Public gardens in Halifax

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:01

Flowers in bloom, bandstand in background

If you are heading to Atlantic Canada, don’t even think about missing the Halifax Public Gardens, which in my humble opinion constitute one of the most beautiful small parks anywhere in the world. Open free of charge, these are among the best remaining Victorian Gardens in the Americas. 

The gardens are a comfortable walk from either downtown Halifax or the cruise ship port. They lie just past the popular district of shops along Spring Garden Road, across the street from the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The first gardens on the site were planted by the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society beginning in 1836, while additional and adjacent gardens were established by the City of Halifax in 1866-67. Both plots, totaling 16 acres, were unified as the city’s Public Gardens in 1874.

In 1984, they were designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian government. Locally, they’ve even been voted as the best place in the city to read a book, but as a photographer, I’m much more inclined to keep my camera busy whenever I visit. I most recently enjoyed the beautiful gardens on a Norwegian Gem Canada and New England cruise in September.

 Beautiful dahlias

Magnificent landscaping

Fountain statuary

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Victoria via the Black Ball Ferry

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:51

Victoria is well known as a beautiful city with a distinctly English flavor, including red, double-decker buses and lovely gardens everywhere. Since (unlike Vancouver itself) it is located on Vancouver Island, some type of water transportation from the mainland is generally required for groups to get there. Ferries, the high-speed Victoria Clipper and Victoria/San Juan Cruises all can take groups to Victoria.

All Alaska cruises departing from Seattle also make a stop in Victoria in order to satisfy U.S. regulations for foreign-flagged passenger vessels. However, in my opinion, one of the best ways to reach Victoria is from Port Angeles, on the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, aboard the classic, 341-foot-long MV Coho of the Black Ball Ferry Line. 

Built in 1959, the well-maintained Coho offers passengers (and their vehicles) a leisurely 90-minute crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with views of the Olympic and Vancouver Island Ranges en route. Aboard are a cafeteria, gift shop, comfortable lounges, and plenty of deck space for strolling or sightseeing. During the summer season, the Coho operates four round-trips daily, so groups not wishing to take their coach along and stay in Victoria can easily make a day trip departing Port Angeles at 8:20 a.m., and return there following dinner in Victoria, by 9:00 p.m. 

Unlike some other alternatives, the Coho docks right in Victoria’s Inner Harbour is within easy walking distance of the B.C. Parliament Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum, the famed Empress Hotel, and downtown shopping. Other advantages of departing from Port Angeles include combining the Victoria trip with visits to spectacular Olympic National Park, the extensive lavender farms surrounding the nearby town of Sequim, as well as historic Port Townsend.

Departing Port Angeles with Olympic Mountains in background

Passing the U.S. Coast Guard Station

Arriving in Victoria's Inner Harbor

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria's Craigdarroch Castle

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:48

Just about everybody who visits Victoria, British Columbia, to see the sights is sure to head for the magnificent, world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Having toured the gardens many times in the past, however, I decided to seek out a different Victoria attraction to explore on my most recent trip there in September. 

Just a short distance east of the downtown area is the sandstone-faced Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890 for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time. This imposing Victorian landmark sits atop a hill overlooking the city and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with floors of splendid woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate furnishings and 17 fireplaces. In fact, it took five railcars to ship the Castle’s 2,128 individual oak panels from Chicago. Unfortunately, Dunsmuir died just months before construction was completed, so his wife Joan, three daughters and two orphaned grandchildren were the only family members to live in the mansion and original 28-acre estate.   

Upon Joan’s passing in 1908, the Castle, its contents and surrounding property were divided among nine heirs. Over the years the hospital was converted into a hospital for veterans in WWI, Victoria College, the Victoria School of Music and the Society for the Preservation and Maintenance of Craigdarroch Castle.

Since the Conservatory departed in 1979, the mansion has been operated solely as a historic house museum, and the monumental task of tracking down artifacts for the restoration of the house began in earnest. Today most of the rooms have been painstakingly furnished with period antiques, some of them original. The result is a most impressive attraction sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in historic mansions of the Victorian era or the privileged lives of those who amassed immense fortunes from the industrial transformation of North America.

Oak-paneled main staircase

Downstairs parlor

English billiard table

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Visit Victoria, British Columbia

Hiking Whistler Mountain

by Brian Jewell 7. August 2010 23:10

Though it was 75 degrees in Whistler today, on top of the mountain I found myself surrounded by snow.

The town of Whistler sits in a valley between two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. Both are ideal ski destinations in the winter; in the summer, they afford great opporutnities for sightseeing, hiking and gorgeous views of the British Columbia wilderness.

This afternoon I rode a chairlift up to the summit of Blackcomb Mountain, and then took the Peak 2 Peak gondola over to Whistler Mountain. There are plenty of scenic views to be seen during either ride, and visitors often spot black bears and other wildlife during their ascents. Hiking on the backside of the mountain, however, I found pristine environments, crystal glacial lakes and snowpacks that towered above my head.

A number of ski runs and access roads on Whistler Mountain are converted to hiking paths in the summer. From the gondola station, I took a lift to the very top of the mountain, then went for an hour-long hike back down along a path known as Pika's Traverse, which wraps around the backside of the mountain not visibible from the village below. The trail is wide and relatively easy to walk, gently descending in elevation back to the main mountain station. On this isolated side of the mountain, the air is quiet and the views are expansive — all I could hear was the trickle of water running off of the melting snowcaps, accompanied by an occasional windy howl.

At the top of the mountain, sevral large glaciers are still covered with snow in August, and looking across the mountain range, I saw that some of the other peaks are completely snow-capped as well. As I walked along Pika's Traverse, I would pass by large pockets of snow in the mountainside, and occassionally walk through passages in large snowbanks that were carved by snow-clearing equipment during the winter.

So although it's the middle of summer, there is still lot of snow at the top of Whistler Mountain... and yet hiking through it in short sleeves and jeans, I didn't feel cold at all. It's an amazing phenomenon, and it made for some amazing views on the backside of the mountain.

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