Tuesday, October 24, 2017

58º N Then Sailing South

A cool, misty Sunday morning tempted us to roll over and fall back to sleep in our gently rocking bed.  So glad we didn't.  We had entered Glacier Bay early, stopping to pick up National Park Service rangers.  As we finished breakfast, the rangers began broadcasting a commentary about what to expect in the park.  It was essentially a day at sea since the ship did not stop at any towns.  We spent most of the morning in our cabin either listening to the ranger or sitting on our balcony gazing at the wondrous scenery slipping past.

250 years ago, Glacier Bay was all ice and no bay.  As the glacier retreated, it gouged a deep channel between the surrounding mountains that filled with sea water.  Hanging between the peaks are the remnants of the ice field and over a dozen tidewater glaciers have fingers of ice dipping into the ocean.

In 1916, William Cooper, a plant ecologist, came to Glacier Bay and was inspired by its beauty.  He campaigned to have it preserved for future generations.  In 1925, it became a national monument and finally a national park in 1980.  It's only accessible by boat or sea plane which has helped keep it pristine.

As we headed north up the bay, we began passing bergy bits (3-16 feet high), growlers (size of a piano),  and chunks of ice.  When we reached the glacier (Grand Pacific Glacier), I must say I was not impressed.  It was black!  Still, we saw harbour seals on the ice floes and a sea otter swimming on its back.   At one point, I went inside to warm up.  Glen had turned on the TV so we could watch the ship's bow camera and hear the ranger.  There on the screen was a beautiful blue glacier (Margerie Glacier) off the port bow (see photo).  Surely the captain would turn the ship so those on the starboard side could see this icy beauty.  He did and what an amazing sight!  The ice sheet is a mile wide and 250 feet above the sea

As we stood admiring it (Glen confirmed we were at 58ºN), we heard a loud crack, then a roar as a house-sized chunk of ice slid down the glacier's face.  Wow!  We witnessed several calvings before heading west to the Lamplugh Glacier.  The ship inched into John Hopkins Inlet so we could see the John Hopkins Glacier where harbour seals give birth.  The pups are protected so cruise ships rarely enter the inlet.

We then headed south, dropping the rangers off at Bartlett Cove.  It was time to relax in the Wheelhouse Bar.  Had we been so inclined, we could have played a trivia game and won.  Something to remember next time.  The question we got that no one else did?  What is the element the symbol Na represents?  Obviously, no one remembered their high school chemistry classes.

Afterwards, we dressed for our second formal night and had a second set of photos taken.  We ate in the Bordeaux dining room and I enjoyed lobster tail while Glen had Beef Wellington.  Glen's dessert was all kinds of chocolate.

The Island Princess sailed into Ketchikan after breakfast.  We watched the docking from the promenade deck.  After all the tours had left, we disembarked on another 'decent' cup of coffee quest.  We found a small coffee shop across from the ship after doing a short walk around town.

Ketchikan has always been a fishing port even before Europeans came to the Tongass Narrows.  Its name means 'thundering wings of an eagle' in native Tlingit.  It's often called the 'first city of Alaska' as it's at the southern end of the Alaskan panhandle.  Locals refer to it as the 'Salmon Capital of the World'.  Five different species of Pacific salmon are found here: Chum, Sockeye, King, Silver, and Pink.

Another claim to fame are the 80 totem poles scattered throughout the city, supposedly the largest collection in the world.  I think the people of Duncan, BC would disagree as their city is officially designated The City of Totems and they also claim to have the largest collection in the world.

There were lots of activities to do ashore (I've never seen so many jewelry stores) but we decided to return to the ship for lunch.  We spent the afternoon doing a promenade walk then read or knit while watching the sea planes and boats come and go.  Supper was in the Bayou Café where I enjoyed Cajun catfish.

We left Alaska during the night and the next day spent a relaxing time sailing between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia.  We did take time out to watch a Culinary demonstration done by the Executive Chef and his good friend, the Maitre D'Hotel.  We learned how to prepare three dishes while these two entertained us.  Very funny show.  Afterwards, we did a tour of the galley and watched the sous-chefs, butchers, and other staff prepare our meals.

We had a British-style pub lunch in the Bayou Café and Glen was thrilled to see steak and kidney pie on the menu.   Actually, the menu was limited to the pie, fish and chips, and bangers and mash.  I stuck with my seafood-only choice.  We heard some of 'British invasion' music before heading back to our cabin.

I spent most of the afternoon packing and organizing our clothes for the next day.  Bags are left at the cabin door before supper and disappear until you pick them up the next day.  Vietnam vets were enjoying a chat in the Wheelhouse Bar when we went down and it was interesting to hear some of their stories.  Most had been in the air force.  We'd actually chatted with one man on one of our tours so it was good to hear his story.

We headed to the Bordeaux restaurant for supper not realizing that this final meal always features Baked Alaska.  Glen had to have that!!  During our meal, the galley staff came out carrying flaming Baked Alaska desserts (perhaps fake) and we could show our appreciation for all the hard work they had done by clapping and waving our napkins.

Tipping on board no longer involves envelops stuffed with cash.  Princess Cruises adds the tips to your bill and these are divided amongst the staff.  The way you show appreciation for a job well done is either to slip some money to an individual or better still, keep track of their names and when the cruise line asks for commendations, let them know who went 'above and beyond' for you.  These remarks are used in determining promotions which benefit the individuals more.

I did a lot of hugging as we left the dining room as the staff had been so good to us as Glen made note of their names.

We were up early the final day so we could have breakfast and be in our departure lounge by 7:50 am.  While Glen showered, I witnessed the ship sailing into a dark Vancouver Harbour, the city surrounding us lit in blazing lights.  Quite an amazing sight.

After a bit of a scramble, we found our bag and with the help of a Port of Vancouver greeter, found our bus to Victoria stop.  There was quite a line waiting but the bus staffer didn't realize we all wanted on the bus.  When he began chatting to a colleague, I approached him to ask about the bus tags he had given those first in line.  Turns out we didn't need one but it did alert him to the crowd waiting to board.

The next day we bought groceries, did a laundry and didn't unpack what we weren't going to use (Glen's suit).  The next few days were spent visiting with friends as we said goodbye to everyone before heading back to Calgary.  That trip took a day longer than usual as I experience my first ocular migraine (think kaleidoscope eyes) and spent an afternoon in the hospital in Golden, BC.  Perhaps too much traveling brought it on but who knows?

See my photos here:  Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Heading Home.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Skagway, Alaska

The Island Princess arrived in Skagway before breakfast so we watched the comings and goings of the float planes and helicopters while lingering over coffee.  A family of river otters cavorted on the rocks near the pier of which the people disembarking were unaware.

We had a few 'chores' to do before we left to see the town.  We wanted to book another meal at the Bayou Café using our coupons as well as cancel our tour scheduled for Ketchikan.  While waiting in line, I overheard someone asking when she should line up for the afternoon train ride.  She had heard you needed to sit on the left of the train for the best views.  We had also heard this from both Lynda and our friend, Robb.  The lady at the desk suggested 15 minutes would be enough time but she was very wrong.

I asked how far it was to town and Glen felt he could make the walk if we went slowly.  This suited me as I wanted to take pictures.  Skagway is named for a beautiful, Tlingit (pronounced kling-it) mystic who turned herself into stone and caused strong winds to blow through the Taiya Inlet.  The town became the gateway to the Klondike gold rush. In 1896, George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Dawson Charlie filled a spent Winchester rifle cartridge with gold flakes which sparked the gold rush to the Canadian Klondike.  The famous Chilkoot Pass was very rugged so William Moore and Skookum Jim scouted out an easier route, White Pass.  Moore had a homestead in Skagway where he built a wharf and sawmill as well as clearing a trail to the summit.

The Canadian government insisted each prospector carry 2000 pounds of equipment and supplies into the Yukon territory.  It didn't take locals long to build a railway up the mountain.  Michael J Heney, a railroad contractor happened to be in the Red Onion saloon (and bordello) when he met Sir Thomas Tancrede who wanted to invest in the railroad.  "Give me enough dynamite and snoose (snuff), and I'll build you a railroad to hell," Mike is reported to have told Sir Thomas.  He built the railroad in 26 months for $10 million.

So Skagway became the starting point for prospectors and the buildings in town reflect this history.  Although Glen's motive for walking into town was to get a decent cup of coffee, I wanted to check out the historic sites (one bookstore had 3 books on the north that I had read as a teenager).  After wandering Skagway (only 1000 people call the place home), we sat inside the railway station so Glen could enjoy some 'pretty' good coffee.  It began to drizzle as we returned to the ship.  The vegetation in town was much like Victoria's and later learned it rarely goes below freezing so the winds of the mystic, Skagway, mustn't be cold.

The excursion we had booked for the afternoon was a luxury train ride on the same railroad Heney built.  The White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway, designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1994, would take us up the mountain, into White Pass crossing into Canada.  We didn't need passports as we were to stay on board the train.  There were two excursions to choose from, one luxury and one not.  I decided to splurge as it was our anniversary.  So glad I did.

Glen noticed people lining up for the excursion at noon so we hustled out of our cabin and off the ship.  There are checkpoints as you disembark where someone scans your key card.  They will do so again when you return.  You will also have to pass through a security station when you come back on board much like those in airports.

At the end of the line, stood a woman with a clipboard.  She was checking tickets and told us we couldn't line up with the others.  We had to sit in special shelter and wait.  Glen was relieved as standing in line is not something he can do without pain.  They had a shuttle for us (our car was right behind the engine) but when they told us we could board, I beetled along the train hoping I'd get a seat on the lefthand side.  Two such seats were available when I boarded but I figured it would be nicer if Glen sat opposite me.  Only 14 people were in our 'luxury' cabin and we each had comfortable, leather-bound swivel seats.  It reminded me of the historic trains of the last century.  Glen was the last to board.  As he eased into his chair, he grinned and said, "Reminds me of Hell on Wheels."  This was a TV series we watch filmed in southern Alberta but about the building of the railroad across the United States.

Our car had a dedicated guide (the other cars had to share guides) who told us of the history and geology of the area.  She also served us drinks.  Yes, luxury meant Alaskan Amber beer!  We also had an assortment of canapés, raw veggies, and tea sandwiches.  We lunched while the scenery flew by.

The train first crossed Pullen Creek, a salmon river flowing next to the town.  The run was over and salmon carcasses clogged the creek as the fish die soon after spawning.  Next came the railyards and a cemetery where many Klondike characters are buried.  We climbed through a forest of Black Cottonwoods (the bark is black) before reaching an evergreen forest.  Of course, White Pass is above tree line.

Zoe, our guide, kept remarking on how clear the day was.  Despite the low-lying clouds, we could see the mountains surrounding us and at one point, saw the cruise ship dock in the distance.  She said that hasn't happened all summer.  The train didn't slow down for photos so I struggled to get some pictures of the views.  Lynda had been right in that the left side was the place to be but Zoe told us we had to switch places at the top so those on the right could also experience the views.  Places of note that  we passed were a caboose parked near Denver  Glacial trail which the railroad rents to hikers, Black Cross Rock where a 100 ton piece of granite fell on top of two prospectors, and the Chilkat Range where I was the first to spot a mountain goat (a white dot with 4 legs).  Just before reaching the summit, we passed the Steel Bridge which was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world but hasn't been used since 1969.  A mile later, we saw the actual Trail of '98 where the gold seekers dragged their pack animals (over 3000 died on this trail).

At the summit, beside an alpine lake (see above photo), we stopped and the engine switched tracks and our car became the caboose.  Glen and I changed seats, turning our chairs to face forward.  The only time we looked back was while going through the tunnels.  The train stopped at the town station and most of those on board got off to see the sights.  We remained and had a long chat with Zoe who as originally from Utah but had wanderlust so used the money she earned in the summer to travel the world.

Before supper, we relaxed in the Wheelhouse Bar and listened to some of Steve Hites's 'North to Alaska' show.

See my Skagway photos here

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Juneau, Alaska

When we booked our cruise, our travel agent, Sylvia, asked what special occasion were we celebrating.  Our 45th anniversary!  She passed this information along to Princess as apparently most cruisers plan their holiday around a special event.  Of course, the cruisers we know never need an excuse!  The day we selected to be our celebration day was the Friday of our cruise.  We thought they would sing us Happy Anniversary at dinner but it was so much more.

When we left the cabin to go to breakfast, we were greeted with balloons and a card stuck to our door wishing us Happy Anniversary.  Inside an actual anniversary card were several gift discounts.  We could reserve a table at the specialty restaurants and not pay the cover charge, we could get $50 off a spa treatment, we would receive an authenticate print from the art gallery, and yes, we could have them sing happy anniversary at supper.  Our steward, Allan, also wished us happy anniversary when he met us in the cabin way.


The sea was glassy calm so I decided it would be good to do a walk around the promenade after breakfast.  It was chilly so Glen opted to sit on comfy seats near the Wheelhouse Bar and enjoy the passing scene.  A Zumba class was working out in the bar and that music can get your heart racing even if you don't dance.  I did 3 circuits of the promenade (1 mile or 1.6 km) while photographing the Gastineau Channel which leads to Juneau, the Alaskan state capital.  When the Russians owned Alaska, Sitka was the capital but in 1906, Juneau became the seat of government.  It was named after a Quebec prospector, Joe Juneau who may have bribed the miners with drink to call the settlement after him.  It's an unusual capital in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska.

We missed the docking of our ship as we were slated to board a tour bus and had to meet in the Wheelhouse Bar.  I had pre-booked our excursions on line choosing ones that were wheelchair friendly assuming this would allow Glen to enjoy them.  However, one in Ketchikan, although wheelchair accessible, involved walking half a mile which Glen felt he could not do.  

Our bus guide pointed out all the points of interest to be seen in Juneau as we drove to the Allen Marine Tour dock.  The Allen family have been organizing tours since 1970 from their base in Sitka and have a fleet of over 25 whale watching boats.  The catamaran style gives the vessels stability and means they can handle the many who wish to see Alaskan wildlife.  The day was calm and not rainy (Juneau receives an average of 93 inches [236 cm of rain] a year).  This was unusual weather and meant we saw sights normally shrouded in cloud.

A naturalist on board explained the types of creatures we'd see and also pointed out some of the geological features we passed.  Due to the fact wildlife is indeed wild, we had no guarantee of seeing anything.  But Mother Nature didn't disappoint.  The animals of Favourite Channel which the boat plied were so used to the sight-seeing boats, they didn't hide from view.  Our first sighting was a herd of Harbour Seals laying on a stony beach waiting for the tide.  Unlike sea lions, seals don't have large flippers that allow for land-travel so they hug the coastline using the tide to lift them gently onto and off of the rocky shores.  

When the captain used the hackneyed phrase, There she blows!, the excitement in the boat was palatable.  We craned our necks watching the humpback whales break the sea's surface.  They are amazing creatures and one decided to show off.  I lost count of the number of times it dove so its tail could be photographed.  Glen and I were inside the cabin as standing on deck would have been difficult for Glen but I was still able to capture this exciting moment.  Humpbacks are in Alaska to feed.  They are baleen whales who filter fish and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans) through comb-like plates of baleen (the whalebone used in old-fashioned corsets).  At this time in September, some had already left for the warmer waters, most mating and bearing their young in Hawaii (see my posts, Hanakaoo Cemetery and Pontoon Boat Snorkeling).

Not to be outdone by the performing whale, some Steeler Sea Lions came to check out our boat, their characteristic noses pointing in the air (one way to tell them apart from seals).  These creatures are threatened as overfishing of pollock has led to their decline so we were happy to witness a few of the animals cavorting around us.

Due to the great weather, the captain took us further north along the channel to another place where whales loved.  On the way, we saw some Dall's Porpoises breaking the surface.  I realized this was the 'fish' I had seen in the wake of the Island Princess as I waited for Glen to get his lunch.  It looked liked a black and white torpedo and just as fast, I imagine.  They cannot survive in captivity so seeing them in the wild is amazing.

The naturalist spotted a bald eagle but it was too faraway for me to see despite the complementary binoculars the tour company provided.  They also had a galley that served a task lunch although we had had ours on the ship before leaving.

Our tour was actually two groups in one, the first only did whale watching while our group was off to see the Mendenhall Glacier.  It wasn't a long bus drive to the glacier and it was good to get out and stretch our legs.  We opted out of the hike to Nugget Falls for obvious reasons but did a short walk to where we could see the glacier and its surrounding mountains.

The glacier is named after Thomas Mendenhall a superintendent of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey.  He was an advocate of the metric system and was responsible for defining the exact border between Alaska and Canada.

The glacier is typical of the glaciers we see in the mountains near Calgary so it wasn't as thrilling to us as it was to the tourists who enjoyed the view with us.  There was a lovely visitor centre where we could get warm, listen to a ranger talk about glacier movement, and watch a movie.  The Mendenhall Glacier began receding in the 1700s and is used as an example of how climate change affects its retreat.

See my Juneau photos here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

North to Alaska!

Most of the summer we spent in Calgary golfing, gardening, and dealing with medical concerns.  At the end of August, we headed to the "island" and enjoyed socializing with friends, golfing and crabbing in Victoria.  On September 13th, our adventure to Alaska began.

"North to Alaska" was a Johnny Horton song (cute video) we've sung on road trips since we discovered him back in the 80s.  He wrote it for the John Wayne movie of the same name.  It ran through our heads as we planned to explore whether or not cruising was for us.  We felt a short trip to celebrate our 45th anniversary would be an excellent way to try cruising out.

Our trip began with us almost missing our taxi ride.  Glen finds standing difficult so wanted to wait for the cab (early in the morning) in the foyer of our condo where he could sit.  The cab arrived but we didn't see it.  The cabbie called Glen but his phone was on 'Do Not Disturb" mode.  I finally went outside and saw the cab pulling away from the curb.  We hailed him and scrambled inside.

We were taking a BC Ferries Connector bus to Vancouver and it left from the downtown terminal.  We weren't the only one taking a cruise.  Apparently, two ships were Alaska-bound from Canada Place and all but one couple on our bus were to board the Island Princess.

We chose the Princess Cruise line because Glen's Mom and Dad had always sailed on Princess boats.  We thought we'd continue the tradition.  My sister, Lynda, has taken over ten cruises on various cruise lines and gave us travel hints.  So did our travel agent at AMA, Sylvia.  She told us not to staple the paper luggage tags to our bags as they tore off.  She said the ship's porter would tag it when we boarded the ship.  Good point, except the bus took our luggage and loaded directly on the ship.  I had put a homemade tag with our cabin number on our bag but the bus driver shrugged and said we might get it eventually.

On this rather disturbing note, we boarded the bus and made the 9:00am sailing of the ferry to the mainland.  Glen couldn't get his famous ferry ice cream as the machine was out of order so settled for a cup of coffee.  It was a pretty normal trip.

According to the information we had, boarding would take place after lunch.  However, as the bus arrived at Canada Place, we disembarked and were ushered into the terminal, leaving our luggage for others to worry about.  Due to his hobbling with a cane, staff hurried Glen through short cuts and I quickly followed him.   It seemed to take no time to get our cabin key cards and permission to go aboard.  Our cabin was on Caribe Deck but the man working the elevators told us that was deck 10.  The ship had 16 decks and we explored 10 of them.

Long ago, we had gone a cruise with the kids.  We quickly discovered the Big Red Boat was tiny compared to most cruise ships and the one that plied the waters of the Galapagos was even smaller so that experience didn't prepare us for the size of our cabin.  It had a huge cupboard with lots of hangers and a king size bed.  But, what thrilled us the most was the large balcony.  Glen declared he'd spend all his time there.  We sat enjoying the Vancouver harbour bustle amazed that this trip was finally happening.

Although we saw luggage sitting in front of other cabin doors, no bag sat near ours.  We decided to explore the ship and see if we could get some lunch.  We had a great buffet meal in the Horizon Court and learned that if you want beer with lunch, it's best to get it from the bar and bring it to the table.  Lynda had told us to bring lanyards for your key cards as they're linked to your credit card and mean you don't have to worry about carrying wallets  (Glen would not give up his) or purses (I had a small one for my phone).  I couldn't figure out how lanyards would work as there was no hole in our cards.  Turns out Passenger Services will punch the hole for you.

We also checked the Passenger Services desk for information on luggage without tags.  Turns out there are always a few.  However, ours wasn't among the ones waiting for their owners.  We returned to our cabin to relax and there sitting in front of our door was our bag.  Someone actually read my homemade tag.  Yay!!

As I unpacked, Glen enjoyed the view of Vancouver from the balcony.  Then it was lifeboat drill or General Emergency Stations as they now call it.  Our mustering point was the Wheelhouse Bar which became our favourite place to enjoy before-dinner drinks.  During the presentation, we learned how to behave during an emergency at sea and how our life preservers worked.

Afterwards, we headed to the Lido deck and bought a bucket of Budweiser beers (five were cheaper than four).  Ensconced in some deck chairs, we waited to experience our departure.  Other experienced cruisers had told us to buy the all-inclusive drink package but we weren't sure we'd drink that much.  Turns out we didn't.  However, if you like fancy drinks and wine, it might be a wise investment.

We left Vancouver to party music and dancing.  Going under the Lion's Gate bridge was a must-do so I left Glen and headed to the bow where I was able to snap a photo among the hordes of people.  The Island Princess then entered the Straits of Georgia and headed north.

Our dining room, the Bordeaux, was designed for those who didn't want a set dining time so we changed from our travel clothes and headed there for supper.  We had to wait a few minutes for a table then were seated by ourselves.  If we had wished to share our table with strangers, the wait would have been less.  It was our anniversary cruise so we chose to dine alone.

The next day was "At Sea" and very windy so not conducive to lounging on the balcony.  We began the day as we would every day while onboard with breakfast at the buffet.  Horizon Court had a great view of the passing scene so was preferable to the small windows of the main dining room.  Breakfast choices were varied each day but there was usually a soup choice.  I ended up eating a lot of smoked salmon for breakfast and indulging in my love of soups.  One day, I had soup at each meal!

There are lots of activities on board a ship but in the end, we didn't really partake in many of them.  I thought I would use the fitness centre but never did.  I did walk the promenade deck and took the stairs whenever I could which kept my weight gain to a minimum.  We did catch a few performers as we wandered the ship, listening to a string quartet playing the Beatles one night and a reggae band another time.  We tended to eat late so never did see the wonderful shows cruise lines stage.

After a day at sea, we dined in the Bayou Café.  Lynda had told us if we wished to dine in the specialty restaurants, you must pay a cover charge to make a reservation.  We did this and did not regret it.  We were seated next to the window and could watch the sea and spouting whales as we ate dinner.  I had Alaskan Salmon and a sweet potato pie for dessert.  By this time, we had discovered Alaskan Amber beer--so much better than Budweiser!

You can see my "North to Alaska" photos here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Family Gatherings -- Muskoka

In April, Glen's wonderful cousin, Lynn, passed away.  We were devastated.  She was a woman of cottage country Ontario (Muskoka) and wanted her memorial held there when all her friends and family could gather.  The date was set for mid-June.  Of course, we would attend.

In her obituary Lynn wrote:  "Weep for your loss, but do not weep for me.  I have lived a richly blessed life."  And she had!  The evidence was in the group of people who gathered to cry and laugh as her life was told first by her bother, Alan, then by friends, Mark and Kathy.  The choir she belonged to (Minettones) gave voice (with the Grandsons of the Pioneers) to her favourite songs and Rev. Jim Hatt led the moving service.  Lynn's daughter, Elizabeth, provide us with packets of tissues and I used them all!

We flew to Toronto on the Friday before the memorial, meeting Glen's brother-in-law, Randy at the Calgary airport.  We took a cab to the military base where we met, Glen's sister, Norma. Randy drove their SUV expertly through Toronto traffic north to Bracebridge.  We stayed at the Quality Inn as most hotels/resorts in the region were booked for the summer season.

Bracebridge was built around waterfalls on the Muskoka River.  It was named after a book, Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving, the post master was reading at the time.  Incorporated in 1875, it became a distribution hub for the region and was the first town in Ontario to have its own hydro generating plant (1894).

The street in front of the motel was under construction and the inn itself looked dodgy.  However once inside, we realized it had been newly renovated and the rooms were perfect.  Glen had insisted on a river view which was lovely (once you looked past the parking lot) and much better than viewing the construction site.

We quickly changed into summery clothes and headed to the family dinner Elizabeth had planned.  The restaurant, called the Crossroads, sits where the old Rosseau gas station stood.  We all remembered that!  In fact, I was amazed at how many landmarks hadn't changed from our last visit to the town 20 years ago.  The Crossroads easily accommodated sixteen people and served a delicious meal beginning with an antipasto and charcuterie board followed by salad, chicken or steak and dessert.  The local Muskoka Brewery beer was refreshing on such a warm, humid day.

While we ate, we (I include Norma and Randy here) got caught up on the lives of our relatives:  Fred (Lynn's husband), Elizabeth, Alan, Kitty, Scott, Doug, Katherine and little Elliot (who did very well being the only kid at the table).  Welcoming hugs held much emotion but we were family so tears flowed and laughter followed.

Randy easily navigated us around the Muskoka area as we moved from town to town.  The memorial was at the community hall of Minett and Fred's cottage was on the Little Joe River (the link between Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau--see photo).

The motel restaurant had a lovely view of the river so the four of us lingered over breakfast on Saturday then moved onto the patio.   It was nice to just chat and not worry about being anywhere until after lunch.  A diner across from the hotel served foot-long hot dogs that I swear were longer than a foot and Glen could get a 'real' milkshake made the old-fashioned way.

After the memorial, everyone was invited to Fred's cottage for drinks and a late supper.  Glen was thrilled to touch base with another cousin, Peggy, whom he hadn't seen in over forty years.  Turns out she shared Glen's love of family history and they spent the evening trading stories.  The only issue was it poured rain so any outside activities (like tossing people off the dock) were curtailed.  However it was a good 'wake' and in the end, Fred and Elizabeth raised the flag which had been lowered in Lynn's honour.

Randy and Norma had a long drive home to Kingston so we left Bracebridge after breakfast and arrived at the Toronto airport in time for lunch.  I had been battling a cold and for the first time in my life, fell asleep at the gate.  Fortunately, we didn't miss our flight.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Family Gatherings -- Road Trip East



Geoff and his family flew to Calgary at the end of May.  Elijah and Miles had just finished school but Alberta kids had another month to go.  This meant most places offered pre-season discounts.  They spent the night with us before heading south (same route as we took with Lynda) to Wateron National Park.  There they met Melissa's mom and her husband and enjoyed family time in the mountains.  Before going to Edmonton to visit family and friends, they stopped in Calgary.  We had a fun supper (low country boil) with Meg and Mike, then the next day, Glen and I joined them on a trip east to Drumheller.

In the 1880s, geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell came to the Badlands looking for coal and found an Albertasaurus (at that time an unknown dinosaur) skull near the Red Deer River.  So began Drumheller's relationship with dinosaurs and as you drive through the town, they appear on every street corner.

Our grandson, Miles is fascinated with fossils and the visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum was on his to-do list.  The badlands have been drawing people like him for years: first dinosaur hunters during the Great Dinosaur Rush of 1910-17, then modern day tourists who visit the museum or volunteer on digs in Dinosaur Provincial Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Tyrrell did find coal which lured people to the area.  Samuel Drumheller bought the land in the valley from Thomas Greentree and they tossed a coin on whose name the Canadian National Railway would use for the town.  Between 1911 and 1979, over 56 millions tons of coal was shipped across Canada.  Glen's PhD supervisor, Bill Paranchych's father was one of the miners from the Ukraine who came to dig the coal.

Destined to die after the collapse of the coal industry, Drumheller asked the provincial government for help.  With incredible foresight, it proposed moving the existing paleontological program from the Royal Alberta Museum (in Edmonton) to a new facility in Drumheller.  The Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology opened in 1985.  Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title "Royal" in 1990.   Over 400,000 people visit the exhibits every year and they are constantly changing as new fossils are found.

The museum is huge (4,440 sq. metres of exhibit space) but the path through the exhibits is easy to follow so we went our separate ways discovering displays or enjoying people-watching.  Glen basically hobbled from bench to bench until we came to the Preparation Lab where he watched technicians cleaning the fossils for study and eventual display.  Elijah and Geoff read as many plaques as they could (something Glen used to do).  Miles and Melissa led the way through the exhibits until Melissa discovered the Cretaceous Garden.  This is Canada's largest collection of prehistoric plant relatives where creatures like fire-bellied toads and salamanders control pests.  She spent time photographing the flowers and animals.

Tradition is we have lunch in the on-site cafeteria.  The last time we did this Glen's folks, Jim and Bessie, were with us as was Aunty Pearl.  He and I reminisced about our visit to the Tyrrell with them while the kids ignored us and enjoyed their lunch.  Afterwards they headed to the gift shop with the 'Canadian' money Aunty Meg had given them while Glen and I went to a bench outside.  I got bored watching a ground squirrel eat food off a chef's sneakers so hiked up the stairs to the lookout.  It offered great views of the museum and surrounding badlands.  If you have the time, there are also many hiking trails to explore.

Fossils are often unearthed after storms so you may see them lying on the surface.  Do NOT touch the ones on the trails near the museum.  Take a photo and write down its location then contact museum staff.  Surface collecting is legal on Crown land or if a landowner allows it.  You can keep the fossil if you live in Alberta but you can't sell or alter it.

After some family photos, we parted with the gang heading to Edmonton and Glen and I returning to Calgary.  Such a short visit but so worth it!



Family Gatherings -- Road Trip South

It's been awhile since I've written and it's not because nothing has happened, it's just that we've been busy with what life throws at us.  I reacted to a new medication and after a month can finally walk again however, Glen's arthritic hip means he cannot.  This has meant adapting to new circumstances and spending the summer at home in Calgary.  But, I've had done some landscaping and we've had some wonderful family visits both happy and sad.

Road Trip South

After spending the month of April in Victoria crabbing, golfing, visiting friends, and enjoying spring flowers, we came back to Alberta.  My sister, Lynda, had a conference in Winnipeg and flew to Calgary for a short visit.  We did lots of walking along the West Nose Hill Creek near our house, chatting and taking photos.  Lynda is very knowledgable and takes wonderful pictures (click here to check them out) so I try to remember everything she tells me.

She has been to the mountains many times so we suggested a road trip to Southern Alberta, our final destination being Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  From where we live, we circle Calgary on Stoney Trail then drive straight south on the Queen Elizabeth II highway.  When you reach the branch in the road, going right takes you to Fort Macleod; left to Pincher Creek.  We came to the branch at noon so headed into Fort Macleod for lunch.


Fort Macleod, originally built in 1874 to house the North-West Mounted Police dealing with American whiskey traders, boomed as an agricultural centre in the early 1900s.  When Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built a depot there, the town flourished.  However in 1912, CPR moved its depot to Lethbridge and Fort Macleod died.  It declared bankruptcy in 1924.  The buildings remained as they were as the town struggled through the passing years.  In 1982, the province declared the downtown a Provincial Heritage Area and Heritage Canada began restoring the buildings.  Now it's a thriving tourist destination.

I had scoped out the town's restaurants on-line and Macleods Restaurant and Lounge received the best reviews.  It's a nondescript white stucco building with a red roof on the main highway and you are embraced with its small town charm the minute you enter.  We wanted a booth by the window but first Lynda and I used the ladies room.  When we returned Glen looked like a little kid sitting at the table.  I laughed because I knew if I sat down I wouldn't be able to eat.  The place wasn't busy so the server moved us to a regular table.   Glen was thrilled to see a Monte Cristo sandwich on the menu--he hadn't had one in years.

We headed west, back to QE2 and north to the exit to Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrates the Blackfoot culture by honouring the place where the tribe killed buffalo (driving them over an 11 meter cliff).  The museum is sunk into the Porcupine Hills and is almost impossible to differentiate between its sandstone building and the surrounding hills.  The Blackfoot call this area Estipah-skikikini-kots and according to legend, a boy watching the buffalo herd plunge over the cliff got caught in the stampede and was buried in the ravine below.  He was found dead with his head smashed in.

To view the museum, one begins at the top floor which opens onto the jump's viewing area.  It was a beautiful day and we could see forever from the top.  The mountains marched down the western horizon into the Untied States.  Glen used Geoff's Summit Peek App to discover the names of the more prominent peaks.  The museum is not extensive but tells a simple, compelling story of the jump and what the buffalo meant to the Blackfoot tribes.  We had visited the museum years ago and not much has changed.  Both Lynda and I concluded I had drawn on its resources as background for my book, White Crane, although it's not about indigenous people.

After tea in the rather small cafeteria, we stopped at the gift shop and enjoyed a delightful chat with a gorgeous Blackfoot girl.  She seemed to enjoy the story of the mating marmots we'd spotted earlier on the buffalo jump.

On the return trip to Calgary, we stopped in a little town called Nanton to photograph their original grain elevators.  Turns out they were part of a museum but it wasn't open (too early in the season).  Nanton was founded in 1903 and named for a financier who came out to invest in farm mortgages.  It's also home to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada.