The ups and downs of Canada’s far west

Our regular contributor John Barr is not in the first flush of youth and has to use a walking stick these days, so when we heard that he was off to the far west of Canada for a two-week visit we were not just impressed but also curious. How would he get on? Here is his report.

Where to go, how to get there and where to stay – these are the key considerations when planning a holiday, writes John Barr. This occurred to me when I returned from a recent two-week trip in and around Vancouver. I experienced a considerable mix of bedrooms while visiting family and taking in many of the iconic sights of this beautiful part of British Columbia. But I belatedly realised that the missing ingredient in my planning had been “elevation”: that is the degree of potential difficulty – particularly for an elderly or any other mobility-challenged person – in reaching one’s accommodation, then accessing a room.

With adult son in support (plus a walking cane) we were comfortably warm and on fairly level ground for the first few days, which we spent with relatives in Tsawwassen. This was also a convenient departure point for the ferry to Vancouver Island. It was worth buying a ticket in advance for a BC Ferries Connector coach service which took our luggage on board and looked after it for the onward journey from Swartz Bay to the attractive harbourside bus terminal in Victoria.

Then came the first of the “elevation challenges”. The older style Helm’s Inn was listed as being a 10-minute walk from the bus terminal. No mention that it was uphill all the way, with cases in tow, although the address, “near Beacon Hill”, might have offered a clue. There was no lift in the hotel, but fortunately I had been allocated a first-floor room. Breakfast was not included in in the room rate, so that meant a morning stroll downhill then a gradual climb back up to the hotel if we were to satisfy any refreshment needs. The same applied to our going on various outings around the city and to harbour trips.

But these expeditions were well worth the effort, especially with the benefit of a downhill pull to the bus station to start with, and the same applied to the coach/boat trip direct to Vancouver City for our next stopover..

The drop-off point at City Hall, Cambie Street, looked more convenient than it was, at least when it came to elevation. It was an uphill eight-minute walk to our old-fashioned guest house in W13th Avenue, then more stairs to a ‘budget’ room and basic breakfast.

But the three-day base was suburban quiet yet convenient for local refreshments in Cambie Street or Broadway, plus short taxi or train rides to connect with local attractions such as hop-on-off bus tours and an all-day outing towards the Coast mountain range some 80 miles north of Vancouver and the iconic Whistler ski resort. It was worth taking that tour by coach as we could relax and enjoy the fabulous scenery as well as benefiting from the driver’s knowledge. It also gave us the less trampled excitement of Brandy Wine Falls. Where the highlight of a gentle hike was a sign reading: ‘Bear last seen here….yesterday’. I was sorry to miss the beast, but would not have relished having to run.

Whistler and its environs, setting for the Winter Olympics of 2010, were worth the visit, despite the increasing commercialisation. This is a great centre for climbers, hikers and hair-raising cycle runs when out of ski season. But a preferred option for ‘mountaineering’ could be the spectacular ‘Sea to Sky Gondola’ ride (off Highway 99 near Squamish), exciting in itself and with a well equipped Summit Lodge and the choice of many challenging onward trails – if you can brave the rope bridge to the starting points!

A less exhilarating but worthwhile activity at ground level was a must-do tour of Stanley Park, one of the largest urban green spaces in North America. The coastal vistas, and the provision of walkways and cycle routes, makes for many exploration options, with car parking at convenient points. Half-days can easily be filled with natural beauty and historic reminders such as totem poles recording the early inhabitants.

Waterways form the main arteries of Greater Vancouver and it is pleasure to relax on various vessels for transportation to the numerous sights and sounds, plus seeking out the wide variety of the eating and drinking venues in famed centres such as Granville Island, Gas Town and Chinatown.

And there was no exhausting climb to the excitements of the ‘Fly over Canada’ simulator journey from West to East in realistic three dimension; or the more relaxing evening watching Vancouver Whitecaps FC beat their eastern province rivals, Montreal Impact, in a soccer cup semi-final. We found comfortable indoor seating with no restrictions on drinks, and no unsociable behaviour.

At that stage we were staying with relatives in their New Westminster apartment on the 23rd floor.   Great views down the North Arm of Fraser River and, fortunately, with speedy elevators! Then for the remainder of our up-and-down 14 days, it was the relative calm of Ladner, an old fishing village in the Delta suburb –where we stayed in a great B&B but with 16 steps from the street up to the front door of the historic clapboard cottage.

Finally, after an overnight back in Tsawwassen (at ground level) it was off to Sea Island for Vancouver Airport and the climatic elevation of the BA flight back to London Heathrow. Back on the ground, we had the benefit of travelators, escalators and elevators to aid the return home. And I had done it all without losing my fold-up walking cane!


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