We spent Sunday traveling with friends and visiting their cottage on Keats Island, a smallish dot on the coastal British-Columbia map. The body of water around it is called Howe Sound, and if you’ve touristed around here you’ve seen it out of the left side of your car on the first part of the way to Whistler, or the right side when almost home. Keats’ population in winter is maybe fifty; but then a thousand on certain summer long weekends. The Island and Sound are photogenic.

On Colour · If you want to go north or west from Vancouver, you go by boat. Often as a customer of BC Ferries, a pleasant if spectacularly-inefficient public-sector operation. Howe Sound’s waters were being kicked up by what they call “the Squamish”, a wind blowing out of the inlet of that name. This is over the side of the ferry, there’s no stillness in that water.

Wind and water from a BC ferry

You will have noticed mountains in that picture. That’s true whichever way you look. The next picture is looking back east at the main coastal wall, the other side of which you see from Vancouver.

Along the bottom is the “Sea to Sky Highway”, the road between the city and Whistler. It’s got an awful reputation for traffic fatalities, curving as it does along the edge. Not surprising; people go up and ski like hell all weekend, stay up late partying, have a beer with supper and then gun the BMW around those curves; a little black ice and you’re a statistic.

Anyhow, they’re upgrading it for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which is a heroic piece of engineering. There are lots of mountainsides where they had trouble squeezing in two lanes, and now they’re building four. I’m impressed.

Backs of the mountains behind Vancouver

It’s all blue and grey and green and white of course, but there are a whole lot of different colours hiding behind those four words. The next picture and the last were taken from the same boat only two minutes apart. It’s all about which way the sun is pointing and where the clouds are. At 49ºN latitude, the Sun takes a different course across the sky every month, so the view is a living thing, rarely the same.

Mountains around Howe Sound

Here are two more, from the north shore of Keats Island, taken from the same place, more or less, just pointing different directions. The colour of the water itself is pretty constant.

Looking north from Keats Island
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Looking north-east from Keats Island

Those dark masses are trees of course; here’s what they look from the inside. Most of Keats’ forest burned a hundred years ago, but it still feels pretty old inside.

Forest on Keats Island

On Cottages · In the first paragraph I mentioned a “cottage”. This notion is central to Canadian culture. We’re a big country, thinly populated, with lots of water. So a remarkable proportion of the population has a cottage by the water somewhere; most often a lake, but sometimes a river and of course at the edges the ocean.

If you live away from a big city in the vast middle of the country, a cottage on a lake that’s near enough to commute from in summer is within the reach of perfectly ordinary people with perfectly ordinary jobs. Yet Ontario and Québec urbanites are known to drive five hours to visit the cottage.

The word applies comfortably to everything from a tumbledown shack to a chateau. For most people, normal standards of decor, housekeeping, and dress are cheerfully discarded at the cottage. Cooking is rough-and-ready but, this being Canada, there’s always the chance of fresh fish or something else really tasty on the barbecue. Children are expected to run wild.

Winter Afternoon · Eventually it was time to go home, which meant a stroll to the dock.

The dock at Plumper Cove Marine Park, Keats Island

The rest of these are just pictures from the ferry going home. The sunlight on the mountains turned them pink slowly while the moon floated over them and the marine traffic ghosted past in the level rays.

Winter dusk in Howe Sound
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Winter dusk in Howe Sound
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Winter dusk in Howe Sound
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Winter dusk in Howe Sound

We live within an hour of all this; it’s just nuts that we don’t spend more time there.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rafe (Jan 22 2008, at 12:58)

Goodness gracious. Between Anthony Bourdain's show on Vancouver last night and this blog post I'm ready to pack my stuff and ship out for British Columbia.


From: David Smith (Jan 22 2008, at 13:05)

Wonderful shots, Tim. Thanks!

My first home when I moved to the coast in '72 was up the Jervis inlet, so I took that ride many a time (but rarely in such brilliant sunlight!).

My granddaughters live in Squamish, so I've had the chance to drive through the construction on the Sea-to-Sky, but haven't done the ferry in decades. I miss it!


From: Hudson (Jan 22 2008, at 13:41)

Big fan of your writings, Tim, via your RSS feed.

However, your use of "tourist" as a verb made me throw up in my mouth a little.


From: John Cowan (Jan 22 2008, at 15:33)

That's normal. Hey, I live in NYC, and I can't remember the last time I went to a museum (though I do go to plays regularly, about once a week).


From: ramin (Jan 24 2008, at 06:00)

Heh. I've always known Canada could be a good place to live if I ever wanted to leave Finland. After all, who can find fault with the combination of water, forests, and cabin. And you have mountains, which I envy.

Finland, like Canada has water all over and a very large portion of the population has a summer cottage (although more and more they are being built/converted to enable winter use as well).


From: Derek K. Miller (Jan 24 2008, at 08:46)

Funny how the rare sunny days in winter make us appreciate living here all the more.


From: Claire Giordano (Jan 24 2008, at 09:48)

How absolutely beautiful, Tim. Be nuts this year: go there more often. :-)


From: J (Jan 28 2008, at 02:42)

The Economist Intelligence Unit says Vancouver is best place to live:


Obviously they've been reading Ongoing!


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