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.

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.

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?