Month: July 2013

The Royston Wrecks

Before I ever visited the Comox Valley, I had never heard of the Royston Wrecks.  I had come across a small blurb in a visitor’s guide to Courtenay and Comox describing this collection of ship wrecks.  Royston is a small town minutes south of Courtenay along the Old Island Highway.  I would never think of stopping here, but I found a little road that leads down to the water and this collection of gigantic rusting steel skeletons.

The Royston Wrecks were originally part of the Comox Harbour Breakwater.  Logging was once a big industry in the Comox Valley and they would load up ships in Royston.  However, the waters were really rough.  So it was decided to start using old decommissioned ships to form a breakwater to calm the waters.  The first of the shipwrecks were placed there in the 1930’s and then added to over time.

Apart from the eerie beauty of the wrecks, there was plenty of beach and nature to enjoy in Royston.  There were the tiny little crabs that could seen in the pools stranded along the beach.  Dogs ran freely along the beach if their owners could find the place.  The gem of my visit to Royston was stumbling upon a collection of freshly eaten scallops.  The open shells lay prone in the sunshine.  They glistened in the midday sun.  The shells were likely the remnants of some seagull’s lunch.  I couldn’t have staged a more beautiful moment.

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Downtown Courtenay – Along 5th Street

Here’s a snippet of photos from along 5th Avenue in Downtown Courtenay.  The downtown is not very big. Most of the shops are centred along 5th Avenue, although you can find some shops and services along the adjacent 4th and 6th Streets.  Interestingly, the cross streets starting from the river go more or less alphabetically.  The Cona Hostel is on Anderton Avenue.  B is missing, but Beckensell Avenue can be found at 11th Street just outside of downtown.  Then there’s Cliffe, Duncan, England, and Fitzgerald Avenues.  Downtown peeters out past Fitzgerald.  So Downtown Courtenay is roughly 3 x 7 blocks.  That’s not a very large downtown and it’s really quiet at night.  That’s typical of a small town.

The Beaches Around Comox

On one of my free days in Courtenay, I drove over to north side of the Courtenay River and through Comox to the beaches around Comox.  I started up along Lazo Road and slowly made my way up and around the Comox Airport.  There is quite a variety of shoreline in this area.

The first beach was the very rocky Point Holmes near the north end of Lazo Road.  The long boat launch at Point Holmes attracted humans and fauna alike.  I walked out as far as I could along the boat launch and was surrounded by the crash of waves.  The van parked at the top of the boat launch looked ready to launch itself into the sea.

The next beach was Kye Bay, which can only be accessed by Kye Bay Road.  On this day, this was the most beautiful of the beaches I visited.  It was probably the only truly sandy beach.  A massage therapist complete with her massage chair, her client, and her dog also thought it was beautiful enough to set up shop.  The massage just finished in time as the tide rolled in. On this weekday, you could also hear and see the military planes flying up above.

The last beach I visited this day was Kin Beach.  Kin Beach felt more barren.  There were spots to sit and watch the tide along this rocky beach.  The forlorn and leafless trees along the shoreline captured my attention more than the beach itself.  I could also watch the Comox-Powell River ferry in the distance heading towards the Sunshine Coast.

Cumberland – Chinese and Mining History in a Small BC Town

Cumberland is one of the last places I would have ever thought of visiting. I never heard of this little Vancouver Island town until I heard that my wife would be working for a while in Courtenay.  Cumberland is up and away from the east coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a quick drive past the Inland Island Highway from Courtenay to Cumberland.

For me, the little gem in town is the Cumberland Museum and Archives.  However, I discovered a Chinese and Japanese connection in the town.  Cumberland was home to the second largest Chinese settlement in North America after San Fransisco around the turn of the 20th Century.  So the museum is full of Chinese related articles and stories about how those Chinese locals lived.  Many Japanese had also settled in Cumberland at the same time.

There were also some other tidbits about Cumberland in its early days.  There were a collection of different items from the past.  I also loved the list of rules for teachers of the day.  In a modern-day context, the list is totally hilarious, but it’s very indicative of the culture of the day.

In the basement of the museum was the mining section.  That part of the museum wasn’t interesting to me, but there were sure a lot of mines in the area.  The mines were the reason that so many Chinese had come to Cumberland.  The owner of the mining company liked to hire Chinese workers.

The rest of town was centred around the one small commercial street, Dunsmuir Street.  Cumberland is becoming a home for many young families.  The homes are cheaper in Cumberland compared to Courtenay and Comox which are both down on the water.  Cumberland is up into the hills and well inland. Dunsmuir Street may be short, but it does have that small town charm to it.

Just a little ways further out-of-town is the site of Chinatown.  The Chinatown was torn down in the 1960’s.  Many of the buildings had become derelict and unsalvageable. Many of the Chinese who were here had already left town and moved to places like Vancouver.  Today, the site of the Chinatown is a nature park.  The park has trails to walk and is a well-known mountain biking area.  All that remains to remind people of the existence of the Chinatown is a sign and a small gazebo.

So Cumberland and its museum is worth the visit if you are into learning history of small towns.  It’s also a popular place with all the mountain bikers.  You should see the town parking lot in town on the weekend.  There are mountain bikes everywhere.  For me, I enjoyed the Chinese connection that I never realized existed in Cumberland.

Courtenay Riverway

On one of our first evenings in Courtenay, my high school classmate now living in Courtenay introduced us to the Courtenay Riverway. It’s a bike and pedestrian path that runs from just east of the 5th Avenue Bridge all the way to the Courtenay River Estuary.  On the first evening, we only walked partway to the Marina.  However, I went back a few days later on my own to take some photos.

The first part of the Riverway on the western end near 6th Street takes you past a hardware store and just behind Courtenay City Hall.  For the most part, there is not much of a view in the first stretch here.  You get to walk just above the river shore about a block inland.  It’s not until I got past the 17th Street Bridge that things got more interesting.

This is Locals Restaurant.  It’s attached to the Old House Village Hotel & Spa.  It’s a fancy restaurant attached to some fancy accommodations.  Locals, as their name suggests, serves food with a strong local connection to the surrounding Comox Valley and Vancouver Island.  It’s supposed to be one of the best restaurants in town with the price tag to match.  I did not go and try Locals.  On this day as I was passing by, it looked like workers were putting the finishing touches on this new location.  It is a lovely old cottage home that seems the most appropriate place for a restaurant like Locals.

Across on the other side of the Courtenay River, things did not look so picturesque. The empty husk of an abandoned building sat there on a giant empty space alongside the Old Island Highway.  It sat in stark contrast to the green on the south side of the river.  However, I thought the building had a nice industrial edge to it, but who knows what will happen next to that plot of land.

A little further down, there was the Courtenay Marina Park just nestled into a little nook in the Courtenay River.  Only about a dozen or so boats could fit in this marina. However, this particular marina also doubles as the Courtenay Water Aerodrome.

There was only the one single red float plane in dock at the moment.  But the bright red really caught my eye.  We also saw this plane the evening we walked around with my classmate.  On that evening, there was a family of otters resting up on the dock right beside the plane.  I took a photo with my iPhone, but it’s hard to see the otters in that photo. They are in the lower right hand corner of the photo below.

Then just next door to the Marina is the Courtenay Airpark.  At first when I looked on a map of Courtenay, I thought this was their commercial airport.  Wrong.  It’s a hobby airpark for those who want to learn to fly a plane or spend their time flying planes.  It’s a neat little airpark along the river.  This day, there were a couple of pilots earning their wings.

Just to the east of the airpark is the Courtenay River Estuary.  I think this is my favourite part of the Riverway.  The Courtenay River simply opens up here and spills out into the Strait of Georgia.  The estuary is wide and open.  It is beautiful and natural.  On this sunny day, there were some people working along the banks near the airpark. It looks like they may have been collecting marine samples for study. I’m not sure.

Right at the mouth of the river, there is a little hill that gives a great elevated vantage point to see the whole estuary.  I like how the city of Courtenay has also provided plenty of benches for people to sit and enjoy the view. I imagine the view must be even prettier in the evening.

Then there were the rocks right at the mouth of the estuary.  They were covered in green algae and glistened in the midday sun.  I just had to get up close for a better photo of the rocks. It was wonderful.  Coming from the city, I can’t help but appreciate how clean and green everything is on Vancouver Island. The air feels cleaner and the water is definitely much clearer.

After walking from the Cona Hostel all the way to edge of the estuary, I was pretty tired, but very inspired by the beauty along the Courtenay Riverway.  My bottle of water had been empty for a long time already.  It was time to walk back up to Cliffe Avenue and stop by the McDonald’s for a $1 summer drink.

Memories of the 2012 Calgary Stampede

Where else in the world can you try a Cowboy Sundae, but at the Greatest Show on Earth – the Calgary Stampede.  It’s been a year since last year’s giant 100th anniversary bash.  The 2013 edition runs from July 5 – 14th this year.

2012 was the first time I had ever been to the Calgary Stampede.  Even though I lived in Alberta for many years, I never actually got to go to the Stampede.  So it was time for some rootin-tootin fun.

There was a lot of food choices.  Most of it of the “heart attack” variety.  Deep-fried goodies alongside chocolate dipped treats.  I guess the only thing that can better those items are deep frying chocolate dipped snacks.

There were also plenty of livestock on hand.  Cows, chicken, sheep, and horses all over the place.  If you’re kids love animals, they’ll love the Agricultural section of the Stampede.  I, myself, am not so partial to the smell of farm life.  That’s just me.

There was also the stage shows.  We caught Adam and Selina – Masters of Illusion on the Bell Stage. This brother and sister duo from the land Down Under was very popular with Stampede patrons.  Boy, those line ups to get in and out of the seating area was crazy.  I don’t know what acts they have this year, though.

If fairway rides are your thing, then the Calgary Stampede has the standard rides to cater to your thrills.  We were busy with shows and other stuff, so we didn’t spend any money on the rides.  I can get many of the same rides at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver.  So I didn’t feel the urge to go the local rides.  But the rides definitely add atmosphere to the fairgrounds, especially as night falls.

And finally, there is the famed Rodeo and Evening Shows.  The Stampede Grandstand tickets are the most popular tickets by far.  Most of the Grandstand seats are sold out well before the Stampede even starts.  You have to line up once the fair opens in the morning for the remaining seats and standing room only tickets.  It’s an intimidatingly long queue, but you should be able to get tickets if you get there early enough.  Just expect standing room only to be left by the end of the line.

To be honest, though, we weren’t that into the chuck wagon races and rodeo stuff.  The standing room only part wasn’t all that comfortable either.  So we ended up leaving after an hour and didn’t stay for the big evening show with fireworks.  If we had to stand for 3 hours, I think it was too much.  At least we had a taste of the Evening Show.  However, it wasn’t our cup of tea.

And, of course, you can go to the Calgary Stampede just to people watch.  It’s not everyday (at least apart from the Prairies) that you see crowds of people with cowboy hats and country wear.  Just go to the Stampede for the feel of the Alberta crowd.