Roadschooling: Northwest Canada Day 23, 24, 25 & 26

DSC_0644This was the home stretch. We hiked through the desert of Osoyoos, learned about the local aboriginal history, and ate fresh fruit and nuts in the Okanagan. The kids attended a class at a bee farm where we met up with my brother for the day. They were taught about the negative effects that  pesticides and herbicides are having on worldwide bee populations, and how that will ultimately effect human food production. Needless to say, we have learned to love bees even more – as if honey wasn’t enough reason.

On the bay back to and through the Rocky Mountains we did some more hiking and saw many animals – bears, sheep, moose and elk.

Although we had enjoyed our adventures, the kids were excited to finally arrive home and just mess around with their friends for the remainder of our stay in Grande Prairie.

Eric had transferred to Calgary so it was time to pack up and move. It was hard saying goodbye to friends and the city that I had started off hating but grew to love over time. It was the platform from which many great adventures had sprung, and you know the saying about how you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.  But it was time to start the next chapter.

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada Day 19,20,21 & 22

DSCN9895 Courtenay – Chemainus – Sooke – Botanical Beach – Vancouver

We left Ucluelet and headed for Courtenay on the east coast of Vancouver Island. We stopped along the way for a walk through Cathedral park and then in Qualicum beach for fresh clams and oysters.

We stayed in Sooke which is a new favourite place on earth for me personally, and headed to Botanical beach to do some exploring and try to spot the Orcas. It was a misty grey day and we lucked out in finding heaps of colourful sea glass and sea creatures.

Our time in Courtenay was spent with family, sharing meals and spending days on Miracle beach and Saretoga beach. We visited Eric’s uncle’s horses which was a great treat for the kids.

Hana also attended a showing of Les Miserables at the Chemainus theatre which was a huge highlight for her.

 

Once back on the mainland we spent some time in Vancouver, going to Granville island and the Vancouver aquarium. It was hard to leave the close proximity to the ocean behind, but we knew that the time had come to begin our journey east.

 

 

 

 

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada Day 11-18

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Ucluelet/Tofino

West coast Vancouver Island B.C.  is  paradise. Mountains, ocean beaches and lush old growth rain forests.

If you are a homeschooler, then you appreciate the level of biodiversity and the outdoor classroom potential right off the bat. Armoured with field guides of all kinds, we were set for the west coast.

Time seems to slow right down from the moment you step off of the ferry. People move at what I later learned was ‘island time’, and it suits me very well. I love the ocean, the mountains and the forests, and if I were to create a perfect place on earth, it would be Vancouver Island.

We hit all of the major beaches – Long beach, China Beach, Chesterman and Wickanninnish. We hiked the major trails and stood in awe at the feet of the towering giants that rule the forest there. We saw whales and  sea lions.

The kids loved the feeling of the icy salty sea, and tried to catch the biggest wave to ride back into the shore on. We went whale watching with a captain who told us historical tales of ship wrecks and the previous island inhabitants, and where their villages once could be found. We explored Tofino, and some of us took a surfing lesson.

Magic.

 

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada Day 8,9&10

IMG_0019When we left Kleanza Creek Provincial Park, we headed to Prince George and booked into the Treasure Cove casino hotel. We had a nice dinner, cleaned up and enjoyed the pool and soft beds. It was nice after all of the tenting.

After Prince George we headed to Lillooet and almost had dinner but bailed. We had gone into a restaurant where we received no service, and then after leaving were told outside by a previous customer that we were lucky to have not eaten there. We stopped at Joffre Lake to get refreshed, and then got back on the road and headed to Whistler, and bailed again. It was too “Banff-y”, and we couldn’t find something casual and authentic. So we took the sea to sky highway through Pemberton and bailed again. The only places we could find were closed or full. Driving through Pemberton was mostly spent searching for and then finally spotting the wild horses, drinking out of the creek. Finally, we arrived in Squamish and found the Watershed. Well worth the wait.

It is a bar and grill tucked away on the water, where you can enjoy a loud happy atmosphere and excellent pub food. More than all of that – the waterfront, the music and yummy food – was the amazing service. Cheerful laid back and intuitive to kids and their sometimes irrational needs.  It was exactly what we needed for a vehicle full of very hungry children.

After dinner we headed to Porteau Cove. We arrived in the dark, and had to park and walk in with the tent, to a combination of people trying to sleep, and people trying to share the communal fire pits beside them. We carefully set up the tent while trying to keep the kids from disturbing the neighbours, got in and passed out. The next morning we caught the ferry at Tsawwassen, and had fresh local fruit for breakfast. The ferry was great. We explored the boat and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

When we arrived in Victoria, we headed over to American Apparrel to get some clean clothes for the kiddos. We had hardly packed at all with this plan in mind; to buy their summer clothes at American Apparel.  Victoria is absolutely gorgeous; it is bright and colourful and it feels fresh. We drove through Nanaimo and headed to “Goats on the Roof” Market to meet Eric’s parents who had flown in from Ottawa to Nanaimo, and stock up on food for the summer house. We got local fruit and vegetables, eggs, breads, cheese and meat.

From there we headed straight to Ucluelet.

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada day 6&7

IMG_0010We woke beside a lake on the Stewart Cassier. There were loons catching some breakfast, and so we thought we had better do the same. We stopped at Boya lake provincial park and started a fire to cook our food with. A friendly German couple pulled their RV up beside us to admire the view. I offered them some coffee, but it turns out what they really wanted was to get into the frigid water. They made their way towards the dock, and proceeded to dive into the icy lake. When our three older ones saw this, they tore their clothing off, scrambled into their trunks and sprang into the lake. Our new friends were very surprised at how tough they were in the cold water, but because where we live there is no clean fresh water, it is easy for them to stand the low temperature if it means getting to swim. When the kids got out, we had hot chocolate and packed into the van.

It was time for the longest stretch of driving without stop for the entire trip. We watched video’s of “Canada: A People’s History”, and discussed politics. Hana is at an age now where she strains to listen to adult conversations, and she loves any opportunity to insert herself. She wants to discuss the part of the movie about women’s rights – she finds it mind boggling that women couldn’t vote in Canada in all provinces and territories until 1951 (Although some provinces were much earlier). We talk about that for awhile, and then the kids drift off to sleep.

 

We arrived in Kitwanga at dusk. Kitwanga is a National Historic site. ‘Battle Hill’, (seen below), was a strategic fortress build by the Gitwangak people of British Columbia. The totems represent the different clans – the Ganada, Laxkik and Laxgibu. They are the oldest collection in their original community in B.C. They are quite breathtaking – especially in the stillness of the summer evening.

After seeing the totems, we headed all the way to Kleanza Creek Privincial park. It was almost morning and the gate was locked, so we slept in the parking lot for awhile. When the sun rose, we headed on the Prince Rupert and the Pacific Ocean. We grabbed coffee and breakfast and walked the harbour front.

The kids had fun climbing every structure, fence and rock, as well as reading all of the plaques along the way. We looked into going out on a boat but it would have required waiting until the afternoon, and we weren’t prepared to do that. SO we headed back to Kleanza park.

Kleanza is a beautiful quiet campground tucked under some giant trees. They were the biggest trees I had seen in my life (up to this point – there would be bigger of course). The site we got was massive, with a large rock wall on one side of it dripping with greenery. The first order of business was of course to build a fort.

We set up the tent, had some food and went to the waterfront. It was certainly not a beach, but the end of a rapid where the rocks pooled the water into a deep enough area to swim and even cliff jump into the icy, barley tolerable water. Kleanza has become one of my very favourite places. We spent two night here, hiking swimming and fort building, and then decided to head south.

 

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada Day 4 (cont.)& 5

IMG_0009Because the sun never went down, The fourth day of our trip went on forever. The earliest morning hours were spent driving the Dempster highway (last post), and then we headed into Dawson city to pan for gold. We drove up a treaturous, one way logging road on a cliff in the city of Whitehorse. There was a white tent pitched with rubber boots inside, and a log cabin with a weighing scale and some historical artifacts on display.The staff was amazing. They ran demonstrations and were very hands on and helpful with the children. They all found gold, and it was put into separate viles for them to bring home.

From here we headed back towards Whitehorse and stopped in the Takhini hot springs one last time. Then on to to Kluane national park.

When we got there the dim midnight light of summer turned everything a brilliant green. It had become early morning and the kids were all comfortably asleep in the van, so we decided to shut our own eyes for a few hours. We woke and started a fire for breakfast. The kids headed into the woods to build a fort, and Eric and I re-organized our stuff – a tote of clothes, a tote of food, a jug of water, a tent and our sleeping bags.The park was nearly empty but there were a couple of men on motorcycles up from the U.S., who came to  inform us that they feared their gas had been syphoned in the middle of the night.  It turned out one of their gas gages was broken.We went for a nice hike down to the lake and spent the morning there playing and exploring. The kids were enthralled in a game of make believe that they had to build a raft out of drift wood and sail across the lake to safety. River and I were mesmerized by the brilliant emerald colour of the water.

Soon it was time to head back to Whitehorse. We ate at the Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbecue. It was one of the best dining experiences of our lives. The atmosphere was warm and comforting. customers came up to the table to say hello or comment on the good behaviour of the kids. The service was wonderful. Hana was chilly so the waitress brought over a blanket and cozied her up. To top it off, the food was out of this world. We decided to order all of the recommendations and share – Elk Stroganoff, Reindeer stew, Ribs & Salmon, Arctic Char & chips,  Bison w Wildberry reduction.

After dinner it was time to head south. First we stopped at the river and let the kids play at the playground. We had a surprise for Hana’s upcoming birthday – she had wanted hazel wood necklaces from Taiga naturals (in Whitehorse) for her and her brothers for months, so we had them custom made under the guise of auto repair. We then wrapped them in a newspaper, and asked her to read us an article while we had cupcakes for dessert. Somehow we pulled it off – she had no idea, and was very happy.

It was raining while we headed towards the Stewart Cassier. We drove down it until we could drive no more. We pulled over beside a nice little lake, and fell asleep to the sound of the rain outside.

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada day 4 – tundra

IMG_0015On the fourth day of our Road trip we woke at 4am in a tent in Tombstone territorial park Yukon to the blazing sun. Although it was bright and sunny it was very cold. Eric started a fire as I began to transport the children back into the warmth of van. They ate hot beans while we took down the tent and packed it in. Moments later they were all fast asleep again.

It was Just the two of us on the tundra, with a pack of sleeping little ones in the back. The sun danced all over the landscape, and it was so beautiful that I was eventually overcome with emotion. Being that alone does something to you, it’s sort of like taking a giant breath out after holding it in for a long time. There was no one anywhere forever, and it was exhilarating and comforting at the same time. We drove through the mountains, watching for wild horses as the signs cautioned us to do. Sometimes we were silent, other times we talked about our hopes and dreams, our plans and our fears. It was one of those moments where we looked and really saw each other, like the focusing of a camera lens.

I had decided that I wanted the children to get out onto the tundra, and feel the treeless ground under their feet. There was a colourful mosaic of moss flowers and lichen, and it seemed to me that a picnic on the tundra would be great for lunch. We pulled over, put on sweaters and got out. Everyone went to run – but  then a strange thing happened. We sunk.

 

The tundra is not hard like it seems, it is very lumpy and in the warmer weather it is soft and squidgey. The other reason we could not picnic here was that there were birds in the ground. Birds, living under our feet were flying out as we tried to walk. Everyone was falling over, getting their feet stuck and dodging underground bird (caves?), so we just stood still for awhile, enjoying the ultimate peacefulness. The kids observed the different flowers and mosses, and crept up on some curious ground birds. Soon enough we had to continue our journey because of the wind and cold. We drove on towards the northern most part of the accessible world, and then we got nervous.

What if it rained again? Too much rain and the road would be washed out and we would be stranded. We decided that we would only drive so far and then turn around and head to Dawson city. Tuktoyuktuk was inaccessible to us anyway, so we would have to come back. As responsible decision as it was, it left us with a pang of regret. It quickly dissipated when we returned to the land of humans, and discovered the giant nail that was in our tire, slowly leaking air.

Roadschooling: Northwest Canada day 3

 

IMG_0002On the third day of our road trip we woke in Whitehorse and decided to head straight north. The first stop was the Takhini Hot springs, where we were surprisingly nearly the only ones there. The warm water was a comfort in the chilly morning air. A stop at the “Bean North” coffee roasters for lunch, and we were off.

The Dempster highway is a dirt road freckled with shale and rocks and potholes, that takes you all the way over the arctic circle and into the tundra. In the winter you can drive the last little stretch all the way to the arctic ocean on the ice road. There have even been polar bears on the north end. Through the Ogilvie mountain range, wild horses run free.

The allure of the remoteness, the wild and the raw beauty of a barely touched part of the world had haunted us for months. Between our bouts of excitement had been bouts of nervousness about the lonely highway.

We got to the highway sign and started down it. The plan was to drive the short distance to Tombstone park and then head the rest of the way up the Dempster the next morning. For the first kilometre or so, although it was as beautiful as the Alaska and Klondike highways had been, the landscape was not distinct. Just a never ending roadside treeline.

And then, the trees opened up and what we saw ahead of us took our breath away.

We stopped at Tombstone territorial park and set up camp. It was raining a bit, but not enough to put out the fire. We ate, and then watched the midnight sun peak out throughout the grey clouds. When we were finally tired enough we went to bed, excited for the next days adventures!

Roadschooling: northwest Canada days 1& 2

image Some people have questioned our plans to head so far north, especially with four children. There were even times when I questioned it myself because of the remote wilderness we were heading into. We want the kids to experience Canada’s raw beauty, diverse geography and ecclectic culture so that they have a true perspective on their own country. The first day we drove from Grande Prairie AB all the way to Muncho Lake BC. It was very late when we got there and the sites were full so we slept on the floor of the van in sleeping bags. We didn’t mind the lumps and bumps, because our first stop the next morning was the Liard wilderness hotsprings.

This was our second time visiting Liard hotsprings. The reason we love it so much is because it is a wilderness spring with natural bottom, trees plants dirt etc, unlike the concrete pools that the other springs we’ve visited have been fed into. The water is very hot at the top, and cools as you walk to the bottom of the lower level. There is also a boardwalk that allow you to see the rare orchids that grow and fish that live there because of the microclimate caused by the hotsprings. From Liard we headed towards the Yukon, and we were lucky enough to spot 18 black bear and three grizzlies. We also saw herds of bison, elk, fox, moose and deer.

When we got to the Yukon border there was a beautiful park and beach awaiting us. We swam and built a fire for lunch. After we were all refreshed we headed to Watson Lake in order to see the sign post forest. The kids had a ton of fun running through the signs, playing hide and seek and reading about all of the places people have come from to see Canada’s beautiful north.

When we finished playing we headed to Whitehorse. It was the summer solstice so there was a lot of celebrating going on. We were going to stay at the Robert Service campground but the energy was too high for the kids, so we sought refuge from the blinding midnight sun in the comfort of a hotel room. There was a lot of discussion about the adventures that awaited us in the morning as we would make our way further north.

Yellowknife Roadtrip

imageWe found ourselves restless. Overwhelmed with cabin-fever, stagnant stale indoor air  and bad moods seemingly induced by a lack of sunlight. It felt like it had been dark here forever. We were in serious need of an adventure. If I didn’t get beyond these four walls soon, I was going to explode.

A lot of people would choose to go south and lay on a beach somewhere but we had something different in mind.

North to Yellowknife or Sharpknife as Avery mistakenly continues to call it. The trip served as a sort of a “reboot” for us. Eric suggested it out of the blue the night before we would leave on a  1170 km trip each way, 30 hours of driving. Our weekend of Leg of Lamb and Easter chocolate would have a late start this year.

We threw some clothing, water, a few bags of fruit and baby carrots and some books into the van and off we went.

As we drove out of Northern Alberta we watched the sun turning the fields to a golden goodness that our hearts had craved all winter. Colour – any and every colour we saw outside soothed our nerves. We also saw a cluster of deer grazing along the roadside.

As we continued north we noticed the landscape start to change. There was snow on the fields and ice on the lakes and rivers outside our windows. Tree species dropped off one by one, until all that remained for a long time were Birch and Pine. eventually the Birch dropped off too, and the Pine became spindly and sparse. By the time we reached the Mackenzie river crossing, it was officially mid winter again. It was at least 12 degrees colder, the river was frozen solid and the ground was covered in two feet of snow.

To cross the Mackenzie river on the only road to Yellowknife, they built the Deh Cho bridge in 2012. Before that, to cross you would take a ferry or drive the ice road. During the times when the water was open but the ferry was frozen, you would fly or stay put.

We arrived in Yellowknife at around 8:45pm in full sunlight. We checked into the Explorer hotel, and the kids had some fun pretending to be eaten by a polar bear in the lobby. We cleaned up and headed to the hotel restaurant. It was about to close so even though they were more than willing to stay opened for us, we opted for a Bruno’s pizza instead. It was great.

imageWe got news that there was going to be a northern lights show overhead, so we watched the stars come out outside our window like magic. Then once it was sufficiently dark, we got into our pajamas and hopped into the van for some star gazing. We hit the Ingrahm trail and we were instantly in awe of the magical sky. A level of black we had never seen, dotted with a trillion stars. Unfortunately, the situation wasn’t sustainable because River wanted to go to bed, so we headed back to the hotel and had a great night’s sleep.

The next day we toured the city. We had hit the tail end of a festival and so some of the winter infrastructure was still up, including ice sculptures and a snow castle. The lake was still frozen solid – full of vehicles, cabins and a community of year round houseboat residents who can entertain land vehicular company in the winter. The houseboats were brightly coloured and donned solar panels on their roofs. If I lived in Yellowknife, that is where I would want to live!

We made the obvious tourist stops – The Wildcat cafe, Bullocks Bistro, The Dancingimage Moose, the Ragged Ass Road. They were all closed however because it was Easter Weekend.  Our number one destination in every capital city across Canada has always been the legislature building, and this one did not disappoint. We had a picnic in front of the building, and then the security guard gladly unlocked the door and took us on a guided tour through the building which was very informative. He told us that there had been a bear and a pack of seven wolves hanging around the building, so “keep an eye” outside on the trail.

After the legislature, we decided to head south to the Best Western in High Level, which is our home away from our Grande Prairie home away from home. We had dinner – Avery informed us that our waitress would “really like a kiss”, and so he crouched under a nearby plant waiting for his oppertunity to woo her with his undeniable charms.

And so it goes. We had another taste of the northern highway to satisfy our thirst for adventure until the big one in 59 days.