The full Mountie
WILD AT HEART: There are many reasons to visit Canada, but for Sheena Hastings and family it was also a sentimental journey.
O begin at the end, it says everything that we left Canada after 16 days already planning our next visit. That rarely happens. But then the four of us – my husband, student daughters and I – were predisposed to love the land of maple syrup, Mounties, mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and bears.
Months of debate had gone into the itinerary, which took us to British Colombia and Southern Ontario. The country of choice was a no-brainer: Canada was the home of our daughters’ lately departed grandma, a war bride who’d travelled from a land of brightness and plenty to one of bleak austerity after marrying a British flyer.
As we descended over the western flank of the Rockies, crossed a wide, fertile plain and landed beyond the coastal mountain range in Vancouver, high school geography was brought to life.
In the same sweep of the eye we could take in glaciers, thousands of acres of forest and silver-tinted rivers meandering, their giant cargo of roped lumber snaking from forest to sawmill. This year’s mountain view; next year’s timber-framed house.
Vancouver is a clean, friendly, prosperous city, with a stunning oceanside location for yachts and seaplanes to the nearby islands, and mountains for skiing and summer hikes framing the bay. It seemed almost too good to be true.
We joined the runners, walkers and cyclists enjoying the waterside path around the bay to Stanley Park, a spit of land with a beach area, woodland, picnic spots and a famous and riotously colourful collection of First Nation totem poles, preserving family histories for posterity. From city centre galleries to street signs and the engrossing Museum of Anthropology, there is a pride in the history of the tribes who inhabited this breathtaking place long before the European explorers claimed it.
We were anxious to experience the wilderness of Vancouver Island, an hour away by ferry. In the dwindling evening light, we spotted curlews and golden eagles swooping above trees, trees and more trees, and barely met another vehicle as we wound through mountains and skirted lakes. The air was heavy with damp pine resin, and we were far removed from our everyday lives.
It took four hours to cross to Tofino on the Pacific Rim. We did indeed feel we were on the edge – next stop: Japan.
Canadians are warm, polite, hospitable and bend-over-backwards helpful. They’re also safety conscious to a fault, so hotel room information explained procedures to adopt in the event of encountering a bear, a cougar or a tsunami warning. Cougars don’t much like human chatter, we were told…so we kept up the flow of conversation on our coastal walks and stayed reasonably close together. Our forays were rewarded with our own private beaches to play on, plants and flowers we’d never seen, breathtaking views and a feeling of being cleansed and energised by the crashing surf.
After so much emptiness, the bright lights of Toronto (a five-hour flight from Vancouver) were a shock. Serially judged to be the world’s most liveable
Our forays were rewarded with our own private beaches to play on.