Vancouver & Vancouver Island

Monday, 24 July 2023

My long trip from Melbourne to London started in South Korea and Japan, crossed the Pacific on a cruise ship, dropped in on three towns in Alaska – Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan – and ended in Seattle, Washington in the USA. I only paused briefly in Seattle – although I would come back there twice – before heading north to Vancouver.

The Fairmont Pacific Rim – I’m staying at this very modern (and very expensive) hotel right down by the waterfront. Vancouver also has an old school Fairmont Hotel.

◄ Marine Building – I’m staying a stone’s throw from the iconic Marine Building. Dating from 1929-1930 it’s unfortunately undergoing some sort of renovation so I can’t look inside and the outside is somewhat hidden by scaffolding. It’s a fine example of art deco design and at 21 storeys it was, at the time, the highest building in the British Commonwealth. I’d been to the top of the Marine Tower lighthouse in Yokohama, just before I departed to cross the Pacific.

From the Marine Building I strolled around central Vancouver, past Christ Church Cathedral, the old Fairmont Hotel, the Public Library with its rooftop garden gathering place and Canada Place with cruise ships and sails. Plus the Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Digital Orca in Jack Poole Plaza, looking like it was made of giant lego blocks.

On my Vancouver exploration I was surprised how many of the cars were Teslas and impressed by how quickly the traffic lights changed. I grumble in Melbourne that the lights don’t change quickly enough, here it’s the opposite, they switch so fast you have to hurry to cross the road.

Joe Fortes – that night I dine at the bar at this colourful downtown restaurant named after Joe Fortes (1863-1922) who was African-British-Canadian, born in Trinidad in the Caribbean and became Vancouver’s much loved first official lifeguard.

◄ Harbour Air floatplanes – The reason I wanted to stay close to the waterfront was so I only had to make a 5 minute walk to the Harbour Air terminal because I’m flying with them to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island the next morning.

▲ Passengers boarding my Harbour Air aircraft – Amazingly Harbour Air have 40 floatplanes and I’m flying on a DHC3 Turbo Otter. Now I knew about the Beavers – wonderful (although rather noisy) radial-engined aircraft – and the Twin Otters, but Turbo Otters? Never

▲ Departing Vancouver by Harbour Air – So off we go up and away from Vancouver and 25 minutes later we’re at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

▲ Here I am in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

◄ A totally geographically misplaced Castaway Motel sign, they acquired it from a motel in Florida

With a population of 100,000 Nanaimo is the second largest town on the island. Victoria with about 400,000 is the largest, in fact the whole island with a population approaching one million is much more inhabited than I expected. And what a delightful city. Some big enough buildings to confirm it’s no sleepy town – a 20-storey apartment for one thing. Plus a nicely old fashioned town centre (restaurants, cafes, bars) plus a theatre, a library, a convention centre, some historical spots.

I came to Nanaimo to see David Stanley who wrote Lonely Planet’s first Cuba guide and later the pioneering (and very successful) Eastern Europe guide. David also has Moon Publications’ iconic South Pacific Handbook (sadly no longer available) on his CV.

◄ Tommy Douglas (1904-1986) – a Canadian politician who for a spell was the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo and is looked upon as the father of the Canadian Medicare system, an equivalent of Britain’s NHS (National Health Service). ‘I thought it was wrong that there was no memorial to him in his own town,’ said David, who helped to get this monument created. Amazingly he’s still looked upon as a dangerous socialist by some Canadians.

▲ The Queen of Cowichan car ferry pulls into Horseshoe Bay, a 22km bus ride from downtown Vancouver

Like any good guidebook writer David clearly knew his way around the place where he lives – for more than 15 years now. Having explored the town in the morning in the afternoon we drive out to a couple of pleasant seaside parks, gaze across to adjacent islands, including Shack Island which naturally has plenty of shacks. We even encounter a hovercraft parked on a beach, it’s used by the coastguard and I have a brief hovercraft chat with somebody on board. A few years ago I went on a maiden hoverflight with a new hovercraft between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in England.

David drops me at the Nanaimo Ferry Terminal and I take the pleasant cruise on the Queen of Cowichan back to the mainland. It’s an interesting contrast to taking the floatplane out to Nanaimo. The bus drops me in Vancouver just a couple of blocks from my hotel, but first I go to the Harbour Air terminal and have the free beer I didn’t indulge in this morning. I mean who wants a beer at 0800?

▲ Pacific Central Station, Vancouver

The next morning I’m up very early to make my way to the very imposing, but remarkably uncrowded train station from where the very uncrowded Amtrak train takes me back to Seattle