One, Two, Ruckle My Shoe

24 August 2018 – “R” not “B” — my shoes have laces not buckles, and they’re walking me through Ruckle Provincial Park. At 486 hectares, it’s the largest park in the Gulf Islands.

Getting here is part of the fun: first a bus from Ganges to the village of Fulford, then 15 minutes or so before another bus comes along for the trip across this south-easterly knob of Salt Spring Island, on over to the park.

The village is clustered close to Fulford Harbour, its shops geared not only to residents but also to transients waiting for one of the ferries than run from here to assorted other islands. I hang out on the dock, slowing down & settling into all this space and beauty. (Marred still by wild fire haze.)

Our bus arrives, and away we go.

I’m looking forward to Ruckle, even though I know nothing about it other than that it exists, and it can be reached by public transit. That’s enough for me! So, with lunch & water in my daypack, off I go. It becomes a figure-8 sort of exploration that keeps me close to water, first ranging well beyond Beaver Point going this way, and then looping back that way as far as Bear Point.

But really, I don’t care exactly how many klicks I walk or which landmarks I reach. As far as I’m concerned, everything is a delight.

The park offers dirt trails, here with the flourish of a tree-gate …

dirt trails with a footbridge …

rocky climbs …

and clearings with picnic tables.

The path in front of this table …

leads on to a secluded cove.


There are peek-a-boo views of the Swanson Channel …

and panorama views from high rocky ledges (with a sailboat and a ferry ghost-visible in the haze).

While well out beyond Beaver Point in my first loop, I realize I am coming to a camp ground. Tents only, no looming RVs, but I’m still working up to a pout. I want Nature, not campers.

Oh, all right, says Nature. Here!

If he’s not bothered, why should I be?

So I calm down, and promptly discover a second reason to appreciate the camp ground.

Isn’t this the best? I have to wait a moment to meet the host, though. At the moment — and you can almost make it out, in the shadows under the tent awning — he is pouring a bucket of rinsing water over his wife’s freshly washed hair. I wave at him to take his time, and a few minutes later he and his be-turbanned wife join me, smiling and happy to talk.

Turns out they are a retired couple, not islanders but quick to join other volunteers who take turns camping here each summer, living among the visitors, answering questions, generally being a helpful (and watchful) presence on-site.

They are typical of my day. Everyone I meet is affable, happy, having a good time and up for a moment’s chat. Just the right number of day-trippers, I decide: plentiful enough for the occasional exchange about where-are-we-now and what-a-great-day … but rare enough that there’s lots of time to enjoy the solitude.

Mid-afternoon I’m on the bus and back to Ganges. It’s a small  community, but after a day in the park’s tranquility how bustling and big-city it seems!

And then it offers its own enchantment.

I pass another of those painted pianos, watch two little girls fall under its spell, and promptly fall under their spell. Plink, plunk… giggle, giggle …

Then it’s up the hill toward my Airbnb, walking along the playing field by the school yard — and look, it’s a village soccer game. A couple of islanders have hunkered down to watch, I find a convenient spot on the edge of the skate park opposite, and join them.

It’s Yellow Vests vs. The Other Guys, all ages on both sides, and a female ref, her thick black braid bouncing on her back as she keeps up with the play.

I am a tourist, just another in the endless chain of tourists that come and go, doubling the island’s population each summer.

But, just for a moment, I feel like I belong.

Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.


I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.



Sunday Church, with Clarinet Solo

31 March 2015 — It is Sunday & I am off to church. Not a regular church service, as that “clarinet solo” reference warns you, and not quite an everyday, regular church, either. Even though it is Anglican, consecrated, and active.

signboard, St. Andrew by the Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

It is also on Toronto Island.

Built in 1884, veteran of long use, disuse, near-demolition, last-minute reprieve, relocation & restoration, St. Andrew by the Lake is now peacefully a place of worship for Islanders & visitors — and also home to other events.

I’m headed for the ferry docks, hoping to catch the 12:30 p.m. boat, which will give me a little walking-around time before Canzona‘s 2 p.m. concert of English Music for Clarinet and Piano. The ensemble, now in its 12th season, performs with and without other musical colleagues both in the Island church and in an equally small & interesting city church.

It’s fitting I’m attending an Island performance: I recently learned about the group from a fine woman I first met decades ago, when we both lived on Algonquin Island, one of the cluster that constitutes “Toronto Island.”

But first! I peer up Bay Street from Dundas, anxious for the sight of a bus — timing is all, when you’re ferry-dependent — and I am immediately diverted by a line-up spilling its way up the street.

For cheesecake. (Not that kind. Behave yourself.)

line-up for Uncle Tetsu’s Cheesecake

Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake, says the sign.

If you don’t live in Asia, you are forgiven for the question-marks now dancing over your head. Uncle Tetsu has 70-plus locations in Asia, primarily Japan, China & Taiwan — and, as of March 18, 2015, exactly one in North America. At Bay & Dundas, in Toronto. Is this a great city, or what?

I have no time to join the line-up, tempted though I am; I have a ferry to catch & here comes my bus.

Do you like maps? I hope so. The one at the ferry dock shows where I am taking you today.

section, Toronto Island map

Follow the dotted line left to Ward’s Island dock. Then, together, we’ll walk away from Ward’s Island, follow the road’s curve to the bridge for Algonquin Island, nip across to say hello to my one-time home, then back to the lagoon path, past Snake Island & its neighbour, up to the lake side for a look at the Centre Island pier in winter, and finally back to the harbour side and the church (#30 on the map).

Except we are not riding in one of the very tubby, very jolly 1930s summer ferries, as shown on the map.

We’ll be in the Ongiara, a small, unglamorous car/passenger ferry commissioned in 1960, that does winter service all by itself.

the Ongiara, ferry to/from Toronto Island

Definitely not beautiful.  But she, more precisely her crew, is much loved & appreciated by winter residents, who know how hard that crew works to keep everything functioning for them despite ice, snow, storms & (I am told) an ageing & vulnerable single propeller.

She is loved to the extent that this fall an Island artist made a long mural of gratitude. It is tacked to one of the inside cabin walls, full of Islander comments & signatures, plus comments from other passing visitors. Here’s one bit of it …

gratitude mural inside the Ongiara

Can’t account for the Catalonia riposte. There must be a reference elsewhere that drew this person’s political fire.

Taking this photo gets me talking to a woman who moved to the Island after my time, but with whom I share many experiences — skating on the lagoon & the lake (“It’s like skating into infinity,” she says), ferry & bicycle vignettes, people we both know, & even Canzona. No, she can’t make this performance, but she attends all that she can.

Off the boat at Ward’s — the only stop in winter — and I pause, as I always do, to look back across Toronto Harbour & enjoy the skyline. A little girl comes rocketing down to water’s edge beside me. “That’s Towonto!” she cries to her dad, who is close behind. She is really crisp with her t’s but not quite on top of the r’s. “It’s so pwitty from heah.”

Toronto, from Ward's Island ferry dock

And it is. Plane streaking low over tower-tops toward the Island airport, swans gliding in the harbour, ice sheets still rimming the shoreline, sky & water blazing blue.

Old memories play tag with current sights as I take the path, cross the bridge to Algonquin Island and look at my former home, glowing with reflected sun amidst the trees.

on Algonquin Island

A look westward down the lagoon from the bridge, then back to the road leading to Centre Island. The ice is now too soft for skating, but it still chokes the lagoon, catches most of the wharves & the houseboats beyond.

westward, from Algonquin Island bridge

I pass another Island map. This one announces that more than 50 kinds of trees have been labelled and invites us to take a self-guiding tour among them. Learn all about it, says the sign — and other tours — at Canadian Tree Tours. I note the URL for future walks.

The next sign is for immediate use — a fingerboard, pointing me down the lagoon-side path toward St. Andrew by the Lake.

path to St. Andrew by the Lake

I pass some Disc Golf “holes” (or whatever they call them, in this airborne version of golf), & think that at least I don’t have to worry about discs whizzing over my head, not at this time of year. Later I see two guys tucking discs back into purpose-designed shoulder bags. I am suitably thankful that they, their discs and my head managed to avoid each other.

A side-trip back up to the main path for a look lake-side, near the Centre Island pier.

Centre Island pier

Not exactly Brighton Pier! But it’s ours, and in summer it is in happy, noisy use all day long. Silent now, still deserted, with great slabs of storm-hurled ice either side.

It’s 1:40, time for the church. I love coming on St. Andrew by the Lake from any angle; today I choose to double back very slightly to the east, so I can again approach from that side. Bicycles, of course.

St. Andrew by the Lake, Toronto Island

Early 20th-c English music (Malcolm Arnold, etc.), not my very favourite genre, but the performers — Canzona founders Jacob Stroller (piano) & Jonathan Krehm (clarinet) — are very good, and the total music/Island/church experience is a delight.

Canzona performance, St. Andrew by the Lake, March 29

It is also wonderfully informal, with clarinetist Krehm providing the best non-musical moment of all. Not during his solo (Sonatina, Richard Rodney Bennet), but between the “Prelude” and “Romance” movements of Five Bagatelles, by Gerald Finzi.

A sudden finger-swipe mid-air, a chortling laugh, and the announcement, as he holds up the minuscule evidence: “It’s spring! Here’s a ladybug!”

Time at intermission to chat, but afterwards I hot-foot it for the docks. Old islanders have hurry-for-the-ferry in their genes.

As it happens, I am 15 minutes early, and have time to kill. I push open the door for the little waiting shed, and have one last, unexpected musical moment.

Ward's Island ferry waiting shed

Why am I surprised? Shouldn’t every waiting shed have a couple of pianos? I try a few chords on the one I’m showing you here. It is quite respectably nearly in tune.

Then the Ongiara churns up to the dock. The only music after that is the throb of engines and, as we approach the city, the crunch of ice cakes, breaking against her hull.



    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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