Tuesday, 20 December 2011

BC Ferries closes Duke Point until further notice

I wondered why there was no 3.15 departure from Duke Point today. Now we know!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

My perspective

No matter how long I spend gazing our from our home across the Georgia Strait to the Sunshine Coast, I still cannot reconcile the fact that this view is pretty much the same distance away as the French coastline is from the cliffs of Dover. 

There's not much of the Pas-de-Calais to see from Dover Castle - and even from Cap Gris Nez, the cliffs of Dover seem incredibly distant and small.

So I'm still blown away by the sheer scale of the view from our window - and in some light conditions it's just begging for a photo. And yes, I can cheat a little using a telephoto lens.

Yet there remain so many unanswered questions. Where is the horizon?  My guess is that the sea ends about 8-10 miles out. But how much of the Sunshine Coast is hidden below the horizon? And most perplexing of all, how many trees are there in this picture? Answers on a postcard please. You may need to click on the picture to view it larger.

As others see us......

After three years, I'm still discovering Gabriola - and it's often difficult to describe the place to those who've never been.

Such was the challenge set to a group of ethnology students enrolled at Royal Roads University in Victoria - to describe the meaning of Gabe in a postcard and 400 words. 

The result? Well, take a look for yourself here on the Royal Roads website.

This series offers a view of our island culture that maybe we're all still discovering........

Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween on Gabriola

Under clear skies, Gabriola celebrated Halloween this evening - with bonfire, fireworks and its very own 'golden mile'.  For one night only, the tunnel (North Road's tree-canopy) attracted a constant stream of families driving at walking pace enjoying the spectacle of hundreds of carved pumpkins flickering in the dark. Our own offering joined a small, select group marking the start of the display.

For a short while, the line of traffic was vaguely reminiscent of that other 'golden mile' in north-west England. The difference?  In Blackpool, the illuminations don't get eaten by the deer!

Flying in the face of reason

We're always being told that flying from Vancouver is expensive - but it seems that's only if you start your flight in Vancouver. Take a look at this price comparison -  based on the same Air Canada flight from Vancouver to London Heathrow and back.....

The basic price - including taxes - is $1,126 for a return flight from YVR to Heathrow. That's $545 in fares and a massive $581 in taxes.

But we're also told there are great deals for flying out of Seattle, where the taxes are lower.... or are they? Let's have a look:

.....yes, that's a full $350 saving on the same flight if you make the journey to Seattle before boarding your Air Canada flight from YVR.  But just look - the taxes are only $6 less than flying from Vancouver - but the round trip fare has dropped to just $187!!!  Now far be it from me to ask why.....

Mind you, you don't have to look that far before you find similar "deals" for local flyers.  Have you noticed that Tofino Air's Silva Bay flights now continue to Nanaimo?  And that a flight from YVR to Silva Bay is now $82 + taxes?  

Not bad, you may think - but did you realise that if you stay on the same plane for the extra 15 minute flight into Nanaimo, you could save yourself nearly $20 each way? Even with the cost of a ferry ride, that's still a round trip saving of more than $30!!

Someone's taking us for a ride.........

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A visit to Seattle's Museum of Flight

Time to spare in Seattle?  Down opposite Boeing Field is the Museum of Flight - a great place to while away a few hours, with an awesome collection of aircraft from more than a century of aviation.

Mister Boeing's Airplane Company has recreated the original woodworking benches in the "Red Barn" on which the first production airplanes were handcrafted

Meanwhile, across the road are some of the icons of modern aviation - including the prototype 747 Jumbo Jet, Air Force One - the presidential aircraft used by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and one of the world's 18 remaining Concordes, donated to the museum by British Airways.

Reflected in the windows of the Museum's latest addition, the new space gallery (opening soon), this magnificent aircraft has lost none of its magic.

In the Personal Courage wing are fighters from World War I and World War II 

Ten fighter planes from World War II 
represent all the major combatants.

Iconic images at every turn - like this Lockheed Super Constellation of Trans Canada Air Lines

and the Douglas DC-2 of Trans World Airlines.

Just look at that for luxury - real curtains!

Among the 'flying' exhibits in the Great Hall is this lovely DC-3 of Alaska Airlines

And, not to be forgotten, the ubiquitous deHavilland Canada Beaver DHC-2. Designed as a bush plane, many were subsequently fitted with floats.  A museum piece, maybe,  but with more than 1,600 built between 1947 and 1967, it's amazing to think that there are hundreds still in daily service along Canada's coastline today.

Dozens of DHC-2 Beavers still ply the islands and inlets of the BC coast - a tribute to the rugged simplicity of the original design.

This Tofino Air Beaver flies regularly to and from Silva Bay on Gabriola.

Read more about this fascinating museum at www.museumofflight.org

Thursday, 8 September 2011

First signs of fall?

New colours are emerging as our short summer draws to a close.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Creature comforts

Labour Day weekend brought wall-to-wall sunshine on Gabriola. A leisurely walk through the island's trails revealed just a few of the many species who live side-by-side on this island.

There can't be too many places in this world where such varied wildlife co-exist - but Gabriola's campground is one of them.  It was a little early in the day for the deer to return to their pitch, and the turkeys were too busy playing chicken with the traffic on North Road to pose for the camera. Too bad they weren't around to read this cautionary sign so beautifully posed by this island ape....

Undeterred by such frivolity, the turkeys continued to evade the public eye - but the island's guinea fowl population just carried on regardless - shaving whatever they could find from the lawns around the retirement village. No sign that these guys are undernourished.....

 Further from the hubbub if village life, the woodland sunshine brought out many smaller species - though you had to look a little harder to spot some of them, like this grasshopper....

Not everyone stays home on a holiday weekend, but there's still the opportunity to gaze in awe at the creative genius (or is that engineering expertise?) displayed in many island homes.

Most of all, the sunshine encouraged species out of their natural habitat in what, for many, was the first time this summer. Even homo sapiens could be seen poking their heads out of the chilly pacific waters. Some were even brave enough to climb out onto the shore!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Duke Point reflected.......

Waiting in line

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The great Gabriola ferry debate

Let's be honest.... Gabriola has a much better ferry service than most of the gulf islands. Why? Well, for one thing, we live on the only gulf island with a ferry that takes us right into town, where we can shop, eat out and so much more within walking distance of the ferry terminal. And, with an experience card, the round trip passenger fare is only a buck more than a round trip on Nanaimo Transit. 

OK, nothing's perfect - and some believe that our ferries should be free because they are our highways - and we've already paid for the highways through our taxes haven't we? Well, maybe so..... but the reality is that ferries (and bridges, for that matter) take a whole lot more maintenance than highways and if we value living on a small island so much then we should expect to pay something for the privilege.

Love'em or hate'em, BC Ferries provides a service that is important to all of us - and which has to be paid for somehow. True, they aren't the world's greatest at customer service - and the ethos of the organisation seems increasingly to put profit before service. But the reality is that there is no profit any more - and BC Ferries is faced with having to cut costs just to stay afloat (sorry, no pun intended). No surprise then that the corporation favours moving the Gabriola ferry to Duke Point, where it already employs terminal staff (who, let's face it, are not exactly rushed off their feet dealing with one ferry every two and a half hours) and from where the crossing to Gabriola is only about half the distance from Nanaimo Harbour. 

To their credit, BC Ferries acknowledges that the community has given this idea a big thumbs down and has said as much to the Ferry Commissioner. Yet, just because some hapless truck driver manages to close down the Nanaimo Harbour terminal by ignoring warnings that (so we are told) he was given about the structural integrity of the ferry ramp here we are, with the terminal closed, a ferry to Duke Point, a water taxi to Nanaimo ....  and conspiracy theories galore. 

At least we have been given an alternative - if the same thing had happened at Chemainus or Buckley Bay, how would residents of Thetis, Penelakut, Hornby or Denman get into town?  In all probability the answer is they would be provided with a water taxi for foot passengers, maybe a barge service for essential supply trucks - but no means of taking their car on or off the island. We're lucky here on Gabriola, and maybe that's worth remembering.

So here we are, three days into an emergency transport plan that has actually worked remarkably well, thanks to the good weather (smooth crossings so far on the water taxi) and the fact that the kids are home from school for the summer - so that, at the drop of a hat, the Scholarship can be released from its normal school run duties on Salt Spring Island to provide a day-long service for Gabriola. No-one questions how long the Scholarship's crew worked on Friday (best not maybe) or how much they, or Gulf Islands Water Taxi, were being paid for their efforts. Let's just say that the company will likely make a comfortable profit out of BC Ferries' misfortune. But we don't mind that, do we? After all, it's a private business isn't it? Just like BC Ferries. Or maybe that's different. But why so?

Back in the UK, the conservatives privatised the National Bus Company in 1986 and British Railways in 1993. In both cases, screams of public outcry echoed round the country for more than 10 years until suddenly we started to realise that the quality of service we were getting from the private companies was, in many cases, far better than had been the case while the industry was in government hands. Yes, there were the Fat Cats along the way who had walked away with millions - but generally, that was because they had taken the financial risk by re-investing in new, more efficient infrastructure and had actually listened to what customers said they wanted. Result? A more reliable service, fewer complaints - and (usually) happier customers. 

Few now believe that a return to government-run buses and trains would benefit anyone. The private sector has proved itself capable of running services more efficiently and at lower cost. Yet still the argument rolls on that these are public services and the public should have a greater say in how they are run. In a sense, the public does have a say, since it elected the local and national governments that are tasked with regulating the systems. If the system falls down, it's just as likely to be through lack of expertise and poor contract management on the part of the government than through any malpractice by the private contractor.

All of which sounds horribly familiar in the context of BC Ferries, doesn't it?  Have BC Ferries really done such a bad job of meeting their obligation to government under the Coastal Ferry Act? Or is it the Act itself that has failed to adequately protect public interest?  In reality it's probably a little of both, and maybe it's time that the Province and the Ferry Commission took a long hard look at whether the Ferry Advisory Committees - supposedly the public watchdogs for ferry users - are really achieving what they should. 

Critics point to a lack of impartiality since FAC members are appointed by BC Ferries, and not by public nomination. Little surprise, therefore, that the public's confidence in the role of FAC's is wearing thin. To be effective, FAC members need to be adequately briefed by BC Ferries on how the business is run, and the financial implications of any proposed change. But that doesn't mean that the FAC should be run as if it was part of the company.  Public watchdogs should function independently of the service provider, but within clear terms of reference to ensure that the viability of the business (and therefore the service to the customer) is not prejudiced.  

The Ferry Commission should take advantage of the extra time allowed for its review of the BC Ferries contract to make one simple change to the constitution of FACs - to give them true independence in their role, and regain the confidence of their customers. It works with the privatised railway and bus industries in the UK, and it can work here in BC with the ferry system.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Ferry disruption

Workcrews resurfacing the Nanaimo Harbour ferry ramp last night got a nasty shock when a paving truck went through the barrier and toppled into the Harbour. Judging by the Nanaimo Daily News photo (below) it's not going to be a quick fix. Latest reports suggest the wooden trestle may have given way - so divers are now inspecting the structure to assess its condition.

While repairs are taking place, the Quinsam will continue sailing to Duke Point and a water taxi will be provided to and from Dock F in Nanaimo Harbour.  Sounds like this arrangement will continue over the weekend at least.  Could this play into BC Ferries' long-term plans I wonder?.......

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The morning after

Just before 9 this morning, readers of the island's Facebook Community Bulletin page got the news they had been waiting all night to hear - police had caught the person they were looking for in connection with a brutal stabbing of a mother and her 18 year old son yesterday afternoon.

Throughout the night, the Community Bulletin page had been buzzing with activity - as had the skies and roads of the island, as police mounted a search for the perpetrator. 

For many folk on the island, last night was probably the first time they locked their doors before heading for bed. Many undoubtedly found it difficult to sleep; others probably didn't even try.  As the news of the arrest broke this morning you could almost feel a sigh of relief from the whole island.

As a relative newcomer to the island, following the Bulletin page for the first time during the event provided a warts-and-all insight into the community we now share. Long before the media revealed the name of the person that police were seeking, there were contributors who knew those involved but were keeping tight lipped about their names. Most observers respected the privacy of those affected; others were adamant that the community should know. Now and again, tensions spilled out as comments were posted - probably in the heat of the moment - that caused offence to other readers of the board. At times the generation gap opened up and sensitivities boiled over. Just like any other community, but maybe just a little to publicly for many's liking.

The horror of the night may be over, but the aftermath will be present for a long, long time.  For those who were close to the victims, yesterday will never be forgotten. I'm sure there are folk on the island who have yet to learn what's happened, but if nothing else, the past 18 hours have demonstrated the power, good or bad, exerted by social media in distributing (and sometimes creating) news long before the traditional media can do so. 

My quotes of the evening, from contributors on the island.....

      -    how did it make the news already - if it only happened a few hours ago?
      -    When I lived in [ - ]  I didn't hear nearly the amount of sirens that have been screaming around here lately. I realize there is sometimes a need for them, but this is getting a bit much.

Welcome to the world.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A giant reborn

In February 1911, the Canadian National Pacific Railway dedicated a new line on Vancouver Island to connect Victoria to the northern logging communities of Nootka Sound, passing through Cowichan Lake, Port Alberni and Duncan Bay. In the event, the line never reached Nootka Sound - indeed it never even made it to Port Alberni, ending instead at Youbou, on the north shore of Cowichan Lake.

Construction was painfully slow and by 1918 only 4 miles of track had been laid. The line posed many challenges, including numerous creeks that would have to be crossed on wooden trestles. The greatest challenge was to be the crossing of the Koksilah River, north of Shawnigan Lake, where the Kinsol Trestle (named after the nearby King Solomon mine) would number among the largest Howe truss, bent pile wooden trestles in the world. The Howe truss formed a high level bridge over the deepest part of the valley, and over the Koksilah River itself.

Following devastating floods in 1930, the Kinsol Trestle had to be extensively rebuilt and the decision was taken to lower the Howe truss so that it rested directly on stone piers on either side of the river. The trestle was then reconstructed over the top of the truss, where it remains to this day.  The completed trestle is captured in this [undated] print entitled "Across the Abyss" by Gabriola artist, Paul Grignon.

The last train crossed the trestle on June 20, 1979 and the rails were removed in 1983. Fires, vandalism and neglect took its toll on the structure and, eventually, the north and south accesses were removed for safety reasons.

The CN line and the trestle are now part of the Trans-Canada Trail. Finally, after years of campaigns to save the trestle, rehabilitation work began in 2010. Throughout the reconstruction period, work was monitored by an on-site webcam and this fascinating time-lapse film has been produced by the Shawnigan Lake Historical Society.

The Kinsol Trestle was reopened for hikers and cyclists on July 28, 2011 - finally closing the 'missing link' in the Cowichan Valley Trail and moving the concept of a coast-to-coast Trans Canada Trail another step forward.  The sheer scale of the task - and the beauty of the finished project - will surely make the Kinsol Trestle a "must-see" for years to come. Click on the images for a larger view.

Legpower replaces steam in today's view "Across the Abyss"
A stunning walkway spans the missing link
The scale is breathtaking
The Howe Truss still spans the Koksilah River
Separate sections within the trestle.

Amazingly, more than 50% of the original timbers have been saved

The view from below.......
.... and a reward for tired legs!
The Kinsol Trestle can be accessed along the Trans-Canada Trail from either Shawnigan Lake or Riverside Road, south of Duncan.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Gas prices - who's kidding whom?

While the cost of regular unleaded fuel in Britain remains around £1.30 ($2.00) a litre, here on Gabriola it's been steady for the past few weeks at $1.26 a litre - typically 1 cent a litre more than Nanaimo prices. 

In fact, gas prices across the whole of Vancouver Island appear suspiciously "fixed"  at this level, other than in Victoria where regular unleaded costs around 4 cents a litre more, reflecting local taxation.

So how is it that - according to GasBuddy.com - regular gas is on sale in Courtenay for less than $1 a litre?

At first I thought it must be a misprint, but it's remained steady around 99.4 cents a litre for a couple of weeks now.  If Superstore, Costco and Petro-Canada can sell gas at under $1 a litre in Courtenay, why are we paying 25% more in Nanaimo?

HMCS Nanaimo cruises into town for a spot of fun

Saturday's Open House at the Nanaimo Cruise Ship Terminal provided the first chance to take a close look at the Port Authority's new $22 million showpiece - and the double treat of a guided tour of HMCS Nanaimo - one of the Canadian Navy's fleet of Kingston-class coastal defence vessels.

Nanaimo's cruise ship facility is a far cry from the Manhattan cruise 'shed' through which we were herded four weeks ago on our arrival from England. It's small and functional - but wonderfully light and welcoming. What it needs now is a steady flow of cruise visitors, and the development of a waterside park to link the terminal with the city's harbour area.

No cruise ships in town on Saturday, but HMCS Nanaimo was there, with sister ships Whitehorse, Brandon and Edmonton - and the chance to learn a little more about the former minesweeper's latest role as a coastal defence and training vessel.

Passing by the thought of life aboard HMCS Nanaimo as a junior officer billeted (along with five others) in a half size shipping container strapped to the stern deck, visitors were given a sneak preview of the Canadian Navy's latest weapon, the ocean bathtub - being readied for a secret mission around Gabriola's coastline on Sunday morning.

Supported by a crew of five aboard Nanaimo's powerful Zed, the secrecy of the mission was clearly evident from the full-face protective mask worn by the bathtub's intrepid commander.

Maybe not the most risky mission on Nanaimo's current tour of duty along the pacific coastline from Alaska down to Mexico - but certainly an unusual one.  Regrettably, Nanaimo's crew was unable to keep pace with their prime target, Nathan Barlow - winner of the 2011 Nanaimo Bathtub Race in a blistering 1 hour 11 minutes and 54 seconds.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Blogging resumes......

All is not lost. There is still life to report - though the past six months have been, shall we say, challenging.  Mostly challenging on the other side of the pond, needless to say, and somewhat less so as far as our Gabriola life is concerned.

In February, we put our Aylesbury home on the market and, to our relief, found a buyer within a few weeks. Next we embarked upon the search for a house in Coventry which turned out rather less straightforward, with a deal teetering on the brink right up to 36 hours from moving date. And so we became interim Coventrians awaiting our departure back to Gabriola in July. With renovations (almost) complete, the temptation to get away early became stronger and, to our amazement, it became evident that flying was not always the most economic means of crossing the North Atlantic. And so, the concept of embarking on our new life by ocean liner was born.

We were, as far as I can detect, the only passengers travelling to Gabriola aboard the Queen Mary 2 - and clearly she was not going to take us the whole way. After seven days of benign ocean, we sailed into New York Harbo(u)r and bade farewell to this little bit of the Carnival Corporation still masquerading as a traditional British liner. She may no longer be the largest passenger ship afloat, but she is among the most impressive - especially within in the confines of Gabriola's twin land mass, Manhattan.

After two days R&R in the big apple, the time came to forge westward to British Columbia. No so glamorously this time, departing Newark Airport between thunderstorms aboard one of Mr Boeing's flying machines.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Our home on Gabriola had survived the mild ravages of a gulf island winter and recovered from a springtime ant invasion. Since my brief visit in April, the vegetable garden had flourished - as had the half acre of grass, which was by now approaching shoulder height for a basset hound. Clearly this must be our first priority, to ensure safe passage for visiting bassets, so six hours (and several tanks of gas) later, the jungle was tamed.

Time to relax? Well, maybe. A veritable library of good ideas emerged as we whiled away Atlantic hours and some will no doubt need to be progressed to meet the expectations of management. Meanwhile, there's still time to breathe in some real Pacific air as we relax into our first full Gabriola summer.

And so, Island Blog is back. And the critics who decry the lack of effort in maintaining this unique commentary on a life just slightly more adventurous than their own may, for the time being, fall silent. As for me, I'm off to the dragon boat races. Farewell!