Salmon Festival float

Canada Day in Steveston

River boats at Granville Island
River boats at Granville Island

I frittered away the next morning. After the activities of the previous two weeks, I felt I needed a rest! At lunchtime, I took the bus to Granville Island which I had visited on a previous trip. It houses many craft shops, cafes and a food market and is an easy place to wander. Whilst having my lunch, I enjoyed chatting to a couple from Tasmania, who began the conversation by asking if I was from Australia or N.Z.. They had recognised the Kathmandu logo on my bag. They had just finished an Alaskan cruise and coach trip round the Rockies and had stayed in a lakefront room at the Chateau in Lake Louise. We were obviously not in the same category of traveller!

A little later, I was checking my map when I became conscious of shouting around me. When I looked up, a crowd of naked cyclists chanting “less dress, more ass” confronted me. It was a sight to behold!

I walked part way back to my accommodation as I wanted to have a look at an area I had passed through on the bus. It was further than I thought! I was also looking for somewhere to buy bus passes for the next couple of days. In theory, they were available from many places but no-one had any in stock.

My ambling took me to another second-hand bookshop. I perused for a long time whilst eavesdropping on a telephone conversation the owner was having with a friend who was having problems with a teenage daughter. Thank goodness I no longer have to cope with teenagers! On our travels up the west coast various people had recommended two Canadian books and I was hunting for them. When he came off the phone, the owner told me “The Golden Spruce” was hard to find, and he didn’t have “The Curve of Time”. They are both historical accounts of life on the coast in the early 20th century. I will have to keep looking.

Back at U.B.C., after a walk to the supermarket, I bought a takeaway curry and settled into my room for the evening.

Happy Canada Day
Happy Canada Day

Canada Day, July 1st, is a Big Day in Canada. I decided I didn’t want to join the revellers and other tourists in the city so opted to go to Steveston, on the Fraser River, instead. The annual Salmon Festival was taking place and not to be missed! The journey to get there was long and involved. I had been unsuccessful in my quest for a day pass, so the bus driver let me ride for free to the SkyTrain station where I bought my ticket. The train took me to Richmond/Brighouse at which point I joined all the other festival goers on a bus to Steveston. The journey itself was an adventure!

Thanks to my friend Mr Google, all my connections went according to plan, and I arrived in time to have coffee and find my spot on the street for the parade. In front of me, sitting on the pavement, were grandparents minding their three young grandchildren. Each float handed out sweets or other free goods. The lady encouraged the children to grab anything going and if they missed out, told them it was because they hadn’t said ‘please’. She collected everything in a bag and wouldn’t let them have anything! Next to me was an Asian lady who was even more ‘pushy’ in her bid to get goodies. On my left, two couples with their respective small children, all dressed in red with maple leaf stickers, tattoos and flags, just enjoyed the occasion. A cross-section of Steveston’s population surrounded me!

The parade was long. Very long. It represented every business, political party and community group in the area. Police monitored events from horses, motorbikes, stilts (I kid not) and 4 wheel drive vehicles. The atmosphere was wonderful and I was impressed with the patriotism of Canadians, the extent of which I don’t think I’ve met anywhere else. Before the parade ended, I went in search of the Salmon Barbecue. According to the website, there was a limited supply and when it was gone, it was gone. I didn’t want to miss out! I made my way through the crowds and bought my ticket. The salmon was delicious; the bread roll not so and the salad was indifferent. However, I had had my Salmon Festival experience and still had time to watch the end of the parade, which hadn’t finished.

Afterwards, I strolled along the attractive and historic waterfront. It was a beautiful warm day, and I wandered in and out of the restored Cannery buildings and on to Fisherman’s Wharf, where fish was being sold direct from the boats.

Crowds had by then congregated in this area. Restaurants and cafes were doing a roaring trade; there was a craft market, gymnastics and dance competition and street entertainers. Today, the crowds didn’t bother me as the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly with everyone out to make the most of the day. Canada Day is a time for family and friends, it seems.

Boats and crowds at Fisherman's Wharf
Boats and crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf

By 4pm I had had enough. It was time to find the bus stop for the return journey. Chaos reigned as roads were closed and buses weren’t running their normal routes. Nobody seemed to know what was happening. I got on a bus that was going to Richmond. But not for another 10 minutes, apparently. In the meantime, the red-haired lady sitting in front kept me amused with her comments, which included such gems as “you might want to move along and get friendly” to people standing in the aisle. Once we were moving, she tried to help an old lady with a walking frame get off the bus but the lady didn’t seem to want to go once the driver had stopped. Nor did she know where she was getting off. The red-head had a lot to say to the driver about that one!

Having at last found a shop that sold a bus pass, I boarded the SkyTrain where a friendly man launched into a discussion about oil spills, the oil industry, the fire that destroyed an Alberta town which was deliberately lit (his opinion) and the number of windmills killing Canadian geese. It was quiet after he got off.

The 99 bus was the last stage of my journey ‘home’. A group of drunken boys waited at the bus stop and got on at the same time. I sat down and observed. One of them tried to engage in conversation with the driver who did his best to ignore the comments. Another had his leg in plaster and was using it as an excuse for everything. There was swearing, and they passed beers around (although didn’t open them). Eventually, one made a comment about having a “good unresponsive discussion” with the driver which made me smile. Another one noticed and took it as his cue to launch into conversation with me, overheard by the entire bus! I found it amusing but I’m sure the other passengers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the boys realised they were on the wrong bus and got off to continue their Canada Day elsewhere!

I was too tired by 10pm to walk down to the waterfront to see the city fireworks across the water. It was also raining. My Canada Day had been well spent!

My flight to Auckland the next day wasn’t until the evening so after breakfast and my favourite coffee from Blenz, I packed and took my bag to the airport where I left it at the luggage storage. The rest of the sunny day, I spent at the Designer Outlet Centre I had spotted from the train. It was crowded, mainly with Asian shoppers, and some shops, such as Kate Spade, restricted entry to a limited number so there were queues outside. I didn’t go into any of those! I dislike shopping but make the occasional exception. The first couple of hours were a novelty, but that wore off. However, I made one or two purchases and was pleased with myself when I returned to the airport. I had to shuffle my bags around, but managed to fit it all in!

Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka

Joining the crowds at Lake Louise

Chipmunk at Moraine Lake
Chipmunk at Moraine Lake

The next day began inauspiciously. We left later than planned; the weather was indifferent and the drive back to Lake Louise was long. We hoped to visit Moraine Lake, which is at the end of a 14km stretch of road and accessed from the road to Lake Louise. Officials close the road if the car park is full. We were fortunate. Just as we were driving past, they removed the barriers so Steve made a quick U turn, and off we went.

Unsurprisingly, there were crowds, but they didn’t diminish the incredible scenery. Nature is wonderful! We clambered around the rocks and marvelled for a while before retracing our steps and heading for Lake Louise. It was full! Parking attendants directed us around all the car parks and back down the road. There was nowhere to park. The overflow car park was miles away on the main highway and shuttle buses ran from there. We made a unanimous decision to drive to the Chateau and pay for valet parking rather than waste time. It was worth it!

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake

Steve and Robyn couldn’t get hold of Marina, whom we were expecting to meet for lunch. In the meantime, we used the voucher she had given us for the canoes on the lake. ‘We’ (Steve) paddled slowly for an hour and reached the middle of the lake before returning. Judging by the number of boats, it was a popular pastime.

Lunch was our next problem. The only place at Lake Louise is the Fairmont Chateau, and the cafe is expensive. Marina, with her staff discount couldn’t meet us after all, so we had to buy food from the deli and pay the price. My soup was tepid so asked for it to be re-heated and there were so many people there was nowhere to sit except the window sill. At least, it was an improvement on the gutter of the previous evening!

The Tea House
The Tea House

The afternoon hike more than made up for any hassles of the morning. We walked the entire length of the lake, accompanied by many people, most of whom we lost once we began the ascent on the Six Glaciers trail. Over four hours later we returned to the Chateau. We had followed the track right to the top where glaciers and mountains surrounded us. At the end, the path followed a ridge with some loose moraine. This is where we turned around but more adventurous people clambered further and onto a rocky ledge. Only serious hikers ventured this far. However, one lady amused me. She was wearing a pearl necklace and told me she bought a new one each year for her trips so this was her 2018 set. I think I might have to adopt that practice!

I didn’t want to leave the mountains; they were so stunning, but the weather was closing in and tea and chocolate cake beckoned at the Tea House. This cafe was exactly how I imagined a Nepalese tea house to be. We shared chocolate cake and mousse, both of which were divine (and justified by the hike!).

Waterfall at Johnson Canyon
Waterfall at Johnson Canyon

Our arrival back in Calgary was late, and we were all tired. We were hoping for a special meal out as this was our last evening together. We took a while to find somewhere appropriate, tempers frayed and we (Robyn and I) imbibed much wine before we ate. However, the food was excellent. On the way back to our hotel, a policeman swore at us when we crossed the road against the lights. And I thought all Canadians were so polite!

We started our last day with a stop at a bakery recommended by the hotel’s valet parking man. It was more of a patisserie but typically French and had a large selection of croissants. Our blood sugars rose!

Robyn had selected the hike to the Ink Pots in Johnson Canyon for today’s hike. It was the wrong side of Banff, much further off the highway than she thought and the roads were busy as it was the start of Canada Day long weekend. On arrival, we were lucky to get a parking space as someone pulled out as we approached. I bought a much-needed cup of coffee and we joined the hordes walking up to the waterfalls. We could not believe how many people there were! The trail continued past the waterfalls by which time the crowds had thinned. However, we had had enough so turned around and returned to the car. We enjoyed excellent walnut maple ice creams before re-joining the traffic and heading for Minnewanka Lake, which someone told us was not pronounced as it is spelt!

Almost empty Lake Minnewanka
Almost empty Lake Minnewanka
Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka
Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka

What an unexpected surprise this was – no problem with parking and no hordes of people. We had a picnic of baguette and cheese overlooking the lake. There was time for a quick rest or wander, depending on your disposition, before hitting the road for the final stretch to Calgary airport. Robyn and Steve were flying to Victoria, and I was spending the last days of my trip in Vancouver. All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

On the plane, the WestJet pilot gave a short spiel with dry, humour that had the passengers smiling. An hour later, we landed in Vancouver and I caught the SkyTrain and bus to the Carey Centre at U.B.C. campus. It transpired this was a theological college and reception was only manned until 9pm. Thankfully I got there in time. Some guests who arrived the following evening were not so lucky. My first impressions with my accommodation were not favourable. However, over the next couple of days I came to appreciate it more once I had found a source of hot water for my tea (as long as reception was open!). There were few facilities, but the campus is extensive and attractive and there was an abundance of cheap cafes around.

Kerkeslin View point

The Icefields Parkway

Clear blue skies and sun magically appeared the following day. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions to drive the Icefields Parkway. Robyn and Steve queued at the bakery for coffee, breakfast and lunch supplies whilst I had my granola and packed up. We were on the road by 9.30am. The traffic was light; the road was wide, and the scenery was stupendous.

Athabasca Falls was our first port of call. The height of the waterfall was small but the volume of water converging into the narrow gorge was enormous. The noise was deafening. Whilst the car park was full, people were not intrusive as we wandered along the paths and stopped at the lookouts.

Kerkeslin View point
Kerkeslin View point
Hard to believe!
Hard to believe!

On the way to Sumwapta Falls, we stopped at the Kerkeslin viewpoint, which had a magnificent view of the milky looking, glacial river below and the sparkling mountains beyond. On our return to the car, it astounded us to see the number of vehicles parked at the side of the road (and not in the car park!) so people could take photos of mountain goats. The people were oblivious to the spectacular view just a few metres behind them.

The Sumwapta Falls were swarming with people and cars so we didn’t stay long. We climbed down to the river edge, avoided a crow intent on its lunch, and from a lookout watched a whitewater rafting trip set off down the river.

Columbia Icefield
Columbia Icefield

The Columbia Icefield lured us in next. By the side of the highway, cars and buses filled a hotel car park. We turned in the opposite direction and drove the short distance to the Icefield car park. A walking track was carved out of the moraine and easy. We took our time to marvel at nature’s wonders. The tour and walk on the glacier looked appealing, but we had many miles yet to cover.

It was already early afternoon at that point and Robyn was determined to fit in a hike before lunch. A 35 minute climb with incredible views brought us to the top of Parker Ridge where we ate our sandwiches in sight of the Saskatchewan glacier. That picnic spot would be hard to beat! It was a steep ascent but well worth the effort. An additional bonus was that there were few people, proving that you don’t have to go too far to escape the crowds.

Saskatchewan glacier from our picnic spot
Saskatchewan glacier from our picnic spot
Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake

Robyn had another hike planned but our destination for the night was Calgary and the day was passing quickly. At least it remained light until after 10pm. We had to content ourselves with a walk to the viewpoint of Peyto Lake at Bow Summit where we fought with the Asian tour groups to find a space on the platform to take photos.

The Parkway ends just before Lake Louise. Robyn and Steve had a friend working at the Fairmont Chateau there and wanted to call and see her. We were lucky to find a parking space and went to track her down. The number of people along the lakefront was astonishing! We chatted to Marina for a while, looked at two expensive rooms with views of the car park (professional interest on Steve and Robyn’s part) and decided to return the next day for sightseeing.

Our original intention was to have dinner in Calgary when we arrived. However, it would have been so late we stopped in Banff for a quick takeaway instead. This almost proved mission impossible! People jammed the pavements, and it took a while to find a cafe or restaurant that wasn’t too busy to provide takeaways. Eventually, we discovered a non-descript Japanese cafe that sold us excellent ramen noodle soup, which we ate sitting on the edge of the pavement next to the car! Had I reached my lowest ebb?

Calgary was another hour and a half away and it was almost 10pm by the time we arrived. Robyn had booked the Hilton with her staff discount when we couldn’t find any accommodation less than $300 a night around Banff. It was cheaper to drive backwards and forwards and have a comfortable room to sleep in. This worked well in theory but it was tiring for Steve who was driving.

The boat on Maligne Lake

Jasper and Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake boatshed
Maligne Lake boatshed

It was yet another early start the next day. We were staying in the hostel for another night but had to change rooms and were meeting Louise, one of her work colleagues, at 8am. It was a rush to pack up, have breakfast and be ready.

Louise’s parents were visiting from England and had rented a campervan. They drove us to Lake Maligne, where it was unbelievably cold, but beautiful. The weather was being very fickle! They had booked a boat trip on the lake at lunch time so Robyn and I joined them. Before that, we hiked the Bald Hill trail which had a lookout at the top. It was a gentle ascent on a well-formed track. The steep route we took down had fantastic views of the lake and surrounding mountains and glaciers. This part of the track was popular, and we stopped many times to allow people to pass (and to take photographs!). Back at the campervan, we cobbled together some sandwiches with our combined limited supplies. We had intended to go to the cafe for lunch, but the queue was a mile long.

With perfect timing, we arrived at the jetty for our tour. There is only one company operating and their boats are the only ones with motors permitted on the lake. We travelled as far as Spirit Island, observing three glaciers en route. The company limits the number of boats landing to one, so it wasn’t crowded. The crew allowed ten minutes for our stop. It was freezing though and most people were glad to return to the relative shelter of the cabin. Two young Indian brothers provided entertainment on the return journey. The captain asked if they would like to steer the boat. The younger, shyer one had difficulty but his big, self- satisfied grin when he did it made everyone laugh.

It was mid-afternoon when Louise’s parents dropped us off in Jasper, by which time Steve had arrived. He had hired a car in Edmonton and driven to meet us. Having arrived earlier than expected, he had wandered the streets of Jasper whilst waiting and was desperate for a proper walk. Maligne Canyon beckoned. We had spotted the signs for it on our way to the lake. It didn’t disappoint. Our time was limited as we were meeting the others for dinner so we didn’t quite reach the sixth bridge. However, we followed the track as far as the fifth one, at which point the river widened and was less impressive. The canyon was deep, narrow and had a large volume of water gushing through it. Water also emerged from underground caves and the geology was fascinating.

Back in town, we met Louise and her family for dinner at Olive’s which was across the road from the hostel. It was not up to the standard of our meal the previous evening but was adequate. After we ordered, Steve told us he had read in an Alberta newspaper that their chef had jumped off an 80 foot cliff into a lake, just for fun. It didn’t end well. He was in hospital with a broken pelvis. I’m not sure who cooked our dinners that night!

The 'Bubble' carriage

Prince Rupert to Jasper

One of many freight trains
One of many freight trains

The train from Prince Rupert to Jasper takes two days and has an overnight stay in Prince George as it is so slow. I had opted for this as it was a a lot cheaper than the more famous Rocky Mountaineer. It was also more of an adventure. I had read it stopped often for freight trains and there could be delays. This was an understatement! A freight company owns the track and ViaRail lease it from them. Freight always gets priority and does not run to a schedule. The trains can be over 200 carriages long (Robyn counted) and take several minutes to pass.

In theory, it left at 8am. We arrived early as we weren’t sure if, like the ferries, we would have to queue for a boarding pass. We didn’t. There were several people on board we recognised from the bus to Port Hardy and the ferry. We were obviously all following the same route. We found two seats in a group of four, and the conductor warned us we would have to move if a family came on board. Over the next two days, he alternated between being friendly and being very grumpy but always liked talking to Robyn! We upset him in Terrace by moving to better seats when people got off. He had noted those seats were empty and allocated them to someone boarding. He wasn’t happy but forgave us when he saw it was Robyn! We were all given permission to go upstairs to the ‘Bubble’ carriage. He issued orders to limit our time to one hour in the front seat so everyone could have a turn (which was fair enough).

The 'Bubble' carriage
The ‘Bubble’ carriage

Our first stop for freight was immediate. We moved into a siding and waited for 20 minutes. By the end of the trip, everyone joked we could estimate the length of delay by the ‘freebies’ offered; coffee for a short stop (less than an hour) or coffee and snacks if it was longer. Many of the passengers were English, and stoic is our middle name! However, the delays challenged the patience of an Australian who boarded in Prince George. He loudly demanded free beer and cigarettes, which he did not receive, and was going to write letters! We also noted he occupied the front seat in the ‘Bubble’ for longer than the specified hour and was geographically challenged about B.C..

The train at McBride station
The train at McBride station

Over the course of the trip, we talked to most of the people on the train. It wasn’t difficult. There were only two carriages, and they weren’t full. Most people opted for the ‘Bubble’ or the carriage at the back rather than the conventional one.

My first conversation was with a local man travelling with his three-year-old son and baby to Terrace, the first stop. His wife was driving a car and trailer on the road alongside and keeping pace with the train. They owned a Bouncy Castle business and travelled all over the district each weekend. His son loved Thomas the Tank Engine, and they had surprised him with the train trip that morning. According to his dad, he was overjoyed. It wasn’t obvious as the little boy was exceptionally shy. All the passengers waved to his wife as she drove along, waving to her son.

View from the front seat
View from the front seat

We reached Prince George at 11pm, a mere two-and-a-half hours late. We were lucky. Two weeks previously, the train arrived at 4am! No taxis were waiting but the train staff phoned for them and one soon arrived. It ferried passengers one by one to their hotels. It was pouring with rain or we would have walked. At long last it was our turn. The hotel was a welcome sight!

The journey the second day did not start until 9.45am so we had time for breakfast and a trip to the supermarket to replenish supplies beforehand. It wasn’t a leisurely morning, though, as we got up late and were both still tired.

The delays were fewer that day but otherwise it passed much as the day before. We might even have arrived on time if we hadn’t had an hour sitting on the tracks just outside Jasper, which we reached at 8.30pm. We checked into the Jasper Central Hostel (which, over the next two days, impressed me with its efficiency and organisation) and left in search of dinner. The front desk lady recommended The Raven, which was an excellent choice. We shared two starters and had a glass of wine each. It was all delicious.