Things we loved and learned in Canada

We have been back from Canada for a couple of months only but it seems so long ago. We had such a fantastic time there, and even the boys still talk about things that they enjoyed. These were activities that stood out for us and that we can recommend.

Sledding and playing in the snow

Being an outdoorsy, adventurous family that loves to spend time in nature, we deliberately searched for accommodation in Vancouver that was near a park with hiking trails. Lynn Valley in north Vancouver was just up the road from our Airbnb home, and we spent time there daily. With the unusual amount of snow that BC experienced over the holidays, this entire area was turned into a magically beautiful wonderland.

We borrowed a little wooden sled from our host, and had so much fun playing in the snow for as long as everyone’s extremities allowed it. We also learned that once a 3 year old or 5 year old tells you that he is cold, he was probably too cold 10 minutes ago already. What started out as a fun outing turns into a huge family spectacle if big brother and little brother both decide they are too cold to walk and need to ride on the tiny sled back to the car. And nobody wants to share.  It is tough for a parent to ‘wait it out’ or gently discuss the options standing in -15 degrees snow.

We borrowed a little wooden sled from our host, and had so much fun playing in the snow for as long as everyone’s extremities allowed it. We also learned that once a 3 year old or 5 year old tells you that he is cold, he was probably too cold 10 minutes ago already. What started out as a fun outing turns into a huge family spectacle if big brother and little brother both decide they are too cold to walk and need to ride on the tiny sled back to the car. And nobody wants to share.  It is tough for a parent to ‘wait it out’ or gently discuss the options standing in -15 degrees snow.

Icy running

We had some of our most memorable runs of our lives during this trip to Canada. We may have deliberately chosen to stay near exceptionally beautiful trails, but images of trails in deep snow, high, snow-dusted trees in unspoiled woods dressed in the scampy winter light remains a topic we frequently reminisce about.

From my first run in Nanaimo I had to get used to running with nanospikes on icy surfaces. I was lucky enough to have a pair borrowed to me during the Westwood lake half-marathon, and it made the world of difference. We subsequently bought our own and were able to run confidently on even the most icy, slippery trails thanks to the slip-on spikes.

Temperatures we ran in varied between an easy zero degrees in Vancouver to a bitterly cold -35 deg C in Whitehorse. With added wind chill it probably went down well below -40.  Normal running gear is just not warm enough to make a run in those temperatures bearable, and I only lasted about 1.5k’s on the Whitehorse run. Nico was able to do 3k’s, which I really respected! Nevertheless, it was a run I will remember and cherish fondly. There is something about running with only the sound of the snow cracking beneath your feet and the feeling of the icy air as it enters your airways. You FEEL you run with all your senses, and you remember it.

Tellus Science Center

The most magical place for young and old alike! We visited the center on two separate occasions, and although entrance is a bit pricey, the cost is justified. The boys referred to the Center as a ‘touch museum’, after I had to explain to them what we were going to do there (they sometimes need a lot of convincing to leave the house and their Legos). Since they love museums (but know that you aren’t allowed to touch things at a museum), they were very eager to visit this place. And even more so the second time around!

Grouse Mountain

Just a short little ride to north Vancouver is Grouse Mountain. It may be sunny and clear in downtown Vancouver, while a meter of snow would be falling on Grouse. It snowed every time we went up (with a gondola), and it was absolutely spectacular.

It was bitterly cold, but we played and played and played. Until we had a meltdown (every time a coconut), which prompted us to go indoors for some hot chocolate. We had some of the most beautiful family moments on that mountain.

Playing board games

Nights are really, really long in Canada in Winter, and longest in Whitehorse near the arctic circle. Hailing from southern Africa, we are used to long, sunny days, especially over the Christmas holidays time of year. Our body clocks took some time adjusting to the extended dark, but once it did we all sort of settled into a new rhythm. I am surprised at the amount of sleeping that happened in our household! As for the rest of the time, the boys learned how to play and enjoy new games…

Flying in a floatplane

One of the ultimate highlights for the boys (and us!) was that we got to fly in a floatplane. After almost 40 hours of travelling, we had to do a short hop in the seaplane from Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. All tiredness was suddenly forgotten as the boys were jumping up and down with excitement at the sight of the Otter on floats.

Skidoo, dog sledding and hot tubbing in Whitehorse

A lot of things we experienced in Canada was memorable, but probably the ultimate highlight was the experience of Whitehorse.

During our time there the warmest it got was about -20 Deg C, and on the day we chose to do some outdoors activities it was -35 (with an exacerbating wind chill). It was COLD, which probably added to the allure of the adventure.

The boys were looking forward to riding on a Skidoo ever since we started talking about going to Canada. Just sitting on the Skidoo was a highlight for them.

We spent time in outside hot tubs in -15 to -35 degrees C and saw icicles form on hair and eye lashes! The boys of course enjoyed the water time, as usual, and we drank in the scenery and experience.

We got to rent warm gear on the mountain, and for the first time in all our time in Canada my feet were warm. I also discovered the joys of wearing snow pants and having to take off your parka to get OUT of said snow pants to use the OUTDOORS pit toilet (200 times in one hour) in -35 degrees. Then you appreciate en suite toilets again!

The ultimate highlight for me? The dogsledding. And I suspect for Nico as well. I suppose all of us harbour an inner arctic explorer in some way or form. We just nurture ours often by running on wild trails and  reading explorer biographies. In a way dogsledding epitomised the essence and purity of what travelling and exploring represents to us, especially in (what we perceive) to be wild, impermissibly cold boreal Canada.

Lego Store and Chapters, Vancouver

Z and V are incredibly into Lego at the moment, rivalled shortly by ‘reading’ books. These two activities are by far their favourite and many hours a day are devoted to playing Legos and reading. Needless to say, with bookworm parents we loved the hours we spent in the Chapters bookstore, and a bonus was when we discovered Lego books!

Vancouver Maritime Museum

Another sure highlight of the trip was visiting the Vancouver Maritime Museum. After watching a very informative video of the Sr. Roch’s 28 month voyage through the Northwest Passage we were able to board this very ship where she is spending her old age days. The museum was actually built around the St. Roch. Again, the romance of the explorations of yesteryear to lands and seas unfathomably hostile and inhospitable intrigued and had us captivated for hours.

The boys loved steering the 3D ship through arctic waters, while the vintage charts and exhibitions of the sailors’ rudimentary living conditions interested Nico and me.

Northern lights in Whitehorse

On the morning that we had to leave Whitehorse, after seeing bare glimpses of the northern lights only during this visit there, we were incredibly fortunate to be treated to a beautiful show of continuous subtle aurora activity. We had the poor taxi driver wait a bit longer and just drank in the moment. No photo really justifies what you see, and really not what you experience under the Northern Lights. It is a whole body, five senses, mind and soul experience. Something you never forget.

Canada, we can’t wait to visit again!