Who Speaks for Wolf

There is place in howling distance of the Old House Hotel, that will likely change you forever. People have come from as far as Belgium to see one single animal, Tundra the wolf at the SWELL WOLF EDUCATION CENTRE. As close to wolf as you can get (90%), this amazing female’s hazel-green eyes look right through you.  She, with the gentlest of dispositions, has inspired more humans, softened more hearts belonging to children and adults alike, than I dare to count.

Tundra is one of those unique individuals whose soul and purpose are so closely matched that they speak to you as if you were the only one to experience it.  She is a gift.  She is an animal whose presence immediately makes you aware of the emptiness her passing and the extinction of her species would leave.  You want to celebrate her, share her with everyone you can.  That’s the way her pack leader, Gary Allan approaches it.

You will find him traveling with his celebrity wolf, from Tofino to Vancouver, from schools and First Nations ceremonies to nature centers and coastal communities, educating folks about the irreplaceable value wolves have in managing our ecosystems. Other times the visit simply breathes hope and wellness into people who desperately need the healing power of wolf.  He puts to bed myths about menacing wolves and shares the inspiring truth: as top predators, they are astoundingly gentle in their nature when it comes to raising their pups, living in packs and generally living peacefully with humans when given enough room to roam.  (And, yes, wolves, need a lot of room to do their part for balancing nature.)

Tundra’s people/animal pack actually numbers five. Two other dominant wolf dogs live there and are just over three years old. Nahanni is an Arctic wolf, and Mahikan is a black wolf; both are almost “full wolf” and astoundingly beautiful and fascinating to observe.  While somewhat elusive, they are still very interested in humans. Few people on the planet can or should handle such an immense responsibility; Gary is one them. He  lives, eats and sleeps the care of his wolves.

Also one of North American’s most committed wolf conservation advocates, he and his devoted wife Sally share their house with Tundra. You haven’t seen a large dog bed until you’ve seen Tundra’s!  Having recently relocated the Centre from Malcolm Island to their property in Nanaimo, they have created a beautiful studio for wolf video viewing, long conversations and wolf introductions. Even though I have seen Tundra several times, I still felt my heart explode when she came through the curtained doorway and welcomed me with a nibbling lick.

This on-site education is a fantastic segue to what most consider to be the most transforming part of visiting the Centre. Traveling by car, you arrive at the local river trail.  Here Gary and Tundra leash up, and a walk becomes an effortless conversation about all things wolves.  Tundra takes the lead, stopping at the river where she fills her belly with water and bathes in the coolness.

Whether Gary brings Tundra to the community or Jane Goodall, as he has, or you visit them, these interactions are a commitment to wolf education that seek to set the world right.  All of this, funded solely by donations, is an urgent effort to speak for wolves, to bring home the message that British Columbia’s wolf populations hang in the balance, and that we as stewards, have to act quickly to protect them. An eye-opener is that unchecked deer populations as we have in the province and the island spell trouble for other wildlife, landscapes and ultimately humans.

But perhaps the greatest revelation is how purely, deeply lovely, a wolf can be… what beautiful wolves Tundra, Mahikan and Nahanni are.  I’m convinced that Gary’s mission for as long as he is on this planet, will be to shed light on wolf misinformation and to create more wolf advocates. I strongly suggest a visit to the SWELL Education Centre, less than a two-hour drive south from The Old House. Tundra’s lone howl, or accompanied by those of her pack, will stay with you forever.

 

Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog by Lisa Lauf

 

Stocking Up in a Foodie’s Paradise

If you’re staying at The Old House, it is likely that you’ll be dining in at some point or maybe the whole time!  You might crave a quiet morning with breakfast in bed or a happy hour in your room enjoying locally-made wine, cheeses and meats.  Perhaps movie night by the fire with a local brew paired with popcorn dressed with special salt is your idea of a great autumn night.

 

My advice is to make your first stop, after checking in, a quick walk to the new Thrifty’s grocery store which is something like “Whole Foods meets your local grocery store.”  In fact, if I had a dime for every person who has said this is the best Thrifty’s in British Columbia I would be a rich woman.  This delightful escape just opened recently, and is kitty corner to the Old House. (Below, I recommend an enjoyable alternate route rather than through the intersection.) Or you can have them delivered to your door.

There is much to highlight in this Thrifty’s to beat all Thrifty’s, but the five big surprises here are:

  • Ready-to-go food: Choices include a healthy smoothie bar, Starbucks, sushi and pizza.
  • Natural Products: This health food and natural products department is filled with great items; some you would never find in the States.
  • Fill-your-container stations: Pour your own healthy peanut butter, infused oils and vinegars
  • Bigtime organic: You’ll love their organic selections of meat, citrus, other produce, breads and tons more.
  • Bulk everything! Less waste and packaging and you take only what you need.

I love the products they love. Among those they support are:

  1. BC First: Thousands of products in their stores are locally grown.
  2. Fair Trade: They value social and environmental responsibility.
  3. Sustainable Seafood: As a Westcoast company, they know that our world’s oceans and seashores are spectacular but fragile, plentiful but limited, so they support sustainable seafood from shore to store.

You also won’t want to miss their fantastic selection of coconut and milk ice creams or the flower shop that begs you to take a few blossoms home to personalize your room. No doubt there are other great little shops in Courtenay and Comox featuring local fare, but if you want to spend less time shopping and more time exploring, this store will not disappoint.  Check it out!

 Directions from your room to Thrifty’s: I suggest not going toward the intersection, but instead, walking out the front door of the building where you checked in. Turn right and walk past the Dentist office until you come to the walking trail. Turn left on the sidewalk.  Follow it under the bridge and immediately turn left again which takes you past Rexall Drugs. Cross the street Riverside Road, into the Thrifty’s parking lot.

Outside The Old House Front Door
A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

My Heaven-On-Earth Trail

To be sure, heaven on earth can found in hundreds of places here in the Comox Valley. It could be found floating along the gentle current of the Puntledge River, beachcombing an expanse of Williams Beach, sunbathing on the rock of Seal Bay as boisterous marine friends bark the day away. Maybe it’s kayaking just offshore or letting your bike rip after an uphill workout in Cumberland.

But if I had to choose mine, it would be hiking the 8k Helen MaKenzie – Battleship Lake Loop accessible from Mt. Washington’s Raven Lodge. Lakes, streams, meadows, the promise of a wild animal sighting, all on a clear summer sky-blue day — ya, it’s tough to beat. 
 
My first hike there was one of those “it just keeps getting better” experiences. Gentle curving boardwalks through acres of grasslands and wildflowers, gave way to gentle inclines that weave their way through tent platforms and forest. Before long, Battleship Lake appeared as a harbinger of more beautiful watery spectacles that lie ahead. Further on, Helen McKenzie Lake welcomed all explorers with gentle rock formations upon which to enjoy a packed lunch or to heat up after a brisk swim. But beware of the gray jays; they tried to snatch our lunch on more than one occasion. A two-hour hike could easily turn into four after resting a good long while with a good book and a towel. 
 
My steps felt lighter than air as we continued traversing babbling brooks, bridges, ponds and forests that often opened up for a rare and beautiful treat of the greater Strathcona Provincial Park. I must admit, the hike was over before I was ready, but the pups, having covered four times the ground that we had, were grateful to see the car. Next time we’ll be adding the Far East trail! An overnight would be a great adventure. 
 

Taking in the Best of the Island

One of the best kept secrets in Courtenay is the actual place you go to get information about the best kept secrets in Courtenay and the entire island!   The The Vancouver Island Visitor Centre, just off Route 19 and Comox Valley Parkway, might have been more aptly named “The Vancouver Island Experience” because it’s an attraction in itself. From the road, this circular building with a grass-covered roof topped with an eye-catching airplane is a fantastic advertisement for the Centre.

Once inside, you’ll want to head straight into the interpretive centre. Any one loving “selfies” will enjoy the opportunity to sit on a mountain bike or chairlift seat, all set against realistic backdrops, as though you were really biking or skiing.  Even a segment of a kayak puts you right on the water.  Kids love climbing into the center of a large fir trunk to owlishly peer out of a hole at the guests below. I recall my first time visiting here and messaging the images I’d taken to my stateside family, inviting them to hurry up and visit.

On a more interactive level, videos, photographs, graphics and First Nations Art provide tons of information and inspire conversation. I love the Vancouver Island marmot exhibit, as this is one of my favorite animals, now endangered, but on the conservation radar of our residents.

I had the opportunity to observe a couple new in the area who were visiting with their family whose favourite attraction was the interactive map, (pictured above) strategically placed within the center’s core presentation area.  The size of a foosball table, you can call manipulate compelling  images and information.  The topographical map also is aa hit and shouldn’t be missed.

But that’s not all.  The retail shop is stocked with unique, locally-made products. I am going to go for the First Nations inspired tea and tea tins next time I’m shopping for gifts. Also, the board room makes for great meeting space.

At the end of the day, every information centre needs to share information. The racks of brochures and booklets are full and easy to peruse.  Even the selection of natural history and children’s books is super compelling, I had to grab a few and scan them while sitting in  reading nook, complete with a fireplace.  A good centre also needs friendly staff, and the people there were  welcoming.  Had there been a bigger food outlet, I would have stayed longer!

I am hoping the signage off Route 19 will get better as one is likely to overshoot it or undershoot it driving in any direction.  The entrance is quite south of the actual building and you’ll be looking for Small Road .  If you haven’t visited lately or at all, head on over, it’s just minutes from the Old House and likely en route to any of your planned adventures!

Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog 

Mount Washington … Just Do It!

I must admit, I love adventures.  I’ll also admit that there is often angst associated with embarking on them – the packing, the I-think-might-be-getting-a-cold syndrome before leaving, the last-minute work assignment, the dog just threw up scenario, the I’m-out-of-shape fear factor, and many other nagging possibilities that could justify backing out.

Each year, it’s not unusual for the call of bright blue sky, oodles of powder and a breathtaking view of Mount Washington to encourage me to prod my family, “When are we going skiing?” It’s also not unusual for a manic work week to kill the thought, leaving my energy deflated like a popped balloon and for the million-and-one reasons not to go start to take hold.  But thanks to my spouse’s talent for making a plan and sticking to it, ski Mount Washington we did, just a week or so ago … and yes …  it was fantastic.

Whether you like back-country skiing, sweeping the slopes on a board or winding your way down the trails on parabolic skis, there is no way you will be disappointed after making the commitment to go!  Even after getting up early, putting on your layers, driving the scenic drive to the lodge and standing in line to rent your equipment (or lugging your own), clouds our sun, you’ll love your personal encounter with the undefinable, graceful, and challenging, yet gentle, Mount Washington.

This year the rental process developed under new owners surprised me: easy computer registration and a fast-moving line-up for rental payment. (I found it interesting that the instructors double as ticket agents.)  The sizing and pick up of rentals are quite fast, and the staff is super friendly.  This is the first year I rented and wore a helmet.  I grew up a die-hard eastern skier and never took to the replacement for rooster-crop-like wool hats.  I did, however, find my helmet warm and light.  And yet for another year running, a pair of goggles missing from our winter clothes bin, so rented those too!

The only slight downer was the food, not bad by cafeteria standards but just not a lot of super healthy choices.  Next time, I will be sure to pack a lunch and fill in with the warm beverages and free water available in various locations throughout the lodge.  I also loved that we could take the dog; we skied to the parking lot and walking her every few hours!  I think it would be great to have close parking for pet owners, as we were not the only ones catering to our four-legged family members who could not ski.

It also was an amazing experience to return to the Old House. A long hot tub and swim in the heated outdoor pool, a relaxing tub and then a family meal of treats we picked up from the awesome new Thrifty’s grocery story (it’s like Whole Foods meets Trader Joes meets Save On Foods) just across the street.

We’re ready to go hang out with Mount Washington again … maybe cross-country ski this time or snow shoe  … although the allure of skiing in a T-shirt is mighty tempting.  Anyway, if you keep putting off your visit, don’t … just go.  Just do it!

 

Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

 

 

A Dog’s Life is a Great Life at the Old House Hotel

Dogs. Leave home without them? Are you kidding? Dogs are part of our family; leaving home without them is often not an option for many of us, including me.  At the Old House Hotel, I am happy to say dogs are mighty welcome.  Upon checking in, pups are offered Faithful Friends treats, (grain-free treats made by a local company) compliments of Woofy’s Pet food Store, located 3 blocks from the hotel on Cliffe Avenue.  The Hotel also makes dog bowls and leashes available to all pet guests.

If you’re looking for a dog walk location within walking distance, I recommend taking a right onto the newly renovated Courtenay Trail that circles the Air Park and straddles the wildlife-rich estuary.  You can exit the trail and wind your way up to Woofy’s. (Ask the front desk for details; they’re great with directions!) Woofy’s has a great selection of dog treats your pup will savour.  In fact, dogs love to shop there because of the large selection featured in dog-height bins!

Turning left onto the Courtenay Trail, you’ll find a nice grassy lawn adjacent to volleyball courts which is great for exercising your dog. And if you’re looking for off-leash adventures, Seal Bay Park just off Ryan Road in Comox is an excellent choice.  If you’re up for beer and a pizza, Gladstone Brewing Co.  is dog-friendly. On any given night you’ll see outdoor tables filled with amiable people and their four-legged best friends.

If you’re feeling guilty about spa-ing without your pup, there is an abundance of dog groomers in the area such as the highly acclaimed Hair of the Dog Spa and Barktique as well as veterinarian clinics in case of emergency.

No need to worry about staying in a room that’s had a less than tidy dog residing in it, the Old House meticulous housekeeping department ensures that all rooms are spotless for the next guest and their third 3rd floors of both buildings are pet-free for those with allergies.

On occasion Keelah, my border collie cross, makes an appearance and is treated like a queen from beginning to end. I have come to feel so comfortable in this dog-friendly town.

Outside the Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

Bring Back Memories and Pottery!

My house is a collection of pottery from special places around the world. It’s not worth millions, but each piece is a treasure, and I’ve loved unpacking them after every move! In fact, just a few weeks ago, I stuffed two pieces in my large purse (thanks to Hides in Hand specializing in washable, beautiful Canadian-made bags and slippers) when frequenting the famous “Tour de Clay” outside of Tampa, Florida.

Back in May, I brought home the most amazing Scott Beardsley casserole casserolewhile on the Denman Island Pottery Studio Tour with a friend. I loved that experience as much as the purchase, as I drove down the picturesque private drive for a mile or so. When I got there, the studio was open, and the sign read— more or less —”Enjoy. If you purchase something, leave a check!” (Rumour has it that, sadly, after decades of no incidents, security cameras now had to be installed.)

Our island and surrounding ones are home to hundreds of potters. In fact, here in the Comox Valley, we are super proud or ours. If you love pottery and art, but you’re visiting in the winter and don’t have the time to explore the backroads to the studios, you might want to check out the Potters Place right here in Courtenay. It is the largest ALL CLAY gallery on Vancouver Island featuring functional, decorative and sculptural pieces each month. The artist whose works are available at the Potters Place all live in and around the Comox Valley — or what many locals here call it —“The Pottery Mecca of Vancouver Island.”

potterplace-header-1080x280ishThe Potters Place Gallery and Shop is just a short walk from The Old House and is nestled in the Potters Courtyard on the corner of 5th and Cliffe Streets. I am certain you’ll be thrilled with the selection of dinnerware, teapots, casseroles, vases, drinking vessels and so much more, all fired by a variety of techniques: Salt and Soda, Pit Firing, Raku, Wood firing and Crystalline.

Maybe a nice mug for hot chocolate or a Spanish coffee to enjoy in your Old House suite is the thing. Or maybe a soap dish for one of the great locally made soaps you might have purchased would be fun. A vase for the flowers your partner got you? I know I’ll be heading there soon; our gravy boat just bit the dust… it’s a perfect excuse to go back to one of my favourite places. Have a look, you wont’ be sorry. You can find them on Facebook or www.thepottersplace.ca.

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Outside The Old House Front Door:  A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

Discover Treasures from Weinberg’s Good Food

ohfrontdoorOutside the Old House Front Door… A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

It figures that if you’re looking for cool gifts, best to go to where the selection is huge right? Well, actually not always. In fact, one of my favourite places to find gifts for friends and family (and myself) and great healthy groceries, is a goldmine of a shop … not far from the Old House. Do not be deceived, it offers way more than delicious food choices and supplies.

Weinberg’s Good Food is located next to the Denman Island Ferry Terminal, just 15 or 20 minutes south of the Old House, on the Old Island Highway. But you have to look for it. If you drive around the back of PetroCanada, there you’ll find what appears to be a tiny produce shop from the outside. But once inside, it’s like entering the wardrobe in the story Narnia: there’s a whole new world of delights.

I suggest ordering an Americano or one of their amazing coffees to sip while browsing. It will take several trips around the store to take it all in — handmade lotions and creams, locally sewn tunics, candles, oils, hats, deli items and lots more. Two of my favourites: scrubbing pads and Abeego beeswax bowl covers (to replace plastic, pictured right). img_2451Recently I took friends from the States there before heading to Denman Island, and they loaded up on these items to take back home for presents. Never have I left this store without an armful of items and delicious treats to fill my refrigerator. Old House guests will love choosing delectable treats to add to their kitchenette supplies. Just in time for the holidays, Weinberg’s is featuring a variety of six beautiful new teas blended in collaboration with the Native Friendship Center. All are made with local ingredients and stored in gorgeous tins almost as wonderful as the tea.  Such excellent gifts!

I am often amazed how retailers such as Weiberg’s Good Food can find just the right combination of items that make shopping a true experience.  Check them out on your next Comox Valley visit.For directions, new items and hours, follow Weinberg’s Good Food on Facebook.

Catch Comox Kite Boarding

kite-sky

“It’s just you and the wind.”

I wish I could spend more time doing the sports I love, but even more so, trying the ones still on the “to-do” list. Lately kite boarding or “kiting” is piquing my interest. Why? Because a few months ago, new business associate, Todd MacSween, walked in the Old House front door and put his laptop in front of me, suggesting I check out his latest kite boarding video. This sport is just completely amazing to watch. The pure beauty of kite boarders sailing on water and air, strung to kites of purely awesome designs, is mesmerizing. As Todd puts it, “It’s just you and the wind. If you love flying, this sport is for you.”

To my surprise, I found out I could see a world-class kiting show at Comox’s Goose Spit on most days when the winds reach 20 knots or more. In a matter of minutes, kite boarders come out of the woodwork, parkitersk their cars on the beach and greet each other. It’s such a close community they don’t even have to share phone numbers or emails… they just show up (and share Gladstone beers later). Up to 10 kiters can be on the water while twice that number might be hanging out on the beach awaiting his or her turn (and there are a lot of “hers” out there too!).

I’m told not everyone — or really anyone — should learn the way Todd did. He confesses, “As a young guy in my 20’s, I carved a piece of plywood and added some leather straps to secure my feet and took on ‘The Spit’ with my handcrafted, and slightly laughable, board.” He survived learning at this spot  known for its flat waters, (which are hard to come by) and also for the offshore wind which isn’t ideal for beginners (translated: if you get into trouble, you could be in for a long swim).

Todd, a competitive kite boarder who has taken his sport all over the world advises that anyone wanting to learn has many options, “If you want to learn in the summer, this island is a great place.” The summer winds at Nitinat Lake (west of Cowichan Lake, on the west coast) are much more consistent with at least 80% of summer days suitable for kite boarding. In the winter, the options are fewer, so many head to warmer water and gentler winds.

kiter2If you’re a kiter from Vancouver and beyond, you can visit Goose Spit without dragging your equipment! It’s possible to test fantastic boards and kites from manufacturer, Ocean Rodeo Sports, based in Victoria, BC — they’ll ship new gear up to the Old House. The local kiting community has a webcam that can be found at www.bigwavedave.ca under “webcams,” though trying to predict wind too far in advance can be a futile effort.

I like watching this sport  from my screens and also am heading out to Goose Spit next time I get a “thumbs up” from Todd,  that boarders are flying. In my dreams, I am grabbing my kite and board to sail with the pack. Next time you’re at the Old House, and the wind is right, check it out.

All photos and videos were created and contributed by Todd MacSween Photography.

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OUTSIDE OUR OLD HOUSE FRONT DOOR BLOG

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to our Ohspa on their Readers Choice Award for the Best Place to get a Facial and Finalist for Best Pedicure!

Thank you Comox Valley for naming us the best place to get a facial and a finalist for the best pedicure! The entire team here at Ohspa could not be more thrilled!