The Orpheum Theatre

This week I was lucky enough to go on a self-guided tour of one of Vancouver’s most magnificent buildings, the Orpheum Theatre. Built in 1927 the Orpheum originally hosted vaudeville acts and showed Hollywood silent movies. The theatre’s decor is opulent, with grand staircases, gold leaf, crystal chandeliers and detailed walls and ceilings.

It’s a photographer’s dream location!

Before I say more about the tour, take a look for yourself. Here is a quick video I shot while walking through the theatre.


See? Did I not say it’s magnificent?!

The tours run 3 times a day on Tuesdays, Wednesday’s and Saturdays. I went on a very quiet Tuesday and it was almost like having the whole venue to myself. The tours are for one hour and are self-guided which means you can take your time – be sure to stop for photographs! Theatre staff members are around to assist and answer any questions.

The history and stories of the Orpheum are very interesting.  It was at one time Canada’s largest and most opulent theatre. It still houses its original Wurlitzer organ. The Wurlitzer is the last one in Canada still in its original location and working. Staff told me it’s worth over a million dollars today!

The Mighty Wurlitzer
Wurlitzer detail

Tony Heinsbergen, the artist who painted the iconic ceiling mural in 1975-6, was also involved in decorating the Orpheum before it’s original opening in 1927.

The ceiling mural was painted by Tony Heinsbergen in 1975-6
Details of the domed ceiling

There are 145 crystal chandeliers in the Orpheum.

The detailing in the walls and panels is incredible.

In 1973 Famous Players decided to convert the Orpheum into a multiplex movie theatre. A “Save the Orpheum” public protest and a fundraising campaign was launched.

The moving picture projector

In 1974, the City of Vancouver bought the theatre for $7.1 million. It underwent restoration in the mid-seventies and was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1979. The theatre is now home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The Orpheum is an amazing venue and well worth a visit. Whether you are a local or a visitor to Vancouver, put this iconic Theatre on your must-see list. You won’t be disappointed.

Kayaking at Bowen Island

A few years ago Susannah and I decided to get away from the city for awhile so we moved to Bowen Island. We found an amazing house on the West Side of the Island, not far from Bowen Bay. In the Fall, not long after we moved, I had a medical procedure for back problems and at the same time, I came off some pretty hardcore prescription pain medicine. Our location on the Island was very quiet and peaceful, so it was a great place to recover and recuperate. We went for long walks in the forest, enjoyed watching deer hanging out in the backyard and saw the most amazing sunsets at the beach. After 6 months, we reluctantly decided it was time to move back to the City, so in the Spring our Island adventure came to an end.

One thing we never had a chance to do while on Bowen was kayak, so after we moved back to Vancouver we decided to revisit on a day trip. For my birthday we went back to Bowen Island and across to Bowen Bay. After launching we had to choose to paddle left or right. We headed to the right with the intention of sticking to the coastline but then we heard something amazing.

Across the water, floated a sound of deep exhalation. And again. We looked over the water and spotted a dorsal fin of and Orca as it surfaced. Then another. Then another. We changed our course and headed towards Pasley Island. There appeared to be 3-4 Killer Whales swimming not too far off the Coast.

We were very careful not to get too close (all images here are taken with a long zoom lens). Canadian law states that any vessel should stay 100m away from whales. We paddled to about that distance and then stopped to observe. It was hard to tell where they were going to surface and for awhile they seemed to be heading West but then an Orca surfaced unexpectedly close to us. So close in fact that Susannah had to reverse paddle to retain a respectable distance between us and them.


Orca tailslapping

The sound they made when surfacing to exhale was amazing. Watching them was incredible. There was one large male whose huge dorsal fin was quite intimidating.


We quietly watched them for about an hour before they headed out into open water and we paddled back to the beach.

After a bit of a rest and some “OMG” debriefing time we ventured out again and to the left. This time we were treated to some cool bird life.

Belted Kingfisher (female)



We returned to the beach to watch the sunset and then headed down to Snug Cove to grab some food before catching the ferry home.

An experience like this is totally random and lucky (we could have paddled left and not seen them at all!) and I am incredibly grateful for receiving it. It was a magical day and definitely a birthday to remember.

We took our own kayaks but there are rental kayaks available at Snug Cove. Bown Island Sea Kayaking offers lessons, rentals and guided tours from April till October. Have a go – I’m sure you’ll love it!

Hiking Quarry Rock in Deep Cove

The Quarry Rock hike in Deep Cove, North Vancouver, is super popular with both locals and tourists. It’s a 3.8km round trip walk, takes between 1-2 hours, has an elevation gain of 100m, and offers fantastic views from the top.

Starting at Deep Cove, follow the signs for the Baden Powell Trail. Once you enter the forest be prepared to begin the stair master as much of the elevation gain seems to occur in the first part of this hike. After several sets of stairs, the trail becomes a bit more natural with a maze of tree roots to navigate (watch your footing!) and several ups and downs through the forest.

Stay on the trail until you reach a fork. Go right and you’ll have reached Quarry Rock. Climb up and enjoy the view! It’s cool to be able to look down on Deep Cove and see just how high you’ve climbed.

Before heading back, walk a few minutes further along the Baden Powell Trail towards the power pylon. Once you reach it, climb the rock and you’ll get another awesome view further down Indian Arm.


I found the challenge of this hike to be catching my breath going up – take lots of short stops if you need to. If you are a beginner hiker,  not particularly fit, or an older person starting out, this will be a fairly good uphill hike for you but be prepared for the conditions. The trail is open year round but can get very snowy and cold in winter. Even in summer, be prepared.  I found the pounding on my knees going back down to be noticeable – a stick would help. Having said that, there were young and old hiking at many different speeds and there were also a few runners so this trail is pretty good for anybody. It’s very dog-friendly as well.

Deep Cove is extremely popular and even on a weekday outside of the school holidays, we found it difficult to get parking so I’d recommend going early in the day or taking transit. The trail was super busy as well, so it’s not a hike to do if you are looking for some quiet time. I’m not a fan of crowds or busy trails but the views at the top made it totally worthwhile.

Have you hiked to Quarry Rock? Gone further along the trail? Let us know what you thought.

Climbing the Sea to Sky Via Ferrata

What is Via Ferrata? Via Ferrata is Italian for “iron road” and essentially it is a vertical route equipped with anchored rungs and steel cables to aid climbers. This allows inexperienced or new climbers (that’s us!) to explore alpine regions and steep scenic areas that would usually be inaccessible.

We were lucky enough to experience the Via Ferrata with Mountain Skills Academy at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.

We didn’t really know what to expect when we booked our Via Ferrata experience, and truth be told, I was a little nervous. I’m pretty open to new adventures and I like hiking, but climbing kind of freaks me out. It’s not the climb, it’s gravity and the thought of falling.

Here’s the great thing about Via Ferrata – this style of climbing uses a system of lanyards attached to steel cables which effectively limits the danger of a fall. Whenever you reach an anchored pole, you unhook one carabiner and clip it back onto the cable on the other side of the pole before unhooking the second carabiner. This double clip system means you should always be connected to the cable at all times.

What was it like? Here is a video of our experience – footage shot on a GoPro attached to my helmet.

A synopsis of the climb: We met our guide, Lora, at the top of the gondola where we were fitted with climbing harnesses, helmets and lanyards. Then it was a short hike down the track to the beginning of the Via Ferrata. Lora explained how the system worked and answered our questions and then it was time to climb.

The route started off gently enough and was more of a hike than a climb as we gently traversed around the side of the mountain. This was a good opportunity to get comfortable with the lanyard and carabiner system.

Things got much more vertical once we reached the first ladder.

Our guide Lora making it look so easy!
Yes, I am having fun!

There were just the two of us on our tour which meant we were able to go at our own pace. There was plenty of time to enjoy a few unusual rest stops along the way.

Just chilling on the edge

And take in the views.

Looking towards Sky Pilot Mountain

Once we had conquered the vertical parts, the terrain leveled out quite a bit. Our legs were happy about that! We hiked across a footbridge and around the mountain towards the Summit Lodge. We came up under the suspension bridge and had made it – finishing our climb back at the top.

Yes, we did get very hot and our hands were very dirty from the cables, but the sense of achievement was awesome!

After getting cleaned up, we enjoyed a well-deserved beer on the patio and took in the amazing view before taking the gondola back down.

Mountain Skills Academy have many tours available, including 2 Via Ferrata adventures in BC; this one near Squamish and a 4-hour climb in Whistler. If you are curious but have any reservations about fitness level or ability, we’d recommend trying the Squamish one first. The climb takes about 1.5 hours and for a novice, it’s challenging but not too difficult. The experience is exhilarating and the views are spectacular.

Via Ferrata is a unique and fun adventure. We are really glad we did it and hope to do the Whistler Via Ferrata someday as well.

Let us kow if you’ve tried it too.

Hell’s Gate Airtram

With the fantastic weather we were treated with this Victoria Day long weekend, we thought we’d venture out on a day trip and explore somewhere new. We chose Hells Gate.

Hell’s Gate is located in the southern Fraser Canyon, 2.5 hours drive from Vancouver – ideal for day-tripping.  The name originates with the great explorer Simon Fraser who in 1808 wrote in his journal that “surely this is the gate of hell”, referring to the canyon’s towering cliff faces and the tumultuous water below.

Hell’s Gate Airtram is a scenic attraction (don’t forget your cameras) and one that is steeped in Gold Rush and early explorer history. The Airtram travels across and down into the gorge giving you a bird’s eye view of the mighty Fraser River, the railway and the suspension bridge.

The railway and river as seen from the Tram on the descent

Hell’s Gate Airtram is one of the steepest fully suspended trams in North America,  descending 152m down to the observation deck.



At the bottom, there is a large observation area with plenty of seating, a gift shop, the aptly named Simon’s Cafe, and a fudge and ice-cream shop where you can reward yourself for your bravery! There is also a suspension bridge where you can get a closer view of the roaring water.

Looking upriver with the observation area and cafe on the left

When we visited it was a very hot day so we enjoyed ice-cream outside, watching the tiny birds flitting around the feeders.

A Pine Siskin feeding

Afterward, we walked across the suspension bridge and up to the railway track. Having just visited the Yale Historical Site and reading the history of the railroad and gold rush, we found ourselves marveling at the strength and determination of the early explorers and railway builders.

Facts for the statistically minded: The gorge at Hell’s Gate narrows abruptly to 35m (110ft), causing the fast-flowing water to thunder through the passage. At high water level, over 750,000,000 litres (200,000,000 gallons) of water per minute flow through the gorge. That’s twice the volume of Niagara Falls!

Looking down you get a real sense of the power of the water.

Bird’s eye view of the suspension bridge

For History Buffs: In 1913, while CN was blasting for the passage of the railway, a major rock slide into the river caused a dramatic drop in salmon run numbers. In 1944 Fishways were built at the side of the river to allow salmon to move upstream against a slower current. There is an exhibit at Hell’s Gate detailing the development of the Fishways and the salmon recovery.

Ode to the Salmon

We loved our visit to Hell’s Gate Airtram. It was a great day trip but would also be a nice rest stop for a few hours if you were traveling further.

The scenery was picturesque.

The view from the suspension bridge

Tips: There are two free parking lots; one on each side of the road. If traveling from Hope you can park in the lot on the righthand side of the road and cross the highway via an overpass. If you have mobility concerns, there is a turnaround a bit further along the highway so you can come back and park in the second lot closest to the entrance to avoid the stairs. The facilities are pet-friendly so bring your dog.

Hell’s Gate is open from April 12-October 9 (2017 dates). Canyon Appreciation Day, with admission by donation, is on May 28 this year.  If you are looking for a uniquely BC experience, check it out.

Salt Spring Island Getaway

Looking for a relaxing getaway not too far from Vancouver? Try Salt Spring Island – we did, and it was wonderful!

Salt Spring Island is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It is accessible by ferry, but we traveled by Sea Plane for a different perspective. The flight with SaltSpring Air was great and we had fantastic weather so got to see some amazing scenery.

Flying over the Gulf Islands

The flight only took about 35 mins from Downtown Vancouver and landed at picturesque Ganges Harbour, just a short walk from our hotel.

We had informed the hotel of our arrival time so they sent someone down to the dock to meet us. We had arrived several hours in advance of our check in so we opted to send our bags on ahead and explore a bit on our own.

First stop – quaint little Tree House Cafe for some breakfast!

It’s actually a heritage cottage but is enveloped by greenery

After fueling up we set off on a walk to the other side of the island. It was lovely and quiet, but a bit further than we expected so we were pretty knackered by the time we returned and checked in at the beautiful Hastings House.

Our Hillside Suite, overlooking the Harbour, was gorgeous and well-equipped. Also incredibly private and quiet!

The Privacy Dog hung on our door

We were also very hungry which was good because we were booked in at the Fine Dining Room for dinner. The dining room is set in the historic Manor House, and the Fine Dining is a must experience while visiting Salt Spring Island.  It’s famous for Salt Spring Island lamb, but being non-meat eaters we opted for seafood options.

Wild Salmon with Shaved Fennel
Albacore Tuna and Potato Salad
Wild Pacific Halibut

After a scrumptious dinner and impeccable service we returned to our room to find a couple of bunnies on the bed – a nice touch for Easter.

The next morning we woke and enjoyed some coffee on the patio, surrounded by birds and trees before heading to the dining room for breakfast.

Coffee on our patio

We decided to explore the grounds a bit so checked out the view of the harbour and the property’s gardens.

While strolling in the garden we saw little “bugs” whizzing through the air making a buzzing sound. These “bugs” turned out to be hummingbirds and we discovered that feeders had been hung throughout the garden. We grabbed our cameras and found a spot to watch and record them. It was amazing. We had planned on going shopping, but both Susannah and I found the tiny birds absolutely mesmerizing. We watched for about 1.5 hours and enjoyed it so much that we returned the next day for more viewing!

Hummingbirds are super fast and can fly in any direction which makes them hard to photograph. I recommend a very fast shutter speed if you want to stop them in midair. Here are a few shots.

This little lady only stopped for a split second
Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 80 times a second

See my full gallery of Hummingbird photos here.

Here’s a short video to show you just how speedy they are.


That evening we wandered Downtown and enjoyed another amazing dinner, this time at Auntie Pesto’s which is located in the  Ganges Village right by the water. The meal was outstanding and again we sampled local produce and fresh seafood. So good!

Our last morning came too quickly. We had a few hours before our flight so we decided to stroll through the fields and along the sculpture trail at the edge of the grounds. It’s a short walk but has some cool sculptures as does the Hastings House property itself.

There are a ton of things to do on Salt Spring Island – lots of artisans and workshops, health and wellness retreats (Hastings House has a spa on site), and adventure activities. We went with no definitive plan and although interested in many activities and sights, we basically stayed in the Ganges Harbour area. The Hastings House Country Hotel property is vast and quiet and we found our getaway there to be just what we were looking for. We had such a slow paced, relaxing time – I think it is fair to say that neither of us wanted to go home.

Us looking very chill after the weekend away

Once again we were treated to a lovely SaltSpring Air scenic flight home. It was awesome to be so close and arrive home so stress-free.

Flying back into Vancouver

I’d definitely recommend Salt Spring Island for a few days away. Check out this website for everything you need to know about Salt Spring and plan your own Island getaway.

VanDusen Botanical Garden

One of my favourite places to visit in Vancouver is the VanDusen Botanical Garden. The garden is open year round and there is something to see in any season. Different areas are designed to flourish at different times of the year giving the garden a fresh look each time you visit.

Spring is my personal favourite. I love the fresh green of new growth, the colourful spring flowers, and the soft light.

Also, if I’m lucky, I get to see ducklings and goslings – super cute!

Sleepy time
Mama keeping an eye out

After entering the Garden we always beeline towards the far edges of the grounds then work our way back. It’s a large Park and there’s a lot to see with different vegetation starring in each season. The Garden has good maps and info on what to look for and what is peaking at any time. Check out their bloom calendar.

There are sculptures dotted around the grounds and a hedge maze with a Monkey Puzzle Tree at it’s centre – good fun for young and old.

My sister Kristine and bro-in-law Hamish succeed in the maze
Sculptures are throughout the Garden

HINT:  VanDusen has a lovely café but on a sunny day I recommend packing a lunch and bringing a picnic blanket. There’s ample space to stretch out and relax. Special events such as the Sakura Days Japan Fair in April or the Festival of Lights in December are super crowded, but most regular days if you walk away from the entrance to the right or the left you’ll soon get away from the crowds.

A busy day with the Annual Plant sale at VanDusen
A quieter spot

VanDusen Garden is located on Oak Street at West 37th Avenue. They have a good sized free parking lot, but if there is an event on I’d recommend driving past the entrance and making the next right-hand turn as you’ll usually find street parking there.

The Garden is not pet-friendly so leave your four-legged friends at home.

Susannah (right) and I enjoying a late afternoon visit

VanDusen is a great place for photography.  I love capturing the beautiful colours in different light. For photography, you can get nice photos on any camera  – the photos shown here range from DSLR to point and shoot. One suggestion I’ll make is to vary your angles and viewpoints – go high, go low, zoom in, go very wide – changing your point of view can add an interesting element to the images.

The Formal Rose Garden

Keep your eyes open – you never know what you’ll see.

Dragonfly

Have you been to VanDusen Garden? What is your favourite part?

Hiking Capilano Canyon from Cleveland Dam

This 2.6km hike in the Capilano Canyon is great if you want a nice walk, nothing too tricky and/or something that is dog-friendly. The trail begins at the Capilano dam and is a circuit so can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Bear in mind, both ways you’ll head downhill first which will mean some uphill on the way back. The elevation gain is only 100m and the trail is good so it’s not too challenging. There are also a few cross trails if you want something even shorter.

The Cleveland Dam, at the head of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, supplies much of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland’s drinking water. When the dam’s gates are open it’s super exciting to stand on the bridge above and see and hear the torrent of water rushing down the spillway into the river.

To do the hike anti-clockwise, cross the bridge and look for the Upper Shinglebolt Trail. Follow it until you reach a fork in the trail and then turn left. From that point, follow the trail a short way to the Pipe bridge and head across. This part of the trail follows the river so you’ll be treated to some great views no matter what the weather.

On the East side of the river, look for the Coho Loop Trail to the left. Follow it until you reach the salmon hatchery interpretive centre. There are some really cool displays at the center where you can see and learn about the life cycle of salmon. Check out the fish ladders where, depending on the season, you may even see salmon jumping as they head upstream to spawn.

After you leave the hatchery, look for the Palisades Trail to the left. Follow it back up until you hit the service road and then continue up the road until you find yourself back at the dam.

The round trip takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your speed and how long you spend at the hatchery. I could watch fish jump for hours so I would allow extra time for that. There is a parking lot by the reservoir and the park can also be reached by transit. I highly recommended the Cleveland Dam-hatchery loop as a good starter hike or a regular walk. It’s locally popular so can be quite busy but the people you meet are friendly.

Check out a trail map here.