Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Try Afternoon Tea at Point Ellice House and Gardens in Victoria, B.C.



By Keith and Heather Nicol
Try the scones and tea
   On Monday, May 23 we decided to take in a Victoria tradition- having afternoon tea. But where to go?  Many places in Victoria have adopted “afternoon tea” as part of the city’s link to England but we were after a location surrounded with nice gardens so after some internet searching found Point Ellice House and Gardens. Point Ellice House is situated near downtown Victoria right on the Gorge waterway.  And a real bonus is the historic house built in 1861 which is now a museum and is home of North America’s largest collection of Victoriana furnishings!  So your trip here involves part afternoon tea and part historic tour of the house and grounds.

Tea is served in the garden of Point Ellice House
    Most people have tea first and this is followed by a tour. There are 2 choices for tea – a “full on” tea with sandwiches, desserts, scones and of course tea and a less elaborate option that features scones and tea. We opted for Kitty’s Cream Tea (the scones and tea option) and it was elegantly served by waitresses in period costume in the garden. 
Point Ellis House has a fine collection of Victoriana furnishings 
    Following “Tea” we were offered a guided tour of the house and grounds and we were very impressed by our guide, Shirley, a volunteer who has done much research of her own on the house and the O’Reilly’s who lived there. “Basically 3 generations of O’Reilly’s lived here and Peter O’Reilly was a gold rush magnate and commissionaire who with his wife would entertain the elite of Victoria and travelling dignitaries when they came to town. His wife Caroline was a good cook and a musician so Point Ellice House was a popular place to be invited for supper and entertainment in Victoria’s early years”. But what surprised us the most was that many of the furnishings from the 1800’s were still in the house so it is like stepping back in time. “The O’Reilly’s kept a lot of old household effects so when it finally sold to the Government of B.C. in 1975 as a museum and heritage house all the furnishing were all ready there” Shirley added. Point Ellice House is a National Heritage Site and is well worth a visit. You can opt to do just the tour of the house for ($6.00) but it is included when you buy one of the afternoon teas.   For more information see: http://www.pointellicehouse.ca/
Heather admires the garden at the front of Pt Ellice House



Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Whale watching with Orca Spirit Adventures in Victoria, B.C.



By Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather on the outer deck checking for whales
      On Monday, May 23 we decided to join Orca Spirit Adventures for a 3 hour whale watching tour. We boarded the Pacific Explorer in Victoria’s Harbour for their 10:00 am sailing and Emilie Haynes, our naturalist did a fine job of explaining the various whales we might see. “Our most common whales are humpbacks and orcas but we can see grey and minke whales. “she told us. “We’ve been seeing quite a few humpbacks lately and transient orcas have been moving through the area”. After steaming for about 45 minutes out into Juan de Fuca Strait the engines slowed and we were told to head up to the upper deck to check out the humpback action that was going on just ahead. A humpback whale that Emilie says is known as “Split Fin” was busy slapping its pectoral fin in the water. It was almost like it was performing for the whale watching boats but what Emilie said was unusual was how long Split Fin continued to slap its fin. “Usually these whales are all business at this time of year since they want to eat as much as they can-not simply slap their pectoral fins in the water for 15 minutes or so”. 

The outer decks provided a good viewing platform for whales, sea lions and seals


  From there we moved on to Race Rocks where we saw the second oldest lighthouse along the B.C. coast built in 1860. But the main reason for visiting this area was to see the seals, sea lions, and sea birds in the area. We even saw an elephant seal on the rocky island and a sea otter lying on its back in the shallow water just offshore. Sea otters were found in large numbers along this coast at one time but due to severe over hunting their numbers dropped dramatically and they are now an endangered species. Emilie told us that sea otters are a keystone species since they keep kelp forest ecosystems healthy by eating sea urchins.
A humpback named Split Fin put on quite a show
  Our last destination was along the shore further east where we looked for transient orcas that had been seen in the area on previous sailings. Our trip didn’t turn up any orcas but we did see some harbour seals hauled out on a small island. Then all too soon it was time to head back to port. We were very impressed with the quality of the information provided as well as the effort the crew made to check in on their passengers throughout the trip.  Check out Orca Spirit Adventures (https://orcaspirit.com/) if you are planning a whale watching trip in Victoria.
Sea Lions were hauled up on the rocks at Race Rocks-Lighthouse buildings are behind

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Exploring Castles and Cider in Victoria, B.C.



by Keith and Heather Nicol
Craigdarroch Castle is an impressive building
    We spent the May long weekend in Victoria and decided to visit some places we hadn’t seen before. Our first stop was Craigdarroch Castle which is a real “castle” near downtown Victoria. Built of locally sourced sandstone this castle was built by Robert Dunsmuir between 1887-1890. Dunsmuir, who was born in Scotland, made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal.   Craigdarroch means “rocky, oak place” in Gaelic and ironically Dunsmuir died just before his “castle” was finished. However his wife, Joan did live in the mansion until her death in 1908. The house has 4 floors, an amazing 17 fireplaces and many impressive stained glass windows. The interior paneling features white oak which was fabricated in Chicago and was shipped in 5 boxcars in the summer in 1890! 

Heather admiring one of the many oak paneled staircases
    After Joan’s death in 1908, Craigdarroch had a wide range of uses and had many different owners. For instance, from 1919-1921it was a military hospital, treating the injured from World War 1. It then became Victoria College from 1921-1946. More recently, it housed the Victoria School Board (1946-1968) followed by the Victoria Conservatory of Music (1969-1979). Since then it has become an historic house museum and has been designated a National Historic Site. When you enter the Castle you are given an informative guide to what is on each level and from the 4th floor you get impressive views of Victoria. Also be sure watch the short film which gives a good overview not only of the Castle and the Dunsmuir family but also of the early life of Victoria. We recommend a visit here and for more information see: https://thecastle.ca/

Sarah gave us a great tour at Sea Cider Farm
   Later on Saturday, May 21 we visited Sea Cider Farm and Cider House which is located in Sannich just north of Victoria.  We had our son Michael and daughter Kristie and her boyfriend Eric in tow since they were keen to taste a variety of ciders. Sea Cider Farms sits on a 10 acre property with views of the ocean and some offshore islands.  Be sure to do a tour to find out how their various organic ciders are made in part from some of the 1300 heritage apple trees on the property.
 
We enjoyed sampling the ciders from the large deck
  We sampled a small and long flight (the long flight featured 9 different ciders) and enjoyed the view from their spacious deck. Their ciders range from very dry to very sweet and their most popular is the Pippins which is right in the middle in terms of sweetness. Our favourite was the Rumrunner which got its roots by being aged in Newfoundland screech barrels. Who knew you could make cider from rum barrels? Many of their ciders have won various awards and a visit here makes for an enjoyable afternoon. For more information check out: http://seacider.ca/

  

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sea kayaking with more sea birds at Point Holmes



by Keith and Heather Nicol  
Marbled Murrelets nest in old growth forests
On Saturday May 14 we had the good fortune to go sea kayaking with an old friend Alan Burger, who is also an avid birder. We launched our kayaks at the boat launch at Point Holmes near Comox and headed toward Cape Lazo. We hadn’t paddled too far before we began to see some small groupings of Marbled Murrelets which it turned out Alan had done lots of research on when he moved to Bamfield from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. We knew Alan from Corner Brook but had not seen him for over 15 years.

Alan and Heather off of Cape Lazo

Pacific Loons breed on freshwater tundra lakes
      Then out further Alan spotted a large grouping of other birds and it turned out to be a surprisingly big grouping of Pacific Loons with a few Common Loons in the mix. From there we paddled around into Kye Bay where we saw some large rafts of scoters. We hadn’t seen many of these birds for several weeks so were surprised to see them back in this area. We saw all 3 types of scoters (White winged, Surf and Black Scoters) but most of them seemed to be Surf Scoters who make an interesting whistling sound when they take to the wing. We told Alan we hadn’t seen so many birds in this Cape Lazo-Kye Bay for quite a while so he was quite lucky. And that is one of the nice aspects of sea kayaking along the B.C. coast-you never know what you might see and it changes by the day.    
Surf Scoters make a whistling song with their wings when they fly

Friday, 13 May 2016

Hiking the BCMC Trail to Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, B.C.



by Keith and Heather Nicol
  On Saturday, May 7 on a visit to Vancouver we decided to vary our normal hike up Grouse Mountain which is popularly known as the “Grind”. The Grind has become very popular and regularly attracts a steady stream of people who use it for a variety of reasons. Some use it for fitness, others as social activity and others see it as something that you have to do when you visit Vancouver. But starting from basically the same location is a parallel trail developed by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) which is a less busy trail and slightly easier in terms of grade. It has far fewer stairs than the Grouse Grind and is a more “natural” trail. On this hike we were joined by our daughter Kristie and her boyfriend Eric who are regular users of both the "Grind" and the BCMC trail.


Kristie and Eric hiking on the BCMC trail
    The trail is steep in many places, gains 850 meters and is about 3 km in length so bring water on a hot day and wear good footwear. Once on top you can either descend the Grouse Mountain Gondola for a cost of $10 (get your download ticket inside once you finish the hike) or as we saw there were a number of people descending back down the BCMC trail. Some people hike up the “Grind” and then down climb the BCMC route since you are not suppose to head back down the “Grind” due to congestion. To start the trail go to the start of the “Grind” (just off the base parking lot) and then follow signs to the Baden Powell Trail- follow trail for a short distance and then steer left up the BCMC Trail while the Baden Powell Trail keeps right. It is all well sign posted so you shouldn’t get lost. For more information see: https://www.vancouvertrails.com/trails/bcmc-trail/
Kristie and Keith at the top