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Coasting British Columbia

On a road trip along Canada's 'Sunshine Coast,' two sisters enjoy breathtaking beauty, quirky villages, native totems and sibling companionship--but little luck catching fish

June 16, 2002|MARGO PFEIFF | Margo Pfeiff is a freelance writer in Montreal.

LUND, Canada — "Be at one with your herring," my sister Linda said, mocking me as she slipped a wriggling silver sliver onto her hook. I had foolishly asked her secret to catching fish. Even when we were imps in the early '60s, sitting side by side on the banks of the Chilliwack River in British Columbia using $1.99 fishing rods, she would haul in buckets full of trout. Then she'd mince back to Grandma, who'd fry them up in butter. I never caught a single one.

When she grew up and married a commercial fisherman no one was surprised; we knew it was because she brought him luck.

Throughout the '80s she and her husband, Pat, fished for salmon and prawns up and down the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver on an old 30-foot double-ender called the Star King. In 1992 the boat went down at its marina mooring. The marriage sank soon after.

Meanwhile, I had moved to Montreal and become a journalist. Though my sister and I don't share a common lifestyle, we both love a road trip. Last summer I asked whether she'd like to drive the Sunshine Coast to visit her old haunts. "I'll bring the beer," she said, "and we'll go fishing."

Technically part of mainland British Columbia, the Sunshine Coast is a peninsula north of Vancouver that can be reached only by ferry. Long beaches line lush forests of red cedar and Douglas fir that descend from the Coast Mountains to the sea. Cottages and lodges add to the island-lifestyle feel. The "Sunshine Coast" name is based on weather service logs that show an average 2,400 hours of sun a year. That adds up to 200 days, making the area sunnier and drier than anywhere else along the soggy coast of British Columbia. The driest time of year--and my favorite time to visit--is late summer and through September, when the days are still warm and crowds have departed.

The combination of spectacular wilderness scenery and good weather makes this a popular destination for outdoor activities. The region is known for its hiking and horseback riding trails, and the many lakes make it excellent canoe country. The coastline's sheltered fiords are perfect for kayaking, and the waters are among the best on the coast for scuba diving. And, of course, there is fishing, in the lakes and on the ocean.


We hopped the Langdale Ferry from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay for a 40-minute trip across Howe Sound, past heavily wooded islets. In Gibsons Landing we headed for the funky Flying Cow, known for all-day breakfasts. The cafe, like the town and this whole coast, is a mixture of millworkers in pickup trucks and alternative-lifestyle folks, often heavily pierced and with Technicolor hair. Flower-covered houseboats brighten the marina. Several art outlets, including the Gibsons Landing Gallery, are owned and operated by local artists who work from rural studios marked on a map we've picked up. The region has a thriving cultural scene and is home to one of the highest per-capita ratios of artists and craftsmen in Canada.

"Every road trip needs a mission," said Linda. "Ours is to stop at every single gallery."

We set off along winding coastal Highway 101; eventually the road would take us 110 miles north along Georgia Strait. But by the time we'd gone the 14 miles to Sechelt, the coast's main town, we'd already visited potters, painters, glassblowers and artists who sculpt with iron. Sechelt takes its name from the Sechelt Band, part of the Coast Salish group of Indians. In the area are ancient pictographs and seashell mounds, a cultural center and excellent native art galleries like the Tsain-Ko.

We prowled galleries in houses along Trail Bay. The sign outside one artist's home said, "Two old crows live here"; inside we smelled the aroma of fresh cedar from the traditional baskets the artist wove. Totem poles lined Trail Bay, and we stretched out on the rocky beach with a picnic lunch.

On the waterfront north of Sechelt we stopped at one of Linda's haunts, the old Wakefield Inn. "I love this place, it's so cheesy," she said as we passed through carved wooden doors into a log-lined pub that featured a moose head above the fireplace. It was a sunny afternoon, and we took a table on the deck overlooking the sea. We sipped beer and discussed former cooking practices aboard the Star King. "The best thing was 'brown bombers'--ocean perch. We'd wrap them in foil with salt, pepper and sliced onions," she recalled, "then slap the package on the engine for 2 1/2 hours as we motored along. Just delicious."

We began driving north again. Alongside the 60-year-old Halfmoon Bay General Store we dropped into the Anchor Rocks Gift and Gallery and bought handmade merino lambskin slippers, a Sunshine Coast tradition from the local Slipper Factory. By late afternoon we were saddled up at the waterfront Malaspina Ranch Resort at Madeira Park. In the late afternoon light we rode into the hills and spotted herds of elk.

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