Hello, please join me (Colin) and my wife (Anne) from Glasgow, Scotland, as we take you with us on our 3-week tour of Alberta and British Columbia. We will tell you about some of the beautiful scenery and things we did or places we visited on our journey and you will be with us as we describe to you the bed and breakfast homes we stayed at along the way. We will describe our room within each home, and you will almost certainly picture the plentiful breakfasts the host families brought to the dining room tables.
Our plan was to fly to Calgary Airport in Alberta, pick up a hire car and after a night of rest meander northwards on the smooth, wide and traffic-free roads as far north as Prince Rupert. There we would board the ferry with the car and sail down the Inside Passage to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island retaining the car for our journey to Victoria and then Vancouver on the mainland. We would spend some days there and after returning the car to the depot, board the Rocky Mountaineer train for a relaxing 2-day sightseeing experience through the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains to Calgary where our return flight awaited.
Calgary - 1 night
As our flight arrived in the evening we drove straight to a warm welcome at our accommodation on the southern outskirts of the town. I found it difficult to believe that Calgary and its surroundings is all at a height only 300m below the height of the highest mountain in the UK. After a welcome cup of tea served with home baking we retired to our large and lovely bedroom in the lower level of the house. There was a large shower room and washroom adjoining the bedroom for our exclusive use but with an entrance from another bedroom that would make ideal accommodation for a family to share.
Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, a cooked breakfast (Newfoundland pancakes), tea/coffee, and fresh muffins all tastefully served in the large dining room. We felt very comfortable in this home. Josephine and her husband were perfect hosts and made us feel most welcome. Highly recommended.
We reluctantly left mid-morning to travel the 128 km (80 miles) to Banff passing the 1988 Olympic ski jump on the west of the town. Travelling through rolling but fairly dry countryside we soon got our first glimpse of the Rockies in the distance and soon after arrived in Canmore where we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a restaurant overlooking the mountains. A further 30 km took us into Banff and as it was only early afternoon (and a beautiful day) we drove the short distance to the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain. The views from the summit (2,281m) were outstanding with snow on the peaks of the Rockies. We went on to have a look at the renowned Banff Springs Hotel and explore the lovely golf course on the edge of the Bow River before checking-in to our B&B in the town.
Banff - 2 nights
The house was an attractive chalet-style design in the centre of the town with the mountains as a backdrop. The room was spacious and clean and within a short distance to a restaurant and interesting shops. After stopping off for a morning coffee we were on our way on to the magical Lake Louise some 54km on the road to Jasper. We could have seen Lake Louise when driving the 290km (180 miles) to Jasper the next day but we had heard so much about the lake that we wanted to spend some time there. It meant that the following day we then had ample opportunity to enjoy the Banff and Jasper National Parks, the wildlife, views of glaciers, lakes waterfalls and of course the Columbia Icefield. I must mention the Athabasca Glacier that at one time came right down to where the road is and even now is close enough to be able to take an unforgettable sno-coach ride on to it.
Jasper - 2 nights
We knew accommodation was at a premium here and we had chosen motel-type accommodation rather than travel further to either of the places that had been suggested. Accommodation was adequate, clean, and we had no complaints.
We did quite a bit of exploring around Jasper, both locally and further afield, going to Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake where the outlet is underground and also Jasper N P’s longest and deepest lake, Maligne Lake where it snowed. It was also interesting while having a meal in one of the many restaurants on Connaught Drive in Jasper, to watch the enormous trains passing through the town but frustrating when driving having to wait, on one occasion, for 126 wagons to pass by.
After breakfast we set off on the 305km (190 miles) to Clearwater remembering to put our watches back as we passed through the Yellowhead Pass into Mount Robson Park in British Columbia. We found the stop at the visitor centre below Mt. Robson (the highest point in the Canadian Rockies) well worthwhile. Further down the road we came across an area that had in the past been devastated by fire and there was an interesting description of how the area had been cleared and replanted.
Clearwater - 1 night
A lovely home in a rural setting with a very warm welcome from the hosts Chris and Jim with wild humming birds coming to the feeder within 1m of where we stood chatting, while the family dog lay beside us.
We had a large bedroom with shower room and views over the open countryside. Hearty breakfast nicely cooked and served. Hosts very knowledgeable about Wells Gray Park and were helpful with suggestions of walks, car runs, etc. and in fact we went to the 61m high Spahats Creek Falls that evening. This is a nice area with plenty to do for the outdoor enthusiast. Recommended.
The next day, with only a short drive to our next stop at Williams Lake we went into Wells Gray Park before leaving the area to see the incredible Helmcken Falls, BC’s 4th highest falls. The Murtle River cascades off the edge of the plateau in a sparkling 137m high torrent and the ensuing spray forms a 60m high ice cone in winter. After lunch at the golf club on the edge of the park we set off on the 220km (136 miles) to our next overnight stop via Bridge Lake and 100 Mile House. At 108 Mile house the reconstructed dwellings and trapper’s hut proved interesting.
Williams Lake - 1 night
This was a very nice home right on the lakeside opposite Scout Island with a beaver’s lodge at the bottom of the garden. The hosts Marilyn and husband were charming and most welcoming. It was very comfortable accommodation with a large en-suite bedroom with views over the lake. Marilyn gave us a very nice breakfast and in fact we had to ask for half the quantity that we could have been given. Fresh fruit, juice, cooked breakfast, coffee/tea. Recommended.
It was only 220km (138 miles) to our stopover at Prince George but we wanted to visit the old goldfield towns of Wells and Barkerville. This added on a further 164km (100 miles) to our journey making it the longest drive of our holiday. Despite being amongst trees for the majority of the drive and it being very wet that day the detour to the goldfield towns where the ‘staff’ in the old houses and shops were dressed in period costumes, was worth the effort. We could have spent hours at Barkerville and also more time in the museum at Wells.
Prince George - 1 night
A charming house, in a rural setting to the south of the town, designed and built by Jacqueline’s husband in Swiss alpine style. We had a bedroom at the top of the house (3rd floor) which was rather narrow, but was acceptable as it was so different from conventional homes. The toilet was between the two rooms on the upper floor and the shower room was on one of the lower floors. Jacqueline and Klaus were very welcoming hosts and we had a very nice breakfast with juice, fresh fruit and a cooked breakfast, coffee and tea whilst chatting to them. Recommended.
Prince George was a large town and we would have liked to spend some time at the Railway Museum (I am an ex-railwayman) and the Fraser Fort George Regional Museum but because of the distance to Smithers, 360km (225 miles) we only went to the latter. Apart from a fleeting glimpse of a bear near Jasper we had not seen one until we came face to face with two towering grizzly bears (stuffed, thank goodness) in the museum. They were enormous.
By lunchtime we had got to Vanderhoof and we stopped off at the OK Café, sited inside a heritage-style building, and sampled perogies with semenite sausages and blueberry sauce. It was an interesting combination of flavours completely new to us.
The run forward to Smithers was through pleasant countryside and being golfers we were intrigued to see Carnoustie Golf Club, near Burns Lake. We couldn’t resist the temptation to stop to see how it compared with the ‘real’ Carnoustie G C in Scotland. As everyone we had met since arriving in Canada had been so friendly and interesting to talk to, it was no surprise to be offered complimentary coffees and have a friendly chat with the daughter of the man who had created this 9-hole course. We didn’t have time to play the course but we left with souvenirs to take home.
Smithers - 1 night
We stayed in a modern house in the lovely small town of Smithers. We had the choice of two bedrooms, one downstairs or one on the ground level that had its own door to the outside. Although we chose the one on the ground level that was the smaller of the two and had a very small toilet/shower room, it was our choice. The room was tastefully furnished and there was a kettle with coffee and biscuits in the room if we wanted a late night refreshment.
In the morning we had a lovely breakfast with a type of porridge, fresh fruit, juice, cooked breakfast if we wanted it, toast, home made jam, marmalade, etc. Our hosts Bev and David were a charming couple and we had wished to have been at Smithers in July - August when they organise walking trips to the alpine meadows to see the alpine flowers. Recommended.
We left as early as we could drag ourselves away that morning, knowing that we had to travel 340km (212 miles), but we diverted to Hazelton across the 79 metre high Hagwilget suspension bridge to Ksan historical Indian Village. We spent an enjoyable guided tour there and bought mementoes of our visit. Soon after the Hazeltons, we came to Kitwanga where David had said that the next time we are in B C we should make a point of going a little further north to the town of Stewart. En route you drive past Strohn Lake where the Bear glacier tumbles into the deep blue water and icebergs float across the surface. From Stewart it is only a hop skip and a jump across the Border into Alaska to the town of Hyder. Alongside the Salmon River that passes by there is a viewing platform where in July/August you can watch bears feasting on salmon going up the river to spawn and then die. All for next visit.
The journey from Kitwanga to Prince Rupert was beautiful, through the mountains and alongside the Skeena River, and reminded us very much of parts of Scotland.
This was really such a quaint place to stay. The house was built on stilts into the water, right by the harbour in Prince Rupert. Our bedroom had a shower room and another little bedroom adjoining which would have been suitable for a family with children. We were very comfortable and enjoyed seeing right over the harbour from the room. The breakfast was served in the adjoining house at a communal table with the other guests who were on a bus tour and catching the same ferry as us, and a group of Canadians from Edmonton who were going fishing. Breakfast was a hearty meal with fruit, juice, scrambled egg with bacon, tea and coffee. We, in fact, didn’t meet Mary, our hostess until breakfast at 6:00 in the morning. Mary obviously was accustomed to early rises for guests catching the Port Hardy ferry or those going on fishing trips. Recommended.
The ferry trip south though the Inside Passage started off in sunshine but unfortunately after about 5 hours the weather closed in and became, as we say in Scotland, very dreich. The clouds covered the mountain tops and it became very cold and wet. While we were on the ferry representatives from the National Parks gave several interesting talks on the flora and fauna to be found in the areas we were to pass through. Unfortunately the weather seemed to inhibit the wildlife and we saw very little of that on the sail. One plus point was the superb and very reasonably priced carvery-type dinner we had on the ferry. The ferry berthed at Port Hardy at 11 PM and we drove straight to our pre-booked accommodation for the night.
Port Hardy - 1 night
Our hotel had been booked, for convenience, in the UK knowing that our arrival would be late at night. It turned out to be adequate but I now know that Canada-West could have booked superior accommodation for us.
With 375km (235 miles) to Nanaimo we only had a brief look at Port Hardy before leaving but soon got side-tracked to the interesting Telegraph Cove passing on the way logging operations involving the collection and sorting of tree trunks floating in the bay. Telegraph Cove was a nice place with again humming birds flitting back and forth to the bird feeders. The first part of the run in the car from Port Hardy had been between trees and rather uninteresting but it soon opened out and we enjoyed the scenery through Campbell River, Courtenay, Parksville, etc to Nanaimo.
We had thought of diverting from Parksville to Tofino to go on a whale watching trip but had decided earlier that it would be too long a drive for one day especially if the weather was poor at Tofino. Again, something for another time.
Nanaimo - 1 night
We couldn’t find our hostess, Darlene, at first and thinking she may be in the back garden and unable to hear the doorbell, we went to find her and were impressed by the display of flowers and shrubs before us. After meeting up, Darlene showed us to lovely bedroom downstairs with an enormous bed. The shower room was adjoining. Again we had a most enjoyable breakfast whilst chatting about the Island and the lovely garden. A very warm welcome in a beautiful home. Highly recommended.
With only a short distance to Victoria 140km (90 miles), but more traffic than we had been used to so far, we can recommend stopping at the former sawmill town of Chemainus. There you can take a horse-drawn ride or follow the yellow footprints on the pavement edges round the town to look at the 30 or so larger-than-life murals painted on the walls of the buildings. They depict the history and culture of the town as it was.
Another site not to be missed is the Butchart Gardens located on Brentwood Bay off the Saanich Inlet, north west of Victoria. We went there on our way from Nanaimo to Victoria and as it was 4:0 PM we missed all the bus parties which made our stroll around the magnificent gardens all the more pleasant.
Victoria - 2 nights
Margaret and Peter were a very charming couple, who were so eager to please us. A homely room with the bathroom/shower room adjoining, in an older house having an interesting display of treasures collected before they came to live in Victoria. We enjoyed a good breakfast with fruit, fruit juice, and a cooked breakfast, toast, tea, coffee, etc.
Peter was so interesting when chatting to him as he had been in the RAF during the Second World War and had subsequently spent time in Africa and England. Recommended for guests looking for good old-fashioned hospitality in a home of the 1923 era.
Victoria was a city that needed time to explore properly as again there was so much to see and do. We walked extensively around Downtown Victoria and amongst other things went to Chinatown (a little disappointed), Crystal Garden, Empress Hotel, The Spirit of Christmas shop, etc. We could have visited the Parliament Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum, Miniature World, etc, etc but it was so warm and sunny that after 2 weeks spent driving we were content to relax near the harbour and watch the seaplanes and mini-ferries coming and going.
Our final memory of Victoria was the sight of snow capped Mount Olympus sparkling in the sunshine behind Port Angeles in Washington, USA across the Juan De Fuca Strait.
The ferry trip from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen on the mainland was very pleasant as the ship wound between the islands off the east coast of Vancouver Island and it gave me time to contemplate on the expected increase in road traffic in Vancouver. However by this time I had got used to an automatic car and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and did not find it a problem.
Vancouver - 4 nights
Graham and Lee were perfect hosts. Their home on 14th Avenue, across the Burrard St. bridge from Downtown Vancouver, was within easy driving distance or 45 minutes walking distance of the centre of Vancouver, and was adapted for their B&B guests. It was very nicely furnished with antique furniture but with all the modern additions guests have come to expect. Our room was spacious with an en-suite shower/bathroom. Fresh fruit and biscuits were available in the room. Breakfast, which was served in the lovely dining room, consisted of fresh fruit, juice, one of Graham’s speciality dishes, fresh muffins and toast, tea or coffee. If guests are in the house between 3:30 - 4:30 afternoon tea is served and if you miss that there is a Happy Hour between 5:30 - 6:30 when wine and nibbles are available to those who wish to indulge. A most enjoyable B&B that is very highly recommended.
During our 3 days in Vancouver we had a very nice trip via Squamish up to the ski resort of Whistler (1½ to 2 hours) and visited the Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver. Whilst in that area we tried to go up Grouse Mountain on the Skyride but the clouds came down and we didn’t get beyond the car park. The remainder of our time was spent in Stanley Park and Downtown Vancouver. We did a lot of walking but transport within Vancouver was easy and we also hopped on and off the old-fashioned trolley that came around at ½ hourly intervals. The SkyTrain, buses, taxis and Sea Buses were also available.
Throughout our holiday eating out at very reasonable prices every evening at one of the many delightful restaurants was a pleasurable past time. However, we did find the cost of even a bottle of mediocre wine very expensive compared to that we were used to in the UK.
The Rocky Mountaineer - 2 days
We had decided when we booked the holiday that we would finish it off with a relaxing train ride on the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Calgary. We booked this from the UK but again I am sure that Canada West could do it just as easily. We were blessed with lovely sunshine for the trip and the scenery though the majestic interior of British Columbia and Alberta was overwhelming from the ‘bubble’ on the top of the observation car. The only downside was that we had to take our eyes off it at times to savour the freshly-made gourmet meals that were served up on the train. Included in this trip was a 1 night stay in a hotel in Kamloops.
Calgary - 1 night
We spent our last night back at the B&B we started at some 3 weeks earlier and the following morning after another lovely breakfast went up to Downtown Calgary on the C-train. Our last day was spent exploring the shops, the extremely interesting Museum of Anthropology and the Calgary Tower where we had our last Canadian meal in the restaurant, at the top of the tower, during which it made a full revolution. Regretfully we had to leave for the airport soon after and we flew out of Calgary at 5 minutes to midnight.
We now have very happy memories of a most enjoyable trip when we found all the people we came into contact with most helpful, pleasant and interested in talking to us. We will have no hesitation in recommending our friends to cross the Atlantic and come and see for themselves.
We thank Canada West for its contribution to our holiday by helping us to plan the route, suggesting places to visit and arranging the majority of our accommodation. To anybody contemplating a similar trip I recommend you contact Canada West as soon as you have notional plans in mind.
Finally, I hope you have taken the time to read this description of our holiday that could of course be enhanced by going into more detail on most of the things we did. The country is so vast and the activities possible and places to see so numerous that we only scratched the surface. We must and will be back some day.