January 27, 2011

What's Your Happy Place?

Admittedly, this time of year I am growing a little restless in anticipation of spring.  By way of a bright spot in the muddy wet coastal January that we both share, a friend recently sent me one of those 'planetbossi' slide shows, this one of a  resort in Bora Bora with swaying palms, water that could only be described, somewhat reduntantly, as aquamarine, and white sand beaches with luxurious guest huts perched on stilts just off shore.  While I enjoyed the colour-drenched photo-tour very much, I had no emotional connection with the place since I have never been there or anywhere like it.  The closest I have been to the equator is Cannon Beach, Oregon and in fact, I'm not one to pine for tropical holidays.  I'm sure I would find plenty to enjoy once I arrived there, but as far as a dream destination goes, the tropics don't actually interest me all that much.  (I'm now covering my ears while you scream, 'WHAT?  ARE YOU CRAZY?')  Perhaps I would think differently if I lived in freezing cold Saskatchewan or blizzard-stricken southern Alberta, but I don't and never have. 

So what do I dream of during the dark days of January?  I dream of places I have been to on holiday, places of summer warmth and beauty where my family and I have spent long, bright days doing precious nothing and everything away from the daily concerns of work and home.  This morning, when I lay awake in the 6 a.m. darkness, thinking about the day to come, I suddenly and inexplicably remembered the week's holiday we once spent in Bamfield on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and I felt a bright glow of happiness.  I am convinced that half of the value of a good holiday is the place it creates in our memory - where the multisensory experience of visiting somewhere removed from our usual routines and pathways provides something almost tangible that we can access at will to spin and weave into a gold, green and blue tapestry to fling over the dull sadness of the late winter landscape.

It was our fourth summer living at Strathcona Park Lodge.  I was sitting on a log with a few other parents, by the beach volleyball court watching the Lodge children play their version of touch football.  There have always been children at the Lodge.  The couple who founded the Lodge in the 1950's, Myrna and Jim Boulding, raised five children there. The eldest, Elizabeth is a marine biology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario.  Every summer, she and her husband and teenaged daughter came home to Vancouver Island.  The opportunities for hands-on marine research being non-existent in the landlocked province of Ontario, the Marine Biology department of the U of Guelph sent several students to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the West Coast of Vancouver Island each summer.  Elizabeth and her family rented a small house - more of a cabin, really - for the four months of each summer and we at the Lodge would be treated to many visits from her husband and daughter who would return often to visit their Lodge family.  Liz' husband, Toby is also a marine scientist in his own right, but he had put his career on the backburner to look after their daughter and to work on various carpentry projects -  he is an incredibly skilled woodworker and had helped build many of the fine wooden buildings at the Lodge.  This fourth summer, Liz was to spend much of her time in Scandanavia doing research on some type of snail and so her husband and daughter chose to spend even more time than usual at the Lodge. 

That day at the beach volleyball court, we had started chatting about summer holidays when Liz and Toby asked me what our plans were.  I was saying, well, we have a few weeks and aren't sure how to spend them all, when Liz offered their cabin in Bamfield during the time she would be in northern Europe.  It took about ten seconds before her offer was accepted. 

Bamfield is on Barkley Sound, is divided by Bamfield Inlet, and populated by Huu-ay-aht of the Nuu-chah-nulth, the local indigenous people. Europeans founded a small fishing community sometime in the late 1800s. In 1902, the Bamfield cable station was constructed as the western terminus of a worldwide undersea telegraph cable called by some the All Red Line as it passed only through countries and territories controlled by the British Empire, which were coloured red on the map. (The cable initially went to Fanning Island, a tiny coral atoll in the mid-Pacific, and from there continued to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia.) It is the home of the first marine and fisheries lifesaving station, founded in 1907, on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Bamfield is now home to several sport fishing lodges, which pursue primarily salmon and halibut. Bamfield is also the northern terminus of the West Coast Trail, a world-famous hiking trail built in 1907 along the west coast of Vancouver Island to help survivors of the area's many shipwrecks find their way back to civilization. The trail runs many kilometres along extremely rugged terrain.Today Bamfield is primarily a tourist destination, either for the West Coast Trail, ocean kayaking or sport fishing. And as mentioned above, Bamfield also receives many university students who attend semesters at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.*

We had never been to Bamfield but we knew enough having gone to stunningly beautiful Tofino, also on the West Coast of the Island, with my husband on a business trip, to welcome the opportunity of seeing it.  The additional prospect of staying in an accomodation, gratis, and with indoor plumbing and a real bed (instead of camping at a nearby campsite as we did the following year) made the offer even more attractive to me, who was six months pregnant with our youngest child at the time.  We set off late in July and drove the very rough dirt road from Port Alberni in the center of the Island to Bamfield.  We located Liz and Toby's cabin and unpacked our supplies.  The cabin was fairly basic, but unlike our home at the Lodge, it had a small black and white television with four cable channels!  The kids found their room also to discover to their utmost delight, a full set of Tintin and Asterix comics belonging to Liz and Toby's daughter.  'This is the LIFE!', exclaimed my eight year old Ian when watching cartoons on the TV the next morning.

The entire week was filled with experiences which drew a similar reaction to Ian's from all of us.  We visited Pachena Bay several times, which is the West Coast Trailhead, and explored the best tidal pools we had ever seen filled with brightly coloured creatures in crystal clear water.  We watched grey whales feeding just off shore.  We took the water taxi across Bamfield Inlet and explored the colourfully painted shops and buildings along the boardwalk, and then hiked to the western side of Bamfield and picnicked on Brady's Beach.  My husband and our boys negotiated the ladders and slippery boardwalks one day and hiked to the first beach on the West Coast Trail while my daughter and I baked a cake in the cabin and had a tea party all to ourselves.  We played rounds and rounds of badminton on the cabin's sloped lawn and visited the Marine Sciences Centre which also houses a length of the original telegraph cable of the All Red Line in a glass case and an accompanying historical display.   When the kids were in bed in the evenings my husband and I watched whichever 1960's James Bond film happened to be playing on the television - one of the channels seemed to be having a bit of a Bond festival, which was right up our alley for light holiday entertainment, and in black and white to boot.

Bamfield Inlet and the dock where we caught the water taxi

That first Bamfield holiday was one of many good holidays we have enjoyed as a family, but thinking about it now and remembering all the details, I think it fair to say it was one of the best.  By the next summer, Liz and Toby had given up their lease of the house - Liz was simply travelling too much for her research to justify hanging onto it.  We went back to Bamfield the following summer and camped at the First Nation campground on Pachena Bay.  Besides it being extremely damp camping in the rainforest (I learned to bring wool sweaters, socks and hats camping after that) and the firewood too green, we had another good holiday.  The mornings were misty but the afternoons were gloriously sunny as I sat thawing on the beach with baby Katie, now nine months old.  My husband had brought kayays this time and he played in the surf with the kids and explored along the west shore of the bay by himself.  It was all great, but the creature-comfort part of me (and it is a big part) thought wistfully of Liz and Toby's cabin with the kitchen where we had made waffles every day, of the comfortable beds and of the little black and white television with four good cable channels, which at that time in our lives, signified decadence indeed!  Some day I hope to return to Bamfield...perhaps to one of those luxurious fishing lodges?  I can dream.

*the information in this paragraph came from here.  The photos came from tourism sites.  If you want to read a great article with further description of Bamfield see this article.


  1. I want to visit - it sounds amazing. When you describe places in Canada both where you live and where you visit, it seems both so far away but also wierdly familiar. Why is that? Maybe because a long time ago in a former life I travelled in the North-West. Or maybe because there are simiarities between that part of Canada with Scotland which I know so well. I think I need to do some more travelling someday!

    I've been neglecting my favourite blogs recently. I've just caught up with your previous post. I loved that. I LOVE to read anywhere and everywhere but especially in the bath, and especially in bed. I'm reading Freedom at the moment by Jonathan Frantzen. Have you read it?

  2. Kate! It's great to hear from you again. I think I would feel very much at home in Scotland, too from what I know of it - mist, fog, water and mountains, and instead of midges we have noseeums. I haven't read Freedom, but now I'm curious, so I'll look it up! I hope all is well with you. xo

  3. I like your point about how a great holiday can be measured by the memories left to resonate years later. These are beautiful recollections. We have excellent memories of our stay on Vancouver Island and Tofino...

  4. It sounds like a great place! And I agree, memories are what make a place special to us. I hope you do get back there soon : )

  5. What a fantastic memory you have. I think holidays are at their best and most real in the planning and in the memory. Sometimes taking yourself there (as Alain de Botton so memorably expounds in the Art of Travel) is the fly in the ointment.

  6. It looks like I have another book to look up! Thanks for reading, Paul, LadyCat, and Lucille.

  7. Sounds lovely. We have traveled very little as a family except to Washington to see my inlaws. And as a child, we traveled, but never to the same place twice. We were usually "going" somewhere, rather than "staying" some where. Too bad really.

  8. nice...this sounds like an incredible place...so want to visit. we are starting more and more to travel now that the boys are old enough to enjoy it...

  9. Wonderful place wonderful memories!

    I am dreaming of my seed catalogs right now. Nothing green around here for another six weeks or so!

  10. I want to visit this place. It sounds amazing!

  11. microsoft outlook exchange...thanks for dropping by, and come again anytime!


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