Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada

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Some Canadian memories

I am often asked why we have been to Canada so many times and why we continue to visit. So here’s the short (ish) reason.

In September 1988 Amanda and I boarded a Wardair flight to Vancouver. This was only the third time I’d flown at this point and certainly the furthest. The flights were an early wedding present from Amanda’s mum. We were getting married the following year but had the chance to have an ‘early honeymoon’ in Canada and it turned out to be a very wise decision but that’s another story. We were going to spend the next 5 weeks staying with Amanda’s cousin and her husband in Vancouver and were really looking forward to this incredible opportunity and adventure.

Personally I was incredibly excited about flying with Wardair. This mythical company offered higher quality service at pretty much economy prices, one of the reasons it went out of operation the following year maybe? Fillet steak served on proper china with metal cutlery and wine in real glasses. After only flying on a package holiday charter to Tunisia perviously this felt like we were flying first class believe me.

On arriving at Vancouver airport, after a brief stop in Edmonton, we disembarked feeling like we hadn’t slept in 2 days….. it was more like 26 hours at this point. Honestly I don’t remember much about the journey to Surrey from the airport but I do remember arriving at the house and I remember our hosts. A more welcoming and lovely couple I don’t think I’ve ever met. They opened up their home to us, shared their friends with us and introduced us to the most amazing country. This is something we’ve never forgotten and why we have returned 9 times. We’ve visited Vancouver, Victoria, Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto. We’ve taken a 13 hour ferry journey north up the BC coast and caught a train right across the country. I’ve been in a helicopter over Niagara Falls and driven roads so quiet that we didn’t see another car for over 3 hours. We’ve seen bald eagles, coyote, a BIG Grizzly bear, black bears, mountain sheep and elk, we’ve seen humpback whales and dolphins and orca and grey whales and sea otters. We’ve watched hockey in Vancouver, Toronto (Go Leafs Go), Montreal and Ottawa, Basketball and baseball in Toronto. We’ve stayed in lakeside lodges and five star hotels and historic chateau – like hotels and cheap motels. We’ve sweated in spring in Toronto and summer in Vancouver and frozen in Alberta in November. We’ve driven on highways and unpaved roads and frozen roads and through rain so hard you could barely SEE the road.

We are enchanted by Canada and hope that we will be able to continue to visit for many years to come. I still have ideas of trips I want to do and places I want to see. I want to visit the Northwest Territories and Yukon, I want to drive across country, coast to coast, I want to see more of Nova Scotia and visit, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, as well as explore Quebec and Ontario more, and we would still love to see polar bears in Churchill.

Canada and us still have unfinished business.

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Bear country…finally

Yesterday seemed to last about 34 hours rather than the normal 24. When we went to sleep it was raining quite hard but by the morning the sky was fairly clear and it looked like the rain had gone away for a while, yay. It came back, boooo. By the time we left Port Hardy it had started to rain lightly and for the whole trip we had rain showers, sometimes torrential, sometimes light and occasionally it actually was a bit sunny. To be fair the ferry journey was really good. It was one of the sections of the holiday that we were concerned about. Thirteen hours on a smallish boat could have been a bit of a nightmare but it really wasn’t. The seats were comfortable regardless of what Amanda says (hers was broken but we didn’t notice for a while, and me being the gentleman that I am refused to switch because I had the window seat), the food was nice and the scenery was incredible. The captain pointed out when whales were visible and everyone (almost) ran to be able to catch a glimpse in the distance of humpback whales breaching or diving or just cruising past. We also saw dolphins….lots of dolphins. They started off just surfing alongside the ferry and then we noticed a huge pod ahead of us fishing. We got to stay with them quite a while although they’re really hard to photograph, they’re just too damned quick.


At 11pm we reached Bella Coola and when we got off the boat a line of traffic travelled along the (only) road  and we thought ‘wouldn’t it be strange if someone we saw on the ferry was staying at the same place as us’. It turned out that they were…5 cars turned off into the carpark and by the time we parked up we had to join a queue to check in. The BC Mountain Lodge is in an incredible location, but only found that out this morning when it was light. Last night it was raining so hard and it was so late that all we wanted to do was get inside our room and get to sleep. I’ll admit that I have become accustomed to nicer hotels and there’s something to be said for 5 star accommodation but it’s clean, I slept really well and breakfast is included. Not too bad. 

Raining much? NOT our room View from our room


This morning it had stopped raining (for about 15 mins) and we saw how beautiful the Bella Coola valley is. Surrounded on both sides by impossibly high mountains and shrouded in mist. It wouldn’t look out of place in Lord of the Rings although I can’t see Amanda dressing as a hobbit, as her feet aren’t hairy enough.

After breakfast we drove into town via the tourist information office and a small park where there is a beaver pond. Make all the jokes you want but we were on a beaver hunt, but sadly we saw none. It was a beaver-free zone. Perhaps it was too wet for them. On the way we also stopped at the shop. I say ‘the’ shop as it sold everything and I mean everything. It sold cat litter, shovels, crossbow bolts, flights for darts, fishing rods, ammunition, apples, 8 inch nails, sausages and lots more. I could have spent a long time just looking at all the shelves but we had to go. We had lunch in town at a local restaurant where, while we were sat there, one guy past the window that was chatting to us on the ferry the night before, two motorcyclists that caught the ferry were on another table and then the woman from tourist info came in for her lunch too. Sensible people. Lunch was really nice (Philly beef bun for me with dipping gravy and fries and salmon salad sandwich and chicken noodle soup for Amanda). Even the Sheriff sat with his family behind us so I made sure Amanda behaved herself.

After we ate, we drove down to the marina where all the fishing boats are tied up. The water is a beautiful opaque green/blue and reminds you of an opal. The rain was back with a vengeance by now so we didn’t stop long.

Bella Coola Marina


Before heading back to the lodge, we took a drive further up the road and saw three deer. One bounced off across the road and the other two warily kept an eye on us as we crept closer to try and take a pic. The one I photographed squeezed under a fence and stared at us just in case we fancied venison tonight.

Oh deer


Tonight we’re eating at the lodge and we have an early start tomorrow for our bear watching trip. Breakfast is at 7am and we leave at 7:45am on the dot. Hopefully I’ll have bear pics tomorrow or you’ll be reading about two British tourists eaten by very very hungry Grizzly bears.

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Wildlife Day

When we woke this morning we noticed that someone had stolen the ocean while we were sleeping. Actually it turned out to be fog but this was bad news for whale watching. We were supposed to drive north to Tofino for a 9:30am whale watching trip and while I was wondering whether to call the company, they phoned me. The regular larger boat wasn’t available that morning so would we be willing to change our trip to the 2pm sailing instead? It turned out to be a stroke of luck as this afternoon was glorious but first we had some time to kill. We took a drive to check out the local area and visited a place called Terrace Beach, had a little walk around and took some photos. This was wildlife day wasn’t it, so we should start a list I suppose. Earlier we saw a bald eagle (1) but I didn’t get a decent photo as I’d just got out of the shower and only managed to nab a pic later with my phone. At Terrace Beach I saw a dead crab (2) … nobody said they all had to be alive did they? We also saw sea anemones (3) both sort of dried up and in a rock pool so they definitely count.

Later we visited the local supermarket and got provisions for the big drive tomorrow (you’ll find out more about that another time) and then popped back to the hotel to drop some stuff off and grab a little lunch then it was off to Tofino.

We had a spot of bother parking as the disabled spot by the boats was taken so Amanda had to walk down to the awaiting vessel and as we all know people rush when there are seats up for grabs and as we were a little slower than the others we ended up squashed in a tiny space while we sat through the obligatory safety talk. Thankfully it didn’t last too long and once underway every one spread out and we had space to move ourselves.

Little islands everywhere

We first saw a young humpback whale (4) who quite frankly was a disappointment as all he did was loiter and basically fart about. Obviously a teenager. The skipper moved on so we could see some harbour seals (5) and then as we stopped I saw some tiny jellyfish (6)… I told you, they all count. You’re lucky I’m not including sea gulls and other sea birds, we’d be here all night. The possibly the best bit of the day…sea otters (7). They were anchored to some kelp and had pups too. They were incredibly cute and it’s a good job Amanda has short arms or one would be coming home in our hand luggage.

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

After spending time with those cuties we headed out and saw some Stellar Sealions (8) and then a small porpoise (9) travelled along with us for a bit, before stopping at a bird sanctuary to see a Tufted Puffin (10) which was incredibly cute. While staring at birds (and not in a lewd manner) I also spotted a California Sealion (11). By this time I think they were a bit embarrassed about the sheer lack of whale action so we stormed off to see a couple of other humpbacks (actually it was the same one joined by a larger one) and then we struck out for home but on the way we took a slight detour and saw a Grey Whale (12) which was really what we wanted to see as it’s our 4th whale species (Minke, Sperm, Humpback and now Grey). Blue whales next perhaps?

Stellar Sealions

Then we really went home (well the skipper took us back to port and then I drove us back to the hotel).  Now after all that sea air we’re both exhausted and fit to drop.

By the way, Amanda just reminded me that we saw two deer on the way to Terrace Beach so that’s 13 but that’s obviously unlucky so we’re including a huge mosquito (14) that was trying to get in to the pub while we ate.

Tomorrow we drive all the way up to the northern tip of the Island, which will take us a bout 7 hours or so so I’m going to bed.

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Let’s go further west

After a couple of nights of relaxation and probable drunkenness, we must leave Brentwood Bay and head west towards Ucluelet. According to Google Maps it’s a decent drive (as mentioned in the last post) but it looks a nice drive too. The more I think of it, the more I think we’ll use the Mill Bay ferry and then head north up through Duncan, Chemainus and Nanaimo, all the way to Qualicum Beach before heading west. As I understand it, the road gets progressively quieter as we head west past Alberni which suits me perfectly. I’m hoping for deserted roads and a peaceful, enjoyable time and loads of traffic doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

A welcoming place

Eventually we’ll get to Ucluelet and we’re booked into the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort which I found online whilst looking at probably every single hotel on the island. It has a fantastic location, right on the oceanfront (the clue is in the name) and we have booked a room with precisely that view.

Viewed from the air (borrowed from the website)

As viewed from the ocean

If you take a peek at the website you’ll see exactly why I booked this place. The food looks good, the location speaks for itself and the rooms look great too. Of course we haven’t travelled over here just to stay in this lovely hotel, oh no. We’ve come over to the West Coast to see whales.

One morning we intend to drive up to Tofino and go and see some whales. I haven’t booked this yet. I’ve tried, but after sending two emails to West Coast Aquatic Safaris via their website, I still haven’t got a reply. I’ll keep trying as they really do look like the best for our purposes (not porpoises). They have an enclosed boat and are disabled friendly so the boat is easily accessible. We’re desperately hoping that we’ll get to see breaching Humpback whales but I’ll take what I can get. We’ve been lucky enough to see Sperm Whales in New Zealand, and Humpbacks and Orca on our last visit to BC but we’re greedy and want more.

Once we’ve sated our appetite for cetaceans (look it up) we’ll be off up North. North of the Island anyway, as that’s where the ferry leaves from. This is becoming the holiday of ferries but this will be the last one, on this trip anyway. Before we catch the ferry however we have to drive a long way. This will be the longest drive of the holiday and will take us all day. We have to retrace our steps back to the east coast of the Island then drive as far as the road allows (almost) to Port Hardy, but more of that next time.