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Red Arrows Over Burrard Inlet

Every once in a while, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Such was the case this afternoon.

The Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows have been on a North American tour. This afternoon, they did several flypasts over Burrard Inlet.

I was there.

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Return of the Wet

Enough already!!

Could this month be any wetter? Vancouver has already received more than twice the average rainfall for September — and we still have another week to get through.

Sigh.

Yes, it’s time for my annual kvetching about the transition from what was an absolutely spectacular, magnificent, fabulous summer (as far as the weather is concerned) to the annual Wet.

I know, I know. It’s inevitable. Unavoidable. What was I thinking would happen?

But did it have to happen overnight? And so close to Labour Day? This month’s quick change in seasons reminds me of Septembers in Alberta, where I grew up. The day before Labour Day always seemed like the heat of summer was still in full swing. The day after Labour Day? Out came the long pants, the woolly sweaters, and a coat thick enough to keep away the chill of the prairie wind.

When I lived in Toronto, I absolutely loved fall. Four months of humidity will do that to you. All I could think come September was, “Relief!” (Not to mention that the colour display by Toronto’s tree canopy is among the best in the world.)

But on the Wet Coast? Not such a fan. Earlier this month, I decided to put some effort into making a nice dinner one night to cheer myself up. A thought flashed through my mind — “Oh, this is cozy” — and I immediately felt betrayed by my own body for adapting much more quickly than my brain to our vanishing summer.

The truth, however, is that there is nothing for it but to get on with it. Buy a new umbrella, dig the gum boots and Gore-Tex out of the closet, and just … get on with it.

What else can I do?

Happy Autumnal Equinox, everyone!

Butchart Gardens

I’m so thankful there are people in this world who can see something in a whole lot of nothing.

Jennie Butchart was one of those people. She looked out over a dug-up limestone quarry and saw a garden.

Painstakingly planted and nurtured by Jennie and her descendants, the Butchart Gardens are the crown jewel of Victoria’s gardens — a city whose nickname is, appropriately, Garden City.

There are four gardens at Butchart, each one unique and each one remarkable. The Sunken Garden was the first to be developed, on the site of the old quarry. As the limestone was exhausted, Jennie began planning her garden. She had top soil brought in by horse and cart and the five-acre garden took nine years to build.

Next to be built were the Japanese Gardens. In the springtime, it is bursting with colour when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. In the fall, the Japanese maples glow orange and red.

The Butchart family’s former tennis court was eventually transformed into the Italian Gardens.

Last to be planted was the Rose Garden. Today, it has 30 rose arches and 280 varieties of roses.

New to me was the Mediterranean Garden — a fifth garden that has been added since my last visit.

My friends and I spent most of a Sunday marvelling at and photographing the flowers at Butchart Gardens. We wondered aloud whether the colour palette of the Sunken Garden changes from year to year. We enjoyed gelato in the Italian Gardens. And we all agreed that the one-year pass is an incredible deal (paid for in as few as two visits) because the gardens need to be seen in all four seasons.

I was a teenager the first time I went to Butchart Gardens, but regardless of whether you see it only once in your lifetime, or you return dozens of times, know this: each visit is as mind-blowing as your first visit.

Happy Birthday, Canada Line!

Ten years ago today, and three months ahead of schedule, the Canada Line came into service. Built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it connects downtown Vancouver to the airport in 24 minutes. (That’s as fast as a taxi and a whole lot cheaper.) Right from the start, it exceeded ridership estimates and is already running nearly at capacity.

The Canada Line has forever changed how I travel to and from Vancouver. Being able to get from my downtown condo to the Vancouver International Airport (known as YVR around town — the name of the Canada Line station is YVR Airport) as quickly as I can for only $2.50 is a traveller’s dream.

It has also forever changed this city. High-density residences and retail spaces that weren’t even dreamed of ten years ago have been built at Marine Drive and are in the planning stages for Oakridge. I saw a quotation this week that pretty much summed up how the Canada Line has changed Vancouver: “you don’t build urban rail primarily for transit, but for shaping growth.”

And so … happy birthday, Canada Line!

Through My Lens: Galiano Evening

The best thing about living on the West Coast? You never tire of the view. I took this photo last weekend while on a Galiano Island mini-break.

Raccoon at Scarborough Bluffs

I spent much of May gallivanting around the Eastern Time Zone, and most of June sorting through my photos and planning what blog posts I might write about my travels.

This photo though. Not your usual holiday snap, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it. I met up with this raccoon one evening in Toronto while exploring the Scarborough Bluffs with a friend.

For my non-Canadian readers, raccoons are known in this country as trash pandas. They’ve adapted remarkably well to urban living and are known for finding their dinner in our garbage cans. Toronto spent millions developing and purchasing raccoon-resistant green bins — only they turned out to be not so resistant.

Back when I lived in Toronto, I had a mom and her three kits hanging around my house for an entire summer. Every evening, like clockwork, they would amble along the fence in my backyard as I watched from my kitchen window.

Here in Vancouver, I see raccoons mostly in Stanley Park, although one hot summer afternoon, I noticed a hefty raccoon napping in the tree outside my window. The tree is long gone — it came down in a winter storm — but I thought the clever creature had found a innovative solution to the heat.

The raccoon got its name from the Anishinaabe word aroughcun, which means “one who rubs and scrubs and scratches with its hands.” Raccoons are known for washing their food before they eat it.

Turtles at Lost Lagoon

Everyone I talk to in Vancouver these past few weeks is gushing about the fantastic summer weather we’re experiencing. Yes, gushing!

Canadians can be pretty low-key except when it comes to (1) their sports teams and (2) the weather. We get absolutely patriotic when our teams win (sorry — I just had to get in at least one Raptors’ reference) and we get absolutely giddy when the summer temperatures kick in.

To celebrate the 16 hours and 15 minutes of sunshine that Vancouver experienced today on the first day of summer, here’s a photo I took of the turtles at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.

They, like most Canadians, take their sun-worshipping seriously.

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria!

Are you tired of all the royal baby talk? There’s been an awful lot of it this month. Bear with me though, because we should all take a moment to mark a significant anniversary of yet another royal birth.

Two hundred years ago today, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born in Kensington Palace. With her birth, she became fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.

Fifth seems a long ways away from the throne these days. (Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh at present.) But due to a series of monarchs and heirs to the throne dying without legitimate heirs, Princess Alexandrina Victoria ended up becoming Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837. She had just turned 18.

This statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Many places in the Commonwealth are named after Queen Victoria; Canada is the only country to honour her birthday with a statutory holiday. It falls on the Monday before May 24. I grew up referring to Victoria Day as the “May long weekend.” It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I first heard it called the “May two-four weekend.” For a long time, I thought that was because Queen Victoria’s birthday is actually on May 24.

But, no. It’s because beer is sold in cases of 24. I had never heard a case of beer called a “two-four” — that’s not a common term in Western Canada — and was completely oblivious to its link with beer.

And why is beer on the mind of patriotic Canadians during this particular weekend in May, you ask? It’s because the May long weekend is the unofficial start of Cottage Season in Ontario. (Don’t get me started on the whole cottage vs. cabin debate.)

Regional differences. Long may they reign. Just like British queens.

Northern Pintail

This elegant fellow is a Northern Pintail. I came across him while walking the seawall along Burrard Inlet about six weeks ago.

The Northern Pintail is rarely seen in my neighbourhood — this was my first-ever encounter — but Vancouver is on the Pacific Flyway and they are a migrating duck. And so, in honour of World Migratory Bird Day (that would be today), I’m happy to post this photo.

Through My Lens: Pretty Pink Parasols

It was another weird and wacky winter in Vancouver. Daffodils in January. The coldest February ever (since they started to keep records in 1937). The driest March since 1992 (which does not bode well for wildfire season).

Hello, climate change.

April, thank goodness, was blessedly normal.

April is cherry blossom season in Vancouver. The last of the blossoms are still in bloom, but they will be gone in a few days, I’m sure.

To celebrate the season this year, another public art installation was put up in the same square as last year’s Underbrellas. I don’t know what this year’s umbrellas are called, but I’m calling them the pretty pink parasols.