An October 2006 trip
to Canada by Peter Reed
Quote: Toronto, Niagara, the Rockies and Vancouver by car, plane, train and boat.
Hotel | "Cecile's House"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 26, 2006
Cecile's House B & B
156 Gate Street
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 26, 2006
122 Simcoe St.
Victoria, British Columbia V8V1K4
(250) 383 0068
We stayed at the Days Hotel and Conference Centre downtown. The location was very good being within walking distance of major sights as well as into Cabbagetown. Of course a must in the city is a trip up the CN Tower. However, as we were on the fringes of a hurricane way out East, the weather left something to be desired. On the ground downtown is a mass of skyscrapers casting shadows over the streets. But from the Tower it was possible to look down on the skyscrapers and the seemingly toy cars and trains below.
Back on the ground we took to the water for a tour of the waterfront and on to the quiet of Toronto Island. Being September, any attractions were closed but that enhanced the enjoyment for those wanting tranquility after the bustle of the city. Of course, the flowers, fountains, squirrels and geese were in evidence. Our other escape from the city came with a stroll into Cabbagetown with its tree-lined avenues and Riverside Park.
An advantage of the Days Hotel was the availability of the car hire desk and garage on the premises. Thus we set off to drive around the edge of Lake Ontario to Niagara. We had been warned of the commercialization of the town attached to the Falls and opted instead for a night at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is reputed to be the prettiest town in all of Canada and it was easy to see why with its flower bedecked streets and attractive houses, shops and avenues. No high-rise here.
But, of course, the reason for our visit was the Falls. A pleasant drive alongside the river and within half-an-hour there they were in all their majesty. You’ve all seen pictures of the Falls but nothing quite prepares you for the magnificence and power as you stand beside the mammoth cascades. And even more so for the Trip Behind the Falls where you can stand almost underneath the thundering water. Not to be missed is the Maid of the Mist as you sail ever closer to the torrent. Again the weather could have been kinder – no helicopter trips, cloud cover too low. But what an abundance of colour in the gardens alongside the Falls – no doubt due to the micro climate produce by the constant spray. They were right about the town – no low-rise there.It was in Niagara-on-the-Lake that we had one of the best meals throughout our stay in Canada. It was at the Olde Angel Inn, much like an English pub. The NY Prime Rib was exceptional.
On the way back to Toronto Airport we called at the charming Ontario Wine Country village of Jordan with its mix of galleries, boutiques, and historic houses. Just along Main Street could be found the Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty with its recollections of the Mennonite settlers. A real find was the Heritage Gift Shop run entirely by volunteers with a large choice of locally made jams and fudge. What a surprise that the volunteer who served us noted that her mother came from Wigan in the UK – about 15 miles from our home of Preston.
Big blip. After searching the Internet for a B&B, I discovered this delightful property with a garden sloping down to decking overlooking the Bow River. Along River Ridge was an apt description. We had visions of sitting on the decking sipping a little of what we fancy. www.alongriverridgebb.com.
First of all finding the place. I had carefully printed off directions off multimap and handed them over the chief navigator. Memo: believe the directions and listen to "her who must be obeyed". Believing "this can’t be right" I took matters into my own hands and turned down what I thought was the right direction – big mistake. Now, just a warning about streets in Calgary – many are split with large gaps in between. Thus we eventually found 52nd Street NW only to discover we were in the wrong bit of it. A kind lady – not surprised to find more lost souls in her street – gave us the directions and we finally arrived at Along River Ridge. Ready to sit on the terrace overlooking the river? No chance it was pouring and the temperature had dropped to 4°C. According to our genial host it had been a balmy 30°C the previous week.
Inside the B&B was charming. The 3 rooms rather small and very cluttered. However, the guest lounge was large enough for a pool table as well as comfortable chairs and again plenty of clutter. There was even a hot tub. Throughout the lounge area could be found containers of sweets. Breakfast was excellent. A short drive away was a large Mall with the highly recommended Moxies Classic Grill where we had a very good meal before returning to the B&B to socialize with the other guests. Due to the poor weather we didn’t linger in Calgary but hit Highway 1 towards the Rockies.
On recommendation of the Haskells at the Calgary B&B, we diverted from Highway 1 to call at Cochrane where one could be mistaken for having come into a Western Town with its quaint stores. It was in one of these that Kath eventually succumbed to the cold weather and bought a hat, scarf, and gloves.
And so on to Canmore for a brief stop before heading north past Banff to Lake Louise village for a night at the Mountaineer Lodge. Here another lesson in taking advice; the receptionist who recommended a restaurant across the road by the petrol station. But browsing through the village square we opted for a first floor restaurant – another big mistake – that was the worst meal we had in all of Canada. Breakfast at the recommended restaurant was great and we wished we had dined there.
A short drive took us to Lake Louise itself with the hoards of trippers. Having seen numerous photographs of the Lake we were somewhat disappointed with view from ground level. Obviously most of the poster shots were taken from the upper floors of the Chateau Lake Louise. A short drive away is Lake Moraine which we preferred if only because there were fewer visitors. The scenery was spectacular although it was easy to see why it is sometimes called brooding.
Back to join Highway 93 – the Bow River Parkway which becomes the Icefields Parkway- but don’t forget to get your National Park Pass at the toll booths. We found ourselves in the wrong lane and missed the booths only to be stopped at a check point further on. Earlier in the week there had been an early snowfall and whilst it had cleared from the road and lower slopes there was more of the white stuff on the mountains than might have been expected in September. All of which made for a more spectacular journey as 93 wound its way northwards between the towering peaks.
We soon came to the two lakes which we considered were the best of the whole trip. Firstly Bow Lake with the scree which seemed to slide down into the water and the Num-ti-jah Lodge for a chance to slake one’s thirst. From there it was up and over the 2000 metre Bow Pass and on to Waterfowl Lake where the water was so still it acted as a perfect mirror for Mt. Chephren and the clouds in the azure blue sky.
Another word of warning here: gas stations are very rare along the parkway. As we passed the Saskatchewan River crossing, a sign warned that the next petrol point was 153 km away in Jasper. Time to fill up. On a perfect sunny, windless and almost cloudless day this was ideal for a visit to the Icefields Centre and an excursion to the Athabasca glacier in one of the Sno-Coaches with its giant 7ft wheels. This is the continental divide from where the waters uniquely flow in three directions: east to the Atlantic, west to the Pacific and North to the Arctic. The idea had been to head all the way to Jasper but time was going on and the Sunwapta Falls resort provided us with an overnight stop. The wooden cabins came complete with a log fire.
A short walk away are the Sunwapta Falls where the Chaba and Athabasca valleys join to provide a spectacular waterfall that cascades into a deep limestone gorge. Another 24 kms and the Athabasca Falls present more breathtaking views as the water rages over rocks and into the narrow gorge. Back to the 93 and a short drive brought us to Jasper. What a beautiful city – again we are blessed with clear blue skies as we survey the attractive gardens and surrounding mountains. With no accommodation booked a call at the Info centre took us to the delightful Italianate mansion of Aldo and Shirley Leonardi just two blocks from the centre.
The L&W restaurant provided us with ample refreshment from their extensive menu of homemade past, seafood, steaks, Greek specialities, and so on. Heading back down the Parkway the next day we found ourselves running behind time and rang from Lake Louise to our pre-booked accommodation at the Squirrels Nest in Banff only to be told that we had been double booked but he had found another B&B nearby. Having spent considerable time before leaving the UK searching the net for the type of B&B we wanted, we liked to choose those with a guest lounge where we could meet other guests. The Squirrels Nest seemed ideal and their website suggested a very family orientated establishment. Thus it was something of a disappointment to be shunted off elsewhere. The Carriage House was very charming as also was our hostess, Betty, but no guest lounge and thus had no chance to meet other guests. The breakfasts – served in our room – were delightful and as we were departing early on the last morning, she provided us with essentials in the fridge the night before.So ended our car trip in the Rockies but expectation was high for the next stage – The Rocky Mountaineer.
Billed as "The Most Spectacular Train Trip in the World", it was everything we hoped for. We had "Gold Leaf" service with seats in the dome so we had a 360° view of the snow-capped mountains, the pine-clad valleys, and the jade green waters rushing through the passes. From Banff the first landmarks were Mount Rundle followed by Castle Mountain and on to the spiral tunnels which were constructed in 1907 to reduce the gradient from 4.5% to 2.1%. The Kicking Horse Pass is so named because in the 19th century Sir James Heaton, while surveying the route, was knocked out for several hours by a kick from his mount. The pass and canyon are favourite spots for white-water rafting.
Onwards through the deep valleys and the Columbia Mountains where the danger of avalanches is ever present. The 5-mile Connaught Tunnel protects the railway for some of the journey before reaching the Rogers pass after which the route follows the banks of the Anderson River before reaching Craigellachie – the spot where the last spike of the trans-Canada Railway was driven in 1885. Nearby we pass the town of Sicamous. An odd name you may think but the story goes that during the construction of the railroad, the workers camped out here and the only food they had was moose so by the time they had finished they were said to be sick o’ moose! Alongside the Sushwap Lake it becomes clear why this is know as the houseboat capital of Canada. Around the 1,000 mile coast are over 300 houseboats. By the railway line can be seen bald eagle nests on top of the telegraph poles. However the phone companies have built special poles with flat tops to discourage the use of their poles which become difficult to maintain with an eagle on top.
Shortly after is the site of the Great Train Robbery where Billy Miner and his gang had their last robbery netting the grand total of $15 and a handful; of liver pills. They were soon caught by theMounties. A night stop followed in Kamloops. The following morning we headed for Vancouver. The Thompson River starts at the beautiful 25-mile long Kamloops Lake. The scenery changes dramatically along this route as we head for Ashcroft, one of the driest places in Canada. The terrain becomes desert like with one sage bush as vegetation.
Following the Thompson River we pass through the Jaws of Death Gorge and on to Rainbow Canyon so called because the minerals in the rock reflect a rainbow of colours. At Lytton, the Thompson and Fraser rivers join where can be seen the clear distinction of the muddy Fraser and the clear Thompson. Now alongside the Fraser River we approach the Cisco crossings with the orange bridge and its 425ft arched span. Further on is Hell’s Gate at the narrowest part of the Fraser. On we roll past the townships of Yale, Hope, Chilliwack and on to Vancouver. A word about the service on the Rocky Mountaineer – excellent. Breakfast and Lunch are served in two sittings on the lower deck giving travelers a chance to swap tales over a meal while the spectacular scenery flashes past the window.
A beautiful city spoilt by the many undesirables wandering the streets harassing passers-by. We made our base at Days Inn Downtown – an ideal location being just near Canada Place and the harbour with the large cruise liners berthed alongside. Around the corner at the junction of Burrard Street and W. Hastings filming of the Fantastic Four was taking place which added interest to a stroll to Canada Place. The Steamtown Brewery at the approach to Gastown provided ample refreshment pleasantly served while further along the crab cakes and chowder went down a treat at the Water Street café situated right by the famous steam-driven Gastown clock. As is our custom in a city we took the tour bus as a means of orientating ourselves. Driving down Robson Street we entered the jexel in Vancouver’s crown – Stanley Park.
From the drop-off at the Rose Garden we spent the rest of the day wandering around the vast acres – although we did take a shuttle tour to save our legs for a while. Blessed with glorious weather, we lost ourselves in the interior wooded areas until eventually we found Beaver Lake and then strolled on to the Totem Poll park Nearby, what should be taking place but a game of cricket – just right for a rest for an Englishman while my wife dived into the souvenir shop. Back near the entrance to the Park is the Lost Lagoon with the fountain which plays periodically for about 10 seconds. Flocks of birds of various species fly in and out or just laze around the edge and along the path we encountered several raccoons.
Having spent the day around the Park, we reckoned we would have been better just using the local bus to get there and back. The second day we made more use of the tour bus and were fortunate to have a real character by the name of Phil driving and giving the commentary. His accent seemed to indicate Australian ancestry, but it turns out he was from Southend in the good old UK. As he said when he first came to Vancouver nobody could understand his Essex twang so he changed it! His sense of humour added to the enjoyment of the tour – e.g. commiserating with a fellow stood outside a fashion store on Robson St. while his wife was inside – with the credit cards! We stopped off at English Bay and wished we had booked our stop-over there. Glorious sunshine again, blue sea, busy beach, boats in the Bay, altogether a great setting.
An amble through Granville Market took us to the False Creek Ferries for a sail to the large golf ball that signifies the Science World museum. We headed the short distance to Union Station to book on Greyhound to Whistler for the next day and had one of those experiences that you always remember about a holiday. A beautiful Sunday afternoon, many people about including families and then – the drug fuelled menaces. One made a lunge at my wife before diverting his attention to a family with young children – a totally unpleasant event and one that has tinged our memory of Vancouver along with further hassle experienced downtown with beggars and scroungers. Many homeless could be seen at all hours pushing shopping trolleys laden with their belongings – whilst not causing problems, it is not the sort of sight one expects in such a beautiful city.
A coach and ferry trip took us to our final destination and, probably, the best B&B we stayed in throughout the holiday. The coach took us from the ferry to the bus station in Victoria from where the map seemed to suggest only a short walk to the B&B. No need for a taxi. Oops! Not a good idea when dragging two heavy suitcases – it must have taken the best part of half-an-hour to reach Heathergate House in Simcoe Street. But what a lovely greeting from Ann Easton – "You’ve walked with those cases!!! You must be ready for a cup of tea." Afternoon tea soon provided in their delightful guest lounge along with home-made cakes and cookies. Ned & Ann were always on hand with advice on places to go, eating out, local transport, etc.
After recovering, we strolled down to Fisherman’s Wharf with the floating houses where a couple of seals were being fed by passers-by. Then on one of those cute little ferries across the harbour to the centre of town close by the beautiful ivy-clad Empress Hotel. Scurrying across the harbour every few minutes could be heard and seen the float planes landing and taking off on their flights to Vancouver or Seattle or further north on Vancouver Island. What a pleasant contrast to the vast metropolis of Vancouver. Pleasant streets with few high-rise buildings and even fewer vagrants. It was a pleasure to wander, window shop and occasionally pop into the Inuit shops to see the craftsmanship.
Thanks again to Ann for recommending the Harbour House restaurant with the elegant waiters and superb food.Day 2 in Victoria saw us take a bus up to Butchart Gardens for a delightful couple of hours or more wandering round the colourful grounds with the fountains and different themed areas – Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian etc., etc.Then back to the harbour to join another of the ferries for a gorge trip past the industrial part of the city and on past the mansions and expensive houses along the tree-lined waterfront.
For our last night on Canadian soil we ventured into town to the Sticky Wicket Pub & Restaurant for a meal beneath the photos of many cricket legends. Finally we enjoyed another cruise on the ferry back to the mainland and on to the airport for the flight back to Manchester.