Sea Otters

The Sea Otter is one of the smallest and cutest marine mammals. They were almost hunted to extinction for their beautiful fur about a hundred years ago, in fact, they disappeared from the coastline of British Columbia. They were reintroduced to the west coast of Vancouver Island around 1970, and protected, and the population has done well.

They are extremely important for the well-being of the coastline ecology because sea otters eat sea urchins and shellfish, which can crowd out seaweeds such as kelp. Kelp takes huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and releases oxygen which is good for the earth.

Sea Otters on Canadian Geographic: Animal Facts Page

seaotterinletThis is a lovely book to read: Sea Otter Inlet by Celia Godkin.

Without the sea otter to eat them, the spiny purple sea urchins began to multiply.

There is a balance in nature, and when one part is removed, it has an effect on all the other parts.

Activity: A food web shows feeding relationships – who eats what in an ecosystem. See if you can make a food web that includes the plants and creatures you come across in this book.

seaottersAnother book option is: What if there were no sea otters? by Suzanne Slade.

Art of the West Coast


The first people of the Pacific Northwest were carvers of wood. They had lots of big trees to choose from, but the favourite was red or yellow cedar. They cut planks and beams out of it to build their houses, hollowed it out to make canoes, grooved and steamed thin planks to make bent boxes, carved out totem poles, and whittled out of it many other tools and household utensils.

1875 bent-corner box 01


Haisla canoe (UBC-2009)

The symbols they carved or painted on their works often brought to mind tales that explained the world around them. They were excellent story-tellers. Here is a story from a collection of Totem Tales:

The Rain Song

Totem Tales: Indian Stories Indians Told Gathered in the Pacific Northwest, by W.S. Phillips

The Talking Pine nodded in friendly greeting as I got out of the canoe and came up to my usual place at the foot of the great tree:

“Klahowya, T’solo, the wanderer, it is well that you came to-day, for to-day the pines will sing the rain song, and you shall sing with us, for it is a good song and one to know.”

“So be it, Wise One, I will learn the rain song, that I may know it when I am in other lands. It is a good song to know when the air is dry, and you can get no water for your throat. I will learn the rain song of you, Wise One.”

“Come, T’solo, the wanderer, and sit at my feet, where I can spread my arms over you and keep the rain away.

“Now when the wind comes all the pines will sing the wind song and dance the wind dance before they sing the rain song. You know, my friend T’solo, that the wind must always come to help the pines sing, so be not impatient to hear the rain song until the wind can help us.”

So I sat down by the feet of the Talking Pine, and smoked my pipe and waited for the coming of the wind to see the wind dance, and hear the rain song.

Soon the wind came slowly out of the Southwest and the pines began to sing and the wind sang with them. At first, so softly I could scarce hear it, and I asked the Talking Pine, “Do you sing, Wise One?” “Yea, listen,” answered he.

Then I heard the wind song, for it had gathered strength as all the pines began to sing, and I could hear it very plainly. Then the pines all began to dance and to swing their long arms in time with the song, and to sway and sing until they were all mad with the dance, and I thought they would fall.

The song was wild and mournful, as it always is, and they sing it in the language of the pines, so one must know their talk to learn the words they sing.

I heard them calling the rain to come out from behind the clouds and sing with them. Then the rain rode down with the wind, and some rested on the pines, but most of it went on down and sung with the flowers and the grass; for the rain, you know, is restless and cannot stay long in one place.

The pines all love the rain and always sing the rain song when they see it coming in the clouds, so it will stop and sing with them.

For a long time the pines and the rain sung together, then the rain went away, and the wind went with it, and the pines were left all alone.

The wind, you know, is never tired, and travels all the time, so the pines always call the wind to help them dance, and they always go to sleep when the wind goes away, and the sun wraps his warm blanket around them.

“It was a good dance,” said the Talking Pine, when they had finished and the wind had gone. “Come again, T’solo, the wanderer, and I will show you other things, and sing other songs, but now I sleep.”

Then I got in my canoe and crossed the Lake of the Mountains, and left the Talking Pine to sleep out his sleep until another time.

Activity: It is fun to learn how to carve wood, but if you are just a beginner, it may be better to start with something a little softer. First choice would be carving an apple head: Applehead Doll. If you want something a little more challenging, you could try carving soap. Have fun! If you don’t want to try carving, maybe you would like to draw a picture from the Totem Tale.

Here are a few contemporary Canadian wood artists to be inspired by: Coast Raven Native ArtRobinson CookBob Whitehead

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.

Western Provinces

This week, with the help of photographers from flickr, we will just enjoy looking at some photos of lovely places in Western Canada, which includes Alberta and British Columbia.

Capilano Suspension Bridge CLIFFWALK Preview

Capilano Suspension Bridge Cliff Walk, BC – Photo by Jeremy Lim

Wintertime At Botanical Beach

Botanical Beach, BC – Photo by James Wheeler

Columbia Icefield, Canada

Columbia Icefields, BC – Photo by Gary Ullah

Hoodoo Country

Hoodoos, AB – Photo by Aaron

Rippled sand, Long Beach

Long Beach, BC – Photo by Ruth Hartnup

Activity: With the help of google maps or an atlas, find these places and mark them on your map of Canada. Which one would you like to visit?

A Walk Through the Prairie

The prairie is a grassland ecosystem and this is all the animals, plants, and organisms that depend on each other in order to live. When any part of the ecosystem is disturbed, it has an effect on everything else in the ecosystem.

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Photo by Marshall Drummond

The prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Would it make you sad if you never saw a real Frosted Elphin or a Karner Blue butterfly? What about a Passenger Pigeon, or a Greater Prairie Chicken?  Maybe it would break your heart to never see Golden Indian Grass, or Small-Flowered Sand Verbena? These are all creatures or plants that are either no longer found in Canada or at risk because of human activity in the prairies.

Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

Karner Blue Butterfly

We may think of the prairies as enormous fields of grass and flowers, and at one time they were with over 200 different species of plants, but today most of the original prairie has been turned into enormous fields of wheat, rapeseed, flaxseed, sugar beets, barley or potatoes.


Field of Canola

Let’s take a short visit to the prairie. Can you see the wind as it blows across the land, bending and tossing the grasses? The green and brown of the landscape, with touches of colour here and there,  stretches to the sky in every direction. Doesn’t it make you feel small? Can you hear the sounds of insects buzzing, and birds singing?


Here is a grass that can grow to 10 feet tall, and it’s roots can descend into the ground up to 12 feet. It is called Big Bluestem, or sometimes Beard Grass or Turkey Feet because it has long seed heads that look like a turkey foot. When a lot of it grows together, it protects the soil from being blown away by the wind and is excellent food for grazers like the bison.

Aren’t the seedheads lovely on this Buffalo Grass? It is a much smaller grass, growing only to a height of a few inches, but it is able to grow with very little water. And it doesn’t mind being chewed down by the prairie dogs – it will just grow right back.


And there are the prairie dogs, popping out of their burrows to see what is going on. They play a very important part of prairie life – many other creatures use their abandoned burrows, they are a food source for other animals, and they aerate and fertilize the ground. However, there are not as many as there once were.

We will end our time in the prairie with the song of the meadowlark, a beautiful bird who loves the wide open grasslands too.

There are attempts to preserve some of the prairies for the future: Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, and the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Manitoba are probably the two largest in Canada. Maybe you will have to visit them one day!

Activity: Since I am writing this post while there is snow on the ground, it is not a great time of year to look at grasses, but I wonder if you have ever noticed how many different kinds of grass grow near you. What would you find if you left one corner of your lawn un-mown until the grass went to seed? Grass is beautiful, and so when the season is right, collect some grasses and enjoy their beautiful seedheads.

Until then, you can find out a bit more about the prairie with this little game: Build your own prairie.

Terry Fox


If you have grown up in Canada during the last 36 years, you have most likely heard of Terry Fox. Perhaps you have even done several Terry Fox runs to help raise money in the fight for a cure for cancer. But Terry Fox wasn’t just about raising money, he also wanted his life to give courage to people who had been given the awful diagnosis of cancer. He wanted to show that it was important to keep believing in miracles and to keep pursuing dreams.

Terry’s dream was interrupted by cancer, and that is what cancer often does. However, when Terry started his run from Newfoundland towards Victoria, he also had a goal of encouraging every Canadian to give $1 towards cancer research, and by the time he had to stop running he had raised more than $24 million dollars. In that respect, Terry had reached his goal.

Since then, the Marathon of Hope has been held every year and over $650 million has been raised for cancer research.

Terry was born on July 28, 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. If Terry had lived, he would be 58 years old today. But when he was 18, he started getting pain in his knee, and was eventually diagnosed with bone cancer. His leg was amputated, and he went through chemotherapy and had to learn how to walk again with a prosthesis.

Those of us who have no disabilities, cannot fully understand what it must be like. But we can feel how inspiring it is to see someone rise above their adversity and make something of their life anyhow.

Terry decided to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. To do this required a lot of training and commitment beforehand. In 1979 he ran the Prince George to Boston marathon of 17 miles, and even though he finished last, he still finished!

In April 1980, he dipped his foot in the Atlantic Ocean in the harbour of St. John’s, Newfoundland and began to run. He ran 26 miles a day for 143 days before he had to stop. His cancer had returned, and was now in his lungs. He died in June of 1981.

The Terry Fox Run, or Marathon of Hope is now held every September on the second Sunday after Labour Day.

It took cancer to realize that being self-centered is not the way to live. The answer is to try and help others.

I guess that one of the most important things I’ve learned is that nothing is ever completely bad. Even cancer. It has made me a better person. It has given me courage and a sense of purpose I never had before. But you don’t have to do like I did…wait until you lose a leg or get some awful disease, before you take the time to find out what kind of stuff you’re really made of. You can start now. Anybody can.

Terry Fox

Activity: What are you made of?

Pioneers on the Prairie

Saskatchewan sod house

A sod house in Saskatchewan

During the late 19th and early 20th century many people immigrated to the Canadian prairies to take up an offer of “free” land. They could claim 160 acres at a cost of $10 as long as they built a house on the land and cultivated a certain amount of it during the next three years.

It was not an easy task. It required persistence, optimism, resourcefulness and a whole lot of hard work.

Think of all the things one would have to do after leaving one’s own country behind, sailing across the ocean with probably just a few clothes and precious items, and then travelling by train or by wagon for miles and miles to get to the piece of land that would then be called home.

  • Build a house and a barn and an outhouse
  • Dig a well
  • Make any furniture needed (tables, chairs, beds)
  • Grow a vegetable garden
  • Preserve the garden produce for winter
  • Raise cows, chickens, sheep, pigs and work animals
  • Milk cows, and make butter and cheese
  • Clear fields and grow wheat or corn to sell or eat
  • Spin wool into yarn and then weave it into cloth
  • Make the family’s clothing
  • Forage or hunt for wild foods
  • Cut and dry hay for winter
  • Cut firewood for winter
  • Learn a new language (if not English)



If you are able to, read Pioneer Kids from the Canadian Flyer series.

The people who came to live in Canada were from many different countries in Europe, and for that reason, Canada has always called itself a “cultural mosaic” in the belief that respect for different cultural traditions makes us stronger.

It is not always comfortable to be different or accept people who are different, but it is a good lesson to learn.

In this book, Stefan has an egg that his mother has decorated. Ukrainian Easter Eggs are beautiful. Take a look at how they are decorated here: Ukrainian Easter Eggs.

Activities: Here are a few ideas that may make you feel more like a pioneer.