a book at The Northern, the local department store where a loaf of bread costs around 7.- Fresh vegetables and fruit are scarce and terribly expensive. I was followed home by puppies that run rampant everywhere. Almost each house has dogs tied up to the piling (houses are built on stilts on top of the perma frost), and a qamutiik, a flat sled, next to it. Of course I bumped into people I knew (from the Coffee House) who walked back with me to buy some of my books.snowmobileOn Monday I do two readings in Simon Alaittuk School. The kids are keen and enthousiastic. The odd thing is that no one told me what time my presentations would start. Preparing for my presentations, I kept emailing and asking what time I needed to be there. Each time the answer was “When you get here…” The time frame up north is wonderfully relaxed. I started my presentation once I was all set up and my projector was plugged in. Then they called the kids down. I’m so used to rushing, racing to get it all done in time or the kids are already waiting. This was a great way to do it! I never once felt rushed or harried.

Later, Michael Kusugak picked me up on his Honda for a tour out on the land. I borrowed snow pants, a furlined parka, wore my hat, scarf, gloves and mitts. But it was still very cold. The ride, behind Michael’s sheltering back, was very, very bumpy across the rocky tundra. No snow to smooth out the bumps. My teeth clattered and my hat kept falling over my eyes. I couldn’t let go of my hand grips… But it was an experience of a lifetime so I savoured it all. We spotted a snowy owl, a flock of pure white ptarmigan and a peregrine falcon on its nest. What an impressive, haunting land. Small inukshuks guided us along the way. An inukshuk is the figure of a person, made out of rocks. With no sense of depth and no landmarks in the snow covered tundra, these can be life saving, if stony, figures.


People do not live in igloos anymore but they still have the skills to build them.

I was glad to know that Michael (whose original Inuit name is Arvaarluk) knows this land like no other. He told me how he remembers when white people first came and told him that he had to pick a last name. They also assigned him a Christian name. He remembers living in a sod hut in summer when his family followed the caribou. The Inuit lifestyle had remained untouched for centuries until the 1960’s. When I visited Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, Inuit people had built a traditional igloo. We were able to go inside, sit on the icy sleeping platform and smell the distinct odor of the burning seal oil lamp inside. We also watched traditional Inuit games such as one foot high kick and bone games. 



I had dinner of arctic char with my new Rankin friends. The whole town is out trick & treating! Halloween is a big thing here. On the news on TV I saw a report of Halloween in Churchill, where my plane had stopped. Here people parked all available cars in a tight circle around the town, headlights shining out onto the land. This was done in hopes of keeping the polar bears out of town so that the children could safely go door to door…


On Tuesday I do three presentations in Leo Ussak Elementary School. The children are very keen and excited by my books. But the biggest hit is when I show them what else I brought: a large bag full of wet fall leaves. I gathered brown and yellow maple leaves before I left home. Their reactions, as I pull a leaf out of the bag, bring tears to my eyes. “I have never seen a leaf!” 12 year old Mary whispers, holding out her hand to touch the leaves. They are passed around by the Grade Six students as if they were precious jewels. Big, tough boys put their nose down on the leaves to inhale the smell.

After school I fly to Baker Lake, Nunavut. There are no security checks up north, no assigned seating on the planes. You just take what you need and get on. When I walk up to the counter in the terminal, Adam, the son of the people I just had dinner with, works there. He hands me my boarding pass. No name asked. Then he walks me to the plane. I’m the only passenger tonight. The run way is unpaved gravel. It’s a short 40 minute flight across dark, frozen tundra.

On my previous visit to Nunavut, I flew to Kimmirut, a tiny community on Baffin Island. The 6 seater plane buzzed over the school to alert the principal that I had arrived. He jumped on his snow mobile to pick me up at the little airport. I am thankful here that I don’t wear skirts or high heels…

nunavut girls While in Kimmirut I was invited to the home of an elder. They had just hunted a polar bear. Would I like to come and see them skin it? It was a cultural event to see the ladies sitting on the kitchen floor with their traditional ulu knives, daftly separating the thick fur from the polar bear’s flesh.

It is still dark when I climb on the back of a Honda dirt bike. Huddling behind Sue, the public librarian, I try to keep my scarf and hood around my face to protect me from the biting wind. Tied to the front of her dirt bike is a cardboard box holding my books and equipment. We make our way down the main road of Baker Lake along the shore of the frozen lake. People wave. They all know that the stranger in town is here to tell stories in the Library. It’s been on the radio many times. The radio here is used like a telephone and a message board. A song will be playing when suddenly the phone rings. “Hello?” says the announcer. And someone may say “This is Johnny. Can Marie please come see me?” And he hangs up. The song continues. Then the phone rings again. It is Sue announcing that I will be speaking at the Library tomorrow night. The song continues for a minute but is once again interrupted by the phone. George Kavaluq has a washing machine for sale…. The radio is still the heartbeat of the north.

North book

One of my picture books

My presentations take place in Rachel Arngnammaktiq Elementary School. Maggie, the only teacher/librarian in all of Nunavut, has prepared the students well. They are keen and curious, excited to meet the Kabloonaq (white) visitor. Maggie has been reading to them and, even though books are not part of their cultural heritage, the children love stories. 

Last night I saw dancing Northern Lights. Now a low northern sunrise paints the lake and land soft pink. There is snow on the ground here, in Baker Lake. I briefly visit four high school classes. I meet an elder who makes paintings, spend an hour in the local heritage centre to learn about Inuit history and buy a soapstone carving. I’m told that the Inuit know that white people like to barter. But they don’t always understand the concept. “It is 50 or 60 dollars” they will tell you. You decide.

Dinner is caribou stew at Maggie’s house with many friends. Then I do a presentation in the library where lots of keen kids and adults show up and stay for more than two hours, wanting to know all about my stories. Until quite recently, the Inuit led a nomadic lifestyle. This did not allow for a house full of books. They have no reading background or tradition. But they do know storytelling and treasure it!arctic On Friday morning the taxi arrives at 7 AM. We asked for a taxi to “Sue’s place.” Even though there are some 1500 people in town, the taxi drivers know all houses by name. There are no street addresses. Each house has a bright red lamp burning out front. If the light goes out, it is a signal to the water truck to come and refill the water tank.

I fly to Arviat, Nunavut where the public librarian and a teacher are waiting for me on dirt bikes. I leave my suitcase at the airport, just somewhere in a corner. One presentation in Levi Angmak Elementary School. In the afternoon I talk at the Donald Suluk Public Library. In between the librarian takes us home for a wonderful lunch which includes milk and fresh vegetables. Her husband keeps looking out the window to see if there might be a polar bear out on the ice. I am send home with a large, frozen arctic char. When I get to the airport, my suitcase is already on the plane (they knew it was mine!) but they retrieve it so I can stuff my arctic char in the front pouch so it will stay frozen.Nunavutartist

Then I say goodbye to the north… this strange, wonderful, mystic, frozen land full of warm people, warm smiles and kind friends. I hope to return some day but for now, I take memories and gifts back to the south. “Ma’na” (thank you in Inuktutut).
If you would like to learn more about the Inuit, there is a wonderful picturebook co-authored by Simon Tookoome (an elder from Baker Lake) and Sheldon Oberman. THE SHAMAN’S NEPHEW. I highly recommend it!

Check out Michael Kusugak’s books and CD’s, which include stories and throat singing:

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous: Canada’s Warm North

What to pack for -30 to +30?

To prepare for our trip to the Middle East, I bought a new backpack very similar to this one. I know we are going to do a lot of hiking so this will come in handy. It is quite light. The front pouch zips off to become a smaller daypack that I can also take as cabin luggage. It has a nice computer compartment and strap. The main pack zips open like a suitcase and hold the clothes with straps, so I don’t need to stuff clothes in. In the bottom pouch I can easily fit shoes since I don’t need to carry a sleepingbag.

This turned into a kind of crazy trip. It started out as a commitment with a dear friend to go back to the Yukon for Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Then an invitation to speak at a major literacy conference in Toronto got added to the trip. Followed by library reading in Ottawa.
Since I was then half way to Europe, I decided to just keep going east: Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and more.

Rendezvous is the Yukon’s winter festival. It celebrates the Gold Rush and is intended to drive away the winter blues. But it can well be 20, 30 or 40 below zero! Yikes. After this, in Israel, it might be in the mid 20’s C. So what do I pack in the way of clothing? I also know that I will be hiking, trudging through snow and a speaker at a conference and in libraries. Yikes again!

The solution: I selected a tattered suitcase on wheels. It still works perfectly well but I have nicer ones so that I can leave this one behind after my first two weeks of cold climate and speaking engagements. I packed it with a wool sweater, a fleece jacket, Rendezvous clothing (even a big old hat with roses on it!), wool socks, and more. All stuff that is still presentable but with which I am ready to part. I will take it all to a Toronto thrift shop when the time comes. I also went to a local thrift store and found a perfect pair of black boots, fur lined. They were 2.- and will be warm enough in the Yukon and then I will re-donate them.

A ziplock bag with first aid things and toiletries is in the backpack. Some small gifts for hosts along the way. I downloaded several new books on our iPad and am taking 3 novels that I can part with when I finish them.

Other than that there are 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of capris and some lightweight, wrinkle free tops. A cardigan, a blouse that can be worn as jacket and a tiny fold-up hairdryer. One pair sandals, one pair dressier shoes. A feather-light silk jacket which I can wear even on jeans and will look dressy. Two scarves. A rainjacket which I will wear over the fleecy in the Yukon and by itself in Israel. Oh, and a bathing suit.
And that’s about it. After all, I will need to carry it all along our long distance hiking trails.

Yukon. The name alone evokes images of vast, frozen wilderness. Of cloud shrouded peaks, wolves hauling at the Northern Lights and ribbons of frozen river. But there is much more to this northern land that borders Alaska, the North West Territories and the Beaufort Sea. 4fedb-64280-004-b5cb2313

When my family and I moved here, in 1983, it was an isolated land of resilient people. We drove several days north of Edmonton. The trees became thinner, sparser. When we finally spotted Whitehorse on the east of the Alaska Highway, we could have easily missed it entirely and ended up in Alaska. But we drove down toward the Yukon River and embraced the town that was to be our home for 9 years. It has been the easiest place I’ve ever lived (and I’ve moved 27 times!) to make friends. Because most people came from somewhere else.

Back then, Whitehorse did not have much to offer in the way of modern conveniences. There was a supermarket but bulk items were expensive because they were flown up or trucked up the Alaska Highway. There weren’t many restaurants, leave alone many coffeeshops. Now Whitehorse has two Starbucks, McDonalds and a plethora of box stores, including Walmart. It also has four airlines servicing the town, including a direct flight to Germany.

More than a hundred years ago, in 1897, gold was discovered in this sparsely populated, northern land. The ensuing Gold Rush brought people and awareness. It was the rugged ones that came. And stayed. It was the tough men and women who left the south to carve out a living in the north. They built log houses, hunted and trapped. They interacted with, and learned from, the First Nations people who lived here and knew how to survive in this harsh environment.

And, slowly, more came. A service industry sprang up. Mining. Logging. A school here, a hospital there. A store, a service station, an airport. Slowly, towns were born and grew up. Paddlewheelers connected towns via rivers. The First Nations people’s lives changed as they came into contact with the new settlers. Much of their culture was threatened, and then revived. Costumes, dancing, fur and beadwork mingled with French trappers, saloons, and dog sledding to form an intriguing, northern flavour.

Now, Yukon has its very own, distinct culture. It is a land like no other. A haunting land that gets under your skin and never leaves. Currently, the territory’s population is roughly 35,000 people. Some 27,000 of these live in Whitehorse, the capital city. That leaves 8,000 people spread out across 482,443 km² (186,272.28 ml²). Some towns boast 52 inhabitants. Whitehorse has all the modern conveniences of a southern city. Some better, like the incredible Canada Games Center, hosting an Aquatic Centre comprised of a 25 meter pool with 8 lanes, a leisure pool with water features and lazy river, an indoor waterslide, a hot tub, a steam room and a sauna. It has an NHL sized arena  as well as an Olympic sized arena and leisure ice for recreational skating. There is a Fieldhouse with artificial turf flooring, a Flexihall with sprung hardwood flooring, which accommodate a wide variety of indoor sports, a Wellness Centre and Studio. A 215m Indoor walking and running track circumnavigates the entire centre while parents can drop off kids at a Child Play Area with indoor playground. There are Meeting rooms to accommodate both business and social gatherings, Food services, Physiotherapy services and a Yukon Family Literacy Centre. Adult admission for all this? $7.50.

Combine this with northern allowances, seniors’ and other special services, and Yukon has morfed into an attractive place for families to live. And in this climate, they deserve all the facilities they can get.

Being back in Whitehorse for a visit, I rekindled old friendships, saw the house we built, the school my kids attended, and many other familiar places. I walked down the street in -30 weather with a howling wind that made it much colder and was reminded of why we moved south. I stayed in a wonderful B & B called Historic House B & B:
The house is in downtown Whitehorse and allowed us to walk to many places. But the best part if that we have the entire house to ourselves. My friend Gwyn and I feel like two spinster teachers, coming home to make a roaring fire in the woodstove. We huddle by the fire in our pj’s at night and watch the starry skies from our window. We were delighted to discover that this 2 storey clapboard house was built in 1907 as home for the real Sam McGee and his family. How cool is that?

I visited to the Takhini Hot Spring for a soak in hot, natural water while my hair froze. I watched the last mushers of the famous Yukon Quest come in. The Yukon Quest is known as one of the toughest dogsled races in the world. It runs more than one thousand miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon and mushers and dogs spend some eight days on the trail.

But the real reason I came was to participate, once more, in Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous: a warm festival in a cold land!

Winter in Yukon. The first snow might have come in September. The snow and cold definitely stayed after October. The sun barely makes an appearance. You’ve been living in a dark, frozen land for several months now.

In December you had Christmas get-togethers and it wasn’t so bad. But January was long, dark and cold. You know that Spring will be on its way but it will be at least two, perhaps three more months of winter. You need to lift your spirits. But how?
Let’s party! February is time for a winter carnival: Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous! Reenacting the colorful Klondike history of gold miners, this a period for everyone to come out of hibernation, to celebrate the present, the past and the future.  Starting in 1945, Yukoners have embraced their unique winter celebration. Local businesses and banks began to decorate their premises and the streets in the style of 1898 to “give visitors a hearty welcome and assure them a rollicking good time”. A parade was organized, contests and even a Queen of the Carnival. In 1947 the Whitehorse Winter Carnival saw the introduction of the beard contest with these rules:
 Beards must appear below the mouth from January 1 to February 23, 1947. 
• Age limit: All men under 50 years of age must grow a beard, but we except (sic) all contestants over this age limit and welcome them into the contest. 
All personnel in uniform, such as the Canadian Army, the R.C.A.F, R.C.M.P., Customs, are exempt due to regulations beyond our control.  All ministers are exempt.  All individuals directly handling food products, such as cooks, waiters, butchers, etc., are exempt.
The Keystone Kops started patrolling the city and “fining” citizens, the money used for a good cause. In 1962 things really heated up. The Carnival was named the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival:
“It is a gathering of Northern people to let off steam generated during the long, dark days of winter. It is a preamble to the busy days of spring and summer. It is a time for remembering this territory’s history and the strength of its pioneer people. It is a salute to the past and a bright eye on the future. The Sourdough Rendezvous is a gathering of the community’s talent and skill. An assembly of the area’s high spirits.”

Dogsled races were added and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous became a major component. It might be -40 outside but an Ice Fishing Contest, Ice Sculpture Contest and Ice Car Speed Races drew lots of participants. A popular event was flour packing. This reenacted the weight gold rushers had to carry across the Chilkoot Pass. They packed flour sacks on their backs, hung from a large metal contraption on Main Street and tried to stagger under its weight.  500 pounds in a tie, in 1964, between Jim MacCormick and Danny Jackson. Mukluk races, snowshoe races, pulling a train, even chucking chainsaws expand the array of wild and weird contests. My favorite: a hairy leg contest – for women only. Can-can dancers liven up the evenings in local pubs and the temperatures rise.
As Rendezvous’ popularity increased, more winter visitors came to Whitehorse. When I lived here, the Queen Contest was expanded from ‘young gorgeous girls only’ to include married women and anyone who wanted to have fun while supporting the community spirit. I joined, with several friends, as Miss Chocolate Claim.
What fun we had wearing ’98 outfits, hats with roses – attending teas and holding a period fashion show. Prominent older couples were named as Mr & Mrs Yukon.

Coming back this year it is fun to see even more new events. Where else but in the Yukon do they have a frozen turkey bowling contest. Can you just picture it?
Right on Main Street!
We watched snowshoe dancers, an ice sculpting contest and listening to the ever popular Gillian Campbell, grand dame of the Gold Rush. This truly is a warm festival in a cold land. Long may Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous live!

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Where to Stay in Vancouver, BC

Vancouver B.C. is a gorgeous city, in as far as cities can be gorgeous. Usually I stay with friends but this time we needed a different place to stay. I spent many nights googling for just the right spot. Didn’t want to spend a fortune but wanted a clean place in a good location that offered:
a) a kingsize bed
b) free parking and
c) free wifi.

I find that often the cheaper hotels (Motel 6 up to Best Western) offer free wifi but the high end hotels charge more for wireless in your room. I refuse to pay extra for wireless…

Free parking turned out to be non existing in Vancouver – costs ranged from 15.- to 25.- per night extra to park your car in their garage.
Kingsize beds are hard to find in this kingsize city – at least in any hotels that are under 200.- per night. If you do not worry about a budget, The Granville Island Hotel is an awesome place to stay, overlooking False Creek and right on artsy Granville Island:

But I do worry about my budget. So, after perusing Orbitz, Travelocity, Travelzoo, and sites like this, I started from google maps – focused in on downtown and told it to “search nearby”. I found a B&B that had the answers.
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Granville B&B is a gorgeously renovated mansion right along Granville (and 35th ave). The house was sufficiently sound proof not to hear the traffic too much, although we had a room in the back. Not sure how noisy the front rooms are.
Beautiful, high end furnishings and decorations. No costs were spared when building this home: deep tub, his and hers sinks, beautiful bedding, white fluffy towels. Everything spotless.
And while there was lots of privacy (you receive a code to get in when you arrive) the lack of personal contact was a bit.. well.. impersonal. It’s more like a hotel than a B&B.
Breakfast was nice but meagre: juice, good coffee, choices of cereals and fruit. One slice of french toast. OK but not the abundance that one might expect at $125.- per night.
But with parking included this was one of the best deals, in a comfortable, clean environment, that I could find in Vancouver.

Smart Travel Tip: coming from mild Salt Spring Island, we did not have a windshield scraper in the car but found a frosty car outside . Using a credit card type card (I used my library card) works wonders to get ice from the windshield!

A Harrison Hot Spring Getaway

Looks idyllic, doesn’t it? It’s that – and more.
We are spending two nights at Harrison Hot Springs Resort. Not a bad way to spend a few days of January – soaking up the hot minerals and strolling through the small, mostly deserted resort town.
The hotel has newer wings and an old heart. In previous years we’ve stayed in the newer, more modern rooms which, sometimes, even have heated bathroom floors. This time we’re in the old part, the floors creak but it does elude more charm – reminiscent of days when people flocked to the resort town to soak in the hot springs.
If you do come all the way here to stay, it is nice to stay in the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel itself which is the only hotel that offers 3 pools of (the original hot springs) hot mineral water. The lap pool is slightly warm, the children’s pool is warmer and the adult soaking pool is really warm!
There are several other local hotels which are nice and have views of the lake, but without access to these pools. The local public pool is, of course, open to anyone even if you are just in town for the day.

The hotel has changed since the ‘good old days’: there’s WIFI and gift shops. But even those have their charm.
We had a nice dinner in The Black Forest Restaurant in town.
My favorite gift store is closing, which is too bad but I am enjoying the 50% off prices while I’m here. We’ll also stock up on the local specialty: hazelnuts straight from the orchard.

I highly recommend a few days at Harrison. It’s an easy drive from the ferries and the Vancouver area. The hot water is divine, the hotel luxurious and the views… amazing when the sun broke out today to reveal snowcapped mountains surrounding the lake. Only problem is: the days are too short to do all the things I wanted to do while we’re here!

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