Tag Archive | Vancouver Island

Looking for a Good Christmas Story? Read A Grim Perspective!

If you like a small town mystery with a little romance and a touch of the occult, then take a look at the novel I just grim-perspective-book-coverpublished this week.  After holding on to it for three years, I finally took the plunge and decided to get it up as an ebook.  It is available on both Amazon/Kindle and with Kobo.  I had originally entered it into the Amazon First Novel contest in 2013 and made it to the Quarter finalist round so that was a good start.  I wasn’t ready for the ebook market at the time, and thought I would try to get it published the traditional way, only to find out that Canadian publishers are not interested in mysteries at this time.

Here is a synopsis of the story: 

How does a human hand end up in a crab trap?  This is a puzzle that Madeleine Belle, retired owner of a seaside inn on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, finds herself drawn into solving.  It is Madeleine and her boyfriend Joe who find the hand, while they are fishing for crab in a nearby cove.  The hand is caught in one of the traps Joe pulls up, and at first, he mistakes it for a starfish.

Madeleine takes the appendage to the local RCMP office of Port Side, the town she lives in.  That same evening, at the local art gallery, Madeleine is confronted by a painting that is at once sinister and perplexing.  It reveals underwater life that is represented by female body parts.  In the centre of the painting there is a head that resembles a rock, and on top lays a hand that looks like a starfish.

From that point on, Madeleine can’t shake the feeling that there is a connection between the painting and the hand she and Joe found.  A series of strange coincidences, combined with dire predictions from a Tarot card reading lead Madeleine to suspect that something unsavory has occurred at the home of the artist who painted the underwater scene.

Although Madeleine would prefer to leave the case in the hands of the RCMP, a strange dream beckons her to continue looking for clues, and with the help of her friend Mitzi and her daughter Camille, she slowly pieces the puzzle together.  In the meantime, her relationship with Joe takes a surprising turn when he makes some unexpected admissions.

Set against the backdrop of life in a small coastal community during the festive Christmas season, A Grim Perspective provides startling revelations into the human psyche.

Happy reading!


Quadra Reflections III: Blackberry Season

For many of us the advent of blackberry season is impatiently awaited – the idea of going out to pick these succulent, rich tasting berries that proliferate along roadsides and over ditches and are free, is an annual ritual that must be obeyed. Not only are they good for eating right off the vine, but they freeze well and provide a delightful treat in the dark hours of winter that brings back lovely memories of long summer days.

IMGP0883Since moving to Quadra Island, I have encountered the same berries that I have been accustomed to picking in Storries Beach, (the ‘foreign’ ones that were brought from the United Kingdom by early settlers) and that usually ripen beginning in August and leading into September. I have also encountered a variety that I don’t recognize and wonder if they might be an indigenous variety.

Blackberries are indeed indigenous to our area and I have seen small patches of the small, wild variety on my son’s former property in Storries Beach, as well as at Greene Points to the north where my friend’s cabin is. These native berries have a lovely taste akin to black currants.

However the variety I haven’t seen before grow as large as the non native variety, but aren’t quite as sweet. They also IMGP0880differ in that the bushes are incredibly thorny, and while the non native variety has quite a number of thorns (they are related to the rose family), this other variety is so prickly, that the tiny thorns will come right off the branch and into the flesh at the slightest contact.

When I first started picking blackberries, I would go to great lengths to get as many as I could and would venture deep within a hedge or reach high over a ditch to get at the most luscious of the fruit. After falling into blackberry bushes more than once, I have learned that it is usually seldom worth going too far to get at them as the pain and itching caused from thorns grasping at bare skin is usually not worth it. What we normally refer to as ‘trailers’ – the thick branches growing out over a patch that bear no berries but have huge thorns are especially insidious. Fortunately, often simply washing hands and arms with water and mild soap after picking can alleviate both the itch and the sting caused by encountering thorns, and I have found that tea tree oil in the cream form is very soothing to the skin. But now I try to avoid getting prickled. There are usually more somewhere, in an easily accessible place.

The beauty of blackberries is that they ripen at different times. A person can spend a whole month picking, as long as it doesn’t rain too much, since there are early and late patches of berries often right in the same area. If it rains too much, they ripen and turn immediately to mush, causing them to be too soft to pick. This year has been an exceptional year for blackberries with hot dry weather and just a small amount of rain. Sightings of ripe berries were reported as early as mid July and the few days of rain we just experienced will help instead of hinder their continued growth right into September.

Mainly due to the thorns, but also because of the dark red juice, it is important to dress properly for berry picking. Sandals aren’t recommended (this is from experience), and it is best to wear a long sleeved shirt – one of those types that are usually reserved for painting in. My mother, with whom I have often gone picking, brings along a Chinese back scratcher to pull down the high branches that often bear the best offerings. In fact, on her first trip to Vancouver Island she asked me about the blackberries. A fellow traveller enroute to the island suggested she might not want to miss berry season. Our berries are famous! That year, my mother was here too early to avail herself of this treat, but now that she lives here, she has staked out various patches around the town of Campbell River (and I cannot reveal their whereabouts) and we swap stories about our success or lack of success.

Like other berries, blackberries can be used in many ways. As I mentioned they are great for eating fresh and freeze well, and they are excellent in jams and pies, crumbles or any baking. They also make great juice. This year my daughter, who has a plethora of bushes around her house, has picked enough blackberries to make wine with them. The local vintner advises bringing five gallons or 20 litres of the frozen berries to him, and he will take care of the chemistry of turning them into wine. Mmm – just in time for Christmas!

One phenomenon I can’t figure out at my new place of residence, is why the deer chose to deposit their droppings right in front of the berry bushes. Do they stand there and eat blackberries, and poop at the same time? Or are the bushes a barrier to where they want to go, so they might as well take a pause or bathroom break if you will? In any case, it has occurred to me to collect the droppings to use as manure, but that is a whole other topic. For now I will praise the blackberry bush that offers its fruit up freely and abundantly for those intrepid enough to venture past its thorns.



Canada Over the Edge – the West Coast is now on!

The time has arrived!  The west coast version of Canada Over the Edge is being featured on the Knowledge Network again.  The segment that I participated in  where we take a trip to Yorke Island and discuss the World War II fort that was once there, will be broadcast on Tuesday, November 8 at 7pm and 11pm, then again on Wednesday, November 9 at 6pm. (Pacific time)  just in time for Remembrance Day.  It is permanently available on my website catherinegilbert.ca

There was much excitement around the Museum at Campbell River where I used to work, when one of our long time docents 5Catherineand volunteers, Danny Brown, was interviewed for the episode that features Campbell River, where he discusses the famous explosion of Ripple Rock.

I recently received a comment about the first Vancouver Island episode from a lady who really enjoyed it and wanted a DVD copy of it.  Those are available through Arcadia Entertainment, the show’s producers.

Catherine Marie Gilbert  www.catherinegilbert.ca

Coastal Black Magic

“Give me wine to wash me clean of the weatherstains of care” (on door at Coastal Black)

Myself at Coastal Black

When you turn off Endall Road in Black Creek to the Coastal Black Estate Winery, you truly enter an exotic world of Vancouver Island vineyards. You are greeted on your left are the vineyards themselves, stretching for acres in neat rows – not the wild blackberries we are used to seeing scattered on our fields and roadsides, but cultivated berries, a thornless variety that are dedicated to producing the award winning wine that Coastal Black is becoming famous for.  In fact, Coastal Black is the largest cultivated blackberry farm in all of Canada!

I had the pleasure of visiting the 660 acre vineyard on Saturday with a group of friends as part of a fundraiser for the Tidemark Theatre.  The turnout was excellent and it appeared that every seat was filled on their new patio, where food is now served to accompany the excellent wine.  The fundraiser was organized by Denise Mitchell and Christina Vokey (at left), with assistance from Zena Williams of the Campbell River Mirror.  The $25 ticket was well worth the price – including a tour of the wine making area, a wine tasting and delectable appetizers.

We were divided into two groups, one went off for the tour first and I was in the lucky group that stayed on the patio for the first wine tasting.  I had had Coastal Black wine before and like it, but was looking forward to trying some of their newer products.  We weren’t disappointed!  From the mead to the table wine to the raspberry sparkling wine, everything was bursting with flavour and exceptionally smooth.  When the grand finale arrived, a dessert wine served in a lovely little chocolate cup from Hot Chocolates, we were all thoroughly enchanted, prompting Rachelle sitting next to me to declare “I love these little chocolate shot glasses!”

By this time, in an even better mood then when we started, our all-female entourage headed into the winery to be given a tour by Abel, one of the winery’s owners.  It was astonishing to learn that just five years prior, this classy establishment had been a diary farm, and where cattle once roamed, exotic wines were being brewed and bottled.  Although, as Abel explained, they no longer have to get up in the wee hours to milk cows every day of the week, (and coming from a dairying family, I know what they mean) it is clear that the entire family puts in a tremendous number of hours into making their operation viable.

The results of their ingenuity and hard work are evident in the beauty of the property and the excellence of their products.  Participants were clearly sold, as after the tour and the tastings, people were lined up to purchase wine by the bottle to accompany the appetizers.  Adjectives such as ‘magical elixir’ were circulating around our table to describe Coastal Black’s wine, a true fruit of the  earth.

To all appearances, it was a successful day for the vineyard and for the Tidemark.  We are hoping that the next time, we’ll go visit the scotch distillery they operate at the old UBC farms property.  Rachelle had the foresight to order a van to take us to and from the winery, and after a stimulating afternoon, a giggling group of females finally boarded the bus for home.  I had a pleasant surprise the next day as considering my sensitivity to wine, I felt no ill side effects, despite imbibing more than my usual two glasses!

To learn more about Coastal Black and plan your visit, check out their website at http://www.coastalblack.ca/


Merville’s Answer to Cougar Annie – Dr Pam Aldis

In case you have never heard of Cougar Annie, she is known as a feisty character, a pioneering woman who survived four husbands and  lived in the isolated wilds of the west coast of Vancouver Island at Hesquiat Harbour in the early 1900s.  Annie was a survivor who grew a terrific garden in inhospitable territory and was famous for the number of cougars she shot while defending her territory and her family.  When I first met Dr. Pam Aldis, she put me in mind of Cougar Annie.  Pam didn’t seem to mind when I told her so, in fact she said that if she had lived in Cougar Annie’s era, she believes she would have lived as Annie did.

Dr. Pam, now retired, lives in the wilds of Merville with her two cats, and two students she rents rooms to.  Her warm and inviting West Coast style house sits on a seven acre property with the Tsolum River running through it.

Dr Pam Aldis at home

Dr Pam Aldis at home

She is regularly visited by ducks and other wildlife, but instead of cougars, raccoons are the pest that she defends her goods against, with the help of a shotgun.  Pam is no stranger to shooting.  At the tender age of eleven, while on the family farm in Norfolk England, Pam was given a shotgun by her father. (She still has the shotgun-a 410, today and uses to shoot grouse with).   Although Pam did become a doctor while still in England, she developed all the tools for survival at a young age, and like Cougar Annie, today lives off the land in many ways.

Pam’s life started out as an adventure.  She was born in Malaysia just before the advent of the Second World War.  For safety, her family was shipped off to Australia, except for her father who became a POW.  In fact, he was among those who built the bridge over the River Kwai (a story which was made famous by the 1957 film ‘A Bridge On the River Kwai) “My father was Alec Guinness”, Pam told me – a personage pivotal to the story and the building of the bridge. The family was reunited when the war ended, and a wealthy uncle helped them settle in England on a farm.

When asked what made her decide to become a doctor, Pam said that as a young child, she was asked to assist in the birthing of a calf and realized that she wanted to do something like this for a living – but not quite.  She wanted to be able to talk to her patients, so instead of becoming a veterinarian, she decided to apply to study medicine.  Although the family could not afford to send her to school, Pam was able to get a scholarship and was accepted into the prestigious St Bartholomew’s Medical College, attached to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.  ‘Barts’ as it is commonly known, is in fact the oldest hospital in Great Britain, established in 1123.

As can be imagined, there were not many women studying medicine in the 1950s (10 women to 90 men) and she says that the female students relied on each other for study support.  After graduating and practising medicine for one year in England, Pam decided she wanted to try another country, and her father suggested Vancouver or Victoria (where he had visited), as English was spoken there.  Pam came to Canada in 1964 and found work at Vancouver General Hospital and established a practice there for ten years.  Although she was a family physician, she delivered over 120 babies every year as she found that pregnant women often preferred a female doctor.  Pam met her husband (who was also a doctor) in Vancouver.  They frequently visited Vancouver Island during those years  and had a ‘shack’ at Ship’s Point in Fanny Bay.  When an opportunity came for her husband to practice in this area, they made the move here.

Pam learned to hunt on Vancouver Island from a neighbour at Ship’s Point who was known to the family affectionately as ‘Grandpa Reynolds’.  Pam maintains enormous respect for Reynolds, (who has since passed away) and says that he was a true outdoorsman, with extensive knowledge of wildlife and the Vancouver Island wilderness.For many years, she and Reynolds travelled together to the best hunting areas of the island – Sayward and Port McNeill, and Mt. Washington, where they camped and hunted for deer, elk and bears.  Although Pam has never shot a cougar, she has seen them up close and says they are a truly beautiful animal.  Pam would also never shoot a goose, as they mate for life. 

In terms of her career, Pam was initially not quite so fortunate.  She was unable to find a position in Courtenay as the medical community did not look favourably on female physicians at that time.  Instead, she worked in Campbell River for one year and enjoyed the hospital and the people she met there, then went to work at CFB Comox in 1975.  Eventually, she opened her own practice in Courtenay on 6th street, and was joined by another female physician. In her late 50’s, she split her practice with another female MD and they each worked three days per week.

During these busy years, she raised two daughters, one who now owns an organic strawberry farm in Royston and with whom Pam shares a sizeable garden, and the other who is following in her mother’s footsteps and will shortly be practicing medicine.

Bear skin gracing the wall of Pam's home

Bear skin gracing the wall of Pam's home

Pam retired in 2005 and since then has been able to pursue her other passions full time – hunting, fishing, gardening, mushroom hunting and travelling.  Now at age 70, she still makes forays over to the mainland with new hunting partners to hunt black bear, which she says is delicious meat if you get a spring bear.  The fat rendered from the bear apparently makes great pastry.  She also still likes to hunt mule deer and moose.  Judging by her kitchen and her well stocked larder, good food is important to Pam.  She refers to wild meat as ‘orgasmic’ and believes in the health giving properties of it.  And this is one doctor’s opinion I certainly would not disagree with!

Travels with my Aunt – seeing our island anew

Dorothy and I at Mt. Washington

Dorothy and I at Mt. Washington

Travels With My Aunt – seeing our island anew

I borrowed the title for this blog from an old movie which some of you may recall.  It doesn’t really apply to my recent weekend in Victoria with my mother and visiting aunt recently, but somehow the title kept reverberating through my mind.

My aunt Dorothy is 80 years old.  She swims 40 laps a day, talks virtually non stop and doesn’t even need to take a nap.  She still likes to have a drink or two, favouring lite beer and white wine.  She used to like gin, doesn’t drink it anymore (but has several bottles on hand from all her trips across the border and her quest for taking advantage of a good deal).

She told just about everyone we encountered on our trip that she was from London Ontario and had never been to the island, and how beautiful it was here – especially considering that fact that they’ve been having a lousy summer in Ontario and our weather has been great.

My aunt has travelled a great deal and enjoys telling (and retelling) the stories of her trips to Europe, Hawaii and to the southern States and northern Canada.  She also loves to talk about her six grandchildren and her two children and all their accomplishments and foibles.   This doesn’t mean that my mother and I found her to be in any way annoying.  On the contrary, she was entertaining and a joy to be with.  And we both knew that she would return home and tell everyone she knows with equal enthusiasm about her trip to the island and the time she spent with us.

Visitors are great, because they always help you to see anew this amazing place we call home.  We had her over for dinner and treated her to local prawns and lingcod we brought home from our last trip to the Thurlow Islands, black cod my son caught on the west coast and sockeye salmon from Gold River.  We had salad and sautéed vegetables from my garden to complete the meal. For three days, she talked about what a fantastic dinner it was, and I agree.  We are so lucky to have this bounty from the sea at our doorstep, and to live where it is so easy to grow our own food.

As for Victoria, I enjoyed the weekend there in the company of my mother and aunt, and discovered why Butchart Gardens has such a fabulous reputation.  If a garden like that could be created from an abandoned quarry, then perhaps there is hope for Catalyst Mill – could we make it into an amusement park?

Anyway, it’s great to be home and sitting under the stars in quiet and balmy Storries Beach, after a great swim in the ocean, knowing that a happy and healthy future is only a few laps away.