Friday, July 01, 2011

Oh Canada! (My Top 5 Highlights of Travels in Canada)

Happy Canada Day!

It's no secret that I'm a big huge fan of Canada, and will find any excuse to travel there at the drop of a hat. I've been several times to several parts over the years, and frankly, I've never met a part of Canada I didn't love. But I realized, I've only blogged about it a couple of times since I started this blog in 2006, but it's worthy of so many more articles that I just haven't found time to compose, and photos that I haven't taken time to edit. In fact, the image archives consists of:

*A photo album from my first venture to Canada (Saskatchewan) in 1981 - a couple of quick scans are included in this feature. like the one above from the RCMP Museum.

*Several boxes of slides sitting by the scanner labeled "CAN-Yukon & Northwest Territories", "CAN-Canadian Inside Passage Cruise", and "CAN-Montreal, Quebec"


*CDs from my early days of digital archiving (and early days of motherhood) labeled "CAN-British Columbia" - you'll find more of these later in this feature, but this one of my daughter meeting a carriage pulling horse is a favorite of ours.


*Back-up hard drives with various Canada file folders, including "CAN-Toronto, Ontario".


I keep telling myself one of these days I'll get them all fixed up to present online. Well one of those days has come in the form of a very spontaneous realization that Canada Day is....today!!! So I better get cracking. For starters, I've created a new online gallery of Canada images containing some favorites and several previously unreleased images.

But for this post, I'm going to use more words than images, and tell a few stories.
There are just so many to share of my travels in Canada, and images too, each worthy of their own blog feature. But for the sake of my last-minute effort, here are a few of the more memorable highlights.

These are my TOP 5 highlights of travels in Canada, plus an honorable mention:

Honorable Mention: Frostbite in Edmonton

Yes, you read that right, frostbite. It was my first trip to Canada - I was visiting my sister who married a Canadian hockey player from Regina, Saskatchewan. I flew from a beautiful balmy 80 degrees in San Diego to 40 below in Edmonton, Alberta (where I had to change planes to continue to Regina). It was my very first winter away from home (San Diego), and my first time in snow (real snow with real snowflakes that stayed frozen on the windshield). I had no idea that stepping outside in my warmest California-poser-ski-bunny-fashion-statement-gear would result in mild frostbite on my derrier.
I'm not joking. Here's what happened - I strolled outside of the terminal with my camera determined to check out Alberta's scenery. Within moments a patrol car pulled over and the officer rolled down the window and said "Give your bum a slap, miss". Surprised by this odd run-in with Canadian law enforcement, I did as I was told. "Feel that?", he asked, to which I replied "feel what?". His reply: "Exactly. A minute longer and you'll have no sensation at all back there. It's called frostbite. Now get in the car." So I guess that was my first exposure to both the harshness of Canadian winters, and the kindness of Canadian people. He probably saved my life, and had a good laugh as he did so. He made me laugh too, at myself, and that skill would remain an important one throughout my first Canadian adventure...and the rest of my life for that matter. But this first impression really stuck, and I've never gotten over that Canadian sense of humour (see, I can even spell it in Canadian).

#5 - Becoming a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Yukon

Well, the title tells the story, and I rarely find an audience who want to hear elaborate details, but if you must know more about this concoction, here's an introduction to the Sourtoe Cocktail. And as soon as Captain Dick assembles the comprehensive membership list online, you can look me up. And someone out there has a photograph of the event: I done drank a real Sourtoe Cocktail. Now if that alone doesn't make me an honorary Canadian, well, nothing will. And before you ask, no, there was not a vegetarian toefu option...(ba da boom).

#4 - Skiing in Banff

Remember my sister's husband the Canadian hockey player? Well, he had 6 brothers (and a sister), and they all played hockey (the sister too). They even set up a mini-rink in the backyard and taught us a few moves. Here's me trying to get a puck past my sister:
It was a good laugh for sure, but it was nothing like our big ski trip to Banff.
See, the brothers decided it would be an even better laugh to teach these two Californian sisters how to ski, so we all piled into the van and headed west from Regina. For those who don't know, Saskatchewan is the midwest of Canada. It's flat. Really flat. My sister and I had heard of Banff, but at the time having been subject to our California education system, we were horribly ignorant of Canadian geography. So when these brothers told us we were going to drive to Banff to ski, and it was just down the road, we totally believed them. We were so excited, the ultimate Canadian experience - skiing in Banff - was going to be ours!
We got to the slopes and got all fitted up with boots and skis and such. Now, their idea of teaching us the ropes consisted basically of a "how to catch the ski-tow" exercise, which I passed remarkably well. But when I reached the top of the lift, they were gone, nowhere to be found, and I had to figure out my own way down the mountain. Little did I know they had positioned themselves at various points on the way down to help me along. But I failed to see them. I took to that slope like nobody's business and flew down the hill. Fast. Really fast. I was gleaming in pride and feeling like an Olympic athlete, imagining the crowds roaring as I would swoop to the bottom and apply my Olympic sponsor's chapstick with a big smile as the cameras flashed. But when I noticed the dot of the distant lodge growing bigger and nearer, I realized I hadn't learned one minor detail in the sport of downhill skiing....how to stop.
I didn't even know how to slow down for that matter. Funny, but in that split-second of realization, my whole life flashed in slow motion before my eyes, but my body was going fast. I froze on my skis, but the skis kept moving. I watched the line for the ski-lift part like the red sea and I shot straight through, past the lift station, past the lodge, and somehow ending up in a frozen creek bed with my skis stuck in the bushes. Eventually the Canadian hockey-playing brothers found me, lifted me up, and carried me back to the lodge like some kind of trophy. I've been blessed with many miracles, and this was certainly one of them - I didn't break anything.
Before I knew any better, I was back on that ski-tow. But this time, the brothers gave me a demonstration on zig-zagging to slow down, before they sped off down the hill. So for my second jaunt down the slope, I zigged, fell to my bottom, rested, then zagged, fell to my bottom, and rested. Repeat pattern. I don't remember how long it actually took me to get down the hill, someone said they clocked me at 2 hours 21 minutes, but all the brothers (and even my sister) had passed several times, and I noticed the sun dipping quickly toward the horizon. The fear of frostbite and Canadian law enforcement kicked in, and I finished with a beeline for the lodge, lured by the fire burning inside and the odor of smelly woollen socks roasting away.
It wasn't until I returned home to California and began boasting to everyone that I'd been skiing in Banff when I learned that it was, in fact, a little bunny hill slope in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Damn those Canadians, they pulled one over on me big time. But at least they had the courtesy to send me off with a good story to tell. And there's my Banff Ski story. I haven't been downhill skiing since. Nor have I ever, really, been to Banff. Yet...

#3 - Camping in Ontario

We were living in Chicago in 1997, and Labor Day weekend was fast approaching. That meant 3 whole days to get away from the city and go camping.
We knew we wanted to camp, but we hoped desperately to avoid the crowds of Labor Day weekend which invaded state campgrounds in the midwestern US. Little did we realize that Canada celebrates a similar holiday over the same weekend, only they call it Labour Day.
Well, after we'd lived in Seattle for 3 years and had been in the habit of escaping to British Columbia on a regular basis, when we moved to Chicago, we pretty much followed the same pattern and escaped to Ontario. Canada is Canada, and if it's within reasonable driving distance for a 3-day weekend, we're there.
This particular weekend was memorable for two reasons, neither of them humorous. We never imagined that Canadians could ever possibly be as loud, rude, and obnoxious at campgrounds as Americans, but we were so very wrong (clearly we hadn't seen them lose the Stanley Cup yet). The sound of drunken youngsters breaking beer bottles against boulders and then falling and breaking their own limbs will forever haunt any notion of peaceful camping in a state or provincial park.
The next day found us driving aimlessly throughout lower Ontario in search of any camping spot favored by the slow-moving over-60 retired crowd. We found one, later, but it was that aimless meandering drive that set the stage for one of the most shockingly memorable days I've ever known.
We were driving on this seemingly endless stretch of road through Ontario when I popped the cassette out to change it and the radio popped on - the news: Princess Diana is dead. He slammed on the brakes and pulled over. I burst into tears like I'd lost my own best friend. Neither of us spoke. We sat in shock listening to the radio reports - every now and then he would change the station to see if perhaps we were just imagining it, perhaps the news would be different on AM. No. Every station was reporting the same news: There'd been a car accident, and Princess Diana was dead.
There are certain events in history for which most people remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. For me, this was that event. And I was on an otherwise insignificant road in Ontario.
Well, fate being what it is, eventually I looked up from my soaked tissues to see, just a few yards ahead, the perfect place to camp for the night. That was another miracle - because neither of us were really fit to be driving on .5 hours sleep compounded by the shock of tragic news. To be honest, I couldn't tell you if it really was truly quiet in that campground of retirees and motorhomes, or if I was just completely numb. But I slept deep and long that night.
So that one weekend in Ontario was memorable for both the noisiest and the quietest nights of camping I've experienced. And the news...the shocking news...

#2 - Chasing Bears on Vancouver Island

Well, I've already blogged this up so you can read the full adventure at the link below. But most memorable from this trip was the fact that we were bound and determined to see bears, and did all kinds of fantastic nature and wildlife outings with naturalists in the hopes of catching a glimpse. But alas, our whole time spent scouring the rugged west coast of Vancouver island turned up no bears. Deflated, we packed up and headed out on the long Highway 1 back across the island to catch our flight. Of course, who should appear right on the side of the road casually foraging in the bushes? Yep, a nice big beautiful black bear. We pulled over and took some pictures and video, and then just stared in awe at this beautiful dog-like beast eating dainty little berries. We could hear him munching...tiny little berries...one at a time, actually savoring them, swishing them around with his tongue. It's a sweet sound that I will never forget, and a definite highlight of my travels in Canada. You can read the full adventure, and watch the video, in this post all about Ucluelet, Tofino, and Wickaninish.

#1 - Victoria, BC (anything and everything)



The quaint and beautiful Victoria, BC holds so many memorable experiences that it has earned first place in my Highlights of Canada list. From the first romantic escapade on the Clipper from Seattle - it was my first trip abroad with the man who would eventually marry me - to the many happy returns since with our daughter, Victoria has retained it's romantic charm and character throughout and has just so much to love about it!

Left: Exploring Totems with my daughter. Middle: Arriving in Victoria by float plane. Right: All decked out in her Canadian ROOTS gear.

The Inner Harbour waterfront is intimate and entertaining - we enjoyed watching the float planes take off and land as the cute little water taxi bumps around points in the harbour.
One of my favorite museums is in Victoria - the Royal BC Museum - with fantastic exhibits of natural history and a captivating First Peoples Gallery.
Victoria also has wonderful restaurants - so many delicious and healthy dining venues - as a vegetarian family of 3, there was never a lack of options.
And shopping!!! Government Street is a good bet for both native arts and anything British, of which Victoria is quite fond.
In that regard, it doesn't get any more British than at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, where you can experience a classic afternoon High Tea.
I could go on and on, but perhaps Victoria is my number one Canadian highlight for no greater reason than my own grandmother. It is due to a faded kodachrome slide I found of her as a young woman which really hit home. I had remembered seeing this picture in my childhood, reading the word "Empress", and imagining that my grandmother was a Queen. Now here I was as an adult, going through the slides and diaries she left behind, and finding it again. This slide of my Grandmother, "the Royal Queen of Victoria", sitting in the gardens of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC, 1947.

5 comments:

  1. Great memories! Love the frostbite story - I probably wouldn't have known any better either. I'd love to get to know Canada better - it seems kind of neglected as a tourist destination, and it's really so beautiful.

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  2. Great shots! Happy Canada Day! :)

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  3. Great post. Banff is in my "Top 5" of places I NEED to go.

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  4. Interesting article

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  5. After viewing pics like these, it's difficult to fathom why anyone would want to stay home....ever.

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