Archive for the 'Squamish' Category


Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.


Hiking the Stawamus Chief

Living as we do out here in the flatlands of northern Germany, every trip back to Canada we look forward to a little bit of hiking.  For the past four trips – 2005, 2006, 2009 and just this past month – the red-haired girl and I have climbed up the Stawamus Chief, a massive granite monolith whose sheer face dominates the eastern side of Squamish, British Columbia.

In 2006, we went up as a family with a friend of hers to Peak 1:

In 2009 we made it the furthest yet –  to Peak 3:

This past month we first went to Peak 3, then skirted down through the forest and up again to Peak 1.

I fully expect the photo of our next hike up to show some little guy next to a tall red-head.

It takes about two hours to climb as the trail winds up through evergreen forest along a rushing creek before branching off into paths leading to three separate peaks.

As the sign at the trailhead says: this is no walk in the park.

The first part is quite steep and dominated by wooden stairways, recently upgraded to allow for the massive increase in the number of hikers over the past few years.  On our way down this year we started counting the number of people we met along the way.  In only 30 minutes we counted no fewer than 215 people including 16 children plus eight dogs headed up the path as we were headed down.

I’d slip into a nostalgic riff about how when I was a kid we used to walk up there on a weekend and meet maybe a half-dozen people on a crowded day, before launching into a tirade about how the explosion of tourism is ruining the planet, but because I get up to that far too often, I’ll spare you.

Besides, the atmosphere in this post-industrial version of Canada is a lot better than it used to be.  You used to see – and smell – great wafting drifts of white smoke shifting up or down Howe Sound from the former pulp mill at Woodfibre.   The former mill site you can see as a white patch on the far shore behind us in the background.  The mill was taken down a few years ago and shipped for reassembly in China.  Far up the Chief you also used to hear the background sound of woodcutting machines at an equally massive sawmill plunked at the entrance to Squamish, but it’s been gone for ages.

These days the town promotes itself as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, so if the tourists have picked up and that and descend on the place in their thousands every summer day, that’s the trade-off.  The surrounding countryside is so much cleaner than it used to be, making the view from the top even more worth the climb.


Wet Coast summer gallery

You might find some blue in these photos, but for the past week it’s been wet-wet-wet here on the left coast of Canada.  Not that we’re complaining.  There’s plenty to get up to when you’ve got relatives and old friends to catch up with,  new museums to visit, and a border to cross.  In a first for the little red-haired girl, we crossed the Canada-US border at Blaine, Washington on the way to an overnight in Seattle.  Whoa!  If you’re not travelling on a Canadian passport, be prepared for a lonnnng wait in a brand-new building that, no ma’am, does not have a public toilet.

But that’s another story.  For now, a few of the things we’ve been up to:

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It takes a village to take care of an old lady

Small-town Canada is changing, but the old spirit of helping each other out lives on.   Living as we do half-way across the world, that’s at least some comfort when things go wrong and we can’t be there.

As she told me on the phone last night, my mother was walking on the main street of the town she lives in half-way between Vancouver and Whistler four days ago when she misjudged the curb, fell forward, smashed her head on the ground, broke her glasses, and ended up with a black eye and scrapes on her arms and knees.

Two men who were there came over right away and got me on my feet again, she tells me. I haven’t been picked up by a man in years!

That’s because you don’t hang around in the local bars, I tell her.

Yeah, I know, she says, and laughs a bit.

Then she adds:

I was on the way to the post office to mail that package for (the little red-haired girl’s) birthday when it happened.  One of the guys stayed with me and the other went back to his truck for a first aid kit and they bandaged me up.  Oh, and two ladies who saw it all from the insurance company office on the corner came out and were quite upset.  They stayed and made sure I was all right, though.  They helped me get to the post office, and then one of them drove my car home for me.

They even drove you home?

Sure, they were really worried about me, because with the broken glasses I couldn’t get back into the car and drive anymore.


Vancouver 2010 Olympics: who hell would ever want to drive up here?

The road from Vancouver to our little village of Britannia Beach was punched through in the late 1950s.  It finally ended a half-century of isolation, because until then the only way in or out was by a freighter that used to dock here:

But the trek seven miles further north to Squamish was little more than a glorified logging road until I was about 10 years old when they finally opened the new highway.  This photo, taken from the top of the Stawamus Chief this past summer, looks south to Britannia at what they used to call Snake Hill – or as my mother used to laugh and call it: Reptile Incline.  It’s a four-lane straight stretch now.

North of Squamish to Whistler the road was a treacherous dirt track full of potholes, throat-cracking dust, flying stones to form spider cracks on your windshield, and dips so sudden we lost our entire exhaust system once as the fully loaded car bottomed out on the way home.  At one point you had to drive on a one-way lane over the lip of Daisy Lake dam.  You can get a good look of the spillway on the right as you head north going over a bridge.

Our family has a story about that road I like to tell about Whistler whenever people start to brag about their investments.

It’s because it’s the anti-boast, the how-could-you-have-been-so-short-sighted scenario, and it goes like this:

Despite the crappy road we used to cram into the family car and head up to Whistler for picnics.   One day we arrived at our usual spot and had a picnic under a huge sign: Future sight of Whistler Mountain Ski Area.  Selling shares for $500.

At the time skiing had yet to catch on to the masses.  It was still a sport for the very rich, those who could afford the expensive clothing, the gear, and of course the leisure time.   Reading that sign after dodging a thousand potholes that day, they laughed and said, “Who the hell would ever want to take the trouble to drive up that damn road just to go skiing?  It’s not even fit for a goat trail.”

My parents weren’t skiers, and to be fair to them they were too busy raising four kids on one income living in a rented home to even consider buying into a ski development, but they also had a good laugh for the same reason over the Lots For Sale signs.

As a two-year-old, too bad I didn’t have the wisdom or foresight to pipe up with the old adage: Gee Mom, real estate is like sex!  Get lots when you’re young!

Photo credit sign: virtual


Drive the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler in less than a minute

What you are about to see is a road that no longer exists the way it’s shown here.

The skiing and Nordic events for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are going to take place 110 km up the road from the city at Whistler, so since this video was shot they’ve widened the road in most places and straightened out others.

Still, it is an amazing stretch of highway.  Clinging to the side of a fjord, you are constantly rewarded with ever-changing views of ocean, mountain and sky.  Hold on to your seat!

Sharp-eyed viewers will catch a glimpse of my mother, who after picking him up at the airport is driving her drowsy son to Squamish, half-way toWhistler during my trip home in 2007.  Those who know the road will recognise the hair-pin turn we all used to call suicide corner, now bypassed and spread out to four lanes in the upgrade.  It also shows a stretch along a sheer cliff at Porteau Cove that they couldn’t widen even to three because the old British Columbia Railway line – now Canadian National – runs alongside between the road and the ocean.   When I was 4 years old in 1964 there was a huge landslide there that blocked the road for several days, once again cutting off our tiny village from the Big Smoke of Vancouver.

Unless something major gets in the way – like chronic procrastination – from now until the Winter Olympics are over I hope to post about this road. Every member of our family has had at least one near-death experience over the more than half-century we’ve been driving it.

I’d also like to post a couple of stories of skiing during the old days at Whistler, and anything else related to the Olympics that happens to cross my path.  For the few who come across this blog I hope it will offer a personal historical supplement to the show-off glitz that’s overtaken the event.



His name was Kleinwalker.  I’m sure he’s dead now – it HAS been more than 30 years.  He was the first mate on a tiny ferry I worked on as a deckhand in the summer after I turned 16.

He had an enormous belly, a great pendulous chunk of thick, hard flesh that closed so low over his overstretched, sagging belt, the bottom lip seemed to curl back under to touch his thighs.

He smoked roll-your-own cigarettes, the curly brown frays stained wet on short and stubby fingers burnished hard to tones of oak to mahogany.

I’d never seen anyone smoke a cigarette like Kleinwalker.  He had no teeth, but wore no dentures, so that when he took a drag, the burning ember would plunge to the back of his mouth as if pulled by an invisible string, the smoking ember almost disappearing before sprouting forward, spring-loaded.    The first time I saw him suck in that butt, I thought I was watching a cartoon.

He didn’t pay much attention to me.  As a two-month summer relief hire, my job was to make a good pot of coffee in the morning, clean the heads with a rag mop once a day, polish the brass fittings once a week, and stay out of the way.  That and raise the bar upon docking to release the cluster of workers leaning forward, impatient to drive home.  At the mill side I’d have to haul the chain across in preparation for departure.  It was a brain-dead easy, overpaid union job, but at 800 bucks free and clear in one month – a huge sum for a 16-year-old in the mid-70s – I wasn’t complaining.

Standing around the dock one morning with three other colleagues before the first shift of pulp mill workers stepped aboard, Kleinwalker was holding court.   Suddenly, he came out with this:

You know, this morning gettin’ up, I gave the wife a nudge ‘cuz I felt a little bit of a rise comin’ on, just a sec or two, but then I had to get up to take a piss and it was gone.  Damn.  I haven’t felt what that was like in years.

Just as I was absorbing the fact that this man was spilling to his colleagues things I’d never heard spoken of in my own home before, he turned to me and growled out: What about you, you young cunt?  You gettin’ any on it?

No, I wasn’t getting any on it, but I was too stunned to even stammer out the words.

The moment passed and we were soon taking up our positions on the ferry.  As he walked away to climb the steep metal stairs to his office, wheezing as he walked and straining to lift his enormous bulk up the narrow passageway, I remember thinking: no adult, not even – or perhaps, especially –  my father, has ever asked me that.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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britbeach / at / yahoo dot ca

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