Pacific Rim National Park

On the far western side of Canada, off the coast of mainland British Columbia, there is a large landmass called Vancouver Island. On its western side lies Pacific Rim National Park which includes Long Beach, Broken Islands, and the West Coast Trail.

Long Beach, Pacific Rim NP

It is beautiful! Temperate rainforest, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and beaches. Take a look at this: Parks Canada.

The West Coast Trail was originally cut for a telegraph line back in 1890 and as a means to assist those who happened to end up on the coast due to shipwreck. The area along this coast is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. The trail is 75 km long, which means a 6-8 day hike starting at Patcheena Bay near Bamfield and ending at Gordon River near Port Renfrew.

There are two things on the western coast of Canada that really fascinate me: big trees and spawning salmon.

Big Trees

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The big trees that grown along this coast are the Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce.

Western Red Cedar can grow up to 60 metres tall. Their wood is very valuable wood as it is resistant to decay and insects and remains good for over 100 years. It has a lovely but  strong aroma. The native people used it for canoes, totem poles, building their long houses, and other useful things. The bark tears off in long strips and was used for mats, fishing line, and nets. This tree can live over 1000 years and is sometimes called the “Tree of Life”.

Douglas Fir can reach a height of 85 metres on the coast. It is a tough, hard wood good for building wharves and bridges. The cones interest me because the little bract that sticks out of the scales looks like the tail and legs of a little mouse hiding in the cone.

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Sitka spruce usually grows to about 70 metres but the tallest (Carmanah Giant) is 95 metres tall and about 500 to 700 years old. Natives used the roots for hats, baskets, rope and fishing line. The pitch was useful to caulk boats, waterproof harpoons and fishing gear, and as medicine for burns, boils, and skin irritations. The wood is soft, light and flexible but strong. It is used for sounding boards in pianos and violins.

Take a virtual walk through the rainforest: 3 Minutes of Heaven

Salmon

Salmon are the lifeblood of the rainforest. There are five species of salmon: chinook (the largest), coho, chum, sockeye, and pink (the smallest). They are anadromous, which means they are born in fresh water, live most of their lives at sea, and then return to the same river to lay their eggs.

salmon

They migrate to the rivers in the fall and may travel 50 km per day upstream. They do not eat while they are making this journey which may take up to 12 days. As the days go on, their bodies become flabby and torn and they change colour before they finally lay their eggs and then die.

Many are eaten by bears and wolves during their journey, but they are a major source of nourishment for the rainforest soil and trees.

The eggs lie in the riverbed, covered by small rocks and pebbles over the winter. In the late winter or early spring they begin to hatch and for the first four months the live off the yolk sac. Some species head off directly for the ocean, others stay in the stream for a year or two. A salmon may lay around 7000 eggs, but it is likely that only a few will live to grow up. Many are eaten by mink, otters, raccoons, ducks, bears and other fish.

Where the rivers meet the sea, an estuary exists where fresh and salt water mix. It is a place full of nutrients and organic matter that has been carried downstream. Many of the baby fish will spend days or months in the estuary before they leave for the open ocean. They will spend up to 4-5 years out in the ocean before they begin the trip back to the stream they hatched in to start the cycle all over again.

Unfortunately clearcutting and other practices have damaged many coastal streams and negatively impacted the salmon populations. There are restoration efforts underway and maybe it will not be too late to make a difference.

Learn more about salmon: Pacific Salmon Foundation

BOOKS:

  • North American Rainforest Scrapbook by Virginia Wright-Frierson
  • The Tree by Dana Lyons
  • Salmon Forest by David Suzuki
  • Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones
  • Salmon Creek by Annette LeBox

These are lovely books as well about the Great Bear Rainforest which is on the mainland:

  • Nowhere Else on Earth by Caitlyn Vernon
  • The Salmon Bears by Ian McAllister
  • The Sea Wolves by Ian McAllister
  • The Great Bear Sea by Ian McAllister

Banff National Park

Whenever I visit national parks, I always think how amazing it would be to be the first person who rounded that corner, or walked through that pass, or climbed over that hill and saw the beauty in front of them. No roads, no buildings, no noise, no people… However, I am also so grateful that people have seen the benefit in preserving such places so that I can stand there and pretend I am that first person.

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The Rocky Mountains are on the west side of Canada, extending from northern BC and Alberta, down into New Mexico in the United States. They form the continental divide, where the rivers flow east on one side and west on the other.There are several parks in the Rocky Mountains today, but in Canada, it all started here at Banff in a steaming pool of water.

Although the hot springs were known of by the local natives, and visited by explorers or traders earlier, it wasn’t until the Canadian government was building a railroad to connect eastern Canada with the west that it was possible to make them available to the public. They were discovered by three railroad men (Frank McCabe and William and Thomas McCardell) who noticed the rising steam and investigated. Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the construction manager of the railroad first spoke to William Pearce, the Superintendent of Mines, of the fear that selfish interests would destroy the beauty of the area and maybe something should be done about it. Then William Pearce visited the area in 1884, and Sir Sandford Fleming suggested the idea of a national park, and Thomas White (Minister of the Interior) was sympathetic to the idea, and in November 1885 the Banff Hot Springs Reserve came into being: ten square miles around the three Banff hot springs.

The Park gradually grew as people visited the area and became convinced that more and more of the beautiful landscape should be protected. Today it is 6,641 km²!

A visit to the Hot Springs

Cave and Bassin Banff-Alberta- Kim Payant

By Kimpayant (Own work) CC

What are hot springs? A spring is where water that has seeped down deep underground rises and comes to the surface. The water in hot springs has been heated by hot rock deep beneath the surface. It is forced to rise to the surface through a fault or crack by the pressure created by descending water. If it rises quickly, the water retains the heat and gushes out of the ground warm. The water, in its travels through the rock, picks up a load of minerals such as sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium and sodium. So, soaking in the water is thought to help reduce stress, relieve pain, boost blood circulation and solve skin problems. Unfortunately, hot springs usually also have an aroma of sulphur.

Today, you can visit the cave and basin, and for less than $15, you can rent a swimsuit and a towel and go for a dip in the upper springs pool.

Stay in the Banff Springs Hotel

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At $600 or so a night, I will most likely never book a room at the Banff Springs Hotel, but what an amazing building to have a peek at. Known as the Castle of the Rockies, it was built way back in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, then completely rebuilt during the early 1900’s. The building faces Mount Rundle and it is clad itself in “rundle” stone quarried from the mountains close by. It has 768 bedrooms, several ballrooms and halls, numerous restaurants, bars or lounges, and a lovely salt water pool.

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Of course, being a very old building, it also has a ghost story of a woman who dances in the ballroom. The legend is that she tragically died after falling down the staircase when her wedding dress caught fire from the lighted candles placed along the ballustrade…

Go for a tour of this amazing building here.

There are many other sights to see and things to do such as standing on the shores of the beautiful turquoise glacier lakes, riding the gondola from Sulphur Mountain, walking the Tunnel Mountain trail, skiing down the side of one of those amazing mountains… Maybe next time.