Notes on...

It took a move away for me to see how beautiful British Columbia really is

The province where I grew up is just one scene from a nature documentary after another

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

When people hear I’m from rural British Columbia, I know what their reaction will be: rhapsodic. ‘BC’ is their favourite place on earth — they had a life-changing encounter with nature there, and only their marriage/job/children stopped them dropping everything and moving there for ever. It may be one of the most beautiful corners of the Earth, but it’s also the place I grew up. In other words: I’ve always found it kind of boring.

Marrying someone whose parents retired to Canada’s west coast gave me more reason to keep going back, and being there with people who aren’t blasé locals has given me a new perspective. I’ve gradually opened my eyes to what new visitors find obvious: the whole province is one scene from a nature documentary after another. Vancouver has excellent restaurants, galleries and shopping, but nature is the big show around here.

An easy trip for first-timers is to Grouse Mountain, a short drive from downtown Vancouver. The very fit can do as the locals do, and attempt a two-mile trail up the mountain’s face, known as the ‘Grouse grind’. It’s the view that’s the prize, though, so you should feel no guilt about taking a cable-car to the summit. From above the clouds you can see as far as the Gulf Islands over in the west. Once on top of the mountain, there are plenty of trails where you’re likely to spot families of scurrying grouse, or to be observed from above by a handsome eagle perched on a Douglas fir.


After that, I’d suggest taking a leisurely ferry ride through the Georgia Straits to Vancouver Island. A seaplane would be quicker, but you’d miss out on gliding past the misty shapes of the Gulf Islands. Stand on the deck and you are likely to spy harbour seals or sea otters monkeying around by the rocks — and once I took a ferry that was escorted for half an hour by two -killer whales. They sprayed fountains of water, breaching the ocean’s surface over and over while we all gasped. Even for a jaded ex-local it was heart-pounding.

Then I’d recommend heading north to MacMillan Provincial Park and taking in the spectacular group of ancient Douglas firs known as Cathedral Grove. And a cathedral it really is, with centuries-old columns dripping in fluorescent green moss. Even the tallest human couldn’t help but feel small next to the largest of these giants, 240ft high and 30ft around.

The raw western edge of Canada can be enjoyed from the comfort of the windows of the chic Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, a fishing village. But come rain or shine — and I’m afraid it’s usually rain — you’ll be better off outside. The brave can rent wetsuits and try surf lessons. For more cautious travellers, there are whale-watching tours. Both grey and humpback whales thrive in the waters nearby.

Even a quiet walk on the beach is teeming with life. My kids love flipping over the flat rocks of the tide pools and seeing the tiny crabs underneath scrabble madly for cover. Back home in Toronto they tell their friends, ‘BC is the best.’

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  • E.I.Cronin

    BC is the only place in the world that could lure me away from my beloved New Zealand. They’ve planted Douglas Firs by the shores of Lake Wanaka and walking under them in the summer sun the scent is like incense with a backdrop of cobalt water and peaks. BC must be even grander.

    • mohdanga

      Vancouver is now known as Hongcouver (extortionate home prices and suburbs full of Chinese). My sister lives in Vancouver and her partner is now troubled that the airport there will soon be handling non-stop flights from China, which means they will now overrun that beautiful city and island. Even now she says it seems every second person on the street is speaking Chinese.
      The scenery is great, though.

      • mohdanga

        Sorry, meant to say my sister lives in Victoria, not Vancouver. Vancouver has already been overrun by Chinese and East Indian enrichers.

        • Sue Smith

          Eeeeeew.

      • E.I.Cronin

        As I wrote my comment I actually wondered how you were going in Trudeau’s Brave New Canada!! Hongcouver sounds depressing. About the only thing you can say is that at least it’s not Arab Muslims? :^/

        • mohdanga

          Toronto is a “multicultural utopia” ie non-white majority city (never had any of the multiculti, mass immigration yobs explain why a city that was almost 100% white 40 years ago, in a white country, is now so much better now that whites are being replaced…they would never stand for the same thing happening in a non-white country). Vancouver is on its way…
          Trudeau has pandered to Muslims to get their votes so the spigot will be kept open for them. We are finished….

          • E.I.Cronin

            I hear you. But have hope. 2016 is going to be a terrible year for cultural diversity extremists.

          • mohdanga

            One can only hope. The politicians and media are trying their hardest to put a lid on the assaults and rapes by the new enrichers in Europe but people are starting to get the news.

          • Sue Smith

            I rather think it’s the white guys who will be sorry.

          • Sue Smith

            Which again supports my reasons for never setting foot in Canada.

          • E.I.Cronin

            Hey how do Canadian provinces initiate plebiscites…? According to Wiki BC, Novia Scotia, NF, Lab and of course Qebec have held quite a few referendums. Obviously Trudeau would ignore a provincial plebiscite that voted in favour of immigration reform and multicultural policy repeal but if several states did show a mandate from the people that’s a pretty powerful message for the opposition.

            Sorry if my optimism grates. Am involved in small scale community debates over here and it does seem like Mission Impossible. I hope your wonderful country salvages some of it’s great heritage.

      • trace9

        Vancouver Airport seems to be akin to one of those the Chinese are building on Pacific atolls, with a lot less trouble & funded by the round-eyes..

      • Robert

        Vancouver has had nonstop flights to China for decades.

        • mohdanga

          I meant Victoria.

    • Sue Smith

      We have your PM John Key over here with us in Sydney at the moment. He seems to be rather on the ball. We all love our NZ cousins!! My husband and I are visiting the south island this winter. Please keep the earth still for us down there!!

      • E.I.Cronin

        Hey Sue! I meant to ask how Mark Steyn went? Which talk did you go to?

        Yes the Nationals here are a different breed to ours. I like Key and think he’s got some good people in his team. NZ politics are getting very, very interesting. Kiwis are wonderful people – you’ll love it here. It’s like Australia used to feel.

        Will make sure the Great Alpine Fault doesn’t go while you’re here. But can’t guarantee there wont be a shake or wobble (you get used to it!)

        • Sue Smith

          You’re beating us all hands down. My husband’s daughter lives in Albany, Auckland, and his 3 grandsons are also in Auckland. We were there in 2012 and will return to south island, as I said. My husband lived and worked in Wellington in the early 1960s. What a beautiful city it is. “Thank you driver” – we’ll never forget the politeness on buses. The rest of the world should look and learn!!

          All the best, EI!!

          • E.I.Cronin

            Yes Welly is a picturesque city with a great vibe. Dunedin’s my favourite town too with a combination of sea, landscape, architecture and heritage that’s hard to match. Let me know if you visit Otago! All the best and hope to hear how Steyn’s talk goes. He’s stirring things up which can only be a good thing.

          • Sue Smith

            Oh, yes, Steyne. This Tuesday night, 23rd. He was on ABC Radio National on Friday night on ‘Between the Lines’ with Tom Switzer (from the US Studies Centre at Sydney University):

            Hopefully this link will work!

            http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/betweenthelines/the-realm-of-manners/7180616

    • fredimeyer

      well, it is not as backward or lost in a time warp as nz. but it is just as boring and unintellectual, though certainly with better scenery and fewer sheep

      • E.I.Cronin

        I’m hoping for the good people of BC’s sake that you left and never went back.

  • rtj1211

    And it took a bung from the BC tourist office for you to write about it!!

  • MacGuffin

    It’s still too damn cold up there though. Give me northern California/Oregon any day. Better scenery, less rain, more to do.

    • Robert

      better scenery in Oregon? Where exactly?

      • MacGuffin

        The drive along the coast from San Francisco to Portland is awe-inspiring, and I’ll take any of those two cities, or the towns in between, over boring repressed old Vancouver any day.

  • Vinnie

    I went to Vancouver last weekend for a job interview in Surrey. I’m a Brit living in Edmonton. i was led to believe that Vancouver is the best place to live in the entire world. My findings:

    Vancouver is incredibly expensive. There is nowhere available to rent.
    It’s full of two types of people: Chinese bankers driving Porsche Cayennes, or ‘pretend’ hipsters into their craft beer, walking their small dogs and everyone looks like their heading to yoga and don’t like they actually do Yoga, ie they’re quite fat.
    Surrey is more cheaper but it’s like Compton, the amount of crime is unbelievable for a Canadian city. People will say ‘oh yeah but you get good and bad everywhere’ – no. Some of the crimes are prostitutes in the middle of the day, someone was stabbed in the Guildford mall, shootings, drive bys. And it’s EVERY DAY.
    The beaches at Van are not really beaches. It’s an estuary. It’s like saying Leigh on Sea has a nice beach. Its mud. In summer it probably gets more sandy.
    The people are incredibly rude. Nobody talks to each other.

    …so on the flip side you have Edmonton. Blue collar, rig pigs every in big trucks. FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD…ahhh but there’s no Nordstrom or Gucci shops. Edmonton is like going to a more simple time, there’s no class structure here, the guys in trucks play golf with the lawyers. Everyone enjoys the lakes and mountains together.

    …That’s after 1 weekend. And believe me I would love for someone to prove me wrong.

    • Margot5000

      No, you’re right! Don’t be tempted! We found so many ‘posers’ – sort of ‘Look at me, I’ve got it all’. The jobs market was intense which wouldn’t make for happiness I guess but they seemed to think having got there they didn’t dare admit they’d made a whopper.

    • NormanWells

      They keep talking about the scenery. When I was there you couldn’t see it for the rocks and trees.

  • Sue Smith

    It looks absolutely divine!! Reminds me of Austria. But that Trudeau is so offensive to me I’ll never set foot in Canada, sadly. They don’t need me or my tourist dollar.

    • Richard Baranov

      I lived in B.C for a year, wonderful if you like pine trees and granite, incredibly tedious if you like variety. You are right about the multiculti thing. I found the Canadians to be incredibly self righteous and hypocritical. They have these special devices on their cash registers that automatically tell them what change to give you in Canadian currency whist taking your American dollars, all the time criticising the USA. They are also appalling racists when it comes to the native peoples. According to white Canadians, the men are drunks and the women are good for nothing but prostitution. I left the place and would never go back, even if I was paid to do so. I have lived and been to many countries but B.C. Canada easily is the most repellent place I have ever been.

      • grumpy_carpenter

        While I agree that there are racists in Canada and overall the treatment of natives i the country, particularly the western provinces and in parts of the remote north is appalling, you are perhaps guilty of the same prejudice in assuming that all Canadians are racist drunks as some Canadians are for their poor treatment of natives and fondness for cheap beer.

        It is of interest to note that the status of natives in Canada and children under the law and the reserve system that is at the root of the dire poverty and prejudice Canadian natives face is the work of the British who ruled the land at the time.

        Of course Canada has no excuse for not changing the laws around native governance and renegotiating the unfair treaties the natives entered into with our forbearers however it can be argued that the culture of racism against natives that currently exists in Canada was inherited from the British.

        I currently live near the City of Fredericton a community of roughly 100,000 people completly integrated with a Maliceet reserve. There is no demarcation or noticeable difference in living standards between Maliceet housing and the surrounding neighborhoods. I shop at a Maliceet supermarket and fish monger, there are abundant Maliceet professional services and businesses, they are prominent, if not dominant in the arts and culture of the region and they operate the best blues radio I have ever heard.

        What I see here in Fredericton is acceptance and integration of the Maliceet community while at the same time enjoying the enjoying the unique and creative culture of the maliceet people. I can tell you that this kind of relationship is uncommon in Canada but it does exist and hopefully, with time and the current federal government that has a stated policy of fairness toward native peoples, this attitude will spread west and north to the rest of the country

      • Robert

        Funny alcohol consumption per capita is less than the UK and only slightly higher than the US. Those Canadian businesses who accept US dollars (and only tourist-related businesses do as far as I know) are doing so simply as a courtesy for those Americans who don’t change their money. No sure why they’d give change in USD when the price is in Canadian and you’re at a Canadian store. Do US stores give change in Canadian, let alone accept it in the first place?

      • fredimeyer

        The only people who go to Canada are those who cannot afford Switzerland, where official policy denies all residence visas to Canadians, AND Australians. It helps keep up the standards.

        • Richard Baranov

          Then, in my experience the standards are rather low! I was invited there, incidentally, and was not particularly interested in going in the first place. It had not crossed my mind to visit but I was asked to teach and had to fulfil that obligation as a result. But, as I said, it is the only country that I have been to that I would not revisit, even if I was paid to do so.

  • Terence Hale

    I am the moment am in the Swiss mountains a European view of things. Miles from anywhere things work I have Wi-Fi the next shop is about 20 Km but I have time.

  • grumpy_carpenter

    I recently returned to my native province of New Brunswick after retiring from a 40 year career that had me working working across the country including a few years in Vancouver BC. back in the 1980’s when it was still affordable.

    I was living in Ontario and considering a move to Vancouver island or the Saint John River Valley between Fredericton NB and Saint John NB. To buy a comparable property to what I had in Ontario it would take me twice the money to buy on Vancouver island and less than half to buy in New Brunswick.

    It was a no brainer. We chose to move to New brunswick and it was an excellent decision. For 75% of the selling price of our house on a 40′ city lot in Ontario we bought a house with 2 acres on the Saint John River 20 minutes west of the capital Fredericton. It’s south facing orchard land with half a dozen productive apple trees. From my breakfast nook I can watch the sunrise, sunset and everything in between and the view is spectacular. The river valley is wooded with mixed pines, birch and maples. The area is called the Grand Pass because the river traverses between two islands and every day has you reaching for the binoculars to watch the wildlife or the camera to catch play of light of the mist over the river or the fall colours or the fresh snow.

    There is a herd of about 20 deer that traverse the property every evening to go to the river and every morning to return to the forest behind the house. The other day I was watching a herd of 4 deer swim across the river and 2 bald eagles circling above them when a white, graceful ghost of a bird appeared that dwarfed the eagles. It was a snowy owl, a species not common here but within it’s winter range. I had the pleasure of watching this magnificent bird most of the month of january along with the regular dozen of so Golden and Bald eagles that hunt along this stretch of the river.

    The outdoor activities are endless here. Excellent road and mountain biking. This year I took up fat tire winter cycling…..they groom the mountain bike trails here for winter cycling. Excellent nordic and Alpine skiing, thousands of Km’s of snowmobile trails, great hiking and ATVing from spring through to snowfall in December. We have the best Atlantic salmon fishing rivers in the world and abundant wildlife if you’re a hunter. The Bay of Fundy with abundant seafood, whale watching and the highest tides in the world is an hour to the east and about 2 1/2 hrs to the north is the Northumberland straight with beautiful beaches and the warmest waters north of the Carolinas.

    BC is Canada’s tourist mecca and it is spectacular but New Brunswick with it’s abundant forests, river valleys, ocean and unique culture is Canada’s best kept secret.

  • Margot5000

    So agree with most of the comments on here. Lived in Vancouver for a couple of years. The last words of the article say the kids claim to their friends in Toronto ‘BC is best’. When we were there it was full of ‘immigrants’ from beyond the Rockies fleeing their life frozen for half a year to somewhere they’d heard was paradise. For most it was an anti-climax and resulted in the highest everything on Canada Stats – highest suicide rate, highest murder rate, highest drug rate – you name it. And like others have written here – there are far better mountain and beach places in Europe. Even there, north Washington state is better.

    • Vinnie

      that was my experience of being there a weekend.

  • fredimeyer

    BC is great, and the best thing about it is that virtually no Canadians live there.

    Vancouver is a vibrant city, with an American ethos and an Asian ethnicity. Whistler is the best skiing area on the continent. But one’s time in either has to be limited, due to the horrifically dismal weather. Friends have come back to Verbier after a winter in Whistler literally looking like ghosts.

    The writer has obviously not been to the Haida Gwai [once the Queen Charlotte Islands] or helicopter skiing in Blue River or Atlin, all places of wonder. BC leads the world in heliskiing, developed by Austrians. In BC there are entire villages of Swiss, and Austrian ski teachers pioneered ski tourism there.

    There is space, and nature. But flying over mile after mile of pine forest in your helicopter, you realize it is all too samey. The Alps are sunnier, more scenically diverse and they offer something utterly lacking everywhere in Canada–civilization.

    • NormanWells

      Close to 5 million is virtually none?

      • fredimeyer

        omg. you need it spelled out? there may be 5mn PEOPLE, but if you know how to read you see i did not say ‘people’. official bc stats list the CANADIANS living there as 17%

        • NormanWells

          Omg you’re a dope. You need it spelled out? Most all are Canadians. But the census requires people to state ethnicity/national origin and some (possibly your 17%) say Canadian.

          • fredimeyer

            duh they are not ‘candadians’ if they SAY they are not canadians, and when i say canadian i do not mean some mexican who moved there last week. that is clear from context. you obviously have a reading handicap

          • NormanWells

            You can have Canadian citizenship and state several other ethnicities on the census.

          • NormanWells

            You can have Canadian citizenship and state several other ethnicities on the census.

  • NormanWells

    Hopefully there will be an earthquake soon leaving just n-e B C so the pipeline routes will be shorter and safer.

    • fredimeyer

      no, just normal white people. you must not be used to it

      • NormanWells

        You appear to be a very angry person.

      • NormanWells

        You appear to be a very angry person.

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