EASY GOING ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

JAMES MONTAGNES May 1 1972

EASY GOING ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

JAMES MONTAGNES May 1 1972

EASY GOING ON VANCOUVER ISLAND

JAMES MONTAGNES

From high tea at the Empress to clam-digging on the Pacific

About three years ago the new culture arrived like a monsoon in the towns and countryside of British Columbia. The good vibrations came north from California in a many-colored coat, and now poets in feathered hats, with puppy dogs at foot, and girls who have put bells and ribbons in their hair stroll the streets and back roads of Vancouver Island.

These winds of change are for another generation. To tell you the truth I couldn’t feel more liberated now sitting at Sam and Rosina Lane’s place in Victoria, a charming hotel, the Olde England Inn, furnished with carefully sought out antiques from Shakespeare’s time. Nearby is a replica of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. After dinner I expect to go to sleep in a four-poster bed — but that’s after dinner. Sam will be in the timbered period dining room (probably wearing his English bobby uniform), and I expect to have medium-rare roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, perhaps a taste of his excellent Melton Mowbray pie, and for dessert, well, I can’t resist the trifle. Tomorrow I expect I’ll stroll through the small shops of Victoria (the bargains on English goods are remarkable) and later in the day take high tea at the Empress Hotel. Everyone has to find good Karma someplace.

Vancouver Island is big enough for both generations. One forgets that it is nearly six times larger than Prince Edward Island — 282 miles long and 50 to 60 miles wide.

There is yet more British and colonial nostalgia in Victoria — other Tudor-style small hotels in the downtown area and along the marine drives, where the sea is always in view; at any time of the day there are ladies having their tea at such spots as the Oak Bay Beach Hotel on Beach Drive. The shops along Government and Douglas Streets are lined with stores selling English woolens and china, more there perhaps than in any other Canadian city. No modern brash furnishings, but old-fashioned counters and shelves stacked with imported merchandise. That atmosphere is helping to ring cash registers as the tourists now flock to the city from nearby United States areas and from all parts of Canada.

The old places can still be seen in Victoria, either by horse-drawn carriages, double-decker London buses or modern sight-seeing buses. To mention just a few, there is century-old Point Ellice House, once in a fashionable area but now sitting among lumberyards, where the living style of an early wealthy politician is displayed. The house where Emily Carr, painter of west coast Indian lore, lived is open on Simcoe Street. The old steamer Princess Mary is now tied up at a wharf, a restaurant serving seafood in the grand style. Beacon Hill Park, with its old bridges, swans, flower gardens and magnificent view of the snowcapped Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the state of Washington, harks back to a more leisurely past.

New hotels are also appearing, such as the Imperial Inn and the tall Executive / continued on page 58 Vancouver Island continued / House. Modern decor and parking facilities attract the younger travelers. Modern attractions like Sealand and Undersea Gardens (admission $1.50 for adults, teen-agers and senior citizens one dollar, 55 cents children) are aquariums where shows with skin divers handling octopuses and sharks bring crowds.

Alongside the totem pole display in Thunderbird Park, close by the Parliament Buildings, is the brand-new Provincial Museum where the flora, fauna, geology and timber resources of the province are displayed. The pièce de résistance here is a largerthan-life carved high-prowed canoe, with eight Nootka Indians in action on a whale hunt. To emphasize the scene, it is set between two ceiling-tofloor continuous curtains of water in glass tubes.

A tour from Victoria up island took me along the spectacular Malahat Drive, high above Saanich Inlet with the Gulf Islands far below and lookout points at strategic spots.

At the small town of Duncan, in the heart of the lumbering region, there was an old narrow-gauge logging railway to give visitors to the Forest Museum a taste of transportation in the early days.

Once white settlers worried about attacks from the Indians and built a fortification at what is now the island’s second largest city, 'Nanaimo. The wooden bastion there is a historic sightseeing attraction, with memorabilia of a century or more ago on display. But modern touches at this onetime coal - mining town, now a lumbering centre, are the many coastal ships in the harbor and the bathtubs powered with outboard motors that scurry about among the tugs and freighters. Annually, since 1967, Nanaimo has held a bathtub-powerboat race to Vancouver late in July.

All along this island coast sportsmen come for the salmon and trout fishing. The area is dotted with fishing camps and resorts, such as Silva Bay Resort on Gabriola Island, just off Nanaimo.

We stopped overnight in Parksville at Island Hall Hotel; typical (indoor pool, sauna and tennis courts) of good small resorts in the region. This is farming country, but it attracts pensioners because of good beaches, year-round golfing and marinas.

En route to Port Alberni the highway passes through a section of virgin coastal timber. This is MacMillan Cathedral Grove and it would make the most superior being feel small. The trees, five feet in diameter, tower almost 250 feet above the road.

Port Alberni and the Greenwood Motor Hotel were the overnight destination, because we were leaving at 8 a.m. the next day for a trip on the motorship Lady Rose down the Alberni Canal to the open sea. It is a daylong cruise to Ucluelet and back through smooth deep-blue waters between hills that have been either logged bare or left untouched. The ship is like an ocean freighter — its decks for walking, its rear deck for sunning. But wear warm clothing, for even in the sun the breeze from the ocean is cool.

The ship called at a few tiny communities, steaming slowly up to the wharf to drop some cargo and a few bags of mail. Hikers disembarked at Bamfield, their packs on their backs, to climb through little-known mountain areas.

We went ashore at Ucluelet to motor to Wickaninnish Inn, a luxury resort in an area of windswept white beaches, officially opened as Pacific Rim National Park by Princess Anne last summer.

The area is fine for surfing, with long rollers coming ashore from the Pacific. The waters are a bit cool — and those surfers I saw were wearing wet suits — but they came in on their wooden surfboards with all the elan of surfers on Honolulu beaches.

Offshore are rocky islets where thousands of seabirds gather, sharing their quarters with huge sea lion bulls and hundreds of smaller sea lion females and pups. Local motorboat operators from nearby Tofino and Ucluelet take vacationers close to the rookeries where the raucous bellowing of the sea lions is heard over the waves. The fish smell is very strong.

We saw some grey killer whales coming close to the bouncing motorboat, swimming partly above water. The boatman made sure we were far enough away from them not to be drenched when they spouted vertical geysers of water.

Crabs are caught offshore and served at shore feasts at the inn. The offal from the cooked crabs is dumped on the sand at the water’s edge. It does not create the expected pollution, for dozens of seabirds sight the food in seconds and within minutes all that is left are the shells, which are soon pounded into the sand by the incoming sea. Family clam-digging parties are popular with campers and local citizens.

This is the place to spend days relaxing, watching the seabirds, trout fishing, swimming and exploring the locality. One of the more interesting pastimes is hunting for glass balls swept ashore from across the Pacific, where Japanese fishermen have been using them for decades.

Vancouver Island has this attraction for me — I’m interested in repeating my previous experiences every time I go there. The newer, better vibrations are, as I’ve said, for another generation. There is something to be said for a man’s best habits. ■