Two Times the Fun: Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast

Rockwater Secret Cove Resort on the Sunshine Coast. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell
Rockwater Secret Cove Resort on the Sunshine Coast. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

They share the same (west) coast of Canada and a fervent love for their spectacular natural surroundings. Yet big-city Vancouver and small-town Sunshine Coast offer visitors worlds-apart experiences.

In Vancouver, your internal engines will rev high as you navigate an embarrassment of restaurants, bars, shops and attractions. On the Sunshine Coast, you’ll downshift and uncover hidden gems scattered along higgledy-piggledy roads and shoreline.

Continue reading this article on WestJetmagazine.com.

Victoria Two Ways: Nature Nut or Urban Escapist?

Nature nuts can pedal to their heart's content in Victoria. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

Victoria blossoms in March. While most of Canada remains in a deep freeze, colourful flowers mark the arrival of spring on the country’s west-est coast. Whether your idea of fun is cavorting outdoors or cocooning inside, this gorgeous B.C. city has got you covered.

For The Nature Nut

With an ocean at its doorstep and wilderness in its backyard, Victoria is nirvana for outdoorsy folk. The Inner Harbour is the jumping-off spot for whale-watching tours, kayaking and a waterfront path that leads to … Continue reading this article here.

For the Urban Escapist

Believe fresh air is overrated? Then book a room at the luxe Abigail’s Hotel, light the wood-burning fireplace, and put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. When you venture out—and really, you must—admire the lovingly restored Victorian and Edwardian homes … Continue reading this article here.

Voyageur Parkour in Manitoba

Aitkens Lake Wilderness Lodge. Credit: Canadian Tourism Commission
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge. Credit: Canadian Tourism Commission

I’m in the middle of our country (Aikens Lake, in eastern Manitoba to be exact) landing a boat on a rocky shore channeling my inner Courier de Bois—if I was any more Canadian I’d be the recipient of multiple Heritage grants. From the moment my boat touches the rocky shore, I’m in motion: leaping over the gunnels, scrambling up the granite slope, hustling down a barely-there wilderness trail, zigzagging around windfall and basically booking it toward the body of water that lies at the other end of this historic fur trade portage.

Portaging—a verb we all know but scant few of us have done.

My journey began three days ago in Winnipeg, on the shores of the Assiniboine River, with a stick shaking in my hand. Cameron White, a canoe guide, is encouraging me to poke a disk in the middle of a small, but serious, metal contraption.

The violent snap of the device makes me jump. “That,” says White, “is the sound of the cash register.”

Beaver was once considered the most valuable fur in the world (thanks to European high society’s obsession with hats made from the pelts) and traps such as these were the tools of the trade so valuable that our country pretty much has those goofy looking hats for its existence. Watercraft, like the hefty eight-person canoe I’m about to climb into, were the delivery vans of this precious cargo.

Ever since my grade-four teacher, Mrs. Hartley, entertained our class with dramatically told tales of the fur trade—and brought in beef jerky, lard and blueberries so we could mix up (and gag on) a modern day version of pemmican—I’ve dreamed of following the watery pathways of the voyageurs, travelling as they did in a canoe. Well, not travelling exactly as they did because their lives were hard and I don’t do hard. Days of soft adventure and a soft bed at the end of those days are more to my liking.

And so, much as I enjoyed the romantic notion of canoeing, the actual practice of it is pretty foreign to me. Until today.

On dry land, White leads our group of 10 through paddling practice, then whips out a Hudson’s Bay Company commemorative tea towel. He uses the towel, illustrated with a map of Canada covered in little HBC forts, to make two points: the fur trading network was vast and Canadians have a special, romantic connection with our fur-trading past. “I’ve yet to see a 7-Eleven commemorative tea towel,” he says.

Lesson finished, we carry two heavy canoes to the water’s edge and launch. The surprisingly swift current makes up for our pathetic attempts at coordinated paddling and we’re soon zipping down what White calls “the pemmican highway.” We travel seven kilometers in total, admiring a mostly urban landscape.

Our journey ends at The Forks, where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River and where, for over 6000 years, people have met to fish, hunt and trade, which these days translates into a handful of interesting boutiques and restaurants surrounded by dozens of tourist traps. But I’ve arrived here not by bus, taxi or bike—I’ve arrived here by a canoe, so I feel pretty good about myself.

That warm glow only marginally ebbs on the floatplane trip to Aikens Lake the following morning, the bustle of the Forks fading hard. Georges Beaudry, a sometimes-staff member of the Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, stands at the end of the dock un-ironically playing a jaunty tune on his penny whistle. His muskrat hat, beaded leather satchel and brightly woven sash (again not a trace of irony here) hint at his Métis ancestry.

Before you can say “Allez pêrcher!” I’ve dropped my duffel bag in a luxurious two-bedroom log cabin, climbed into a boat and am fishing.

Over the next three days, I lose track of the number of walleye and Northern pike I catch and release. The culinary highlight of each day is the shore lunch, featuring just-caught fish and staged amid stands of black spruce and jack pine at different lakeside locations. Evenings are spent enjoying hearty meals in the dining hall and hanging out in Big Molly’s Bar.

Late one afternoon, I climb out of the fancy motorized fishing boats that are de rigueur at the lodge and into a canoe for my first-ever solitary paddle. I follow the water’s edge, marveling at the tranquility, watching for moose and using the strokes learned days earlier. Paddle, paddle, paddle, sweep… veer off course, curse, correct, try again. Paddle, paddle, paddle, sweep. I am neither graceful nor efficient but the freedom—me, paddling, on my own, in a canoe, in the Canadian wilderness–is absolutely intoxicating.

My final evening, Beaudry invites a small group of guests to the lakeshore for a ceremony based on the traditional Homme du Nord ceremony used to initiate new voyageurs. Beaudry dips a cedar bough into the lake and makes a few wet swipes across each of our faces. We repeat an oath promising to initiate other newcomers in this way, and to never, ever kiss another voyageur’s wife without her consent.

The deal is sealed with glasses of Caribou, a Quebecois fortified wine and a proud proclaimation: “Je suis un homme du Nord.”  I am a man of the North.

Okay, not really. But it sure is fun pretending.  

LEARN:

Canada’s fur trade history is writ large in the HBC Gallery at the Manitoba Museum. manitobamuseum.ca

The St. Boniface Museum tells the Francophone and Métis history of Manitoba, including the life of Louis Riel who is buried in the St. Boniface Cathedral cemetery. msbm.mb.ca

Party like it’s 1815 at Fort Gibraltar, a replica North West Company fur trade post. Each February, the fort hosts Festival du Voyageur festivities

fortgibraltar.com

PADDLE:

Explore Winnipeg by water with Northern Soul Wilderness Adventures

northernsoul.ca

STAY:

In Winnipeg, sleep where the action was at The Inn at the Forks

Innforks.com

For wilder times, experience Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge

Aikenslake.com

Good apples: Nova Scotia harvest time

Apple herb jellies from Tangled Garden, Wolfville

The crunch of a crisp apple. The sweet aroma of warm apple pie. The tastebud-tickling goodness of fresh-pressed apple cider.  Ever since French settlers first planted apple trees some 400 years ago in what is now Nova Scotia, the fall harvest has inspired apple lovers to bite into, bake, puree, preserve, ferment and otherwise relish this versatile fruit. To discover Nova Scotia’s apple-loving locales…

Continue reading this article here. 

Following the trail of Hemingway in Cuba

Graffit covers the walls in La Bodeguita del Medio. Credit Ann Britton Campbell

That Roly, owner of the casa particular where I’m staying in Old Havana, speaks only three words of English could be problematic. My Spanish is mucho bad and my husband’s no better.

And yet, we get along just fine. Perhaps it is because two of the three words Roly knows are daiquiri and mojito—and, really, aren’t those Spanish? Which makes Roly’s only English word okay.

Each evening, when we return to the casa, grimy and thirsty after a day spent exploring the crumbling richness of Havana, Roly greets us. “Daiquiri?” he asks. “Mojito?”

“Okay!” we answer with enthusiasm, and Roly, who for 39 years was a bartender at El Floridita, one of the world’s great bars made famous by one of its most dedicated patrons, American novelist Ernest Hemingway, starts pulling liquor bottles out of the cupboard…

Continue reading this article in the The Georgia Straight.

Finding love and butter on Oregon coast

Luke Moser, Bakery by the Sea, Brookings, Oregon

The Chetco Seafood Market and Restaurant in Brookings Harbor is empty except for one other couple. We settle into a corner table and turn our attention to the blackboard where today’s catch is offered—all with chips and all guaranteed to be fresher than fresh.

The other couple—a grown son and his mother, we’re guessing–is already eating and the man is practically purring with pleasure over his fish. I ask what’s he having and order the same—Oregon sea bass.

This quick exchange of question and answer is enough to break down the invisible wall that exists between diners and soon we’re chatting with locals Luke Moser and his mother, Claudia.

They’re impressed that we’re on a road trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles and that Brookings, just north of the California-Oregon border on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, is the start of our slow drive northward.

We learn that Luke, his mom and dad run Bakery by the Sea in Brookings (1105 Chetco Avenue) and that Luke is a master baker of all things delicious. That is, when he’s not working at his second job as a welder.

Luke supplies baked goods to many restaurants in town including the restaurant we are in (they use Luke’s sourdough loaves for their “chowder in a bowl”) and a local hamburger joint that buys all their buns from Bakery by the Sea.

Tami, the manager of the restaurant, joins the conversation. It is obvious she is a huge fan of this “scratch bakery” (as in, everything made from scratch) and of Luke. She says folks just can’t wait for Fridays when the bakery opens to the public for three days of feasting on croissants, cookies, scones, cakes, pies and other mouth-watering treats. Yup, if you’re not in Brookings on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’re out of luck.

We’re in Brookings on a Tuesday and so are sorry to miss out. But we’ve had a lovely conversation with locals—isn’t that one of the great pleasures of travel?—and say fond good byes to Luke and Claudia as they head out the door.

Ten minutes later Luke walks through the door with a bag of scones and a sticky bun, a container of cookies and a dense, heavy loaf of bread covered in icing sugar.

We learn

(a) He and his mom zipped up to the bakery
(b) These are all for us
(c)  Luke absolutely will not accept any money, and
(d) The dense, heavy loaf is something special.

Luke explains it is a German cake called stollen, traditionally made for the holidays. An old-school European baker taught him the recipe and the preparations are impressive: soaking raisins in rum for three days, preparing dough from scratch using pounds of butter, then immersing the loaf in butter and rolling it in confectioner’s sugar.

“There’s a lot of butter in this loaf,” Luke says. “Much butter. And love.”

Luke poses for a picture, then heads back out to the car where his mother is waiting. We finish our meal and walk back to our simple motel room with a bag of treats and a story to tell.  The kindness of strangers overwhelms.

For days we'll nibble at these treats from Bakery by The Sea. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell
For days we’ll nibble at these treats from Bakery by The Sea. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

Cruising Havana, Cuba in a classic American car

Classic American cars grace Havana's crumbling streets Credit: Ann Britton Campbell
Classic American cars grace Havana’s crumbling streets Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

Havana is an intoxicating city, a crumbling, culturally rich, historically captivating and sensuous place.

It’s only 150 kilometers from Cuba’s popular resort town of Varadero to the country’s fascinating capital—an easy two-hour drive. Make a day trip in a classic American car and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported much, much further. Like, back to the 1950s.

Havana’s dusty streets are filled with vintage, mostly decrepit Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and other Detroit dowagers imported before Fidel Castro took power in 1959. After the revolution, the U.S. embargo descended and time stood still—at least for…

Continue reading this article here. 

See the companion slideshow:  Top 5 vintage cars for cruising in Havana

Short escape to Whitehorse opens up Yukon’s great outdoors

Miles Canyon Trail near Whitehorse is distractingly scenic for conference attendee cum mountain biker. Credit: Gov’t of Yukon/D. Crowe

It’s not so much the fact that Jell-O shooters are being served at a makeshift bar in Whitehorse that has me flabbergasted. It’s who’s doing the serving.

The Honourable Scott Kent, then Yukon’s minister of education and–it must be noted–the politician responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation, is a celebrity server on a team supplying wine, beer, and neon-coloured shots to an appreciative crowd.

…I’ve come to Whitehorse to attend a writers’ conference, and…although my days will be filled with meetings, meals, and (gag) networking, I’m determined to explore this legendary city north of 60.

I start early the next morning with a head-clearing jog in the bracing cold through the downtown core. Except for…

Continuing reading this article in The Georgia Straight.

An Anti-Anne Vacation on Canada’s Prince Edward Island

Two boys who don’t care a lick about Anne find ways to enjoy PEI Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

It’s all Anne, all the time on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. For fans of the redheaded heroine of the children’s novel Anne of Green Gables, the province is hallowed ground. Anne references are everywhere, from the Anne Shirley Motel to the Green Gables Golf Course to umpteen shops carrying Anne dolls, Anne preserves, Anne plates and even Anne straw hats with red braids attached.

So why would this mother of two boys who don’t care a lick about Anne bring them to P.E.I. for a holiday? Because there’s so much more to discover.

The first thing that strikes me as we drive to the island from New Brunswick across the Confederation Bridge is the hectares upon hectares of perfectly mown lawns. When I ask a resident about this love affair with grass, she stares at me as if I’ve asked why cows need milking or why potatoes (P.E.I.’s most famous crop) are planted in rows.

“It’s what we do,” she says matter-of-factly. “And you’ll get a look from your neighbours if you don’t mow regularly.”

We rent a cottage—yes, with a perfect lawn—at My Mother’s Country Inn in New Glasgow. It proves to be a great location, ten minutes from Cavendish (a popular beach and tourist centre that’s to be embraced or avoided, depending on your tolerance for crowds) and 30 minutes from Charlottetown, the provincial capital.

In fact, given that the island is only 175 miles from tip to tip, nothing is too far away, though travel on the rural roads is slow.

We spend our vacation outdoors, hiking in the Greenwich area of Prince Edward National Park where wooden boardwalks protect fragile sand dunes, kayaking on shallow Malpeque Bay (famous for its oysters), playing on rusty-red beaches and cycling from St. Peters to Morell along the gravelly Confederation Trail.

Ah yes, confederation. P.E.I. may be Canada’s smallest province, but it played a big role in the country’s creation. We learn about this nation-building past during a visit to Founders’ Hall in Charlottetown. The attraction’s use of technology and humour has us thinking that Canadian history is actually really interesting. Really.

After a fair bit of arm twisting, my family agrees that we’ll do some Anne-themed activities, all in one day — “to get them over with quickly,” suggests my older son.

“To get the full experience,” I reply.

Two boys who don't care a lick about Anne find ways to enjoy PEI Credit: Ann Britton Campbell
Two boys who don’t care a lick about Anne find ways to enjoy P.E.I. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

We begin with the obligatory trek to Green Gables,  the real farm that was author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s inspiration for her fictional Anne stories. The site’s introductory video is interesting, and a walk around the grounds pleasant, but the most entertaining thing is watching Japanese tourists get their pictures taken in front of the farmhouse. (Anne of Green Gables is required reading for Japanese school children.)

It’s total Anne immersion when we visit Avonlea – Village of Anne of Green Gables . This make-believe town is obviously heaven for the eight-year-old girls running around its faux historic streets (think dress-up studio, pony and wagon rides and petting farm). My sons peg the highlight as Diana’s Tragic Tea Party (in which Anne and her friend get drunk on what they think is raspberry cordial), one of several story scenes performed throughout the day.

In the evening we attend Anne of Green Gables—The Musical at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts. It’s a slick production and my sons applaud enthusiastically. Could they be warming to the plucky orphan with the heart of gold?

Of course, the way to a young man’s heart is through his stomach. And so, on our final night, we tuck into a lobster feast—lobsters, seafood chowder, mussels, salad, rolls and strawberry shortcake—at the New Glasgow Lobster Supper. Satiated and a bit nostalgic about our holiday already, my sons give P.E.I. an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up. Anne included.

For more information on Prince Edward Island, visit the P.E.I. Tourism website at www.tourismpei.com

Vive L’Acadie!

Acadia has the ingredients of a bona fide country. National flag? Check. National anthem? Check. National holiday? Yup, August 15. National pride? Oh my goodness yes.

Acadia’s citizens live loud and proud in New Brunswick. Credit: Ann Britton Campbell

And yet, you won’t find Acadia on any map. That’s because, despite a rich history reaching back to the 1600s, when French settlers put down roots on the Atlantic coast of North America, Acadia has no borders, no government, no official status.

But it does have loyal citizens–an estimated 96,000 Acadians live in Canada, with strongholds in the country’s Maritime provinces, particularly New Brunswick.

Drive New Brunswick’s coast from Shediac to Caraquet and you’ll spy…

Continue reading this article, including seven must-do diversions along the route and five traditional Acadian dishes to sample, in the August 2013 issue of up! magazine. (Flip to page 32-33 in the digital issue).