Marking the Right Path with an Inukshuk

The English Bay Inukshuk stands two storeys tall at English Bay Beach Park, near Beach Avenue at Bidwell Street, in Vancouver. This well-known Vancouver landmark was created by Alvin Kanak, an artist from Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories, in 1987. Inukshuk means “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. Built with eight large granite boulders, the sculpture guards the shoreline and the entrance to Stanley Park like...

A Guide to Sushi and Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market

It was at the top of my list of "must-dos" when I finally got to Tokyo a few years ago. The city's Tsukiji Fish Market, which is the largest fish market in the world, had been recommended to me by my friends who had visited Tokyo before me and just about every travel guide. I had to check it out.

I was overwhelmed even before I stepped inside. There were people and transport trucks everywhere, not to mention men scooting...

Cleaning House

There was a period where I was moving around quite a bit. In nine years, I had eight different addresses that spanned five cities on three continents. The logistics of all of that, of course, meant I couldn't possibly keep a mass of possessions. 

With each move, I would evaluate which things I needed to...

Volunteers Unleashed Film: The Controversy Behind the Scenes

BC filmmaker Brad Quenville created a documentary to highlight some of the controversies behind voluntourism, volunteering abroad. The film, Volunteers Unleashed, was inspired by his daughter's own trip to Tanzania. "The way that the voluntourism industry operates, " he told the Delta Optimist, "is that it's trying to cater to the volunteer. It isn't necessarily catering to the needs of the local people as much as it's catering to the needs of the volunteer, making sure...

WE Day Vancouver 2015

With all the flashing lights and screaming teens in the massive sports arena, I felt like I was at a pop music concert. In a way, I was. Hedley, a popular Canadian band, was there for WE Day Vancouver, along with Barenaked Ladies, Colbie Caillat, Francesco Yates, and others. But WE Day was marketed as a "celebration of youth"--a reward for students who have volunteered over the past year and inspiration for students to volunteer this year. 

In between songs, there were inspirational...

Talking Politics: Freedoms of Speech in Canada and Around the World

Well here we are, federal Election Day in Canada. This has—as the media constantly reminds us—been the longest-running election campaign in Canadian history. It’s important to be informed, though it can be exhausting to try to navigate the constant barrage of mixed messages...

Gratitude for Being Canadian

Earlier this month, Henley & Partners, a firm specializing in residence and citizenship planning, released its annual Visa Restrictions Index. Of 219 destinations, Canada is tied for fourth place. With my Canadian passport, I am free to visit 170 countries without a visa—or at least pick up a visa upon arrival. That’s something I’m thankful for.

There are 13 other countries above us. Eleven of those are European; Germany and the United Kingdom are at the top with 173 easy-to-visit...

San Josef Bay, Where We Learned the Downsides of Beach Camping

We had camped out at Nels Bight for two nights without issue. Despite the two light station keepers assuring us that rain was not in the forecast, it did drizzle that night after we had returned to camp. But it was nothing that would keep us in our tents. We sat outside and watched the horizon, where a group of whales were spouting, were treated with a phenomenal sunset.

sunset at Nels Bight

The next day, we hiked our way south to San Josef Bay. This beach is a mere 45 minutes from the trailhead, so it’s often a popular choice for day hikers and families. We had seen people carrying large coolers in the parking lot when we arrived at the park on our first day; this was definitely their destination. But we were surprised that it was so vacant now, a long weekend. We had our pick of the camping spots since there was only one other tent, so walked a few minutes down the beach towards where our map indicated the water source was to find a flat spot.

We argued whether we wanted to be closer to the forest or the water. The forest was cozy, but wouldn’t allow for much sun—plus it would be closer to the animals. The tide was far out now, but we wanted to make sure we would be safe when it came in again. But how far was far enough? Amy and I argued that the tufts of grasses in the sand indicated that it was above the water line; Alicia did not believe us.

“What about the rogue waves?” she asked. Neither Amy nor I knew how to respond.

According to my online research later, not much is known about them, with scientists for a long time not even accepting them as real. But, according to an Economist article from 2009, an oil rig recorded a 25.6 metre wave in the North Sea in 1995, and there was a recorded 29 metre wave off Scotland’s coast in 2000. Scientists could no longer deny that these larger-than-normal waves exist (I’m sure to the relief of all the seamen and sailors who were dismissed during all those years of sea exploration). But, fortunately for my friends and me, they occur in deep water, not on the shore where we were. Unless we were going to get hit by a tsunami, we would be fine.

Amy and I convined Alicia we would be fine. We set our tent up right in the middle of the beach. Luckily for Alicia, it was an uneventful night.

camping at San Josef Bay

While the sea was no longer our feared enemy, the beach was. The next day, the wind picked up and we were treated with a sand storm. I tried to read, resting against a log, but couldn’t concentrate. The wind kept blowing our tent fly and I kept walking over to tack it down again. We had left the outer doors open since it was warm out, but the sand kept sifting through the netting and onto our sleeping bags. Eventually the wind got too strong; I couldn’t read anymore because I had to use a shirt to cover my face to protect it from the sand-bullets.

We had planned this, our last full day, as a lazy one where we got to relax and read, but I could do neither of those things. Finally, we decided to move our tent into the forest.

Beach camping is not always what it’s made out to be. We had conquered our fears of rogue waves, but the wind had conquered us.

Cape Scott can be reached by car. Drive  hours via Highway 19 on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo north to Port Hardy. From there, turn west towards Holberg on Holberg Road; of the 2 hour drive, the last hour or so is a dirt logging road. After passing through the very small town of Holberg, turn right onto San Josef Main/San Joseph Road to reach the park's parking lot. 

Be prepared for extreme weather at any time of year. You can find water sources at campsites, but you must treat the water. Pay attention to tides. There are bears in the park, so you must put hang your food or store it in provided bins.

Get yourself a drink at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in Holberg on your way out to celebrate your hike.

The Isolated Beauty of Cape Scott

We arrived in Cape Scott, located on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. Alicia, Amy and I had hoped it was the westernmost point in Canada, but when we got to the lighthouse, we saw an island just off the coast. It’s good we didn’t bring any champagne to celebrate because apparently we weren’t even close. A quick look at a map after we came home showed us that there is a lot more west to go. On some flat maps it may look like this tip of Vancouver Island is the country’s westernmost point, but that’s only because of the distortion of latitude and longitude; on a round globe, the Yukon extends much farther past this point. The Haida Gwaii islands? Farther west. Whitehorse? Even farther west. We were so wrong.

Even if we weren’t as far west as we imagined we were, we still enjoyed the remoteness and beauty of the area. This year has been abnormally dry and hot, even here in the deep rainforest.  The path getting here was described as “muddy” and but we had few problems. It’s a relatively short hike, only 17 kilometres from the trailhead to our camp at Nels Bight, plus another 6.5 kilometres from Nels to the lighthouse at Cape Scott. The trail is not steep, either; it’s a mostly flat surface with stretches of wooden boardwalks over the muddiest sections.

When we arrived, one of the lighthouse keepers came out onto the porch and told us it was about 28 degrees Celsius. The two lighthouse keepers live on the property in a small house located right next to the tower, and the one who was speaking to us stood on his small front porch in just his swimsuit trunks. They’ve been here for 16 years, he told us, and this was the hottest year they’ve ever had. Last winter was warmer than usual, too. There were only three days when it went from zero to -1 and back to zero; usually the water freezes.


We ventured up the lighthouse. It didn’t look, actually, like much of a lighthouse—no, it was more of a light station. Grey and white concrete blocks at the bottom support four metal posts that rise a couple storeys above. Steps steep enough to find themselves somewhere between stairs and ladder link to a red platform, which is a metal grate and open to the ground below. At the centre, surrounded by the red metal platform, is the almighty light, protected by a bank of windows that give it its 360 degree view. Another ladder takes the keepers up higher, but that was beyond where we were allowed to go. While the light station is not directly on the coast (there’s a steep forest-covered slope in the way), a collection of buoys remind you of where you are. If it had been windy, the large wind chime hanging from the platform below the light would have serenaded us. As it was, it stood quietly, patiently, waiting to burst into song.

I inquired about the forecast: was it going to rain? No rain in the forecast, he said. The coast here should be covered in fog by now; instead, the sky looked bright, even from my view at the top of the tower. It was sunny and felt hot if we left the shade.

The second light station keeper came out onto the porch and called out to us: “They caught the two men who had escaped from jail three or four weeks ago!” Alicia doesn’t follow the news and hadn’t heard the story, so we had to give her the backstory. He seemed very eager to tell us—strangers—this news, so we gossiped about how it could have been possible that these men were able to escape from a high security prison and elude the police for so long.

The light station keepers attended to new arrivals: a group of three twenty-something Dutch guys. Their conversation began much like ours had: a hello, some small talk about the weather, a sale of some chips, the invitation to sign the guest book. I wondered if the keepers were tired of having the same conversation for 16 years, if they preferred the isolation, if they felt like hikers like us were invading their lazy Sunday when all he wanted to do was lounge outside in his swimsuit.

Cape Scott’s remote location means that only 5000 people visit this light station a year. If it’s not the threat of muddy trails that intimidates people, it’s the roads. The trailhead is 64 kilometres west of Port Hardy—itself a relatively remote town of only about 4000—and the road in between is a potentially rough dirt road. Signs along the hiking trails indicate that this area has always been isolated—too isolated, in fact, for settlement despite two attempts.

Hansen Meadows, Cape Scott

The first was in 1897. As described in a report written in the early 1900s,  “the Danes built good houses, good roads; they cleared and cultivated their land, and they put cattle on the reclaimed land, and formed a successful colony.” In addition to the troubles with tremendous rainfalls and storms, there wasn’t a good harbor and the government refused to build roads to the Danish settlement, which meant that the settlers had difficulty accessing markets. “So little by little the settlement dwindled until there were only two or three of the old settlers left. The grass was good and the cattle were thriving, but there was no way to ship out the beef.” They gave up. Settlers came in 1910 to try it again, but they encountered the same problems. Almost unbelievably, it wasn’t until 1979 that a highway was finally built to Part Hardy.

Another blog describes Cape Scott as “one of the wildest, windiest, most woebegone locales in the province for human habitation” and suggests that a trip to “Cape Scott is only for those whose mettle has been tested by repeated exposure to the bellows and blast-furnace of nature in the raw.” We got lucky that our visit coincided with an abnormally hot year, making our journey a little easier. 

Cape Scott can be reached by car. Drive  hours via Highway 19 on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo north to Port Hardy. From there, turn west towards Holberg on Holberg Road; of the 2 hour drive, the last hour or so is a dirt logging road. After passing through the very small town of Holberg, turn right onto San Josef Main/San Joseph Road to reach the park's parking lot. 

Be prepared for extreme weather at any time of year. You can find water sources at campsites, but you must treat the water. Pay attention to tides. There are bears in the park, so you must put hang your food or store it in provided bins.

Get yourself a drink at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in Holberg on your way out to celebrate your hike.