Report on Canadian Tour by Alan Dures

Tuesday 7th May – Tuesday 19th May 2009

A typically warm LX re-union at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was followed by a smooth flight to Calgary. Arriving at 5.00 am Friday by our own watches but 10.00 p.m. Thursday on Canadian time.


We settled into our hotel with beer and snacks: when was the last time the Over 60’s had a beer or two at 5.00a.m.?


Our match on the Friday in Calgary was at 6.00p.m. So we had a day for sight-seeing. Calgary is the headquarters for much of Canada’s oil and gas industry rather than a tourist town so the sights were not too numerous.  But with its array of good quality modern buildings and the backdrop of the Rockies, it is a pleasant city. And above all its friendly people in the hotels, the cafes and shops and our hockey hosts were overwhelmingly friendly.


After keenly fought match we were warmly entertained in a ‘sports pub’ a kind of German beer hall with sports screens.  By Saturday afternoon we were on the hockey field again, followed by a very successful barbecue.  The Calgary weather which is notoriously changeable and had already given us a hailstorm finally brought up warm sun.  This prompted a great scene as both sides and supporters mingled, ate their food and even sat on the pitch talking, surely one of the best aspects of touring.


Sunday 10th May  saw up leaving Calgary, following the Bow River valley out of town, through grasslands, backed by mountains and then into the Rockies proper. The day was beautifully sunny, though the temperature was never high.  Over a period of two or three hours we experienced a series of stunning views en route to Banff, part of Canada’s national park.  Spring was late this year so rivers and waterfalls were far from full and the Rockies were stark with the grey rock contrasting with the copious snow covering.


Before going to Banff we had ‘tea’ [more a lavish lunch!] at Juniper Lodge with more breathtaking views from the terrace. In addition to a delicious and varied buffet, a cake was provided to mark the 40th wedding anniversary of Robin and Pat Mayes.  Congratulations!  Banff proved to be a typical tourist centre of retail shops and restaurants, but it also has the distinction of being Canada’s highest town at 4540 ft above sea level.  It owes its prominence to a combination of the railroad and natural hotel springs nearby, discovered in 1883.


After a pleasant evening in our comfortable hotel in Banff we depart along Highway 180 towards Johnston Canyon on a bright crisp, cloudless morning. Though as always, the weather will change more than once in the day. Johnston’s Canyon did not disappoint with its cascading waterfalls and frothing white river. By midday rain and mist threatened so the mountains looked more menacing as we leave Alberta for British Columbia.  Into the Kicking Horse Valley where at the Spiral Tunnels we saw a train on three different levels; the train must have been at least a mile long at it wound  its way through the tunnels.[as we  would on Tuesday] to the town of Field, part of the Yoho national park.


Lunch at the Emerald Lake, spectacularly frozen, and the temperature no more that 10 degrees. A place of silence [no water sound of course] few birds and little wildlife, still too wintery for such activity.  Next to ‘Natural Bridge’ and another stunning scene, a series of rapids, and a mix of white and the clearest blue water. Finally we reach Chateau Lake Louise [named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters] and our overnight hotel.  The hotel is an imposing if rather severe neo-colonial building, but scarcely compares with the natural beauty of the frozen lake, especially in the setting sun.  There is a haunting beauty to these frozen lakes and for some of us a new experience.


On Tuesday 12th May. we pulled out of Banff station, waved off by staff with flags for two days on the Rocky Mountaineer train, bound for Kamloops and by Thursday evening Vancouver.  The Rocky train is for tourists and owes much to William Van Horne,  President of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late nineteenth century, who believed that  “If we cannot export the scenery [of the Rockies] we’ll import the tourists” 

From 9.00 a.m. for the next ten hours or so we experienced a series of stunning landscapes.  Initially the scenery was familiar; another frozen lake. Lake Wapta and a snowy station where the Siberian shot in Dr Zhivago was filmed at some 5000 feet above sea level.  Again we crossed into the Pacific Time zone, with watches back one hour. We went through the Spiral Tunnels, yesterday seen from the road.  There was the promise of wildlife with many cries of ‘bear’ [two definitely], elk and a variety of birds, including eagle.  By midday Kootenay  Lake was reached, but by now lakes were unfrozen and we followed the Beaver River, narrow and fast flowing.  There were spectacular Gorges, such as Mountain Creek and Albert Canyon and for variety the five mile long Connaught tunnel.  By early afternoon and through Revelstoke now following the Columbian river the vegetation became positively lush with trees in bud, a strong contrast within the frozen Rockies. The train often runs close to the highway where iconic lorries from American movies with vertical exhausts thunder along the  road. The landscape continues green and almost ‘ English’ as we come to Lake Shuswap, but the one hour it takes to round the lake reminds one of the difference of scale with say the English Lake District


After an overnight hotel in Kamloops we are back on the train at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday. The wildlife is even more plentiful today. As osprey, marmots, kestrels and bald eagle are soon spotted, while everyone saw a black bear at the far side of the river.  In the course of the day the landscape changes significantly, at one point dominated for many miles by magnificent hoodoos. These hoodoos look almost man made, almost sculptured like to Valley of the Kings, someone suggested. At times the sculptured hoodoo landscape was tinged with black volcanic streaks and at other times sulphur gave them a yellow/orange tinge.


Just before midday the Fraser River, predominately brown meets the Thompson river and there is a spectacular confluence of blue and brown before the Fraser river takes over all the way to the Pacific and Vancouver.  Our carriage enjoyed a triumph as Anthea saw off a ‘predator’ who tried to use our platform to take photos: later Anthea feels cold and we suspect post traumatic stress.  In the afternoon we pass through the heartland of Canadian farm land, with everything from soft fruit, chickens, sweet corn and bison farms.  Only the last two hours produced no spectacular scenery as, appropriately in heavy rain we slowly made our way to Vancouver.


On Thursday morning we woke to clear blue skies over Vancouver, and given our location in our hotel on floors 15 to 18. We were able to enjoy magnificent views over ‘Downtown’ Vancouver.  Downtown Vancouver is most elegant with its wide waterfront, flanked by mountains and dominated by clean lined modern sky-scrapers. It was spring or even early summer in Vancouver and its cafe culture was flourishing. Obviously all members of the party did their own thing over the next two days and there was certainly plenty to see.  Most walked in Stanley Park, which goes all round the waterfront and boasts a great aquarium with displays of seals and birds of prey among the attractions. Some went to Grosse maintain, an impressive 3700 ft, overlooking the city, and accessible by cable car.  This excursion involved a ferry ride and passed the impressive Canada Place, designed by architect Eberard Zeidlet as the Canadian Pavilion for Expo 86, with its distinctive ‘sails’ of  fibreglass.  There was so much else on offer too: a genteel tour of the City, the Art Gallery with [17 Dutch paintings], the Museum of Anthropology and Queen Elizabeth Park. As elsewhere we ate well though Canadian fare seemed needlessly expensive.


Our one collective action was ‘registration’ [for the tournament] held at the Rowing Club. Drinks and substantial ‘nibbles’ were consumed in a perfect setting, a lovely sunny evening on the elegant waterfront.  This whole city is elegant and vibrant. The only thing that slightly distracted an otherwise perfect evening was noting the relative youth of our opponents: and they turned out to be the older ones. 


The next day we moved to the suburb of Burnaby where the tournament was held. As you can read elsewhere the hockey was challenging, but enjoyable.  We led the way on the dance floor at least, at one of the most enjoyable tournament dinners, while Tony Jones stole the show with his Delilah: there was no stopping him [despite our best efforts!] 


The tour ended on another fun evening, with a meal for the whole party at a Greek restaurant in Burnaby.  The sound of merry-making was evidently heard mile away by staff at our hotel. Tony Jones, helped by Bob Pursehouse, led the singing. The usual tour awards were made [but the less said about them the better] and the next morning the tour broke up, some back the UK, others extending their stay in Canada.


Enormous thanks to Richard and Sarah for another brilliant tour.