Canadian Life: Vancouver Island

I’ll briefly digress. Very occasionally, you watch or hear something so unbelievable or unexpected, that it makes you numb with disbelief. This can be due to confused shock, such as when Donald Trump used the term “Big League” to describe his tax reduction policy, or it could be due to sheer astonishment…

The BC Museum in Downtown Victoria, currently has an exhibition on ‘Mammoths of the Ice Age’, which is fascinating and certainly worth seeing. However, the accompanying 4k HD IMax production of ‘Titans of the Ice Age’ narrated by the great Christopher Plummer, followed by ‘A Beautiful Planet’ in 3D narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, has just eclipsed anything I have ever seen on-screen, as an overall spectacle. The latter included actual 3D footage from within the International Space Station and its perspective of Earth from 250 miles above – you were actually there, it was remarkable. Amongst the many incredible sequences, one that stuck out was going over South Korea at night. Seoul and the populated bits were all lit up as one would expect but look at North Korea and you have total darkness, except for a faint, probably nuclear, glow around Pyongyang. Together with the lights of the Indian/Pakistani Line of Control, it was the only visible border from space…

NASA image taken by the Expedition 38 crew aboard the ISS shows night view of the Korean Peninsula

At the Canadian border, I have just picked up a two-year Working Holiday visa, and so will be documenting my experience in this vast country.

In the early 90s, Jim Carrey made a joke of how, when he moved down to LA, the locals seemed intrigued as to the habitability of Canada’s climate. He then responds in an expertly crafted, 2-minute Inuit monologue… Watch it here! Before leaving, I was reminded maybe half a dozen times not to forget my coat, as after all it is Canada… I eventually gave up and simply replied “oh yeah? why’s that?”

Having just spent two weeks on Vancouver Island, my third time here in three years, I will start where the Pacific Coast really gets real! Some pics are from 2015.

Victoria, Capital of British Columbia

Sure, you could fly. It’s twenty minutes and $150 from Vancouver. But on a clear day, few ferry journeys could match the ninety-minute ride through the Strait of Georgia into Swartz Bay. After ten hours on a plane to Vancouver, the thought of any more transport is almost as repulsive as Air Transat’s complementary meal (to be fair, they have improved massively within three years and are now a respectable airline – they never used to even have seat screens…for long haul!), but the ferry to Victoria is certainly worth the extra stretch, topping almost twenty hours of travelling. But this time, we were in the remnants of a typhoon. As the bus left Swartz Bay, you were faced with large billboards on the highway, saying; “Shoulda, woulda, coulda, flown!” and “You should be there already!” They had a point, but as flights to Vic had now been grounded due to the weather, and my ferry was the last that day, I was winning before I’d even arrived in one of the most picturesque cities in the world.

With the second oldest China Town in North America after San Fran, a stunning Downtown waterfront, the BC Museum and the Galloping Goose, it’s a really neat place. I’m glad you asked. The Goose is a 34 mile cycle/walk way that heads west from Victoria and having done the twenty-mile ride out to Sooke, it’s a great way to head out of town and into the wild…

For some of the best sunsets in the world, head to Mount Douglas. Whilst only 225m high, calling it ‘Mount’ is a bit like calling the Dead Sea a bloody sea, but the term was named after Sir James Douglas, British colonial governor of Vancouver Island and ‘Mount’ was his status. Ironically, it was originally called ‘Cedar Hill’ but was changed by English Captain Henry Kellett, as Cedar Hill was apparently void of cedars – it’s a deceptive world out there so take everything with a mountain of salt…or hill, depending on your level of skepticism.

Sooke, Courtenay and Campbell River

There’s having lots of space and then there’s Canada. Vancouver Island is a quarter of the size of England, but has one seventieth of the population. So it is sparse, but this is still relatively far more densely populated than the rest of the country. Sooke is 45mins away from Victoria, and you are suddenly into rural BC and everything that brings…paradise rocky beaches, unspoilt forests and of course, the opposite – huge clear-cuts. Even though the trees are nothing compared to the Sequoia Redwoods in California, they still dominate the landscape and account for why the forest industry constitutes the largest manufacturing sector in BC, with 6% of the province’s total jobs. But it’s tough; for anyone wanting to be a lumberjack, you really gotta be able to hack it.

Further up the Island and you have the towns of Courtenay in the Comox Valley, and Campbell River. Both are small and fairly quiet but surrounded by dramatic landscapes, so you can swim in rivers, trek in the mountains or cycle around. I rode down to Goose Spit (don’t ask, no idea!) which is now a naval training base, and where the scenery is breathtaking. But as I have found out, away from Victoria, without wheels you are pretty screwed; public transport is damn hard to come by. I did get the bus for the 30miles up to Campbell River and it broke down with about 3 miles to go – so either get a car or get fit – or be a King, and get both…

Being in one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, you experience wildlife all around, on land and sea. I did the zodiac whale watching trip through the Passage Islands and was fortunate enough to see Orcas, Pacific dolphins and Sealions, all within an hour. In the woods you have the black bears, moose, cougars, birds of prey – you name it, the Island probably has it…but it’s said, and to note, apparently no grizzlies at all.

There is a lot of the Island I’d still love to see as it has so much to offer, but I’m now spending the next few months in the mountains in Whistler, to work and play. So, as the song goes; let it snow, let it snow, let me ski…

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