A May 2007 trip
to Vancouver Island by moatway
Quote: The island is more than Victoria. It is high mountains and beautiful sea.
Most of the island’s activity is on the island’s east coast. We were most surprised by the geography of the island as we drove north. Sticking to the coastline as much as possible (trying to avoid the four lane), we were pleasantly surprised by the wide sweeps of sandy beaches on our right, and on our left there were snow-covered mountains. We took time to have lunch at the Beach House Café and sat in the sun on their patio on beautiful Qualicum Beach. Who would have guessed that you would find a restaurant with an inventive German menu and Warsteiner beer on tap in the midst of this piece of Paradise? And who could have known that just a couple of miles away is the tiny village of Coombs which is absolutely thronged on Saturdays as people come for miles to visit the Old Country Market? It‘s open every day of the week, and I suspect that it‘s always busy, but on Saturdays, everybody seems to end up in Coombs.
I’d read, briefly, about the Museum at Campbell River, but I never expected a building and exhibit space of such quality in such a small, industrial community. It was really a pleasant surprise.
I haven’t mentioned Port Alberni which has its own tourist attractions, but they open for the summer season only. If you’re just going to the west coast for the day, any time spent in Port Alberni should be, by necessity, brief. Highway 4 is a road that would completely lose its charm in the dark.
We stayed just south of Courtenay and it was a good place from which to see much of what we wanted to see. Courtenay, by the way, does have its charms. Try a dinner at the Atlas Cafe (250 6th Street). It's immensely popular and there is often a wait...but there is a reason for that: the food is very good and the servings large. For shopping, the town's 5th Street reminds me of prosperous Muskoka shopping areas...some nice, independent stores. From Courtenay, most of the places that I’ve mentioned were within easy reach.
Via Rail runs from Victoria to Courtenay. (I hadn’t seen a Budd Car in years.) And then there are buses. From Victoria going all the way north there are Greyhound and Island Coach. Also available for the trek to Tofino is Tofino Bus which runs from Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo. See them at Tofino Bus.
Going to and from the island is another thing altogether. If you’re on foot, you can take the Clipper in and out of Nanaimo, but most people use the ferry. There are two ferry ports in Nanaimo with the most popular probably being Departure Bay with ferries travelling to Horseshoe Bay (North Vancouver). Check for schedules and rates at BC Ferries. Reservations are recommended.
Restaurant | "Blackfin Pub and Restaurant (Comox)"
It is also a feast in every other sense. With a strong accent on seafood, appetizers include mussels, oysters, prawns, and calamari; entrées include halibut, snapper and salmon; the menu is interesting and runs from the mundane (bagels, wraps, and burgers) to the exotic…lobster or wild mushroom ravioli ($14) or prawn fettucini ($15). Meat dishes include ribs, lamb, veal, and chicken stir-fry.
Our selections included veal schnitzel, blackened halibut salad and a blackened salmon burger. Servings were large, perhaps massive, well-presented and very good. The only problem with coming to the Blackfin on a summer evening may be that it is one of Comox’s favourite restaurants. They do have a flashing pager system to summon customers.
It’s worth a try…good food, good service, and wonderful ambiance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 9, 2007
Blackfin Pub and Restaurant
132 Port Augusta St.
Comox, British Columbia V9M 3N7
Attraction | "The Museum at Campbell River"
The highlight of the exhibit is a darkened room of contemporary masks of a Gwawaenuk family with audio accompaniment. As spotlights focus on creatures represented in different masks, we are told the story of a family ancestor, Siwidi. The story begins as Siwidi is dragged into the sea and at the behest of the octopus kills a number of sea monsters. Eventually, he returns home after his labours to become a great shaman. The legend has the stuff of all great myth telling and the experience makes the museum a major attraction.
At the coming of the Europeans, we learn that the area between Campbell river and Bella Coola once held 30 nations speaking five languages. After 1849, nine out of ten would die of disease. There follows the best demonstration of early government policy toward the natives (take their children from them and train the children to act like whites, at the same time, erasing native language and culture). That I’ve ever seen, summed up in the line, "If there were no Indians, there would be no Indian problem."
That is followed by exhibits on the subject of B.C. industry. Did you know that a bull puncher made more money than a skid greaser? Do you know why? The logging, sport fishing, and salmon industries are all well covered in display, artefact and story.
The visit ends in a small theatre where the visitor can select one of three films. Perhaps most interesting is an industrial short on the Ripple Rock explosion of 1958; the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion at that time took place just north of Campbell River. We highly recommend a visit to this modern, attractive building with its beautiful views to the water below. At $6 (adult 2007), it’s a bargain and it boasts an excellent giftshop with a selection of native and non-native art.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 9, 2007
Campbell River Museum
470 Island Highway
Campbell River, British Columbia
Attraction | "The Maritime Heritage Centre (Campbell River)"
The centre is the home of BC Packers 45, a 53 foot table-seiner fishing vessel built in 1927. By chance, a photograph was taken of the vessel in 1958 while she was working; the photo would be copied by the Canadian Mint for the $5 bill (1972-1988). Later in her career, BCP 45 was one of 185 exhibits at Expo 86 in Vancouver; Macleans magazine chose her as the 6th rated exhibit; obviously, she was popular. In June, 2002, the vessel came into Campbell River under her own power.
Well, nobody doubted that BCP 45 would need a bit of work…a bit of paint and a good scrubbing, but she was no quick-fix. It was soon apparent that her hull was filled with dry rot above the waterline and had to be replanted from that point up. A reconstruction crew of volunteer craftsmen lovingly restored her to the condition that you will see her today. She is the centrepiece of a building that was designed around her being there and while it’s nice to look at her, it is more interesting to board her and look around her cramped crew quarters, tiny bridge, and tight engine compartment. It would have taken a pretty hardy group of men to sail her.
Apart from that, the centre is the home of a couple of major collections of marine paraphernalia and memorabilia; whether it’s brass or wood, if it’s been to sea in the last one hundred years, there is probably a version of it here. It all makes for a good visit. And there is a bonus…the centre shares a parking lot with the Discovery Fishing Pier. You can bring your license and spend some time with your line in the water or simply walk the pier to enjoy the view over Campbell River’s large harbour and breakwater. Canteen and washroom facilities are available.
Maritime Heritage Centre
621 Island Highway
Campbell River, British Columbia
Tofino is a small, scattered community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is accessible by Highway 4 from the east island through Port Alberni. People travel the twisting, and very scenic, road to visit a town that is legendary for its outdoor activities: surfing, whale and bear watching, and kayaking. It is also at the northern end of the Pacific Rim National Park, the home of beautiful Long Beach.
Having set out for Tofino, be sure to stop at MacMillan Provincial Park, also known as Cathedral Grove. A few short walking trails loop through old stands of Douglas fir; I’m tempted to talk about the majesty of the trees and the power of nature, but it really is something you should see for yourself. It is rain forest and these trees have grown as a consequence…it’s quite extraordinary. In fact the entire stretch of highway to Port Alberni is surrounded by natural beauty as it winds through dark forests and passes calm lakes.
In tiny Tofino, there are a number of surf schools as well as several places offering hot springs and whale watching tours. Personally, the only time I ever had a chance to "hang ten," I was standing on a curb waiting to cross, so I prefer to head for the galleries. There are several that feature clearly superior work by island artists, both native and non-native. On Campbell Street (don’t worry, you won’t need a map in Tofino.), you’ll find the Eagle Aerie Gallery, disguised as a clan house, with the work of Tsimshian artist Roy Henry Vickers. Definite native themes run through his prints and reproductions. There is also the Reflecting Spirit Gallery across the street which represents a number of island artists and has work in all price ranges…some of it very nice.
On Fourth Street there is The Shorewind Gallery. It features oils and sculptures by several artists and I thought that some of the work displayed there was just a step-above. I was inclined to go for my wallet, but I thought that it might destroy my beer budget, and let’s face it, some things are sacred. On Main Street, the Himwitsa Gallery is the place for aboriginal art with an excellent variety of masks and other objects. You’ll need deep pockets; even a small mask can be quite expensive.
Enough of things artistic? Go back to Campbell Street to Storm, The Tofino Surf Shop. My daughter, who should know better, dropped $30 on a t-shirt with their logo. I suspect that you’ll exercise better judgement and rent a surf board and head for the beach. Cowabunga!
In Ucluelet, you’ll find a lesser display in a lesser town, but you might be drawn to the Canadian Princess for dinner, a drink or lunch, or perhaps to stay overnight. She is actually part of a resort that is renowned for its fishing…out of sight, off her port side is a dock filled with small, modern fishing boats for sport fishermen. She was once the William J. Stewart, a hydrographic survey ship (1932-1975). I thought it was worth stopping long enough to have a drink in the attractive bar. You can learn more at Princess.
For transportation to the area there is Tofino Bus--(866) 986-3466 or Tofino Bus--with service from Victoria, Vancouver, and Nanaimo. To learn more about Tofino, try Tofino.
NanaimoNanaimo reminded me of my own area…it is somewhat nondescript. It would be less so if one were to live there as they have paid attention to a lot of the details that would make a city livable. The waterfront, built around the blockhouse originally built to protect the area (It’s called the Bastion, which may be a little hyperbolic.), is pretty and has a number of coffee shops and an elevated boardwalk overlooking the harbour.
The Commercial Street area (aka Downtown) has a number of attractive shops. At 150 Commercial Street there is the Nanaimo Art Gallery, the downtown face of the main gallery which is on the Malaspina campus. At the gallery, it is possible to buy or rent art; rentals start at $20/month. Great idea! Down the street at 223 Commercial is Gallery 223. It has an extremely large selection of quality oils, photographs, prints, watercolours, glass, and pottery. Upstairs there is studio and display space for several local artists.
The Old City Quarter of Nanaimo is a short walk up Bastion Street (which becomes Fitzwilliam Street). It contains a lot of redevelopment and a number of restaurants. The areas that have been developed are attractive, but the "quarter" isn’t extensive and it has the feel of a good idea that is currently stalled.ChemainusChemainus is just a dot on the map north of Duncan, but it has become a tourist magnet. In 1982, the town invited artists to do murals on the exterior walls of its buildings. There are now 37 murals and 13 sculptures around the area. The visitor need only follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks to see them all; there are actually two areas involved: the upper town and the old town near the beach…both are an easy walk from Water Wheel Park.
Chemainus is also the home of the Chemainus Theatre Festival; a professional theatre company calls the town’s attractive theatre its home base. As for the town itself, the main shopping area on Willow Street retains its old charm and makes for a nice visit without the murals. I think that in order to get a building permit here, you’ll need to use the word "quaint" in your building description. The town is a good example of what people can accomplish with a little imagination.
Riverview, New Brunswick