Home to Historical Happenings, the 1939 Register and Other Matters

It has been a sobering and thought-provoking week both internationally and personally. Not only have world events put matters into perspective but on the way home from delivering a talk to Somerset and Dorset Family History Society (always amongst my favourite audiences) we were involved in a minor car crash. It was a total accident. Chris was driving my car round a bend at about 25mph on a quiet road between Crewkerne and Taunton. A very slippery surface meant that there we were, on the wrong side of the road with an oncoming car. Result: one very squashed car, five hours in A & E, some bruising for Chris and severe seat belt related bruising for me. Ironically, I spent most of the Canadian trip being convinced that we would have a car accident. We come home to a familiar type of road, slow speeds and not a manic driver in sight and that is where it all goes wrong. The ‘what ifs’ go through your mind. ‘What if we had decided to go home via Exeter instead of Taunton?’ – we debated this and I chose Taunton. ‘What if the other car had been going faster?’ etc. etc..

Now I am supposed to rest. Although many of my days are fairly sedentary (too sedentary) I really don’t do resting, whatever that is. I joke that it was not the ideal way for Chris to get out of listening to my Leonard Cohen CD on the way home and bemoan the fact that that my favourite CD and of course my car, are now in a car graveyard somewhere near Yeovil but of course these are insignificant material possessions and the important thing, for which I am very thankful, is that we and those in the other car, are unlikely to have any lasting ill effects. As I can’t travel very far in a car until I am less bruised, or stand up much, I have had to rearrange my diary for the next week or two. This means failing to go to work due to illness for only the second time in over 30 years. Chris is currently impersonating Mistress Agnes for one of several school bookings that have come in in the last few weeks. He is not, I should make clear, wearing Mistress Agnes’ clothing, merely fulfilling her role. Seventeenth century bookings have come in thick and fast in the last few weeks and we have been in some lovely schools.

Back to my ‘normal’ life. I have spent a few mad weeks catching up since our Canadian adventure, including of course visiting the small members of the family to find that they are now less small. I have several new research clients, which is always exciting, especially as one case fits the bill as a North Devon Bible Christian emigrant to add to my collection. In my absence, my article ‘The Impact of the Bible Christians in Rural North-West Devon: a force for unity or division?’ for The Devon Historian Volume 84 (2015) has appeared in print. Shauna Hicks has also blogged her recollections of the Baltic Cruise, with some lovely comment about our presentations. These have been added to my testimonials page and that of Swords and Spindles. What an honour to have impressed one of Australia’s leading family and local historians. Thank you Shauna, we enjoyed your presentations too and are so sorry that your cruise was marred by injury.

I can’t ignore the recent release of the 1939 Register by FindmyPast, on behalf of The National Archives. So far, I am still waiting to be impressed, although, to be fair, I haven’t ventured to the part where you actually part with money. On the subject of money, I do understand that they need to recoup their costs but I feel that subscribers could have been given a better deal. We are, they claim, paying for, amongst other things, a multitude of contextual information that is being provided. Am I alone in feeling that this expensive hand-holding is unnecessary? Those who want context (and I hope most do) are surely capable of finding it for themselves and sadly many are merely name gatherers who won’t even bother to look at this.

With one place studies in mind, I am very disappointed in the place search. As yet I have totally failed to bring up a rural area. It may well be possible but it certainly isn’t intuitive. I did find my grandparents’ road as part of an attempt to work out what they had been mis-transcribed as (surely you can’t do much wrong with Smith?). Unfortunately the road, which I did find, had over 600 houses and they were not in full numerical order. Odds and evens I could cope with but these were in chunks of random odds and evens and I lost the will to look through 25 pages to find number 159.

As for the 98.5% transcription accuracy claim, I think my family must all be in the other 1.5%. Out of ten searches only two were apparently problem free. Three were not found at all, despite imaginative searching, one of these was probably due to a recent death. One forename was mis-transcribed and the birth year was incorrect (although that may not be transcriber error), two had no middle initial but may not have provided one, one of these also had an incorrect birth year. Two are almost certainly redacted entries but both have very unusual names and died in the district in which they were born before the key year of 1991. In any case, one was born before 1915 as well. None of those who I located could be found by searching under their date of birth – I have the birth certificates – they can’t all be wrong. So, so far then, ‘could do better‘.

Now thoughts are turning to the Christmas season. Do check out my friend’s wonderful cards, some people are so creative and talented.


Bears in the Mist Days 42-44 (15-17)

391 Capilano Suspension Bridge 26 October 2015We are recovering from watching Dancing with the Stars last night. This is a more raucous version of Strictly Come Dancing with less obvious dancing and way more advertisements. Today we are off on a tour of the North Shore of Vancouver with minibus driver/guide Rob, another driver who displays some signs of the ‘no hands on the wheel’ Canadian driving style. This is a personalised tour for just six of us. We drive through Vancouver’s North Shore Rainforest to Capilano Fish Hatchery, to take a stroll through the forest and watch the salmon. The hatchery was created following the building of the Cleveland Dam, which interfered with salmon returning to their spawning grounds. The hatchery now releases 1 million salmon, of various types, a year. It was fascinating to see large saplings that had rooted in the decaying stumps of other trees. Next it was off to the suspension bridge, which was built so someone could access their house but is now a tourist attraction. This activity is described as ‘adrenaline pumping’ and involves walking across a 450 foot wobbly bridge 230 foot off the ground. I hate heights – did I say that before? Why am I doing this? In the end I accomplish the challenge by dint of walking very fast and looking straight ahead. Fortunately, as Canada is already virtually closed for the winter, there aren’t too many people about, thus reducing the wobble factor. Then as if this isn’t enough I traverse twenty mini suspension bridges in the tree top walk. This was actually more difficult. There is a quiz available for children, Never one to refuse a challenge, I am able to persuade the person dishing these out that our party can participate. I thought it was a bit mean that we only rated one reward badge between us on completion. I did draw the line and pass on the cliff walk. This walkway can allegedly take the weight of 35 killer whales. I remain to be convinced that someone has actually tried this. We see a Douglas Fir that is 1300 years old, 20 feet in circumference and 205 feet high.

DSCF2414Then a gondola ride up a very misty grouse mountain. The ‘panoramic’ views of Vancouver were somewhat compromised by the weather but at the top were at last bears. Ok, so they were captive bears but their enclosure covers five acres so we still might have missed them but they were both visible through the drizzle. Grinder and Coola, the grizzly bears were orphans who were rescued about fourteen years ago. Having seen them from behind the safety of a wire fence maybe I am glad we didn’t encounter any whilst out for a stroll.

Our guide takes as back Downtown (all the city centres are referred to as ‘Downtown wherever’) via the expensive British Properties. Many Canadians like to surround their homes by trees. These are often so close to the building that they must block out almost all the sunlight.

Back at the hotel, I attempt to avoid the not sitting together issue of our internal flight by cunningly checking on online. This sort of works except that I press the button for a web based boarding pass instead of having it emailed to me. I have no way of printing this. Front desk are very helpful but unable/unwilling to link my lap top to their printer. I can’t email this to them for them to print as it is not an email. I try turning it in to a pdf but the vital part comes out blank. I try retrieving the web page on the guest computer – fail. I therefore have to keep the web page open and lap top charged until I arrive at the airport. Then there are issues with the room’s fridge. Most of our rooms have had full sized fridges. This one turns out to be more of a freezer. Don’t freeze bananas – ever – just don’t.

We check out in the morning. I carefully put my room ‘key’ (card) down while I check the bathroom. I return to find it missing. Despite turning the room upside down – still missing. We brave this out by handing just one key card in and seem to get away with this. Then luggage stowed on our coach we are on a walking ‘foodie’ tour of the food carts of downtown Van. Roughly translated as a tour of the street vendors of central Vancouver, of which there are over 200. Fortunately for our legs and stomachs we only visit four. To get a coveted license you need to show that you can offer something different, so there are some weird and wonderful concoctions on offer. When carts were first allowed for the Olympics, seventeen licenses were on offer and 800 applications were received. Most carts are not allowed to open near to a restaurant selling similar food and only a few are open in the evening.

This is not something we would choose to do if it weren’t part of the package but we jump at the chance of free food and are game for pretty much anything, unlike several of our fellow travellers. Our guide keeps shouting ‘come on foodies’, which most of us clearly are not. Our first stop is ‘Japadog’, who offer us hotdogs with seaweed. This tastes pretty much like you’d imagine and the seaweed looked (and tasted) more like fish skin. The flavour has an unwelcome persistence. The high refusal rate benefited the nearby rough sleepers, who were given the portions that our party rejected. Next was a green onion pancake, followed by an exotic naan bread something or other. Finally a chocolate chilli cookie.

Then to the airport to leave our driver Mike and guide Anne-Marie. I attempt to wave my lap top at check-in but they are uninterested and our passes are printed. Chris has problems at security with a flat, credit card sized spanner in his wallet, that has escaped the scanners of all the other security desks we have passed. We then have a four hour wait. Vancouver is a very pleasant, uncrowned airport and we chat to those who have been on the tour with us. I decide to use up our small change and have a coffee. All I wanted was an ordinary black coffee but I lacked the sophistication to know which of the many options on offer would result in my ending up with what I desired. Inevitably I choose wrong and end up with an egg cup full if something totally undrinkable. I am persuaded, with the support of one of my new friends, to take this back and ask for it in a larger cup topped up with boiling water, which is a slight improvement.

The flight is quite empty so we have plenty of space. Despite our bodies thinking it is night time, I do not manage to sleep, as usual. We land at mid-day UK time, or 4.00am to us. We rush though corridors, lifts and travelators and manage to arrive at Heathrow coach station with ten minutes to spare in order to catch the earlier coach to the one we have booked. The downside to this is that we have to pay £40 to change our booking, The thought of being in Devon four hours earlier is too much for us and we succumb. There is no time to get food or drink or use the facilities. Well, actually there was, as the earlier coach was late but we didn’t know this at the time. Never mind we think, we can get food when we stop. Unfortunately, as the coach is running late we are not allowed to alight at any stop, except our final destination. In the event this was still a good decision as the coach we were actually booked on ended up being an hour and a half late, so it would have been gone midnight before I got home. We go back to Chris’ to get the car and find that our friends have cooked a meal we can share – hurrah. Then it is home at last ZZZZZzzzzz

Normal service will resume shortly.

Parks and Gardens – Days 40 & 41 (13 & 14)

342 Butchart Gardens, Victoria 24 October 2015The sun has deserted us today but we are off to visit the truly beautiful Butchart Gardens, which were constructed in a former limestone quarry over 100 years ago. The colours are just unreal. Today we do see some wildlife, in the form of black-tailed deer and later seals. After the visit to the gardens, we walk round the harbour seeing the ‘Fisherman’s Wharves’, where there are houseboats and food stalls as well as commercial fishing boats. Some of our fellow travellers are whale watching but we have passed on this activity. Given our lack of success with wildlife, they are probably glad that we have decided not to jinx this tour for them. We later learn that a party of British whale watchers lost their lives on this coast the following day.

Then we take the coastal route to the ferry and even in a land full of trees, we are amazed at the amount of unclaimed driftwood. Chris is working out how he can get it home for the wood-burner. There are some very prestigious homes on this part of Vancouver Island. We eat on the ferry again and are impressed with the efficient way that they cope with all the food orders. Compared to Victoria, which is sheltered by the mountains, Vancouver’s climate is very wet but we have a fine day for our visit. Vancouver is Canada’s third largest city after Toronto and Montreal, with 2.3 million people living in Greater Vancouver, the majority of whom are of oriental descent. There are a large number of rough sleepers in the city because of the warmer climate.

The first European who is known to have set foot in Western Canada is Francis Drake, who landed on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the sixteenth century. Two hundred years later he was followed by Captain Cook who was accompanied by George Vancouver, a man of Dutch descent who was appointed to survey the coast of what became Vancouver Island. The city of Vancouver is surrounded on three sides by water. We visit the vibrant Granville Island Market on the waterfront, with its many bright, evocative-smelling food stalls. We see the Winter Olympic Village and the Stadium as well as yet another Chinatown. An area of the city is called Gastown after ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton who opened a bar in the area and was famed for chatting or ‘gassing’. We are just in time to see the ‘steam clock’ letting off steam for the quarter hour and we pass the convention centres to reach Stanley Park. Stanley Park is 1½ times the size of New York’s Central Park and is beautiful. There are some impressive First Nations’ Totem Poles, which are basically family trees that you read from the bottom upwards, as the most significant symbol is at the bottom. They are traditionally carved from Western Red Cedar, known as ‘the tree of life’ because of its many uses. We also see raccoons (briefly) and plenty of Canada geese. The raccoons have become a problem as some are carrying rabies. Finally a photo stop at Lion Gate Bridge, which we shall be crossing tomorrow and then it is off to our final hotel of the trip.

In Search of Ogopogo – Days 38 & 39 (11 & 12)

We get a lie-in today so it is a bit of a shame that I wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep again. I make use of the hotel swimming pool, which bizarrely necessitates walking through the breakfasting guests in order to gain access. We are driven down to Kelowna waterfront, on the shores of Lake Okanagan, which is beautiful. Kelowna, meaning grizzly bear, is the largest town in the Okanagan region and has the drawback of having a very high fire risk, with frequent evacuations being needed. We view the town and lake from the vantage point of Knox Mountain. Once again our coach boldly goes forth in uncharted areas. We are informed that we are safe to drive up a narrowing roadway as school buses have been observed taking this path up the mountain. No one has reported any coming back down again, which is more worrying. Signs say that active bears have been sighted in this area. At this point I would settle for inactive bears. We see no bears.

Lake Okanagan is reputedly home to the Ogopogo, or as the First Nations call it Nhaatik. This is similar to the Loch Ness monster and some believe that channels link the two lakes. We see no Ogopogo, so are unable to claim the $2 million reward for its discovery. It is another beautiful day and the thermometer on a waterfront building is reading 24 degrees. That may be an exaggeration but it is certainly warm and the TV news later tells us that it was the warmest Canadian September for over a century. It is a beautiful area and timber is being soaked in the harbour to stop it splitting, We also see seaplanes. A wit on a bike thinks Chris is Santa Claus and assures him that he has been good this year. I suppose this might have been vaguely amusing if the bike rider had been five rather than fifty.

335 Lake Okanagan 22 October 2015We visit Summerhill Pyramid winery for a tour. The vineyard is totally organic; corks barrels and cleaning methods all have to be chemical free, so all cleaning is by steam only. The non-wine this time is a rather sweet, cloying grape juice. All wine spends at least a month being stored in the pyramid. This is a one eighth replica of the pyramid at Giza and allegedly has beneficial effects on the wine because it is a sacred geometrical chamber and harnesses special energy. Chris agreed that it felt cold and I was finding it hard to breathe inside but I think the spiritual energy largely passed us by. Nonetheless the setting of the vineyard is spectacular. We eat in the pub attached to the hotel. Like other similar venues, this involves watching sport, or indeed a choice of various sports, on the numerous large screens in the bar.

The following day, we cross the Okanagan Bridge, which was formerly a floating bridge. Today the temperature is 5 degrees, so a bit of a change from yesterday but it is still sunny. We see evidence of previous forest fires and here evacuation is mandatory in times of danger. As we travel west across a mountain highway there are warnings about the necessity for snow chains and winter tyres as we pass ‘chain up’ areas.

In these logging regions two trees have to be planted for every one that is harvested. An experienced planter can plant 2000 trees a day, for which they earn 50 cents per tree. There are problems with the mountain pine beetle damaging trees. The warmer climate means that the beetle is no longer being killed off during winter. The trees that are attacked have a bluish tinge to their wood. This is still being harvested as ‘denim pine’ and its popularity makes it expensive. There are also a quarter of a million head of cattle in this area. We do see cattle. Most round-ups are now done by helicopter rather than cowboys.

Our first stop is in Merritt, in Nicola Valley. This is famous for its saw mills, rodeo and country and western ‘walk of stars’. Today’s ailment is an infected eye, product no doubt of air-conditioning overkill but drops are available at a local shop. From here it is on to Hope, where several roads are named for Shakespearean characters. Hope is the chain-saw capital of the world. An annual chain-saw carving competition is held and there are many carvings in the streets. The town was also the setting for a Rambo film, which was on TV last night. We follow Highway 1 from Hope, alongside the Fraser River, named for fur trader Simon Fraser. This is salmon fishing territory. Salmon lay 4000 eggs at a time, of which only two are likely to make it back to the spawning site.

Only 4% of British Columbia is suitable for agriculture and most of the land is in the Fraser Valley. Nonetheless BC can feed 65% of its population. We see the enormous Thornton Railyard, the third largest in North America, which handles 4000 items of freight per day. We take the ferry across the Straits of Georgia to Vancouver Island, consuming burgers and very nice real chips (none of this French fries rubbish) on board. Strangely these ferries open their doors before docking – scary. Vancouver Island is the size of England, much of it is inaccessible by road and the population is only 750,000, half of whom live in the city of Victoria, the capital of BC and our destination. We are on the Saanich Peninsula, where Fort Victoria was built in 1843. The Hudson Bay Company erected this fort to stop incursions from US traders. Early settlers were the English middle classes, who brought English customs, such as gardens and tea drinking. There is gig-racing taking place on the Elk and Beaver Lakes, reminding us of home.

Mining, logging, shipbuilding, whaling were the original industries but the area was disadvantaged because the Canadian Pacific Railway stopped short of Vancouver Island, now most employment is in the administration and tourism sectors. The climate makes it popular place to live and Victoria is home to many rich retirees, with consequent impact on property prices. Going northwards on Vancouver Island is referred to as going ‘up island’ but we are staying in the south. Victoria’s Chinatown was the first in Canada. We see many totem poles in Thunderbird Park. Here we are in the ‘Pacific Rim of Fire’ earthquake zone and we are urged not to exceed the maximum numbers in the lifts. It is unclear how this might cause an earthquake.

In Search of Bears – Days 36 & 37 (9 &10)

It is glorious autumn weather with clear blue skies as we set off for Lake Louise, keeping a sharp eye out for the bears that we hope to see. This morning, Canadians have woken up to a landslide victory by new prime minister liberal Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre. Our first wildlife spot is a deer trotting across Safeways’ car park. We drive along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. The Vermilion Lakes are a valuable wetland habitat for migratory birds. Moose also like wetlands and can dive up to five metres in search of their preferred food, aquatic plants. We see no moose. Most of the trees are lodge pole pines, which will only regenerate at temperatures of 45 degrees C, hence the need for controlled burning. We see elk damage to the aspen trees, whose bark has been stripped. We see no elk.

The road we are travelling on was built by Ukranian internees after the First World War. The grain trains often have spills that attract animals. These are meant to be cleared to stop wildlife getting killed but bears are still often spotted by the railway tracks. We see no bears. We pass the Valley of the 10 Peaks and Morant’s Curve on our way to the village of Lake Louise, the highest permanent settlement in Canada and location for Doctor Zhivago. Lake Louise was named for Queen Victoria’s daughter who was married to the then Governor General of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne. The Lake itself is glacier fed and is frozen for eight months of the year as the surrounding mountains block out the sun. We walk round the lake and notice a significant drop in temperature as we move beyond the sun’s reach. I am still feeling a bit wobbly so it is a very gentle stroll. We see squirrels and birds (unidentified). We see no bears. Another coach party are all sporting natty orange scarves. We enquire why our group have not been similarly garbed.

316 Emerald Lake 20 October 2015At some point in our day we photograph Emerald Lake, with its wonderful reflections. The Bow River flows west to east, as do all rivers east of the continental divide. We cross the divide into British Columbia; on this side the rivers flow into the Pacific instead. We see Mount Hector, nicknamed Mount Snoopy because of its appearance. Other points of interest are the spiral tunnels, which enable the Canadian Pacific Railway to cope with a 106 foot level change without exceeding an acceptable gradient. Completed in 1907, the tunnels took 1000 men 75 car loads of dynamite and twenty months to build. That sounds like the basis for a maths problem. We also see the overpasses and tunnels that have been created along migratory paths; these have reduced animal fatalities by 99%. Our final stop of the day was at Natural Bridge, a bridge-like rock formation over Kicking Horse River. I am more than ready to lie down and hope I feel better for what is to be a long day tomorrow. We see no bears.

The next day my ailments have ‘resolved’ themselves into an excruciating backache, which I do my best to ignore. We are leaving the Rockies now and retrace some of our steps from yesterday, through the Yoho National Park (yoho means awesome, we have learnt and it is well named). The Bow River has been abandoned in favour of Kicking Horse River. Between 1857 and 1860 the Palliser Expedition, surveying modern day Western Canada and the US, included Dr James Hector. He was kicked by horse at what is now Kicking Horse Pass and it was only discovered that he was still alive when he was being lowered into his grave. This route was adopted by the Canadian Pacific Railway and we see the spiral tunnels again but as yesterday, they are devoid of trains. More wildlife fails as we see no big horned sheep, which normally frequent this area and we still see no bears.

We pick up the course of the Columbia River, which is 1200 miles long. There is low lying cloud as we pass through the Rocky Mountain Trench that separates the Rockies from the Columbia mountains. The trench is one of the earth’s features that is visible from outer space. There were plans to flood a vast area here in order to supply water to the western US but project ‘big bath tub’ was abandoned because of fears that the ecology and weather would be irretrievably altered.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in the 1940s but were reintroduced into this area; we see no wolves. Beaver are also found here. At up to a metre long, including their tails, they are North America’s largest rodent. A beaver will use two hundred deciduous trees a year. We see no beaver. Next we are in the Glacier National Park, which contains about 400 glaciers and we are crossing the Rogers’ Pass, discovered by Albert Bowman ‘Hells Bells’ Rogers in 1882. Rogers was given a $5000 reward by Canadian Pacific for discovering the route but he framed the cheque instead of cashing it. The road is protected from avalanches by tunnel-like ‘snow sheds’, as the area gets 50-60 foot of snow each year. The army used to use howitzers to shoot down imminent avalanches but now explosives are dropped by helicopters.

We stop for lunch in Mount Revelstoke National Park. We are consuming sandwiches purchased at our previous stop. We are told that grizzly and black bears are found here. Grizzly bears have more of a hump and different shaped faces but black bears aren’t exclusively black. We see no bears of either variety. Next stop is the point at which the final spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway, joining the east and west coasts, was driven in. Most of the line was built from east to west but the westernmost section was sub-contracted so the final joining spike was here at Craigellachie in 1885. The railway runs for nearly 3000 miles, with bridges over more than 1000 streams. We hear the story of Lady Agnes, wife of Sir John A MacDonald, who strapped herself to a seat attached to the cowcatcher for some of the journey when travelling on the newly opened Canadian Pacific coast to coast railroad. The Trans Canadian Highway was completed in 1962.

328 Ice creams at Swan Lake 21 October 2015At Grindrod we see a house decorated all over with hub-caps – each to their own. The first Europeans in the area we are now entering, like many others, were fur traders, followed by gold seekers. The favourable agricultural conditions encouraged permanent settlement. The 100 mile long Okanagan Valley is another fruit and vine growing region. There are random large piles of sawdust everywhere. We stop at Swan Lake for refreshments and plan to have ice-creams. Fortunately we were not first in the queue. Our fellow travellers have opted for double cones; they really should not have done that. It is going to take us a considerable while to get outside our ‘single’ scoop cones, which each have five scoops of ice cream piled precariously upon them. The final photo stop is at Kalamalka Lake – the lake of many colours. We see no bears.

We have carelessly lost another hour on our journey and I am trying to catch up with what has been happening at home. I am excited to find the corrected proofs and cover of Remember Then in my inbox as well as yet more Swords and Spindles booking enquiries. For the first time, we have a ‘reception’ at our hotel and cookies and drinks are awaiting our arrival. Not wanting to pass up the chance of free refreshment we partake – having first sniffed the fruit juice suspiciously. It looked like tomato juice, which is not a favourite but was actually mango.

Banff National Park – Day 35 (8)

We have fresh air in this room but sadly a very noisy, full-sized fridge. I am looking forward to getting back to the silence of home, interrupted only by the occasional baaing of sheep. The combination of the aftermath of my chilly day in Québec, lack of breakfast and general exhaustion is making me feel quite dizzy but I am looking forward to a trip round Banff National Park and today we take a turn in the front seats of the coach. An acronym for Banff is ‘be aware, nothing for free’. We shan’t be going to the similarly entitled ‘just another small place to earn revenue’ – Jasper.

One of the reasons why the Canadian Pacific was routed through Banff was because of the presence of the hot water springs and a tourist industry grew up in the 1880s. This surrounded what is now the enormous, prestigious Banff Springs Hotel, that has been rebuilt and enlarged over the years. It now contains 750 rooms that cost from $600-$1600 a night. The hotel reputedly trades on its name and fame, rather than its standard of service, which is poor. Tour groups are not allowed to sightsee in the hotel but individual tourists are. It is suggested that we saunter in in ones and twos, feigning ignorance and pretending that we have never seen the rest of our party before – this works.

Banff National Park is the oldest in Canada and the third oldest in the world, being established in 1885. It is one of four adjacent parks in this area, which together make up the Mountains’ National Parks, only 5% of which are accessible from the road. Logging, mining, hunting and fishing are no longer allowed in areas under their jurisdiction.

294 Elk Banff National Park 19 October 2015Our driver and guide are up for breaking the rules so we go to places no tour bus has gone before and find ourselves being driven round the golf course in search of wildlife and we are lucky enough to see a whole herd of wild elk. We are fortunate that we chose today to be in the front seats. The First Nations word for elk is wapiti, or ‘white backside’. It was introduced to the area from the US by transporting a hundred or so by train and letting them loose in the Banff and Jasper National Parks. The antlers are shed each spring and new ones grow at a rate of 1½ inches a day. A rack of antlers (i.e. one side) can weigh up to 40lbs.

299 Hoo doos Banff National Park 19 October 2015We have a photo stop at Bow Falls. We learn that the stone cairns we have been seeing, that look like men, are Inuksuk, Inuit symbols that were originally intended as way marks. The next photo opportunity is at Surprise Corner. We are on Tunnel Mountain, or ‘the sleeping buffalo’. There is no tunnel through this mountain but one was planned. We see Hoodoos, sandstone stacks created by water and wind erosion, that were feared by the First Nations people as it was thought that they represented evil spirits. A final pause at Two Jacks Lake then back past Lake Minnewanka (lake of the water spirit), the largest in the park at 15 miles long. It is frozen for six months of the year. The lake was enlarged as a result of it being dammed for HEP and there are now submerged buildings in the lake that are a target for scuba divers.

Mike drops us off in the centre of Banff by which time I am feeling increasingly weird so we fall into the nearest café for an all day breakfast. Our choice wins no prizes for décor, with uncovered concrete floors and exposed wiring on the ceiling but the breakfast was remarkably good and cheap. We walk down to the Bow River to look round the Buffalo Nations’ Luxton Museum, dedicated to First Nations’ history. It was founded by journalist and eccentric Samuel Luxton. I am reminded of much from my ‘American West’ teaching, with travois, pemmican (dried meat), sweat lodges and sundances. Something that I was not aware of was the use of ‘sage sticks’ to ward off evil spirits. The museum contains some beautiful craftwork and enough stuffed animals to have kept a taxidermist busy for a lifetime. We even get a hot drink included in our entrance fee, although we do have to make this ourselves.

The river is a jewelled green colour and very beautiful but now I just want to lie down in a darkened room, well, lie down at least. So we walk back up to the hotel, collecting some provisions on the way – there has to be some benefit to the noisy fridge, so we ensure that we will make use of it. This hotel also has a guest laundry with very efficient free dryers, so we do some washing – would be rude not to.


Off to the Rockies – Day 34 (7)

Mike, our new driver, introduces us to the features of our bus; we have four seats each! We begin with a tour of a deserted Calgary. Few people live downtown, although attempts are being made to encourage people back to live in the centre. Although Calgary is larger than Edmonton, the latter is the provincial capital of Alberta. Calgary has made money from the oil and gas industry. Instead of an underground system it has above ground walkways, like covered bridges, connecting buildings. We are able to see the winter Olympics’ facilities from 1988. This was the year made famous by Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bob sleigh team. Although it took Montréal thirty five years to pay off the debt incurred by the staging of the 1976 summer Olympics, Calgary made a fortune from the winter Olympics of 1988. We see the ski jumps at Canmore. As competitors now jump 25-30 metres further, these runs are no longer suitable for international competition. We stop at the Olympic Park and watch some ice hockey in progress, although lacrosse, brought over from France, is the national sport.

The Blackfoot confederacy of five First Nations’ tribes were attracted to what is now Calgary, at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, close to the rivers themselves and the nearby cliffs, suitable for buffalo jumps, which made it ideal for winter settlement. In the 1860s, American whisky traders tried to exchange adulterated whisky and other goods with First Nations tribes. This unbalanced trade was to the detriment of the First Nations people. They were susceptible to alcohol and this led to drunkenness and inter-tribal conflict. Chief Crowfoot, early settler Sam Livingstone and missionary Rev George MacDougall expressed concerns but these were ignored until the 1873 massacre of Cypress Hill when 23 indigenous people were slaughtered. As a result, F division of the North West Mounted Police set up log-built Bow Fort in 1875 as a base for the small troop of men patrolling the area from Edmonton, 200 miles to the north, to Fort MacLeod, which is 100 miles further south. James MacLeod, the commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, gave the name of his birthplace, a bay on the Isle of Mull, to Calgary. Calgary earned the nickname ‘cow town’. Before exploitation by the Europeans, there were 200 million head of bison in North America but these were decimated within a decade in the 1870s. By 1884, the town of Calgary had grown up but this timber-built town was burnt down two years later; the town was then rebuilt from yellow sandstone. Between 1896 and 1914 free land grants were offered as inducements to settle in the west.

Next is a visit to Fort Calgary, a very interesting museum where we could have spent much longer. Amelia explains the history of the area and Chris finds himself dressed as a mountie. Recruits to the North West Mounted Police got a land grant of 160 acres after three years’ service. Their iconic red jackets, the king’s colours, distinguished them from those in the US who had blue jackets. Nowadays red jackets are only worn for ceremonial purposes.

We see the Calgary tower, which was built in 1967 to celebrate the centenary of confederation; initially it was called ‘husky tower’. It is 626 feet high and the Olympic flame was lit from the top during the Olympics. It has now been replaced as the tallest building in Calgary by The Bow. We then visit the grounds where the Calgary Stampede, ‘the biggest outdoor show on earth’, is held. The Stampede, a ten day event in July, attracts a million people. It was started by Guy Weadick in 1912 as a competition for ranch hands. It now begins with a free breakfast and parade. The Saddledome stadium is appropriately shaped.

Our journey takes us alongside the Bow River and the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Banff and the Rockies. We are on Highway 1, which traverses 4800 miles from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria and is the world’s second longest highway. George Stevens, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, came from Banff in Scotland and gave its name to the town. The Cascade Mountain looms over us and epitomises Banff. The aspen trees are skeleton-like as they have already lost their leaves and the landscape looks barren and dry with yellows and browns.

284 The Rockies 18 October 2015The Reservations set aside for the First Nations people are often on very poor soil. Traditionally, the First Nations burnt land to cause the bison to stampede over a cliff to escape the fire. The Blackfoot were so named because their feet were blackened from running over the cinders. Alternatively, bison were stalked and frightening into stampeding over ‘jumps’. The Spanish introduced horses to North America in the sixteenth century. This and the use of rifles changed the way in which bison were hunted. Here we are in the land of the Stoney, or ‘stone boilers’, First Nations tribe, so named because they cooked using the warmth from stones that had been heated in boiling water. The hoardings we have seen are only allowed on First Nations land and they get rent.

Banff is the highest town in Canada, at 4537 feet above sea level. Streets are named for Canadian animals and we spot some elk in the river. Banff has a very different character from other places we have visited and it displays its identity as a ski resort. A high proportion of the businesses here are owned by Japanese. We stop for a meal and Chris once again goes for something local, with elk and bison meatloaf; I stick to half a chicken, of proportions that would make an emu look small.

We take an eight minute gondola ride to a height of 7500 feet up Sulphur Mountain. Did I mention that I don’t like heights? This activity was scheduled for Tuesday but the gondola is closed for building work then. The views are spectacular and although the timing means we do not get very long at the top, it was well worth it. As we descend to the lower terminal, the cars inexplicably stop for five minutes to everyone’s consternation. We were only about 30 feet from the ground and would have been the next car to land but some of our fellow travellers who were left suspended, swaying in the wind higher up were beginning to panic.