A Short but Amazing Trip to BC with my son

Whale Watching, Hiking, Bug Watching, Suspended Bridge Walking, Fine Dining and More …

September 2017
Although my month long vacation off work was originally destined to focus on nearby fishing trips, I’ve never been one to turn down golden opportunities and when a trip to British Columbia was handed to me on a silver platter by my oldest son Tyler, I sure as shootin’ couldn’t let it slip away. Although Tyler and I could only spend four days in this beautiful province, we sure made the best of it … and I’m happy to share those little adventures with you all now.

Tyler and I landed in Victoria, but en-route I was treated to the type of travel-style that my son apparently enjoys. While waiting at the Air Canada Lounge in Toronto, we had munchies and a beer; when we had a quick stopover in Calgary we had munchies and a beer … and later that night at an outdoor patio near our Empress Hotel … yep, you guessed it - we once again had munchies and a beer.

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Three beer in three different provinces … all in one day? Ok that’s a kewl first!

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Top … Tyler (left) and Wil in Victoria the first night. Below, the Empress Hotel where they stayed two nights

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The next morning Tyler – who works for a large business firm in downtown Toronto, had his sales meeting while I explored the streets of this ‘Victorian City’. One of the unfortunate casualties of mental illness, addiction, outrageous cost of living and even the warm climate, was the inordinate number of homeless people I saw on the streets of Victoria!

Below, lots of pigeons in Victoria and far right Tyler Wegman near orca plant tourist attraction

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Below Tyler by the BC Parliament Building in the capital City of Victoria

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As well as finding some neat restaurants and attractions to try, one of my goals that morning was to book a whale watching tour. We both had this at the top of our ‘gotta-do-while on the BC coast’ list but I was surprised how many outfitters there were to choose from that were based right in the harbor, steps from our hotel. After careful review I finally landed on Five Star Whale Watching Tours for several reasons and we are so happy we went with them. This family run small business, utilizes a covered Supercat high speed, deluxe catamaran that was built specifically with whale watching in mind. With rain forecast, I thought it would provide a better experience than the open zodiaks other companies used. I am also a huge fan of 5 Stars' commitment to conservation and ethical whale watching standards ... which they helped establish during their 30+ years of existence.

Although I have zero experience with whales – as an angler, I had a feeling the weather would be perfect for whales to come in. The rain the night before and light rain that morning was just what BC’s unusually dry summer needed – but it would also be the catalyst that would urge the salmon to come in and stage at the harbor and adjacent Salish Sea where we were headed. Those tasty salmon would in turn bring in the sea lions and harbor seals, which I hoped would attract the feeding killer orca whales. So did we see the whales and sea lions we were hoping for? You betcha! Not only did we see a family (mother Orca and two calves) feeding - a second transient family appeared nearby simultaneously feeding as well. If that wasn't enough excitement ... out of the blue a giant Humback whale appeared and gave us a show while feeding on small schooling fish such as herring, sand lance as well as krill.

I am always passionate about people who like me, love their jobs. The two super-friendly and knowledgeable marine naturalists Jo-Anne and Christine that were with us on the front open deck (the other naturalist -Katie was on the top deck) couldn't hide their excitement when all this action was appearing before our very eyes! They knew this wasn’t an average day on the water for them and clearly their passion for the whales and their jobs rubbed off on the passengers!

After hop scotching to a few other locations and seeing a few more whales, we ended the three hour tour in an area loaded with sea lions resting on the rocks and feeding on salmon with every opportunity they got. We saw both the smaller California Sea Lions and the much larger Alaskan Sea Lions, as well as a Harbor Seal putting on a comical show for us all! This whale watching experience was one my son and I will not soon forget and we are especially grateful to all the staff at Five Star for making our hoped-for adventure a wonderful reality! This tour really was the highlight of our entire BC trip and comes highly recommended. To book your adventure with them just visit www.5starwhales.com

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Top Row: A family of Orca’s; likely feeding on harbor seals or sea lions. Then the gentle giant humpback whale. For both species we were taught to look for their plumes first. The orcas often had gulls around them feeding on the scraps that were left over. Meanwhile, the mammoth humbacks feed on kelp until they have had enough and tell you so with their telltale tail dive waving good bye!

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We saw Sea Lions a plenty converge at a research station devoted to studying these amazing marine mammals. The Five Star boat we were on is conveniently located in the Victoria harbor downtown.

Victoria Bug Zoo: Unlike bug museums where you see just dead bugs from around the world, this place had live ones in natural enclosures resembling their natural habitat from around the world. The entomologist staff here where also very enthusiastic about their jobs and thoroughly enjoyed taking the critters out, sharing their life history and letting us all hold them if we wished. All the bugs here are bred and raised within a separate section of this indoor zoo that is located not far from the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria. If you do visit this really neat and different kind of attraction when in Victoria, be sure to take the time to follow your tour guide around and let them explain what they know about each bug … as opposed to just walking around and viewing each of them in their enclosures on your own. The interactive tour is definitely the way to go! www.victoriazoo.ca for more details.

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Above: Giant stickbug on tour leader’s hand (left) and a not-so-shabby sized Leaf Bug on Wil’s! Below tour host with a big giant black beetle and Tyler with a mega-sized millipede

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For our last meal in Victoria we dined on some very good sushi at Ebizo Japanese where we had their famed Tuna Tataki and so much more before heading out the next day in a rented car for Nanaimo BC. Here we would go for a hike north of that town and then take the ferry across to Vancouver… at least that was the original plan until we learned that all the afternoon ferry crossings were already booked, so we had to make alternate plans. We decided to stay in Nanaimo just for the night, then head across on the 8:30 am ferry, drive an hour or less to Cypress Provincial Park and then hike one of their famed mountain trails … before heading into downtown Vancouver and our Fairmont hotel for the night.

That spontaneous change in plans couldn’t have worked out better, as that evening we were able to discover the beautiful boardwalk trail along the Nanaimo waterfront after a great meal at the local Korean BBQ.

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Wil show’s off the start of an incredible Fishing Pier attached to the boardwalk along the Nanaimo waterfront. Such a pier has been discussed for the City of Toronto to showcase its waterfront and local fishing opportunities … but no action on it so far.

As planned Tyler and I drove onto the large ferry that Saturday morning and enjoyed a leisurely 1 ½ hour ride across to the Vancouver mainland. The scenery along the way was spectacular and possibly even nicer once we got off and made our way to Cypress Park. So many great trails to choose from that would lead up the mountain and we landed on one that was about 7k and would bring us back to our vehicle in plenty of time to explore Vancouver later on.

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BC is renowned for its incredible trail systems and that province realizes its investment in quality maintenance and infrastructure standards attracts locals and visitors from around the world – making hiking there a serious economic stimulant to local economies. With real tourism revenue coming from accommodations, meals etc this provincial park didn’t see the need to charge a day use or parking fee to enjoy its spectacular wonders. Cypress Lake Provincial Park and it’s free trails comes highly recommended.

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Higher than the clouds both literally and figuratively, Tyler and Wil atop Cypress Mountain

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Wil doesn’t wanna be known as a tree hugger, but that’s exactly what he was caught doing here to this mammoth Douglass Fir. The photo to the right demonstrates just how big stuff can grow in a rainforest type ecosystem. This plant, known as Skunk Cabbage got its name from its skunk like smell but more importantly attracts flies, beetles and gnats which pollinate the plant. Interestingly enough bears eat the roots just after hibernation to clean out their systems after a long winter’s sleep … but if humans tried to munch on these roots it would burn our throats and stomach!

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After the hike in Vancouver we strolled the boardwalk near our hotel which also overlooked the harbor and mountains in the background. We returned later that night after another tremendous sushi dinner at Miku … living up to its reputation as one of the finest sushi joints in the country!

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One of the really neat attractions within our Fairmont Hotel was ‘being’ on the 3rd floor – with sliding doors that opened up to a huge rooftop garden terrace with an aviary complete with bee hives and fresh honey for the cooks! They were also seen harvesting the fresh herbs and vegetables growing here (including Tuscan Kale) for use in their dinners for guests that same day.

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Capiano Suspension Bridge: Well our last night in Vancouver was great – another evening stroll way out to see the cruise ships take off and then another night cap by the terrace. In keeping with our fast paced schedule to do as much as we could with the little time we had, we stopped off at the forest complex the following morning on our way to the airport. This is a major privately owned tourist attraction just outside of Stanley Park and the hefty admission price easily reflected the for-profit venture that has been around for decades. It was a site to see though with so many massive Douglass Firs, Western Cedar’s and hemlocks on the property … especially via the renowned swing bridge crossing the river-canyon below. Clearly some visitors had issues with the heights and crossing – but once across the sure footed boardwalk structure made life easier.

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This trip to BC with my oldest son Tyler was one of the best little adventures I’ve ever had and I was so fortunate to share them with someone so important in my life. I hope sharing these photos and accounts with you has been worth your time as well. Of course for those who have read my articles for the last 35 years or so, you may well ask “What- No fishing Wil?” Very valid question … and even though I brought a pack rod and basic tackle, with our limited time there, we would have had to give up another adventure to accommodate any fishing excursion … and I’m glad we didn’t do that. All the more reason however for a return visit to Beautiful British Columbia to experience some adventures of the piscatorial kind!

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Wil Wegman is an award winning outdoor writer who has been published in most Canadian and several US Outdoor/angling publications. In 2017 he won the Rick Morgan Professional Conservation Award, the National Recreational Fisheries Award and was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. He is the Conservation Director for the Aurora Bassmasters and writes the regular Hooked on Fishing column for Lake Simcoe Living magazine. You can reach Wil thru his ‘Focus on Fishing’ site at www.wilwegman.com