by Glen Cowley
People most often visit Chemainus for its murals or live theatre, perhaps browsing the stores and taking a carriage ride. Unfortunate, for they are missing so much more in the “Little Town that Did.”.
For families, singles or couples there is an easy day here; one accommodating any pocket book.
Begin your day early at the downtown parking lot beside Waterwheel Park on Willow (eight hour limit). Stretch, study the map near the churning waterwheel and set off for a full day’s activities, all within easy walking distance.
Five minutes north along Willow and left on Oak brings you to the small wilderness enclave of Askew Creek Wilderness Park.
A tended trail weaves through looming stands of Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Cedar following the sweeping curves of Askew Creek, trickling or rushing as the weather dictates. Within these cool green halls, chittering with song birds and echoing the gurgle of the creek, it is easy to imagine yourself far away from the world of man just a stones throw distant.
Down Oak towards the ferry and left on Maple brings you to Kin Park Beach where at low tide you can walk out to Bird Rock which shelters multi-hued starfish and anemones huddled under rocks and in crevasses.
Entertainment may be provided by synchronized water jets from burrowing Horse Clams, complaining Herring Gulls, flotillas of Buffleheads, nattering yellow-eyed Oyster Catchers, Black-headed Kingfishers, Mallards and the odd Harlequin duck or Loon tarrying along the shoreline.
Occasionally a curious harbour seal pokes its head above water to survey the surroundings. If you are willing to scramble a bit along the rocky shoreline the other side of the boat launch you can spy Cormorants, regal and still, dotted atop old pilings. Or, you can sit back and drink in the long outline of the Coast Mountain Range and the shades of blue-green overlapping islands in between.
The Visitor Information Centre, close by the parking lot, affords all sorts of information, including an official mural map for a dollar. This self-guided walking tour of the famed murals is aided by the painted yellow feet you can follow around town.
The pamphlet provides a short note about each of the murals, now officially numbering 39; the latest being a rare outdoor hockey game hockey at Fuller Lake. Poignant stories lie behind these artistic impressions drawn from the dynamic and ancient heritage of this idyllic haven by the sea.
Statues and fountains, with stories implied or recounted, enhance the atmosphere. The intricately recreated creek, at Heritage Square, with its forlorn statues and the tale of elusive Snipes is worth a special visit.
A leisurely 45 minute stroll can easily double once you allow time to view, ponder and photograph. Nor is it likely your gaze and interest can avoid the attraction of the numerous quaint and colourful buildings and shops arrayed along Willow and Maple Streets.
Keep an eye on the time and the ferry schedule for Thetis Island. It is a short and scenic walk from the parking lot to the “Old Town” running down to the ferry dock at the foot of Oak Street. The pathway through Waterwheel Park offers a long and stunning view down Maple Street to the ocean.
Waiting for the ferry you can stroll the docks at the Marina or tuck back at the Book Nook bookstore and coffee house, browse for used books, fritter away time on the internet or listen to local gossip. An easy going local hangout oozing the charm of “Island Time”.
It’s a refreshing twenty five minute ferry ride from Chemainus across Stuart Channel to Thetis Island, well worth the time and $7.55 per person. A new perspective sweeps into view as you chug out of the harbour past Cormorants lined up along log booms airing their feathers like fishermen telling tall tales of the one that got away.
The idyllic, manicured grounds of Capernwray Bible School, crowding the shoreline, welcome you to Thetis.
A sedate ten minute walk brings you to the long, sheltered finger of Telegraph Harbour lying between Thetis and Kuper Islands. Overlooking the bay and marina is the Thetis Island Restaurant and Pub with its unassuming and relaxed atmosphere. A place to enjoy a coffee or sip a brew at any time but a special place if you get there for the Bald Eagles.
I’ve been told up to forty at a time have been spied circling overhead, hopping along the rocky shoreline, dotting the forest cover on the opposite shore and even staging the occasional courtship dance in dramatic, taloned-embraced spirals over the bay. Every year from mid-May to mid-June they come. Bring your binoculars.
Returning to Chemainus the hour of the day may be gnawing at your stomach or whispering “treat, treat”. Coffee shops and ice cream outlets compliment the numerous restaurants and you can always picnic at Kin Park.
Either way you can keep your day alive lazing back afterwards at the Dancing Bean Café, where musical entertainment adds to the ambience on Fridays and Saturdays, or at the Twisted Sisters Tea House on Maple Street, where you can enjoy whatever is playing on their big screen and an assortment of over sixty teas.
There is more – the famous live Chemainus Theatre, the Hermit Trails, galleries, street musicians, local museum, the mural tour by carriage, and a never ending series of community events – but that requires another day. This is not a place to hurry.
The eagles would say you are missing the show if you do.
About the author:
This week Traveling Tales welcomes freelance travel writer and author Glen Cowley, who lives in Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Photos by Glen Cowley:
1: The waterwheel at Waterwheel Park.
2: A “muraled” downtown store.
3: The Chemainus live theatre.
– Thetis Island Restaurant and Pub firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-246-3464 – to check the eagles and get information on their marina.
www.chemainus.com – provides a calendar of activities and events including what’s on at Twisted Sisters and The Dancing Bean
www.lau.chs-shc.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/english/TidesAndCurrents.shtml – to check the tides – Crofton is the nearest reading
The Visitor Information Centre (250-246-3944) is open from 10 am to 5 pm everyday except Sunday.
Public restrooms are located at Kin Park, Waterwheel Park and the train station on Chemainus Road.
If you would like to walk the grounds of Capernwray Bible School they request that you drop into their main building to let them know.
A 30 minute drive south of Nanaimo on the Island Highway Chemainus can be reached by bus, train and boat as well as car. Some boaters like to moor at one of the two marinas in Telegraph Harbour on Thetis Island and take the ferry to Chemainus. Telegraph Harbour Marina can be reached at 250-246-9511.