Canada

Road trip to southern Vancouver Island

One of the many murals in Chemainus. David Grimble

Chemainus is also known for its theatre festival. It was 24 years ago that the players first performed here.

We had registered for a package which included; overnight accommodation at the Best Western, a delicious buffet dinner as well as theatre tickets. We thoroughly enjoyed the production of the Million Dollar Quartet. Through this musical tribute, we re-lived some of the most popular songs of the mid‑1950s …Blue Suede Shoesby that ultimate heart-throb, Elvis Presley, Great Balls of Fireby a fiery Jerry Lee Lewis, Fever by Elvis’ girlfriend-of-the-moment and Sixteen Tonsand I Walk the Lineby the iconic Johnny Cash.

The next day we travelled south on a portion of the Trans Canada Highway climbing to more than 1,100 ft. at the Malahat Summit before descending into Victoria. Our stopover was at the Great Gatsby Manor, a charming old Victorian-style inn with views of the Inner Harbour.

It was built for the family of William J. Pendray who made his first fortune in the goldfields in the 1890s and his second in the soap business. His wife, Amelia, continued to live in the mansion until the 1930s. The inn’s restaurant, Pendray, immortalizes his name.

Houseboats in Victoria. David Grimble

We were happy to see that the skies were slowly beginning to clear and we strolled down to the harbour and purchased tickets for a tour by water taxi. Enjoying the fresh sea breeze, we chugged past upscale float-homes, the famous 94-year-old Blue Bridge (now replaced), watched a seaplane take off, and learned that Victoria was built on the traditional territories of the Songhee First Nations.

It was almost lunchtime when we disembarked. A visit to Pagliacci’s, very much a traditional family-run Italian restaurant, had been highly recommended. The small space was decorated in rust colours. High up skylights let the light pour in. The tables were closely spaced yet somehow cozily intimate. It was a buzz of activity with a magic all of its own.

Everything was made in-house. The foccacia bread was to die for. The salad was fresh and the dressing full of flavor. The baby shrimp and pine nut pasta in a white wine cream sauce was oh so tasty. The pasta can even be ordered gluten-free. And the late was piping hot.

We strolled through Beacon Hill Park where the trees and plants were starting to show their colours. Our route took us along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had spectacular views across to the snow-capped mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Then we headed towards the Ogden Point Breakwater. It was constructed of huge concrete blocks in 1916 although the railings were not added until 2013.

The Gatsby Manor Inn. David Grimble

While my husband sipped a steaming hot cup of coffee, I walked the 850-metre length of the breakwater. Several fishermen were dangling their lines hoping that the fish would bite. Depictions of First Nations art along the breakwater brought the history of the region to life.

On our last day we visited the acclaimed photography exhibit at the Royal BC Museum. There were about 100 amazing backlit images from some of the world’s best wildlife photographers. Chosen from over 42,000 submissions, even photographs taken by youngsters aged just 10 were deemed worthy of selection.

My personal favourite was captured by the click of the shutter by American photographer, Andrew Lee. His photograph depicted a pelican as it scooped up a mouthful of smelt in its enormous bill; the image enhanced by a trail of tiny water droplets.

The Fish Market in Sydney. David Grimble

En route to the ferry terminal at Schwartz Bay, we stopped in Sidney on the Saanich Peninsula. We ambled along the walkway that fronts the Salish Sea where some interesting outdoor art exhibits were on display. In the distance we could see the snowy slopes of Mount Baker.

The beady eyes of a colony of black gannets perched atop some high timbers seemed to constantly watch our progress.

The black gannets perched atop some high timbers. David Grimble

We popped into the ever-popular Bistro Suisse for lunch. The menu listed some typically Swiss and European specialties. Our only dilemma was what to choose … the traditional schnitzel, the cheesy raclette or bratwurst with rösti. It was enjoyable to spend time at this quaint little restaurant with its easy relaxed atmosphere.

The ferry crossing to Tsawwassen on the mainland completed our circuit. This short break from routine was like a breath of fresh air. It lifted our spirits and brought a spring to our step.

A three-day escape following a circular route from Vancouver.

When we set off in the car, dark and threatening rain clouds were beginning to disperse revealing the odd patch of blue sky. The 90‑minute ferry journey from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo arrived at the dock just after 12 noon.

Our first stop was at the Lighthouse Café, overlooking the harbor on Nanaimo’s waterfront. The daily soup and the ahi tuna tacos were delicious and the service was island-friendly.

Chemainus; the little logging town that re-invented itself as an arts town. David Grimble

Afterwards, we continued onward to Chemainus; the little logging town that re-invented itself as an arts town. The lumber industry was its mainstay for more than 100 years but times were changing. In the late 1980s, this small community embarked on a revitalization program. An imaginative plan was conceived which involved the painting of outdoor murals.

We saw many of the 39 murals which illustrate the region’s First Nations people, daily life, former buildings and storefronts, local personages, copper-mining projects and the old sawmill.

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