Exploring HMCS Discovery

Based on Deadman’s Island in Stanley Park, the HMCS Discovery (Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship) was established as a Naval Training and Mustering Area during WWII.  Today it is used by the  Royal Canadian Naval Reserve Division.  Usually off limits to the public, HMCS Discovery recently held an Open House with free entry. Susannah and I took the opportunity to explore.

We entered through the gate and were immediately welcomed by Sonar, the Royal Canadian Navy’s official mascot.

Meet and Greet with Sonar, the Naval Mascot

After crossing the bridge onto the Island we went into the Main Hall where there were many interactive booths and displays. There were marching drill practices, a veteran navy band, a medic display, and gear booths where you could see how heavy a full navy pack is, hold a handgun or even a grenade launcher (empty of course).

We went into the weapons simulation room where we were instructed on how to fire a rifle and simulated shooting at a target. The guns were very heavy and by the last few shots I had trouble keeping the barrel steady. The Navy men and women were very polite and friendly (I got addressed as “Ma’am” a lot). It was quite funny.

Next, we headed over to the Naval Museum. This was my favourite part of the day as the museum houses artifacts and objects many generations old. It’s always interesting to learn about history and to see how customs have changed.


I enjoyed this display of Women in the Navy.

There were drawers and drawers full of medals which were interesting.

Old instruments – fascinating!

There was a section of old photos – as a photographer I just loved these group shots. The time it must have taken to set everyone up!


I don’t know what a Schnellbootgeschwader is but it sure is a long word.

The people manning the museum had some good stories to tell as well so it was an enjoyable visit. At the end of our trip we walked back through the gates and along the seawall. We saw the seaplanes coming and going and this one here timed perfectly with a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds.

A ray of sunshine
It was a lovely day and an enjyable visit. HMCS Discovery only opens up to the public every few years but if you get the opportunity to go, I’d recommend the visit.

The Snow Geese Migration

On New Year’s Day, we got the year off to a great start by driving out to Delta to see the Snow Geese. These large white birds are amazing to watch. Unlike Canada Geese, they do not usually fly in an organised V-formation but travel together in large dense flocks. On the ground, they are watchful and restless and will suddenly take off when Bald Eagles, people, dogs or other perceived threats are nearby.

The flock will start to grow noisier as the warning signal spreads and then suddenly the geese will take flight en masse and circle round and round in a chaotic jumble of wings, honking constantly. Eventually, they’ll land again.

Hundreds of geese taking off


Snow Geese mate for life. Within the flocks, you may be able to identify family groups. Although the young born each year are fully grown before they migrate here, like seagulls, their first set of adult feathers is grey, not white. Look for small groups containing two white birds and several darker birds.

We were lucky enough to spot a blue goose. A blue goose is a snow goose with a dominant dark gene and is not as common as the white goose. Both white and blue actually have completely white heads, but the soil they are digging in gives them a rusty orange colour.

One of these things is not like the others…

We visited in the late afternoon to time it for when the tide was high in the Estuary. This meant that the birds would move inland to the farms and be easier to view. As we watched and waited, more and more geese flew in to join the flock.

An incredible sight!

Snow Geese migrate here from Wrangel Island, Russia every winter.  They usually arrive in late October and stay in the area of the Fraser Estuary and surrounding farmland until late December. After that, they move to the Skagit River estuary, just south of the Canada/US border in the State of Washington. Both areas have flat farmland and coastal marshes which provide the birds with good food sources. They return to the Fraser estuary in spring, departing in April for the breeding season in Wrangel Island.

There is a bird count every year which is based on aerial photography. In 2016 there was a massive population increase of about 50% with over 100,000 birds arriving in Delta. The 2017 count is likely to be similar. It’s an amazing sight so if you didn’t manage to catch them this winter, try again in spring!

Whale Watching in Victoria

One of my favourite tourist activities in port cities and towns is whale watching. I love the ocean. I love getting out on a boat, smelling the salt in the air and scanning the horizon for a glimpse of sea creatures.

This Fall we took a day trip to Victoria and went whale watching with Springtide Whale Watching and Eco Tours. We were on one of their 60 foot motor yachts, the Marauder IV. The boot can accommodate 84 passengers plus crew. It was a pretty comfortable boat with a few options for sitting or standing on multiple decks. Susannah and I went immediately up to the bow to get a good photography spot where we’d be easily able to see over both sides of the boat.

We cruised out of Victoria Harbour and once out into open water the captain sped the boat up and away we went. Up at the bow, it got pretty bumpy so we sat down on the deck for awhile. It also got really cold and although we had brought extra layers we were very grateful for the jackets that the crew offered to everybody.

It wasn’t long before we spotted our first whale – a humpback. We tracked it for awhile and watched it arch and dive, sending water cascading over its beautiful tail.

It’s amazing how a whale can be identified by its unique colouring and markings with scratches and nicks accumulated over its lifetime.

Watching closely we realised our humpback was not alone – there were two! In the next couple of photos, you can see them together.

We were not the only ones watching – here is the Orca Spirit Adventures tour.

It seems like the whale watching companies have pretty good peer relationships so there was no competition to get closer than each other or to do anything that might harm the whales. That’s very important to us and why we select “Eco” tours. This boat looks super close but they weren’t moving and also the photo is taken with a very long lens which compresses distance.

The next photo shows you the size of a humpback whale compared to a tanker. It may also give you an idea of how busy shipping lanes could negatively impact whales.

We traveled around in search of more marine wildlife but failed to find any other cetaceans. We were taken to a little island with hopes to see seals, otters or maybe even an Orca. Our trip took place near the end of the massive BC forest fires which meant that the sky was very smoky and hazy. It was kind of eerie.

We saw harbour seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

There was some nice birdlife as well.

Our onboard naturalist gave an interesting talk about kelp and its uses and we even got to taste some freshly cut. Then we motored back to port to end our trip.

Whale watching is always unpredictable as you never know what you are going to see. Although there were no Orcas for us this time around, we did enjoy the majesty of the humpbacks.

We coupled this excursion with a morning visit to Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Together with our lovely afternoon out on the water, this made a great day trip from Vancouver.  As always, Victoria did not disappoint.

Canyon Lights at Capilano

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is back again this year with hundreds of thousands of lights transform the park into a multi-level Winter Wonderland.

In January I had family visiting from New Zealand, so we took them to the Park for a Winter Christmas visual experience. The parking lot was full so we drove a little further on and found street parking then walked back. We arrived just before dusk and by the time we had navigated the entrance lineups it was blue hour magic time.

My sister and family from New Zealand

We headed to the Cliffwalk first so that they could see the view below and also look at the Suspension Bridge over the River before it got dark. This was good as it wasn’t too crowded and we were able to go at our own pace.

The Cliffwalk

Following the path back from the Cliffwalk we saw lighted owl displays as part of the “Snowy Owl Prowl”.

An owl

It was very very cold so we had a brief stop at the Winter Pavilion to warm up before heading to the Bridge. The Pavilion had drinks and some food available for purchase and had craft activities for kids. There was a huge line up to get on the Bridge itself but it moved along reasonably well and it wasn’t too long before we were able to walk across.

Cathy and Emma on the Bridge
Crossing the Bridge

The other side of the Bridge has the TreeTops Adventure and a walking path around the pond. Treetops Adventure is a series of seven suspension bridges connecting eight massive Douglas Firs. There are viewing platforms from which you can stop and look down onto the forest floor below. This year the TreeTops Adventure is getting even more decoration and the 250 year old Douglas Firs will be the tallest Christmas Trees in the World!

The lights are spectacular throughout the Park and each area is different. My favourite part was the walk around the pond. The lights were hung at varying heights and reflected in the pond giving the whole area an incredible sense of depth and dimension. It was very beautiful and quite eerie.

With a Winter craft tent, a gingerbread cookie decorating station and a scavenger hunt, the park is very family friendly.  Parking can be difficult due to the number of visitors so allow extra time to find a park, or consider taking the free shuttle from Canada Place.

Canyon Lights runs this year from November 23, 2017 to January 28, 2018 and is open every day (except Christmas) from 4 pm to 9 pm. Canyon Lights tickets are valid all day so you could go and enjoy the park during daylight hours, then stay for the lights in the early evening. I’d recommend dressing very warmly for after the sun goes down.

And don’t forget your camera!

 

 

Heritage Christmas

It’s that time of year again. As Fall turns into Winter, the skies are grey more often than not, the temperature drops, and it rains a lot. A LOT.  I often struggle a bit in Winter, both with mood and motivation, but one thing that I do love about this season is the fantastic lighting displays that are created in and around Vancouver.

An event that I enjoy every year is the Burnaby Village Museum’s Heritage Christmas. This free event has something for the whole family. There’s a variety of entertainment, a scavenger hunt for the kids, and fantastic vintage themed lighting displays.

The Main Street
Bears wearing sweaters

The Bandstand

This light display in the Bandstand is sound activated and the lights change colour which is fun when the Village gets busy and when kids notice it.


There are musicians and entertainment scheduled throughout the day and evening – here’s an Irish “choir master” leading the crowd in a sing-along at the bandstand.

There are also heritage carol singers roving through the Village.

The scavenger hunt for kids requires some looking in windows and careful observation of the displays.

9 Ladies Dancing

Father Christmas (not Santa – after all it is Heritage) is onsite as well.

There is a lot to see and do, no matter what the time of day or the weather. I really enjoy the warming heritage atmosphere, even in the snow!




This year Heritage Christmas is running from November 25, 2017 – January 5, 2018 (closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Check it out. Just remember, it’s cold when the sun goes down so dress warmly and, as always, have fun.

Victoria Butterfly Gardens

I had been wanting to go to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens for awhile now but we never seemed to have enough time when visiting the Island. This trip we factored in a bit of extra time and put it in the schedule. I’m glad we did.

We caught a morning ferry over to Swartz Bay and arrived at Butterfly Gardens not long after they opened. The building seems quite small from the outside, but inside it contains quite a lot. Just past the admission counter we explored the newly opened (January 2017) Insectarium. This area houses a collection of unusual looking and interesting insects. I was fascinated by the leaf cutter ant colony and seriously could have watched them working for hours.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Some of the other insects were camouflaged pretty well.

After moving slowly through the insectarium we entered the tropical Rain Forest area which houses the butterflies. I immediately noticed how hot and humid it was. I’d definitely recommend wearing layers when visiting. The change in temperature may cause your camera (or glasses) to fog up but there an anti-fog station right by the door to help visitors deal with this.

The Gardens were smaller in area than I expected, but they are large enough to spend time meandering around or even to just sit and watch the butterflies fluttering by.

Susannah just chilling with the butterflies

The educational component of the Gardens is really good and there’s plenty of interesting info to read while you walk through.

Signs tell you to watch where you put your feet and it’s good advice. I almost stepped on this pretty little guy.

Tailed Jay

They have 70 different species of butterfly. Me and my macro lens had a lot of fun!

Tiger (or Golden) Helicon
Brown Clipper
Giant Owl Butterfly
Mexican Sister

The Gardens has a variety of lush tropical vegetation and there is a waterfall at one end which runs into a pond. The pond contains fish and ducks and two resident flamingoes. There are also tortoises, parrots, frogs, iguana, and geckoes. All of the animals there are rescues, donations or adoptions.

Flamingo

Red Footed Tortoises

Victoria Butterfly Gardens is located in Brentwood, about 15 minutes drive from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal or 30 minutes from Downtown Victoria. It’s only about 5 minutes from Butchart Gardens so it would be great to do both in one visit.  I would suggest allowing about 1-1.5 hours for the Butterfly Gardens and Insectarium, depending on how fascinated you are by small things.

The ticket prices may seem a little high for the size of the space, but no other place on the island offers the same experience and parking is free, so factor that in. I definitely felt it well worth a visit and if I were local I’d consider an annual pass which is just under the price of two visits.

Fright Nights at Playland

It’s Halloween time again. That means it’s also time for the spooktacular Fright Nights at Playland! With 20 rides (5 more than last year), 8 haunted houses, live shows and an ensemble of roving actors, it’s a full evening of freakish entertainment.

2016 was our very first Fright Nights experience. Check out our POV video below.


Susannah and I had Rapid Passes which gave us expedited access to each of the haunted houses and 5 of the most popular rides at Playland (The Beast, Hellevator, Atmosfear, Music Express, and the Wooden Roller Coaster). It was very crowded so it was awesome to be able to by-pass the long lineups. With almost no wait time we were able to get on all 5 rides, plus The Corkscrew, Hell’s Gate, and Crazy Beach Party, as well as see all the haunted houses.

The rides were awesome and by the end of the evening we were pretty hoarse from shrieking – in fun and fear.  The Beast is touted as Canada’s most extreme pendulum ride, and it really was extreme! We sat in the outward facing seats and held on for dear life! We were actually shaking from the adrenaline rush when we got off the ride. The Wooden Roller Coaster was bone-rattling fun and we enjoyed it much more than we were expecting. Built in 1958 this famous ride can only be described as an oldie but a goodie. After the ride, check out the photos taken on the second drop – the range of facial expressions is good for a laugh (I looked ridiculous!). Another favourite was Atmosfear which is a giant 360-degree swing 218 feet up in the sky. Oddly enough, being so high wasn’t scary and the views of the city were incredible, making this ride very enjoyable.

The Haunted Houses were fun. Keeper’s Doll Factory and the Haunted Mansion were my personal favourites but Fear was pretty good too. With the variety of houses, there’s pretty much something for everyone on the spectrum of fear. This year a new house, The Bloodshed, has been added.

Fright Nights at Playland is great fun for young and old. The Rapid Passes were awesome to have and we’d highly recommend them if you are short on time or (like us) hate lining up for things. This year Fright Nights runs on select dates from October 6-31. Check out the calendar here.

Go. Have Fun. Be Scared.

The RCMP Musical Ride

RCMP Musical Ride

The RCMP Musical Ride is coming to town!

The RCMP Musical Ride consists of a troop of 32 riders and 32 beautiful black Hanoverian horses. Together they perform drills and precise formations set to music. It’s a great show of Canadian culture and also history – the drills and use of lances date back to the late 1800s. The show even includes a cavalry style “charge” which is a crowd pleaser.

RCMP Musical Ride

The Musical Ride is touring across Canada in celebration of Canada’s 150th  birthday. They are visiting all ten Provinces and one Territory. This week you can catch them in Burnaby at Swangard Stadium on August 18, and in Vancouver at the PNE on August 19, 20, 22 and 23. On August 21 they’ll be in Maple Ridge at the Maple Ridge AG Association grounds.

RCMP Musical Ride
We saw them a couple of years ago and just loved the beautiful horses with their sleek black coats contrasting with the red serge of the riders.

If you are wanting to do something a little different, check out this entertaining, family-friendly event. The full schedule can be found here.