East Coast Travel Dreamin’

Dream now, travel later: one of many new hashtag-style slogans brought on by the current pandemic situation. In the travel industry, we’re not accustomed to discouraging people from travel, but that’s where we’re at right now. Also right now, weekly grocery store trips are epic quests into the dangerous unknown, the outcome of which is of immense importance to our survival (and baking goals).

We will travel again, but it might take awhile for international travel to be within our reach. So what do we do in the meantime? We dream, and possibly think of exploring a little closer to home.

I was born in Canada with the soul of a wanderer, but never travelled to the east coast of my own country until just last year. It’s a common story for avid travellers: we love to travel abroad, but many of us have seen more of foreign countries than we have of our own.

Turns out, the east coast of Canada is absolutely magical.

These are just a few of my favourite discoveries on Canada’s east coast from my job as a “Road Warrior” last summer, leading road trip adventures with Out Here Travel. Each of these probably warrant their own dedicated post, but for now, here’s a little taste:

Following the sun on Cape Breton

If there is any place in Canada that has actual magic faeries, it is probably this fantastically scenic island on the northeastern end of Nova Scotia. The weather is changeable, though, which means every day has the added challenge of finding the sunny side of the island to hike or swim, and make it to the right spot in time for an epic sunset.

Falling in love on PEI

My first impression of Prince Edward Island is that it looked like an oversaturated photograph: the grass seemed too green, the dirt too red, the sky too blue, the island in general just too good to be true. I fell in love on PEI with the island itself and it wasn’t hard to do: it’s the perfect setting for a beautiful romance. With or without finding my Gilbert (that’s an Anne of Green Gables reference, for the uninitiated), by the end of the summer I was seriously considering moving to The Island and living in an uninhabited (haunted?) lighthouse. I still might.

Finding new heights in Gaspesie

To your average west coaster spoiled by too many mountains ranges to choose from, the prospect of hiking on the east coast is a bit of an eyebrow raiser. But Gaspesie (or what I like to refer to as the sticky-outy part of Quebec) rose to the challenge, and challenged me in more ways than I had expected, including to unbury my elementary school french and overcome my introversion combined with language barrier anxiety to make some magique Sea Shack friends. Also, so many majestical sunsets.

Having Fun-dy in New Bruns-wy

New Brunswick gets a bad rap on the east coast: other Maritimers love to denigrate it as “The Drive-Thru Province” and “No Funswick.” I have to politely disagree, based purely on the fact that I have had so much fun there. From kayaking through sea caves as the sun sets in the Bay of Fundy, to walking around on the ocean floor exploring the alien-shaped Hopewell Rocks; from screaming into the furious wind at Cape Enrage, to weathering a huge hurricane with a pile of storm chips and puzzles in the tiny town of St. Martins; New Brunswick was consistently at the top of my tour groups’ favourites lists.

Feasting on amazing seafood with incredible music in the friendliest of company

No post about the Maritimes would be complete without mentioning the trifecta of Maritime life: food, music, and friendly people. Oh, pandemic! What I wouldn’t give for a $10 lobster from Captain Mark’s first haul of the season, an invitation to a kitchen party (where amazing music is guaranteed to randomly happen in the kitchen, or so I’ve been told), and people that are so genuinely awesome they welcome me with pots full of mussels and homemade bus-shaped cakes. “How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!”

Finally, dreaming of new adventures

I’m dreaming of travelling to the east coast again not only because of all the above amazing reasons, but also because of the adventures yet to come. Top of my travel list? Newfoundland/Labrador. My grandfather moved to the west coast from a tiny Hudson’s Bay outpost on the coast of Labrador, after an upbringing that involved such seaside shenanigans as carting an overgrown pet seal around by wheelbarrow (yes, he is writing a book); so I suppose I’m 1/4 Newfoundlander, but I’ve never been. “The Rock” is calling, and I must go… (later).

Canada has SO MUCH to offer, and to my fellow Canada dwellers, after the domestic travel restrictions are eased I hope you will consider exploring more of it, supporting our local tourism economy before you venture forth to foreign adventures once more. If you are reading this from abroad, I hope you too will dream of Canada and come visit once we can move on from #travellater to #travelasap!

Thank you for reading, this post is not sponsored or paid for in any way, I simply want to share the magic of the Maritimes with you all, in order to support the travel industry of this region I’ve come to love.

If you enjoyed this post, please add your support by liking it, sharing it, and/or leaving a comment!

Finally, if you are willing and able, please consider buying a coffee for your friendly neighbourhood out-of-work-because-coronavirus tour guide (me), below:

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Stand Fast Craigallechie!

The phrase “stand fast” has been on repeat in my head today, a fitting motto for these anxiety-laden pandemic isolation times.

On this date two weeks ago, after leading my last Rocky Mountains tour, I was due to fly from my family’s home in the Okanagan back to my home base in Vancouver, but cancelled my flight the day before because of the quickly compounding Coronavirus-related events. I decided, along with my family, it would be wiser to wait a few more days before heading back to the coast to see how things played out… two weeks later, I’m still here.

Standing fast.

“Stand fast,” the story of Craigallechie, is one of my favourites to tell on tour, for its message of optimism in a time of grave peril, and it is indeed a fitting motto – no, battle cry – for these dangerous times. So take a break from the perilous reality for a moment and let me take you on a little adventure…

To Craigallechie! In Canada Craigallechie refers to a famous spot in British Columbia also known as “The Last Spike,” where the Canadian railway was finally completed and the last spike driven in. Nestled in between the lakeside town of Salmon Arm (yes, fish with arms, we like to keep things interesting in Canada), and Eagle’s Pass, stands the notoriously difficult-to-pronounce historical site of Craigallechie.

Train travelling through the Fraser Canyon, several hours’ journey west of Craigallechie

The word Craigallechie comes from the early days of Scotland, from the name of a hilltop lookout on the lands of Clan Grant, “The Rock of Alarm.” A lookout would light a beacon fire on this hilltop (like the real-world Beacon of Gondor) to warn the clan of imminent danger, raising the clan to stand fast and prepare to face whatever peril approached. “Stand Fast Craigallechie” became the slogan of Clan Grant.

Sir George Stephen, of Craigallechie ancestry, and the other managers of the Canadian railway had many impending dangers to face as they attempted to complete the world’s largest infrastructure project to date.

First of all, there was an urgency to build the rail and connect Canada’s two coasts as the Americans pushed their borders farther north, threatening to encroach on the vast, unpatrolled Canadian wilderness in between British Columbia and the Canadian provinces to the east.

Second, not unlike modern infrastructure construction projects, the ambitious and costly project was quickly losing public support due to scandals, accidents, irritating tourists, inconsiderate train robbers, and other undesirable things the railway brought or threatened to bring.

Finally and perhaps most urgently, they were running out of money. Bankruptcy was barrelling full speed towards them and they had to make a last stand, to light the beacon on the Rock of Alarm.

So it was with a wartime urgency that Sir George Stephen returned to Britain to try to save the railway in its final hour. He pleaded with investors in Britain to support the railway, or see the fledgeling country of Canada – the British Commonwealth’s foothold in the new world – fall into obscurity, possibly even facing American annexation (a phrase all Canadians from 1867 to today never want to hear, and a phrase that was equally infuriating to the ears of proud Britons at the time still reeling from the slap in the face of the American colonial revolt, aka “The American Revolution”).

Upon securing the funding at last, and over a century before the time of texting and Tik Tok, Sir George Stephen sent a message to his associates in Canada by telegraph declaring triumphantly, “STAND FAST CRAIGALLECHIE!” As telegrams cost their senders per letter he needed to be short and sweet, and knew they would interpret this to mean, “Stand fast and don’t give up, we got this bros, we’ve got the money, we can finish the railroad!”

And they did, naming the site where the last spike was ceremoniously driven in (twice – the first time Sir Donald Smith bent the official last spike like you bend a nail when you hammer it wrong) after the word they had clung to when all seemed lost: Craigallechie.

So, my friend, stand fast and don’t give up, whether you are watching the danger approach as numbers rise and madmen rave on the news, or whether you are already gasping for breath in the midst of the battlefield: stand fast. These are perilous times, but I hold on to the hope that one day I will be taking a fresh group of travellers to explore this historic site with fresh significance; perhaps you will come along and join me as we shout together, “STAND FAST CRAIGALLECHIE!”

“STAND FAST CRAIGALLECHIE!” -One of my legendary tour groups ❤️ circa Summer 2017