Vancouver Island, Canada: July 10, 2003

This trip was less well-planned than the Grouse Mountain excursion the previous day. While on the ferry, I heard about a greyhound bus that would take us into town. Not being sure where we needed to go or how far away it was, I decided at the last minute to buy two tickets. Luckily, they weren't that expensive.

"Why are we taking the bus?" Mike asked me.
"I don't know. I just suddenly got this feeling that the ferry wasn't going to drop us where I thought it would and we might need transportation."

Being on the bus worked out great - it was one of the first vehicles off of the ferry, and it sped us, oh, maybe 5 miles? down the highway between where the ferry docked at Departure Bay and.....well, we weren't quite sure where we were. It was a shabby dirty bus depot near a residential area. We went inside the depot, where we found a customer service counter, people booking trips, and so forth.

"What do we do now?" Mike asked me. "Honestly, I don't know, " I said. "I guess I came in here hoping there would be someone who could tell us."

So, I approached the counter. "Um, hi. We're spending the day in Nanaimo and we're trying to figure out where to go and what to see."

"Oh sure, " the man behind the counter says. He breaks out a map as if this has come up a dozen times. "Walk around the depot to the sidewalk, turn right, and that path will take you to where you want to go."

So, we set off in between buses to find the sidewalk. The area seemed a little grungy, and we started joking about how we should've had Jarl with us, since he always has a way of making these sorts of travelling situations work out okay.

The path was made of old concrete, and we could see that it headed back underneath the road we had come to the bus depot on. Lacking better ideas, we decided to give it a try.....

As we emerged from under the bridge, we got a pleasant surprise!

View from under the bridge

At the time, I described it as a scene change - we were suddenly on a path running through a lush harbor-side park with beautiful views of the water and, further, the mountains of mainland Canada. The water was an amazing shade of blue, the sky was clear, and the sun was warm.

Harbor View in Nanaimo

We were happy and relieved that we had found something more like what we had expected from Nanaimo. So, we followed the path around the park. It was a winding path, following every curve of the shore. We saw a ferry station by a dock, people sunbathing, and various pieces of art that had been placed along the path. Mike stopped to look at the sign for the ferry: "Newcastle Island. Is that where we're going?" "I don't think so." "It was some park with really large trees, right?" "Yeah, but I didn't think it was an island." "Well, maybe later. It says the ferry runs all day."

Ferry to Newcastle Island

We kept walking and passed a tall statue that looked like some sort of crazy pirate captain. As we crossed a bridge, we were watching kids trying to catch crabs and so forth in the tide pool. (It was low tide) Mike said "Let's go back and find out who the crazy guy is."

So, we crossed back over the bridge to have a closer look at Black Frank. The statue made him look loony.

Statue of Black Frank
Zoom - Statue of Black Frank

Statue of Black Frank Dedication
This dedication reads

Dedicated in memory of Frank James Ney
affectionately known as "Black Frank"
by the citizens of Nanaimo
"5 Bells & All Is Well In Davey Jones Locker"
We had visions of a crazy old guy who always wandered around dressed up as a pirate.....until we read the second plaque,
Statue of Black Frank Explanation
which reads
In 1967 "Black Frank" helped launch the now famous
Loyal Nanaimo Bath Tub Race
The colorful pirate costume was worn to promote Nanaimo as

Mayor of Nanaimo 1967-1984 and 1986-1990
Member of Legislative Assembly 1969-1972
"Freeman" of the City of Nanaimo"
B.C.'s Tourism Ambassador
Honourary Chief First Nations of Nanaimo
Killer Whale - Q-un Lhanumutsun
Active member of many organizations
Notary Public and president of Nanaimo Realty

The what race? It's "The World's Cleanest Sport"!

You can find information on the Nanaimo Bathtub racing home page and...

From Moon Handbooks: British Columbia by Andrew Hempstead, page 173:
On the last Sunday of every July the waters off Nanaimo come alive for the World Championship Bathtub Race, the grand finale of the annual Nanaimo Marine Festival. The idea for the race was conceived back in 1967, when the chairman of the city's Canada Centennial Committee, Frank Ney, was asked to come up with a special event for the occasion. Bathtub racing was born over a cup of coffee, and Ney went on to be elected mayor of Nanaimo.

Originally, competitors raced across the Strait of Georgia between Nanaimo and Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver. Today, they leave from downtown, racing around the Entrance and Winchelsea Islands to the finish line at Departure Bay in a modified bathtub fitted with a 7.5-horsepower outboard motor. The racers are escorted by hundreds of boats of the more regular variety, loaded with people just waiting for the competitors to sink! Every bathtubber wins a prize - a golden plug for entering, a small trophy for making it to the other side of the strait, and a silver plunger for the first tub to sink!"

From The Vancouver article by Bob Mackin, Jan 2003:
"It all began in 1967 as a Centennial project spearheaded by Frank Ney. Ney was later the pirate-impersonating mayor of Nanaimo for all but two years between 1968 and 1990.

Then-Mayor Peter Maffeo wanted to pull the plug on the first race when 200 racers showed up. He feared injuries or worse.

Some entrants planned to row, pedal or sail their tubs to Vancouver. Rusty Harrison had a motor and the skill to win. He landed at West Vancouver's Fisherman's Cove in three hours, 26 minutes.

In 1971, John Wayne was in Nanaimo during race weekend and was made an honorary governor of the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society.

Time magazine took notice of the offbeat sporting event and ran a story under the headline Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Nuts In A Tub. Australians dominated the winner's circle from 1976 to 1980. In 1991, winners were declared in both stock and modified classes in a bid to encourage both competition and participation."

"Five bells and all's well in Davey Jones Locker" Mike repeated in his most sinister voice. Okay, so we still had visions of a crazy old guy who wandered around dressed up as a pirate. We had a good laugh about Black Frank and moved on.

We crossed the bridge again and stopped at another art display - this one of a more native flavor.
Native Art

We walked past restaurants, shops, boats, and finally came to the end of the path. "Now what?" Mike asked. All we had for directions was the map we had gotten at the bus depot. Since the rest of the town was up the hill and away from the water, we headed that way in search of the visitor's center that was labeled. Maybe they could point us to the park with the tall trees.

After a bit of wandering, we found the visitor's center. The lady there had brochures for all of the attractions on Vancouver Island, so we spent some time trying to track down the park we had come to see. As it turned out, while we were planning, the ferry to Vancouver Island was one of the things I had picked out. What I hadn't realized was that we would need a car and a bit of time to drive up to some of the parks mentioned on the web site.

So, what else could we do? Well, there were nice parks on Gabriola Island, but we would need to rent a scooter to get around, and neither of us was really dressed for a scooter. There was a park on Newcastle Island, but not much else. There was also a floating dock restaurant on Protection Island called the Dinghy Dock Pub. A group of people entered the visitors center, so she gave us each a Nanaimo pin and wished us a good visit.

Nanaimo Pin

The building pictured on the pin is called The Bastion, and it currently houses a museum for Nanaimo. We were the only ones in the museum. After we paid the request $2 donation, the lady at the front desk started a video for us in the first room. The video covered the native roots of Nanaimo. After watching the video, we wandered through the upstairs, which highlighted Nanaimo's fishing and mining industries.

From Moon Handbooks: British Columbia by Andrew Hempstead, page 168:
"History Five native bands lived here (the name Nanaimo is a derivative of the Salish word Sney-Ny-Mous, or "Meeting Place), and it was they who innocently showed dull, black rocks to Hudson's Bay Company employees in 1851. For most of the next century, mines in the area exported huge quantities of coal. Eventually, oil-fueled ships replaced the coal burners, and by 1949 most of the mines had closed....

Nanaimo was officially incorporated in 1874, which makes it the province's third-oldest town. When the coal mines closed, forestry and fishing became mainstays of the city. Today, Nanaimo is also a major deep-sea shipping port...

The Bastion Overlooking the harbor at the junction of Bastion and Front Streets stands the Bastion, a well-protected fort built in 1853 by the Hudson's Bay Company to protect employees and their families against an attack by natives. Originally used as a company office, arsenal, and supply house, today the fort houses the Bastion Museum."

After the museum visit, we found an ATM and then bought ice cream cones from a shop along the dock. Then, we decided maybe to try the Dinghy Dock Pub and Protection Island. We boarded a ferry for Protection Island that was docked but not scheduled to leave for half an hour or so, and we waited for an attendant. In a short while, we were joined by an older couple, who sat at the opposite end of the small ferry. Mike was asking me what we would see on Protection Island, so I decided to pass the question along. I approached the lady and asked her if there were any parks on Protection Island. "No, it's a residential island." she said. "Other than the pub, there's nothing to see. Just houses and sidewalks. I don't know what they tell people that makes them think there's something there for them to see. There aren't even any public restrooms."

hmmmmm.... that wasn't encouraging. I thanked her for the information and returned to Mike to tell him we were on the wrong ferry. He was visibly frustrated. So where were we going, if not to Protection Island? Maybe to Newcastle Island, even though we were a little tired of all this wandering around. Mike said he hoped there were trees on Newcastle Island, since the purpose of the whole trip to Vancouver Island had been to see some really large trees.

We rushed back toward the Bus Depot....past the shops along the dock, past the native art, past Black Frank.....

We got to the Newcastle Island Ferry just as they were accepting passengers. The girl watching the dock said we would buy our tickets on the ferry was one its way, so we boarded. The ferry was a small boat with bench seats in a covered cabin and an open part with seating in the rear. I would estimate that it could hold about 20 people, but there were only ten or so on this trip.

So, we puttered across the harbor to Newcastle Island....