Chemainus: the little town that did

What does a small town falling into wrack and ruin do when all of its resource jobs are rapidly disappearing? Pull out the paint and brushes! This little town understood the concept of “build it and they will come.” They did, into the millions, from around the world, since the early 1980s. Which is how I first heard about this out of the way little town.

Named for a local Cowichan First Nations band, “Tsa-mee’-nis” that had been living off the land and sea for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived in 1791. By 1858 settlers were felling trees to clear the land, within four years the first sawmill was up and running and took advantage of the naturally deep port to move logs and board. Although iron ore was mined in the area and fishing was important, the forests provided the majority of jobs. Until everything fell apart with the downturn of the markets. As this was happening I was moving to Vancouver Island. By 1983 the last sawmill in Chemainus had shut down. Five murals had been painted in 1982 as part of a revitalization plan. With the closure of the mill plans were put in place to keep on painting. The theme was the history of the area – trains, logging, the working man, the immigrants, the festivals. Although the mill did re-open in 1985 the locals had discovered a new way to earn money. Tourism.

Street heading to the docks from the main park.

My first trip to Chemainus was probably some time between 1986 – 1989, the murals were so fresh it seemed that wet paint would be left on your hands if you dared to touch a wall. Wood walls, brick walls, rough and smooth walls, were painted with stunning, and not so great, murals. They were impressive, present and approachable. These were our people depicted in giant form. Over the years I would return a few times, my children encouraging me to hurry up and look. They were always interested – and each had a favourite. They also had an uncanny memory for where to find the best ice cream cones.

check out the upstairs windows! This is a candy shop. I wonder if my children could find the ice cream store now.

It has been probably 15+ years since my last visit. My mission was to drive to Nanaimo, north of Chemainus, to purchase some wedding centrepiece items – the store would not send to the either of the Victoria stores. That accomplished, two hours from home to store and back on the road, I felt we needed a little adventure. I chose Chemainus.

I cannot swear to this however I am quite sure this building was a new build in the ’80s

Today was out of season, many shops were still closed, or only open Tuesday to Saturday. This gave my daughter and I the freedom to just wander without jostling elbows, avoiding tour buses and cars. We checked out the Chemainus Theatre, I have heard their shows are high quality. I finally picked up a list and schedule of the plays for this coming year – with a goal to see one. I love trains, so was quite happy to find some murals of various trains. Of course there were others, 44 is the number I read. We did not make a full tour of them, perhaps when it is less chilly.

Mural showing iron ore being mined. I do not see the hardship in this one. Perhaps the artist did not want to upset tourists

One I liked, not of trains, was of float festival winners from 1939. This was a Japanese float, all I could think of was if any of the people who had been part of the float were forced to one of the Japanese interment camps in Canada during the Second World War. I looked it up. Despite being Canadian citizens, even second or third generation, perhaps 200 were displaced out of Chemainus. Many never returned, their homes, businesses, property had been seized.

where else but on the wall of the Post Office

I bought a rather yummy sausage roll, an apple turnover and a coffee (except I think it had a different name) at Utopia Bakery, hidden around a corner. The sausage rolls, including the meat, are house made, beef and pork with a little spice for a bite. Warmed just enough rather than piping hot like many places do. The coffee was bold, probably because we managed to get caught in the only rain during the five hours we were up Island! I ended up not eating the turnover until I was home, it was quite good. Not overly sweet, always a bonus, and flaky, yet sturdy, pastry. (I never appreciate having pastry crumbs flying about)

Many of the homes built over 100 years ago are still in use, or sadly, sitting empty and looking rather forlorn. I was rather intrigued by Castle B&B, so much so I suggested we might want to rent the small ‘castle’. The rent was reasonable, Chemainus perhaps not so much.

There are some problems with living in a tourist town, particularly one that operates seasonally- what to do when the tourists leave. Of course there are still some mills. Outdoor activities are thriving, still mainly during warmer weather. Which is a pretty decent window – usually March to October. However, I could not help but notice the once bright yellow footprints showing the way are fading, the paint is chipping on a few murals, several shops have closed permanently.

We came across this and a similar one in the garden of a house. Look closely to see the white orchid

Once a shop filled with a variety of items to entice tourists. Now it sits unloved, draperies pulled tight.

Spectacular mountain, ocean and forest views

We left home at 7:30AM and were home by 12:30PM. A five hour trip up island and return with a wonderful little break in ‘the little town that did’ where we were refreshed, walked and enjoyed the art. It is suggested visitors stay a little longer. Perhaps I will when the place comes out of hibernation, to be drawn into the full magic of Chemainus just as my children were over twenty years ago.


The Tale of Three Cities: Chapter 3 – Kitchener

Thirteen days in Ontario should have been easy for me; after all I spent nearly six months of winter there one year, as well as four other winters for a month each time. Then there were the two early summers. Surely I could manage less than to weeks. Let me just say that I did try. I even had fun, as noted in earlier posts. It was just so darn difficult this time. A dragged out cold left me wilted, and I am still not fully over it despite being home for six days. However, time, rest, the gym, glimpses of the sun and the west coast air will soon find me back in full swing. I am feeling well enough to finish up the tale of three cities.

I talk about Kingston a lot so writing about Toronto was fun and I was looking forward to visiting the Kitchener-Waterloo area where daughter 3 is studying. It is an interesting area, a lot of cross connections, including Waterloo University and Sir Wilfred Laurier University. My daughter goes to Waterloo. They have a Starbucks on campus – which was a huge issue and seems to be all on its own in what I believe is the Engineering Department. Waterloo has many Starbucks. It appears Kitchener has none. I like to keep track of such things for orienting where I am.

I did not find too much to enamour me with Kitchener-Waterloo. Perhaps it was just due to it being winter, cold, my being sick, and my daughter being robbed a week earlier. There is a definite factory town feel to the area. Not a lot was happening. The Tannery District, (as far as I could tell this is just one building rather than a true district – it was too cold to explore) as the name implies, was once an early 20th century mill that has been refurbished and now holds a number of businesses, eateries and, from I read, an event venue. The only place open was Balzac’s Coffee Roaster. For which I was grateful.

The day I decided I should just stay at the house, early 1900s, was only broken up when I finally ventured outside long enough to get the kinks out and to find a store. I came across one house, apparently into offices, and one austere Lutheran church worthy of photographing. Unfortunately I did not cross the street to be across from the Sun Life Financial head office property that appears to include a building dating back to 1912. It was not until the next day, when on a bus, that I saw there is a provincial plaque of its history – next time I visit I will check it out. However, further research seems to indicate the building was always in the hands of Sun Life, until 2014. (Now leased back to them)

Not my photo – no snow here!

Lutheran Church on King St.

I loved the brickwork and the tri-corner style is lovely. The area it is in not so much.

It was not until the day before I left for home that I would go on an adventure. This is when I ventured to the university with my daughter, had coffee at Starbucks and hid from the elements,while waiting for her to attend a class, for a couple of hours before we headed to the Mennonite village of St. Jacob’s. I was feeling a bit better and looking forward to something different. The village dates back the 1850s, with Mennonites settling in the the region in the 1840s. The population of St. Jacobs is around 2000 and swells during tourism season with visitors arriving on bus tours, heading to the market and checking out the many, many shops along the Main Street. As often happens in small places that depends on tourism, many stores were closed. However, we did manage to have some fun poking about what was open, discovering some treasures – a pity my phone battery died – enjoying lunch, then coffee, and a sense of a time warp. Interesting bit of history, St. Jacobs is the home office for Home Hardware

A real fire in the fireplace at Stone Crock Restaurant !

Former Anglican Church is now a pretty neat toy store. I had to force myself to not leave with a few fun items.

Talk about a time warp! I could not have caught a better sandwich photo of past, present and cold.

We discovered the maple syrup museum along with a small model train set up. We had hoped to visit the larger model train display across the street – it was closed. We did however walk through the old silo mill where there are a few stores. The only one actually open was the pottery store. Here they sell products made locally, or made in Canada. There is a Wedding store that uses an old freight car as a place to store dresses and a section of the silos as a boutique. It was probably just as well it too was closed. With so much closed for the season, including the huge market, I already know I will be returning in the summer when I visit. I will most likely be with 2-3 of my daughters, maybe even one SIL so it will be attended unattendedgrandma.

We made this discovery on a side street when searching for the old school house. Unable to discover if it was open until after we finally tore ourselves away, I was happy to just take pictures and marvel at the collection. Such fun!

look at what we found at the mini train model display! My daughter graciously took then shared this with me after my phone died. I am looking into taking both trains. The table settings and menus belonged to other trains. Too bad!

COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN: and yes, it did rain

Or, Why I have not posted anything lately

I rarely get ill. When I have been sick it was usually fairly significant – bronchitis being high on my body’s favoured illnesses. So, I am usually knocked down flat when that occurs, as well as thrown on a heavy course of some form of penicillin. I was also always working – with young children. Need I say more. So when I first managed to get the flu, most likely directly from my daughter, I blamed it in part, as previously mentioned, on not having the flu shot. I was just happy it was over with and the cyst I had drained was finally on it’s way to healing. So I was rather alarmed when I came down with a nasty head cold. The type of cold that sneaks up on you. A slight scratchiness in the throat, a little cough, perhaps some sneezing. All fairly easy to laugh off as a sign of being tired, staying up too late, travel weary – in my case all reasonable assumptions. I did not have time to be sick let alone bothered with a cold.

Crave fireside seating. Always lovely to visit here.

Crave fireside seating, always a lovely spot for sipping coffee or tea and settling in for a visit or reading.

Except there I was, the end of day five (which also happened to be what would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday) of my visit and fading fast. By this time I had already seen the doctor, had coffee at Crave (my favourite cafe in Kingston) and checked out three more stores for dresses and I still had a couple of hours before I was to meet my daughter. Where does one go when staying a 30 minute drive away and your ride will not be available for two plus hours? For me the library is always an excellent choice. Except the Kingston Library was still closed while undergoing major renovations that started in April 2017. It is slated to re-open spring 2018 – I will visit when back. Meanwhile, I needed a place to hang out away from the burgeoning crowds on the streets of Kingston. Plus 5c. and sun seemed to have beckoned people outdoors.

As I was heading up Princess St. looking for stores I came across this otherwise empty space – those are my daughters! The middle one and the one on the left. (The short ones) They had not seen the display. This was for a fundraiser held sometime in 2017.

I headed to the university library, grabbing a sandwich and coffee at the snack bar before hunkering down to read my book without interruption or internet for about two hours. I had one commitment, meet my daughter at her work then head to Princess St. (Basically the main shopping street in Kingston) to show her the dress I thought would be suitable for me to wear to her wedding. We said yes to the dress – a little pricier than I had expected. I claimed I could accept the cost if I wore it to one or two events every year for the next ten years.

I then committed the ill traveller’s sin and went out for dinner. (Nothing like spreading a few germs for all to share) Although still in denial I was pretty sure I would not be able to taste anything the next night.Then it rained. A lot. By the next day, the only day I had left in Kingston, I knew I would not be leaving the house. I barely managed to do my laundry and pack everything. Thank goodness I travel light. I slept. I finished my book (Stones to Schools by Greg Mortenson) I highly recommend it. I napped.

Union Station construction has been ongoing for some years now. By the time they finish it will be necessary to start at the beginning again!

The small station is Brampton – the pounding rain and hail made it difficult to capture any of the fine workmanship.

My train to Toronto, then onto Kitchener, the next day was for 7:32am. A freezing blast was forecast, basically ice rain with a severe drop in temperature (it had gone up to plus 9c after the deep chill) that would cause dangerous, icy roads. School buses were cancelled. I was not about to tempt fate by changing my tickets so I could rest. Leaving Kingston I could see outlines of fog enshrouded roads, farms and tracks from inside my snug seat by the window. And here I am, in Kitchener. Where it was hailing when I arrived, then snowing. By morning all was bright, chilly looking and windy. I was still coughing and ready to scrounge about my daughter’s house for cold medicine. I was quite sure I would staying in again. So far I only had photos taken while on the train.

Behind that curtain of ice rain, up on a hill, is a beautiful church. All I know is that it is somewhere between Brampton and Kitchener.

Q (avid Star Trek fans) thought I needed some help as I got ready for bed.

Xi’an: Guanren Lama Temple & Little Wild Goose Pagoda

One advantage of travelling solo is having the freedom to make choices to delay, speed up or take a different fork in the road. Xi’an managed to provide all of these options. Despite having already seen so much I knew I had barely scratched the surface. I decided to stay another two nights, thinking this would still give me time to revisit some places in Beijing and spend time with friends without overstaying my  visit. Considering, yet again, the mishmash of directions I was glad I made that decision!

Before anything else I had to figure out why I could not make phone calls anymore. Ah, I owed an astronomical amount of money – alright, not really unless from a Chinese sense of cost. I owed 50CNY. I added another 50CNY and would be set for the rest of my trip. Sort of. I still did not have great access to a map and my data was sporadic. However, armed with at least a way to call people I was happy. On my agenda – the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, hop on the subway, or walk about 4.5km. After receiving directions, inccluding where to get off, which exit to take and which way to turn once I have exited, I was ready. Even now I am laughing at my gullibility. When will I learn that despite truly wanting to help too many people get the important things wrong. Unfortunately those errors often include left vs. right.

So, after being assured, by two hostel staff, then someone at Mcdonald’s when I arrived in the general area, to go right I did. After 30 minutes I was convinced I had been led astray. One more conference, some map searches, and even one phone call by a couple trying to help I was headed back to the subway – to turn left! (if the pagoda was on a map I did not see it) Presto, there it was. Closed. Every Tuesday. For extensive renovation. I was so close – I could see the greenery through the slightly ajar door, I was not allowed to sneak in. Ming tian. Oh well, I did have some delicious jiao.zi from a place next door. I headed back to the subway, my hostel, and a reassessment. Onward to Guanren Lama Temple! The temple I had seen from above. I already knew it was in walking distance, all I had to do was find the nearest corner to take me to the other side of the Wall.

Stupas outside the entrance





Originally built in 1705, this is the only Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the province of Shaanxi. The temple, rebuilt in 1952, with extensive repairs done in 2006, the temple houses over 6700 volumes of sutras in the aptly named Sutras Keeping Hall. These volumes are carefully wrapped in yellow silk, many are displayed while others are in the upper reaches ofvthe library. This is a working temple, monks and adherents actually outnumbered tourists. I was quite taken with the outfits worn by many of the culturally Tibetan visitors. The whole space is relatively small, three acres, yet does not seem crowded. Five Gates and Halls plus lesser halls and off limit wing-rooms – the latter seem to be relatively new living quarters for the monks. A lovely way to while away my afternoon after missing out on the Little Goose. That was on my agenda for the next day.



Only on recent trips to China have I seen any attention paid to maintaining the luxurous colours in temples. Even the doves look regal.


Outside the gate of the Hall of Wealth – a pig with a golden ingot wrapped in ceremonial scarves (khata)
The Hall of Wealth
Just one side of the hall and the offerings left
If in any doubt as to purpose of this Hall the ATM is an excellent reminder
Prayer flags
Prayer flags 
Hall of Scriptures – Thousand Hand Boddhisattva
Hall of Scriptures – on the upper floor are the majority of the sacred writings


Xi’an: Hitting the Wall and finding a Temple

After the hectic day catching buses to and from the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors, plus attempting to move against the flow of the masses while there I needed an outdoor activity that meant absolutely no riding vehicles. My goal was to reach the nearest accessible gate to the wall surrounding Xi’an to view the city from above. Once again the hostel (Ancient City International YHA) proved to be in an ideal spot for an easy walk, this time to the arched gate that would lead me to the stairs on the inside. Of course there is a fee – 54CNY=10.50CAD,most likely used to help with daily maintenance suh as sweeping, garbage and light security. After all, even with the heavy gates still on their hinges, the wall is no longer there to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

A sea of neon. Necessary for the pea soup smog.
Before the mad dash – non-participants (that meant me) headed up the opposite set of stairs
Before the run all was quiet on the rampart

Thr first difference I noted from Nanjing was the stairs are inside, after going through the gateway with two sets to keep the comings and goings less muddled. That might have worked out but for the excited crowd I walked into. Jumping jacks, stretches, running on the spot, numbers fluttering, cheering – I had walked smack dab into a gathering marathon! I did find someone to direct me, same way all of the runners would eventually be heading once above. I followed some young men carrying, then setting up heavy drums – similar to the drums on dragon boats to keep a beat, but these ended up being used as encouragement once things started. I did have a fairly good headstart and figured out where I should not be based on stations along the top of the wall.

He was one of a few drummers along the wall
A statistician would have kept track of how many mobiles were in use!



What I was not ready for was another, far more fun, smaller mass of marathoners wearing clown wigs, painted faces, painted T-shirts and some pretty nifty silly colours overall, coming from the other direction It was the clash of the marathoners. Later I found out that this was the Xi’an City Wall International Marathon – from what I understood the marathoners started at the same gate although it appeared to me they were going different directions – I guessed those finishing were coming towards me as the 13.7 km runners were starting where I had been – it seemed to prevent any clashes.


Blurred Solitude: smog, distance, architecture, movement

Considering the density of the soupy smog they very well might have had difficulty seeing each other at times. I was beginning to wonder if I should seek out a mask from one of the very few stores that I might come across – I had passed one, after buying more water. However, I decided to just stay out of the way, cheer people on as they ran by, and take photos when I could. How often would I see a marathon, let alone two, on one of the ancient walls of China?




A little history lesson: Xi’an, once known as Chang’an, is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization, with a 3000 year history of which 1100 years it was the capital city of a few dynasties. The area is rich in history. The Xi’an Wall is the most complete of walls that has survived and can be traversed all around the top, walking, bikes, even some motorized tours, and of course running. Originally build as a fortification in the old Tang Dynasty (618-907) it now forms the base for the City Park. I started at the South Gate and walked to the East Gate. The smog did not improve which made me glad I was not running and rather worried about the children who were running in the family groups. We did some high fives and hellos. Even the most serious runners, on their return run, were smiling at times.



Still impressive despite tourism, smog and the modern age
my first glimpse of Guangren Lama Temple from the ramparts of Xi’an Wall



Looking down – is this how the gods see things built to them?

As I wended my way along the wall there were some interesting sights. I discovered a temple I planned to visit the next day. There were families enjoying little picnics, cyclists, (I did not want to attempt riding when I knew hudreds of runners would be soon surging through) groups of young people being young, and below, at one of the secondary gates, wedding shoots were taking place. (I decided to save those photos for my Wedding Wednesday blog) I spent my time trying not to worry about the AQI (air quality index), found my way down the east gate, became handily lost (I really must get a map App I can use anywhere) before coming across a coffee shop that seemed to beckon. Of course I went in. It is pretty hard to get lost in Xi’an when all the main streets within the walls are on a fairly simple grid plus the very visible Bell and Drum Towers standing as beacons.

Not helpful!
Of course I did not write down the name, yet alone take a photo of it.
Books and coffee – perfection.

Once I made it to the Drum Tower I knew where I was, the Muslim Quarter, what better time to explore some of the side streets this time as well as visiting one of the few ancient homes still intact, and I think in the same family. I even paid to see a shadow puppet show. Although I did not understand a single word of the high pitched opera style nor very little of the story it was a fun 15 minutes to end my long day and time to take my weary pandas home to our hostel.

Entrance at the Ancient Home to the Ancestral Shrine
The room where the master of the home would entertain guests
One person shadow puppet show
Bath time – they were looking quite grubby but unwilling to be thrown into the washing machine


Dinner, bathed, tired and the next day planned out. I was looking forward to seeking out the path to enlightenment at the Guangren Lama Temple.