A Walk in the Rainforest


The rainforest is sometimes called the “lungs of the earth” as it is here that one-third of the world’s oxygen is produced. There are two types of rainforest: tropical and temperate. A temperate rainforest has less biodiversity, less precipitation, is cooler and has slower decomposition, but it is still a magical place. The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet.


The Pacific Coast is home to the Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone. It has cool summers and mild winters, and receives from 1.5 to 3.5 metres rain every year. Most of the rain arrives during the winter but the trees are able to extract water from the foggy air and create fog drips.


One of the amazing things about the Pacific rainforest is the giant trees. There is a Douglas fir called the Red Creek Tree in Port Renfrew that is 73.8 metres tall with a 13.3 metre girth! It is likely around 1000 years old. The Carmanah Giant is a Sitka Spruce and is 95 metres tall with a 9.4 metre girth. And the largest tree in Canada is the Cheewhat Giant in the Pacific Rim National Park. It is a Western Red Cedar and is 55.5 metres tall with a girth of 18.35 metres.

“As a resource our forests may be seen as renewable to some degree. But as a biological treasure, part of God’s creation entrusted to our stewardship, our ancient stands are irreplaceable.” – Graham Osborne


This is a nurse log where a new generation is starting its life.

“An inch of soil may take a thousand years to accumulate… dead trees are the life of the forest, but their potential is realized only slowly and with great patience.” – Wade Davis


Moss, lichen and fungi are everywhere in the rainforest. They all play a vital part in its well-being.

You may want to also keep an eye on your feet as you walk along under the soaring canopy because the slugs here are huge.

If you are lucky, you may see a spirit bear. These are black bears who have a white coat instead of a black one. A major food source for the bears in this region is the salmon that swim up the rivers to spawn in the fall.

Activity: Make a list of everything in your house or that you use that is made from wood. This is a good explanation of what wood is and what it is used for: Explain That Stuff. Did you know that over 40% of wood that is cut is used to make paper? And much of that goes into the landfill every year. Read through this list of 30 Ways to Use Less Paper and then make a poster of some ways that you can save trees.


The Railroad

The British colonies in North America could see the advantages of uniting together as their counterparts south of them had done. However, there was a problem: they were separated by distance. The overland journey from the settlements up the St. Lawrence river to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was very difficult. Travelling to the Red River colony was best made through the United States. Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC were cut off by mountains. How could they overcome this and become one country? The answer seemed to be building a railway.

canadian_pacific_railroad_3Railways had been started in the east, and some were working out well, but they were expensive to build and with a small population, the money was hard to come by. Could a railroad right across Canada be possible?

Sir John A Macdonald, who became Canada’s first prime minister, was determined to bring this about. In 1867 the Dominion of Canada was formed which included New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. Shortly after this arrangements were made to purchase the land owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company which was the land that lay between the great lakes and the rocky mountains.

In 1871, British Columbia decided to become a province of Canada too. The Canadian Prime Minister promised that within ten years a railway would be built that would stretch right across the dominion and unite the provinces.

Sir Sanford Fleming divided the country into three parts and sent out survey crews to mark out possible routes. Their goal was to map the area and find the flattest ground and the shortest route. The railroad would have to pass through solid rock, cross mighty rivers and swamps, and wind around mountain passes.

Imagine the work involved in building 3000 miles of railway. All the cutting trees and clearing to make a way, leveling of the land, building of bridges, filling in bogs only to have everything sink into the ground and having to start over, hacking out paths on the sides of mountains.

The railroad took several years to build, but it happened. Thousands of men were employed to build it, including a large number of labourers brought from China to help complete the western part. Sadly there was also significant loss of life from the difficult and sometimes dangerous working and living conditions.

The “last spike” was driven into the rails at a village called Craigellachie, in the mountains of British Columbia on 7 November 1885. It was now possible to ride a train all the way from coast to coast.


allaboardIf you can, read All Aboard in the Canadian Flyer Series.

Activity: Find out how a steam engine works here at Peter’s Railway.


Provincial Trees

When the first settlers came to Canada from Europe, in many cases the first thing they did was to cut down trees. Those trees were built into homes, and provided the materials for a home, furniture, utensils, preparing food and heat.

There are many lovely trees that are native to Canada. Since I am posting this in while it is still winter (although not for much longer!), I am going to tell you a bit about coniferous trees (or evergreens).

fall2016-3About 40 percent of Canada is covered in forest and most of that is coniferous (woody plants that produce cones). Conifers that are native to Canada are the pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, cedar, cypress, Douglas fir, and larch.

There are seven families of conifers, but only three families that are native to Canada: Pinaceae, Cupressaceae, and Taxaceae.

The Pinaceae family is probably the most well-known. The trees in this family have needle-like leaves, small to large woody cones, and produce resin. There are eight genera in this family, six of which are native to Canada: pine, fir, spruce, larch, hemlock and the Douglas fir.

We are going to look at some ways to identify the trees in this family by just looking at their needles and cones.



  • long needle-like leaves in bunches of 2 to 5
  • each needle is part of a circle when the bunch is put together


  • thick, rough and woody cones that do not bend
  • cones hang down



  • single needles attached to the twig with a stem
  • attached to twig in a spiral like a bottle brush
  • needles are stiff, have a sharp point, and four sides if you roll them in your fingers


  • on tips of branches and hang down
  • smooth, thin scales and are easy to bend



  • two whitish stripes on underside of needle
  • arranged on two sides of the twig and curve upwards so that there are few needles on the bottom of the twig
  • needle is flexible, flat, and attached to twig with what looks like a suction cup
  • twigs are stiff


  • grow near the top of the tree
  • grow upright on the branch
  • usually disintegrate on the tree



  • needles are are short, flat, tapered, and rounded at the ends
  • needles have two white stripes on undersides
  • attach to twigs with a small stem on either sides of twig
  • twigs are flexible and look like feathery sprays


  • one of the smallest cones
  • hang down on the tips of branches



  • needles are an inch or so long, soft, and sprout in clusters of up to 30-40
  • they turn yellow and fall off in the autumn


  • grow upright on branches
  • start out red, turn green, and then brown when mature

Activity: Do you know the names of all the trees in your neighbourhood? Do any of the provincial trees grow near you? This week your challenge is to identify all the trees that grow near where you live. Make a local tree guide. Take a walk through your neighbourhood and notice the individual trees. Get to know one tree at a time by noticing it’s shape, bark, leaves/needles, and seeds/cones. Identify it using a tree guide.

Notebook Pages: Tree Journal Page

Guides: Forest Trees of Maine; Tree Book BC; Tree Atlas Ontario.

CONIFERS: Alberta: Lodgepole Pine; Ontario: Eastern White Pine; Manitoba: White Spruce; Newfoundland & Labrador: Black Spruce; Nova Scotia: Red Spruce; New Brunswick: Balsam Fir; Yukon: Subalpine Fir; British Columbia: Western Redcedar; Northwest Territories: Tamarack Larch

BROADLEAF: Quebec: Yellow Birch; Saskatchewan: Paper Birch; Prince Edward Island: Red Oak; Canada: Sugar Maple

National Tree Day: September 27, 2017

Native People of the North West


By Wilhelm Sievers (1860 – 1921) (Allgemeine Landeskunde: Amerika (1895-1897))

The Pacific coast is a land of mountains, gigantic trees, islands and deep-cut fjords. Every year salmon swam up the rivers to spawn, plenty of seals, otters and fish could be found close to shore, as well as shellfish of various kinds. Food was also abundant in the form of deer, bear, elk, and mountain goat. The climate is mild and wet.

In this environment the Coast Salish people lived. They made their houses out of the abundant cedar, as well as bowls and spoons and other useful items. They also carved out cedar logs to make canoes with which they not only navigated the inlets and rivers, but also went out to the open ocean hunting for whales. And all their wood-cutting and carving was done with simple tools made out of stone and shell!

From the resources around them, they spun cedar fibres into twine for fishing nets and lines, and wove baskets, hats and matts from the bark and roots of cedar trees. They also made their clothing and blankets from cedar bark and mountain goat wool and dog hair.

They are maybe best known for the totem poles they carved with figures that represented the legends of a tribe, adventures they had experienced, or special events or memories.

Some of these people were very wealthy and potlatches were held, where a chief would display how rich and generous he was by giving gifts to those he chose. However, there were also people who were merely slaves.

The coming of the Europeans drastically changed the culture and ways of the Coast Salish as it did across the rest North America. Sheep were introduced to Vancouver Island in the 1850’s providing a much easier source of wool and some of the native women were taught to knit by missionaries. Eventually, the native women in the Cowichan Valley began to knit sweaters with geometric designs or figures on them. They became popular and a means by which some families could put food on the table. The Cowichan sweater is still popular today.

sweaterWe are often not aware of the true cost of clothing when we buy items to wear, and the prices we pay do not always reflect the true value if everyone along the line of production was paid fairly.

To make a sweater, the sheep has to be fed for a year while it grows it’s wool, it has to be sheared, and then the wool washed, combed, spun into yarn and then knit. What do you think a fair price would be for a hand-knit, 100% wool sweater that will last for years?

yetsassweaterIf you can find it at your library, Yetsa’s Sweater by Sylvia Olsen is a lovely book to read about the making of a Cowichan sweater.

Activity: Try learning how to knit. Here is a website that will instruct you in the basics: Imagination Soup

If you get really good at knitting, you may want to try knitting for a charity such as Knit-a-Square.