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Elizabeth Lake

Who of us knew walking would become a thing when this pandemic first hit? Not me. Such a simple act, which has been my balm in Gilead these past nineteen months.

And yet, who of us by this time are not bored to tears with their neighbourhood, having explored every corner of it?

Even me — and I live next door to one of Canada’s most spectacular urban parks.

And so, on this Thanksgiving I am grateful that the stars have aligned and I have a (temporary) change of scenery. I’m in Central Alberta for some weeks, which at the moment is stunning in all its fall glory. There are lots of trails and walks to discover, too. Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon walking around Elizabeth Lake, in the centre of Lacombe.

Here’s some of what I saw.

Lakes in the Clouds

As has been the case for so many of us, one of the outcomes of this pandemic was me having to adjust my travel plans for 2020. Obviously, postponing a holiday is about as far down on the scale of hardships as you can go during this crazy year, so I really don’t want to give the impression that I am complaining.

But it did mean that the one year I finally decided to spend a longer chunk of time visiting my extended family in Alberta did not happen. Hanging out with at-risk relatives or family who need to be extra cautious because they work in health care would not have been smart.

Instead, I once again made my semi-annual trip to Alberta a quick one, with a whole lot of driving to get there, a few select physically distanced visits once I arrived, and then a whole lot of driving to get back home.

But the long drive was worth it. Seriously. The scenery between Vancouver and Red Deer is so varied; I personally think it rates up there as one of the most scenic road trips on the planet.

And on my way home, I also had one glorious day in Banff.

Who knew Banff was at its best in the fall? If I could guarantee great weather every year, I’d take all my mountain vacations in September.

Since I had only the one day, I planned it carefully. The 7 km hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse is maximum bang for minimal effort and is a hike I used to do as a kid with my family when we spent our summers camping in the Rockies.

Plus, the trailhead is at Lake Louise, easily one of the most photographed lakes in all of Canada.

The hike up to Lake Agnes starts off with a long steady climb through the forest above Lake Louise, with a couple of spectacular peek-a-boo views of the lake far below. Then comes a series of switchbacks until you reach Mirror Lake. Looming over it is the Beehive.

While stopping to catch my breath, I ducked as a Clark’s Nutcracker skimmed by just inches above my head and took its perch on a tree branch nearby. Only a second later, I overhead a father and son near me lamenting the lack of wildlife.

Look up, I wanted to say. (But I didn’t.)

A kilometre past Mirror Lake is Lake Agnes and its famous teahouse. The lake was named after Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister, who visited the lake in 1886. The tea house has been in operation since 1905.

By this point, I’d climbed 400 metres and was pretty much done, but those who have energy to burn can climb the Beehive for a bird’s eye view of all three lakes — Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, and Lake Louise — that make up the Lakes in the Clouds.

As I drove away from Banff National Park the next morning, the clouds were rolling in and the rain was starting to fall. I had timed my one-day vacation perfectly. And as far as following the directions of my provincial health officer (“fewer faces, bigger spaces”), I had done all right by that too.

Through My Lens: Harvest

I love me some hay bales. I also thought this was an appropriate photo for Thanksgiving, which is being celebrated across Canada this weekend — albeit much differently than in other years.

Last month, I made a quick trip to Alberta to visit family. Everywhere I drove, there were signs of the harvest. This was taken along Highway 2, just south of Red Deer. Highway 2 is Alberta’s busiest highway, but, most happily for me, there was a roadside turnout located at this very spot.

You Know It’s Cold When …

I know, I know. Here I go again, talking about the weather.

For the benefit of my non-Canadian readers (in case you haven’t figured this out yet), talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.

The western part of Canada is in the middle of a polar vortex. I got outside today to tramp through the deep snow that arrived overnight in Vancouver, but in this post, I’m going to talk about the next province over. That would be Alberta, where a lot of my family lives.

They’re cold, to put it mildly. My sister in Calgary was faced with a commute this morning in temperatures of –40° C.

Ouch!

In fact, it’s been too cold all week for the Penguin Walk at the Calgary Zoo. That’s right. The zoo’s king penguins, native to the sub-Antarctic, had a Snow Day. And Calgary today was colder than Antarctica.

Double ouch!

I took these photos of the Calgary Zoo penguins almost a year ago, when I visited the zoo on a much balmier day than today.

The Last Greyhound

It’s the end of an era today. At midnight tonight, Greyhound is suspending all services in Northern Ontario and Western Canada. The decision is justified, says the American-owned company, by a 41 percent drop in ridership since 2010.

Greyhound moves millions of Canadians every year, and has done so in British Columbia and Alberta since 1929. For those rural Canadians who don’t or can’t drive, losing the Greyhound means losing their ability to get to larger centres for services not available in their communities, like specialist medical appointments. It also prevents them from connecting with friends or family. And during our snowy, icy winters, travelling through mountainous BC is far safer by bus than by car.

It’s already being reported that 87 percent of Greyhound’s routes will be covered by smaller, private operators — including Indigenous-owned companies — which are ramping up as we speak. This morning the federal government announced funding to help fill the gaps and that it is working on a long-term national transport solution.

My student days of 18-hour Greyhound treks between Edmonton and Vancouver are (thankfully) long behind me. (I assure you, there is little that is more depressing than a 3 a.m. rest stop at Blue River in the dead of winter.) But I still regularly take the Greyhound for short hops between Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton. I typically take it during non-peak hours and the buses are always full. My fellow passengers are people of all ages and social classes. Many are tourists. Some of us choose to take the bus, while others don’t have a choice, In a country like Canada, with too much geography, public transit is not just a service. It’s a right.

This photograph is of the last Greyhound I will ever take in Canada, which I rode from Calgary to Red Deer last month.

Through My Lens: Prairie Clouds

So, yeah. I’ve been a little quiet lately on the blog front. What can I say? I did warn you.

Here’s a photo I took last weekend in Lacombe County, Alberta. I was there to visit family and get my landscape fix.

We don’t have clouds like these here in Vancouver. Not very often, at any rate. Which is why I think they are quite spectacular.

World’s Most Boring Place

The Internet is rife with rumours that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex are honeymooning in Jasper National Park.

Yeah, right. And I’m the Queen of England.

What I find most remarkable is that one of the online tabloids’ headlines said the couple were honeymooning in “the world’s most boring place.”

Canadians are known around the world as polite folks, typically slow to anger. But mock our icons — like one of our oldest, most spectacular national parks — and we sit up and take notice.

That headline got noticed. And ridiculed.

As for that most boring place? Here’s what it looks like.

Through My Lens: Winter Hay Bales

It actually doesn’t matter how I get around in Canada — the view is always spectacular. I took this from the Greyhound last week. It’s somewhere near Ponoka along Highway 2.

Canada 150: Edmonton

Canadians are known for playing hard in the summers. We like to spend as much time outdoors as we can, which is easy, because the days are long, and necessary, because the season is short.

Also, for the most part, the weather is awesome. Not too hot, not too humid.

One of the ways we play hard is by going to outdoor festivals. We’ve got a few, ranging from the traditional fairs and exhibitions and rodeos to theatre (from Shakespeare to fringe) to music of all sorts, including jazz, blues, and folk.

One of the best festival cities in the country, in my opinion, is Edmonton. And one of the best outdoor music festivals in the country, in my opinion, is the four-day Edmonton Folk Music Festival held every August at Gallagher Park. The park is a ski club in the winter, but in the summer, its hill serves as a natural amphitheatre with spectacular views of the city’s skyline.

The Edmonton Folk Fest is one of the largest and best-attended folk music festivals in North America, and attracts musicians from around the world who, once they’ve played the Folk Fest, are always eager to come back. Celtic, country, blues, gospel, soul, and world music — you name it, they’ve got it. It sells out every year, typically within minutes.

If you’ve never been, you don’t know what you’re missing. Seriously.

Canada 150: Banff National Park

My Canada 150 series would not be complete without a post about Canada’s oldest national park. But since every single one of my previous posts on Banff consists of a photo of a mountain, I’d thought I’d mix it up this time. (Otherwise you might get the idea that the only thing to see in Banff National Park are mountains.)

There’s wildlife, too!

Of course, say “wildlife” and “Banff” in the same sentence and most people will start listing off which of the Big Five — deer, elk, moose, bear, and wolf — they’ve seen. The big animals do deserve the attention they get, but it is often the little animals, which are far easier to get up close and personal with, that lead to the best photo ops.

Like this Columbian Ground Squirrel.

We Albertans call these gophers. They live in underground burrows and spend much of the year hibernating. As far as rodents go, they’re kinda big — typically about a foot in length.

I took this photo last summer.