Canada – Récit de voyage

Canada, the world’s second largest country by total area was first inhabited by the Inuits, Metis, Ojibwe and other aboriginal tribes. Then the French and the English colonial powers had their time, leaving behind a bilingual federation with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state.

British Columbia province of Canada is known for its natural beauty. It is no surprise that its motto is Splendor sine occasu (“Splendour without Sunset”). We visited the two main cities in British Columbia- Victoria (capital of BC) and Vancouver – and other beautiful locations in its vicinities.

We crossed over to Canada at the Peace Arch/Douglas crossing. The inscription on the U.S. side of the Peace Arch reads “Children of a common mother”, and the words on the Canadian side read “Brethren dwelling together in unity”. This was the first time that I had literally walked from one country into another.

Vancouver is a metro with skyscrapers defining the skyline. Stanley Park is one of the major attractions. It is to Vancouver, what Central Park is to NY. The 1000 acre park has its share of beaches, forests, gardens, aquariums, playgrounds and the like. A 9 km sea-wall used by pedestrians, cyclists and skaters, circles the park. Hallelujah Point offers good views of the Vancouver skyline. The night before my Birthday, we were sitting in the park admiring the lovely view and waiting for the Nine O’Clock Cannon to boom. The Nine O’Clock cannon was cast in England in 1816 and brought to Vancouver in about 1894. Nobody knows what role the cannon played before it arrived in Canada – maybe it was on a British ship, maybe it was used in some of the innumerable wars involving England, maybe it was even used in suppressing revolts in India! Anyway, the cannon has been booming in Stanley Park at 9pm every day for more than a 100 years. We watched the cannon fire that night and heard its boom travel across the water to the city. It takes a full 3 minutes for the report to reach the outskirts.

Vancouver Chinatown is the second largest in the Western Hemisphere (SF being the largest). We visited the Dr.Sun-Yat-Sun gardens which was a classical Ming dynasty Chinese gardens. I was surprised to see a lot of similarities to the Kerala architecture – the ‘Chavadi’ to provide seating in the balcony, the drip tiles that make rain falling from the roof look beautiful, the general shape of the very top of the roof etc. The guide pointed out the subtle use of ying and yang and the sources of ‘chi’. The tour ended with a Chinese tea ceremony.

Capilano Suspension bridge above the Capilano river in British Columbia is nearly 4450ft long and about 70 meters above the water. The bridge was first built in 1886 by Native Indians using reed and cedar planks. Today it is reinforced with wire cables and anchored on either side with concrete. You bet I wouldn’t have set foot on it otherwise! The bridge sags, wobbles and sways from side to side as it hangs over a swift river, making the crossing a thrilling adventure. On the other side of the bridge is a Treetop Walk again suspended high above the ground, closer to the canopy of the trees. Around each Douglas Fir tree in the Walk is an observation deck. There is also a large toten pole park near the bridge. Totem poles were used by Native Indians to depict stories, legends or events. They are carved from Cedar trees and are sometimes colorful. Other interests include eco tours, performances by the locals, live demo of native crafts and freshly made chocolate fudge (we had their awesome Maple Chocolate fudge).

On the morning of my Birthday, we boarded the ‘Queen of Saanich’ from Vancouver to the British Columbia Islands. The ferry transferred both passengers as well as vehicles.

Our first stop was Brentwood Bay to visit the Butchart Gardens. The Butchart family moved here more than a hundred years ago to be near a limestone quarry for their Portland cement business. They started with beautiful gardens in their home and when the limestone quarry was exhausted, they converted it to a garden as well. Today, Butchart garden spreads over 50 acres and is meticulously maintained! The grounds include a Rose garden, a Japanese Garden, a Sunken Garden, an Italian garden, a Mediterranean Garden and a Bog Garden. I like to say “Dilip didn’t bring me flowers on my Birthday… instead he brought me to a Garden” :)

After Butchart Gardens, we drove along the scenic route along the edge of the Island to Victoria. Victoria is quaint old town very unlike Vancouver. I loved the huge bunches of flowers that hung from every lamp-post on every street. We walked through downtown enjoying the sights and doing some shopping.

Canada is a huge country and has much more to offer. Hopefully, this is not the end of our tryst with Canada…

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