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Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Deer Lake is a peaceful, small lake in Burnaby with leisurely walking trails and scenic vistas.  Nearby in the park area there are often summer music festivals.  The Burnaby Art Gallery, Shadbolt centre for the Arts and the Burnaby Village Museum are also located by the lake.

It's a beautiful area of natural habitat with wooded areas and trails for walking.  There are canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals there as well and last week a friend invited me to go  with her on a little outing.

We chose to use the paddle boat as neither of us have had much experience in kayaks or canoes.  The boat was very easy to paddle and steer and quite comfortable.  For two hours we paddled our way around the lake, stopping now and then to take photos, have a relaxing chat, or to observe the lovely scenery around us.  Such a serene way to spend a Friday evening!

There is a Coast Salish tale about this lake, told by the poet Pauline Johnson.  The story is about a hidden waterway between False Creek and Deer Lake that was discovered by a young Indian, the first Chief Capilano.  He speared a "king" (harbour seal) in False Creek with his elk antler spear but the seal escaped through this hidden underground creek.  Chief Capilano spent months searching along the shore and one day he was enticed to go inland by what turned out to be the flames of a forest fire.  On the shore of Deer Lake he found the remains of the "king" seal and recovered his lost spear, giving him back his prowess as a hunter.

I didn't know about this legend at the time we were paddling the lake.  I do recall the former location of the Oakalla Prison farm on it's shore.  Now there's a condominium development there.  That was a notorious prison and had the bad reputation of a place where hangings took place.  I couldn't help but think of that as we paddled by it and it was a relief to see now there is this green space where once the prison farm was.

We enjoyed our excursion.  The gorgeous sunset was another reward of an evening well-spent on the lake in the company of a friend.

If you want to go paddling, canoeing or kayaking, check out their website for rental fees and times:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

LA ESMERALDA: A Beautiful Lady of Dubious Repute

She is known as the White Lady,  La Esmeralda, a stately four-masted barquentine, pride of the Chilean Navy. But a shady past has marked her with a blemish she can’t seem to live down.

She was built in Cadiz, Spain in 1946 and was to become Spain’s national training ship but due to several explosions at the shipyards, work was halted and eventually she was sold to Chile to help pay off debts incurred as a result of the Spanish Civil War.  She was officially launched in 1953, making her maiden voyage to the Canary Islands, then New Orleans, proceeding through the Panama Canal to a welcoming fanfare at the Chilean port of Valparaiso, on September 1, 1954.  Esmeralda is now a training ship for the Chilean Navy, visiting ports worldwide as a floating embassy for Chile.

Unfortunately Esmeralda’s reputation was sullied during the infamous Augusto Pinochet regime from 1973 to 1980 when she was used as a floating jail and torture chamber for political prisoners. Consequently these days when she sails into port, crowds of protesters – political groups and Chilean exiles –gather demanding retribution in the form of a formal apology from the Chilean government.

I was invited aboard La Esmeralda for a reception ,”Flavours of Chile”, presented by the Chilean Trade Commissioner.  At the time I had no idea of the ship’s dark history but it made my visit somewhat more meaningful, because I wanted to learn more and see the ship for myself.  I expected to find the wharf crowded with protesters but when I arrived there were none.  I was greeted aboard by a couple of handsome young officers and from there directed to the reception area on the deck where tables of various Chilean wines were offered as samples as well as the plates of delicious Chilean appetizers brought around by the stewards.

The ship itself truly is a beauty, a four-masted tall ship, one of the tallest and longest ships in the world. She has a crew of 300 sailors and 90 midshipmen, 46 of them women.   Marcia, one of the lovely young female officers, took my friend and I around on a tour of the deck area, and explained the functions of the various pieces of equipment on board.  The ship is spotless, the wooden decks polished and unmarred, the brass fittings shining in the afternoon sun.  She pointed out the 21 sails and explained how every morning at 6 a.m. the trainees must climb to the top of the centre mast. If they falter or make a mistake they must do it again at noon. And if they make a bad error they must climb it again and again to get it right.  She showed us the tasks she is responsible for every day as well as climbing up to secure the sails, although being a tall girl she only has to go part way up to do that.  The shorter crew members are the ones who climb to the very top,  a daunting job that not many people would have the courage to participate in.

None of these young trainees and likely many of the senior crew would not have been born at the time of Pinochet’s brutal regime when the atrocities were carried out on board the ship.  In fact, there were no ‘bad vibes’ aboard, only the friendly smiling crew who mingled with the guests and greeted us all with Chilean warmth.  I wonder if the Chilean navy placed a memorial plaque on board, recognizing what had happened in Esmeralda’s past, if it would be atonement enough.   But for those who had suffered torture or had loved ones die aboard her, the stigma will remain, and it’s a staunch reminder that political prisoner abuse and torture are not things of the past.

Author's note:  I was informed of the tragedies that happened during the junta in Chile by a Chilean friend who managed to survive it and came to Canada as an exile.  I was thinking of him as I toured La Esmeralda.  In his memory, and for all the others who were victims of Pinochet's cruel regime, here is a poem I wrote dedicated to my friend Anibal, who died of cancer October 28, 2005

a poem for Anibal

I sat at your feet
a disciple at the feet of the Master
I listened to your stories
of shanty towns, poverty
President Allende dying in his bombed-out palace
Victor Jara, the musician/poet,
his hands crushed,
beaten to death in the Stadium
because he sang for the people.
I learned about social injustice
from you.
You taught me well.
Urged by your political passion
I joined marches,
raised my voice with the populace:
Peace, not War!
You captivated me,
I was your willing audience.
Your smile lit up my world
like a blaze of Chilean sun.
I absorbed every story you told.
Hundreds of Chileans died, you said,
tortured, beaten,
some dropped from helicopters into the sea.
Thousands disappeared.
You were imprisoned,
Ran for your life across the mountains
into Argentina
disguised as a priest.
Over glasses of Chilean wine
red as blood
you told how you had to flee again,
this time on a plane bound for Canada.
I shared your anguish
though I could never truly experience your pain.
Exiled, torn from your roots
like a tree blown down in a fierce storm
this tempestuous life of yours
enveloped me,
I was swept into the vortex of your melancholy,
submerged under the waves of your nostalgia,
drowned in the sea of your despair.

Memorial Wall to the Disappeared of the Pinochet regime,  Grand Cemetary, Santiago, Chile

Sunday, August 07, 2011

BAMBERTON BEACH: A Perfect Beach for a Reunion Picnic

Every summer my cousins who live on Vancouver Island get together for a family reunion picnic on beautiful Bamberton Beach.  This year there were a lot of the younger family members absent but we still had lots of fun.  The weather co-operated with a warm sunny day.  And although the tide was up quite high when we first got there, later on it receded enough to get into the water without having to walk over too many barnacle-covered stones to reach the sandy shoals.  The water was warm, too, making for a pleasant swim!

Bamberton Beach is 225 meters of sand flats and pebbled beach area with tide pools to explore and shallow, safe swimming areas for families to enjoy the sea.  The land once belonged to BC Cement Company and was given to the Province in 1959.  It is now a Provincial Park with campgrounds up from the beach among the forest. Looking east  you'll see the shores of the Saanich Peninsula with the Gulf Islands and Mt. Baker beyond.

It's located 45 kms. north of Victoria off Highway 1 and close to the communities of Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Cobble Hill and Duncan.

You can find information about Bamberton Beach Provincial Park and some of the programs that are offered for children and families here:

 The little boys who attended, grandsons of my cousin Lynette and her husband Marv, had a great day playing on the shore and exploring the little fresh-water creek that runs into the sea.  Later they played crokinole on the grass with their grandpa. 
Exploring the Tide Pools

I look forward each year (this is the fourth) to this picnic with the cousins and their families.  And the trip over to Victoria by ferry is also a pleasant voyage. This time we even spotted a couple of pods of Orcas!

THE COUSINS: Me, Merilyn,Lynette and Adele

See you at the beach next summer, Cousins!


Sailing on the ferry to Victoria

One of the interesting sports for locals and tourists here on the Pacific northwest coast, is whale watching.  You can go on charters from Vancouver or Victoria to see Orcas or you can go to the west coast of Vancouver Island to Tofino and Uclulet and see grey whales.  Or sometimes, while you are crossing Georgia Strait from Tsawassan Ferry Terminal to Schwarz Bay you will be lucky enough to spot a pod of Orcas (killer whales).
Watching for Whales
This weekend when I was on my way to Victoria on the ferry the announcement came over the loud speaker that there was a pod of whales ahead.  Everyone rushed to one side of the ferry and then ran over to the other side to see where the whale-watching boats were headed.  Sure enough there was a pod of Orca's frolicking alongside, diving and spouting water to put on a show for all the excited tourists on board the ferry. 
An Orca Appears!
A few minutes later the captain announced there was another pod ahead.  Unfortunately that time we didn't see any surfacing.  But there must have been quite a few around in the area that day as there were several whale watching boats out. 
Whale Watching Boats
If you want to check out the whale watching tours, here's one of the sites where you can find information for both Vancouver and Victoria.  For anyone visiting the Coast it makes for an exciting outing.