Canada Day with Jack on CKNW

June 28, 2009

On July 1, between 2 and 2;30 pm,  join me as I discuss weekend getaways and day trips with Christy Clark on her CKNW 980 AM show.

We’ll be taking calls with your suggestions and queries, so be ready when the lines open.

Tossup between two lakes along the Sea to Sky corridor

June 20, 2009


All is calm on Birkenhead Lake (above), a good place for camping but a bit farther than Alice Lake.

Just as grass is always greener in neighbouring back yards, lake water is always bluer the next valley over. At least that seems to be the case along the Sea to Sky corridor. With the advent of hot weather, droves of city dwellers turn their backs on the Salish Sea and head north to picnic and camp on the shores of Alice Lake north of Squamish. In turn, local residents there, as well as from Whistler and Pemberton, pack picnic hampers and journey farther up the highway to Birkenhead Lake, north of Pemberton and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

It’s a tough call as to which of the two lakes makes a better choice. Alice Lake’s waterfront is certainly more urban, in a manicured kind of way, with the added advantages of warmer swimming plus an expansive network of footpaths and cycling trails. On the other hand, Birkenhead Lake is far larger with more rugged surroundings to charm paddlers and anglers alike. And for the first time this year, running water is available at its campsites, marking the end of the hand-pump era. As for popularity, it’s a tossup. Reservations at each provincial park are strongly recommended. Trust me. When the Georgia Straight visited Birkenhead Lake at the start of the Victoria Day weekend, the park was full; only a few spots remained in the tightly spaced overflow section.

Although Alice Lake offers the convenience of proximity to Metro Vancouver, if travel time is not an issue, the three-hour drive to Birkenhead Lake beyond Squamish offers a wealth of rewards along the way. Minutes north of Alice Lake, spectacular views of the Tantalus Range, a massive wall of glaciated peaks, unfold to the west of the highway above the Squamish Valley. Beyond Whistler, traffic thins noticeably. Nothing tops the release of making your way out of the mountains through Pemberton before following the historic Gold Rush Trail route—now a paved road—as it winds and climbs alongside the Birkenhead River toward D’Arcy.

In contrast to Alice, where little of the circular lake is concealed, Birkenhead is far more outstretched. Much of its southern half is hidden from view of the park’s sandy beach at the north end. By land, the best way to see the lake and surrounding peaks unfold is to follow a six-kilometre portion of the Sea to Sky Trail that leads above the north shore. The trail lends itself just as readily to cycling as walking, though be prepared to shoulder your bike when rock-hopping across a creek or two. Either coming or going, those on foot would do well to loop along the two-kilometre Lakeside Trail that links the campground with a grove of old-growth Douglas fir and the Sea to Sky Trail above. Encouraged by the wind, trunks of sagging snags rub together, eliciting deep groans from the forest canopy. Find a sheltered spot on the beach in front of the grove where you can admire Birkenhead Mountain’s three peaks, which rise in graceful ascendancy. Other than here and at the park’s beach—replete with picnic tables, an off-leash dog area, and a boat launch—access points to the lake are scarce for those on foot.

Far more numerous vantage points await those who explore the lake by water. Set out early in the day to paddle to the southern end before a predictable breeze disturbs the glassy surface. Pull in to picnic and sunbathe where avalanche chutes have created gravel bars. From these, you can admire the spires of Sun God Mountain dominant to the south and mounts Gandalf and Shadowfax to the north. Even better, come ashore on the sandbar where Sockeye Creek flows into the lake’s midpoint. Competition for these prime spots is as avid as that for the Dolly Varden char sought by anglers bobbing off the mouth of the creek.

Whether you find yourself at Alice or Birkenhead lakes, one thing is certain: the implicit reward of exploring either is the discovery that, yes, the greens of the forest and the blues of the lakes surpass anything on offer in your back yard.

Access: Alice Lake Provincial Park lies 72 kilometres north of Vancouver, just east of Highway 99 in Squamish. Birkenhead Lake lies a farther 153 kilometres north, 219 kilometres from Vancouver. A fee of $24 per night is charged for each of Alice Lake’s 108 campsites and $15 per night for Birkenhead’s 79 spaces. To make campsite reservations, call 604-689-9025.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Deer Lake Park offers an escape to city dwellers

June 12, 2009


At a good pace, you can circle Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park in half an hour and then enjoy a look-see at the lakeside Arthur Erickson–designed heritage home available for rent.

As quiet refuges go, Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park defies the odds. Traffic on nearby thoroughfares conspires against tranquility, or so one might think. Thankfully, a forested buffer zone mitigates all but the distant hum of rubber tires. At this time of year, bird calls—such as a varied thrush’s single, sustained note—predominate. So, too, do sounds of human hilarity as novice paddlers struggle to synchronize their strokes to avoid colliding with other watercraft clustered offshore of the park’s boat rental facility.

No kayak or canoe experience? No problem. Deer Lake is the ideal learning environment. If you come with a boat in tow, so much the better. The shallow beach beside the parking lot at the lake’s eastern end is the perfect place to hand launch one. With the exception of model speedboats, only nonmotorized craft are sanctioned. Just mind the gaggle of Canada geese, interspersed with colourfully-coiffed red-breasted mergansers, who jostle for handouts. The diminutive lake spreads before you with little hidden from view. Modest sandbars extend from the open fields that rise above the western shore and beckon for closer inspection. If you set a good pace, you can circle the lake in little more than a half-hour. But what’s the rush? Make like the anglers who, having set their lines, sit back and quietly bide their time between nibbles and strikes.

As seen from the lake, North Shore peaks dominate the horizon above the trees. Even finer mountain views appear if you walk the recently opened pathway along the lake’s southern bank. In fact, to fully enjoy this nature sanctuary, combine the two approaches. Once you’ve paddled the perimeter, come ashore and explore two of the attractive homes glimpsed from the water.

Over the past half-century, as part of a long-term community vision to acquire all the private properties around the lake, the park has expanded from 10 hectares in the mid-1940s to more than 10 times that size now. Burnaby’s heritage planner, Jim Wolf, explained that in the process of transitioning Deer Lake into a public waterfront park, the city acquired the largest precinct of heritage properties of any urban centre in Canada. “The city now owns 35 heritage sites around the lake, from small cottages to an Arthur Erickson–designed home, with only four or five private properties left in the acquisition plan,” he said. “This all started as a dream in 1912 after the Oakalla lands were turned into a prison. The idea really coalesced in the 1960s among citizens and the municipality. In future, this will be Burnaby’s Stanley Park.”

When appraising Erickson’s two-storey, post-and-beam Baldwin House, tucked into the woods beside Deer Lake, the Hermetic dictum, “As above, so below,” likely will take on an entirely new interpretation. Completed in 1965, the pavilion-style home is a world removed from Erickson’s concrete magnum opus atop Burnaby Mountain, Simon Fraser University, which opened that same year. In order to preserve the house, as well as the nearby Eagles Estate, Wolf detailed how Burnaby partnered with the Victoria-based Land Conservancy. “Getting [the conservancy] to establish their regional office here has given us so much more scope to share the park with everyone.”

After one look at Baldwin House, who wouldn’t want to spend a few days relaxing there? As it turns out, that’s entirely possible. At the neighbouring Eagles Estate heritage garden, the Land Conservancy’s regional director, Tamsin Baker, described how the nonprofit land trust had been looking for office space when approached by the City of Burnaby. In 2003, conservancy staff moved into the 1930s-era home built for Violet and Blythe Eagles. In 2005, a similar arrangement to acquire the Baldwin House followed suit. “Renting special places like the Baldwin House is the way we connect people with the work we do. We now own five properties spread around the province with a new one in Tofino slated to become available by year’s end.”

Whether you simply take a day trip or enjoy a weekend getaway at Baldwin House in Deer Lake Park, make sure to stop by Eagles Estate. Interpretive tours of the home’s interior are offered during weekday office hours. No matter when you visit, savour the tranquility that pervades the heritage garden, recently restored to its former glory. “When we moved in, the yard was covered with ivy and blackberry bushes,” Baker said. “It was a mess.” With patient tending from local volunteers, the garden has reemerged from the overgrowth to once again display its original elegance. To fully appreciate the renaissance, simply sit beneath one of the blossoming trees where the hillside falls away to the lake below and revel in this tranquil legacy.

Access: Deer Lake Park lies six kilometres east of Vancouver in Burnaby. The main entrance to the park is located just south of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). Take the Canada Way exit (#33). Turn left on Canada Way and immediately right on Sperling Avenue to Deer Lake Park. An alternative approach leads east from a parking area on Royal Oak Avenue between Kingsway and Canada Way. For bus information, phone TransLink at 604-953-3333 or visit TransLink’s Web site. The park is wheelchair accessible. For a map and further information, call the Burnaby Parks and Recreation office at 604-294-7450. To learn more about heritage preservation in Burnaby, visit For details on the Land Conservancy, including rental rates on the Baldwin House, call 604-733-2313. For details on boat rentals at Deer Lake, phone 604-839-3949.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie.
Original Article