Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Teacher Learns About Polar Bears in Icy Arctic

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Sometimes even polar bears just want to have fun.

Not everyone would consider sleeping in a tent on the ice the perfect vacation, but Bobbie Henderson thought it a great adventure. Over the past few years, she has made not one, but two trips to the far, far north just to get up close and personal with polar bears.

While she’s had a long-time passion for animals, one day while teaching an eighth grade class, they watched a film about polar bears. At the end of the film, it told about possible tours on the tundra where you could see polar bears just outside your window. Bobbie was hooked.

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Three polar bears relax in the setting sun on Hudson Bay.

Her first polar bear expedition headed to Churchill on Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada. Northern style shops lined the streets of this small town. Sirens went off to alert people when a polar bear came to visit. They even had a polar bear jail, where they placed tranquilized bears until they could be taken back to the wilds by helicopter.

At Churchill, a group of 32 boarded Tundra Buggies set high off the ground to take them exploring. Once they reached camp, the group settled in for a week of visiting polar bears.

Headquarters consisted of a stationary area with seven modular sections. Camp here was spartan, but comfortable…with excellent food. Showers were limited to two and a half minutes as all water had to be heated, while outhouses stood on the edge of camp. Overall, a relaxed atmosphere.

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The highlight of the trip for Bobbie was when this polar bear stuck its nose in the tundra buggy window right beside her.

Half the group would go polar bear watching in the morning, while the other half went in the afternoon. On one of these trips, windows were left down to take better pictures. The thrill of the trip for Bobbie was when one polar bear, 10′ tall, actually stuck its nose in the window right where she sat. She could have reached out and touched him…but took a picture instead.

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Forty polar bears were sighted on her first expedition.

One strict rule here states: “Don’t even think about feeding the bears.” Feeding was discouraged as it would make the bears too familiar with humans, perhaps causing both of them problems. If anyone did feed a bear, they were taken from camp in a helicopter at their expense. Bears find their own food and enjoy a steady diet of seals. They can eat a hundred pounds of blubber in a single sitting.

On that first expedition, Bobbie saw 40 polar bears in their natural environment. There’s a reason that Manitoba is called “The Polar Bear Capital of the World”.

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Their yellow tents were the only sign of civilization in this Arctic wilderness.

Her second polar bear adventure began in Nunavut near Pond Inlet on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Now she was 700 K north of the Arctic Circle! This small town said their biggest problems were drugs, family abuse, and alcohol. They did have a couple television sets and computers, which broadcast in their native Inuktitut language.

Snow machines pulled them to camp this time on 18′ komitak sleds…three people to a sled. The ride took eight bumpy hours. Camp consisted of bright yellow tents on the ice with an insulated pad underneath and a very warm sleeping bag. Native Eskimos served as guides and someone stood guard around the clock to make certain no bears invaded the camp.

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Bobbie, their guide Dave and Jenny from Australia listen through hydrophones to the world beneath the ice.

The reflection of the midnight sun off the ice gave members the worst sunburns on their faces that they could imagine. They would reach outside their tents at night to get ice to cool off their burning face.

Perhaps it was due to the weather, but on this trip they only saw four polar bears. They first faced blizzard conditions but by the end of the week, it started to rain, so ice was melting in spots especially along the crevices. Now the komitak sleds had to jump the crevices making for a very rough and wet ride back to town.

Living on the frozen ocean, they explored ancient ruins of the Thule people, followed tracks of polar bears in the snow, built snowmen and created snow angels. Each day provided another unique adventure, which made this magical place a once in a lifetime experience.

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Ms Henderson brought back her experiences and used them in the classroom.

Upon her return, Bobbie shared her Arctic adventures in her Florida classroom. She used the trip to teach spelling, vocabulary, map skills and wildlife conservation. Bringing personal experiences to the classroom always enhances learning. Now she enjoys sharing her experiences as a substitute teacher here in southeastern Ohio.

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Her house is overflowing with polar bear memorabilia.

While Bobbie was glad she did both trips, she wants to return to Churchill again because she saw more bears there, and camping was a little more relaxing. Since she likes cold weather, Greenland, the North Pole, and Arctic regions are places she would enjoy visiting.

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Bobbie volunteers at Dickens Victorian Village, where she dresses as a lovely Victorian lady.

Animals like Bobbie. At her home near Cambridge, she keeps several dogs, cats, and rare macaws. Deer hang out at her back deck. But if you happen to see a polar bear there, it’s just Bobbie in her polar bear costume.

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Sometimes she enjoys dressing as a polar bear.

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Explore Canadian Wilderness on Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Agawa Canyon Train

Agawa Canyon Train

Want to spend a day in the wilderness? The Agawa Canyon Tour Train will fulfill that desire. Starting early in the morning, passengers board for a one-day rail adventure that leads to the beautiful Agawa Canyon in the heart of the Canadian wilderness.

In the upper peninsula of Michigan, Sault Ste Marie is the place to begin. You will first cross the International Bridge into Ontario, Canada where you board the all-day excursion to the back country of Canada. Everyone settles in to watch the scenic view pass by the  large windows of the excursion train. Lakes, waterfalls, and many pines give a feast to the eyes as mile after mile of this 228 mile journey relaxes your mind. A knowledgeable tour guide delights travelers with stories of local history, Ojibway, fur traders and explorers. For breathtaking views along the way, monitors throughout the coaches are connected to a camera mounted on the front of the engine.

School children wave to the Agawa Canyon Train.

School children wave to the Agawa Canyon Train.

Around nine o’clock, the train gives a whistle as it passes the elementary school where students line the track waving to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The guide said the children look forward to this break in the morning, while the teacher attempts to involve them in the history of their area.

Although this is a wilderness area, some people still live here. Every few miles the train will stop at a small depot to leave mail and packages. Once in a while, a passenger might board for a ride farther into or out of the canyon. Locals are accustomed to the arrival of the train as the tracks were laid in the canyon during the winter of 1911-1912.

Towering trestles provide spectacular views of the valleys below and once in a while you can catch a glimpse of the end of the train as it curves around the valley walls. It is thought that Agawa Canyon was created from a fault, which occurred over a billion years ago.

Waterfalls at Agawa Canyon Park

Waterfalls at Agawa Canyon Park

At the farthest end of the tour, the train sweeps down to the floor of the canyon stopping at Canyon Park. There are only two ways to reach this spectacular park area : by train or hiking. Great views of the waterfalls appear from the canyon floor, so this is the perfect time to stretch your legs and do a little exploring. The Overlook is a great place for breathtaking pictures while the train stops for about an hour.  As you might imagine, there is a Souvenir Car here in case you want to purchase a special memory of the excursion.

As you get closer to Agawa River you notice that the color is rather unusual. It has a near rusty color caused by staining of tannic acid, which comes from the roots and bark of the many cedar trees in the area.

Agawa Canyon Overlook

Agawa Canyon Overlook

A box lunch on the way back settles everyone in their turned around seats to enjoy the scenery from another direction. Although many small animals live in this area, none were seen on this particular trip. The larger ones have two reasons for avoiding the canyon: the walls are too steep and the train is too loud. This is truly a day for relaxation and visiting with friends and new acquaintances.

For those who enjoy the sound and feel of a train ride,  Agawa Canyon Train Tour is a great, relaxing experience.As David P Morgan said, “Things that move are a lot more exciting than things that stand still.” I agree!

Agawa Canyon Tour Train can be reached in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario across the International Bridge from Michigan. Boarding takes place at Bay Street along the St. Mary’s River. The train runs from June – October on its regular daily runs. However, the Snow Train operates only on Saturdays from late January until early March. Check ahead for changes in schedule.

The International Peace Garden May Peace Prevail on Earth

Opened on July 14, 1932 the International Peace Garden on the border of Canada and the USA near Dunseith, North Dakota is the world’s largest unfortified border, “Like No Other Place On Earth”. It encompasses 2,300 acres of botanical gardens and on a stone caim on the border are inscribed these words:

TO GOD IN HIS GLORY,
we two nations
dedicate this garden
and pledge ourselves
that as long as men
shall live, we will
not take up arms
against one another.

What a great thought all those years ago as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.

The sounds of bell chimes faintly echo every fifteen minutes from the Veterans Memorial Bell Tower.  The nearby 120′ concrete Peace Tower has four columns symbolizing the four corners of the world from which thousands of immigrants arrived in Canada and the United States to make better lives for themselves. Two of the columns are in Manitoba, Canada while the other two columns are in North Dakota.  The foundation symbolizes one solid base of democratic beliefs between the two countries.

The Peace Chapel provides the perfect place to sit down and relax, meditate, or read the positive thoughts written on the walls. The Peace Chapel has been a long time project of area members of the Order of the Eastern Star and is the only building which straddles the United States and Canadian border. While the chapel is a simple building, the addition of amber glass windows from France gives it a soft, golden, peaceful glow.

The three encircling walls into which quotations have been engraved were one of the special features that grabbed my attention. All quotations were either spoken or written by great men of peace throughout history. Some of the limestone walls still have embedded fossils of strange marine life, which had been molded into the bed of a tropical sea in the Manitoba region millions of years ago.

Flower beds are around every corner here, but two displays that have been constant from the beginning are beds forming the United States and Canadian flags.  A beautiful International Peace Garden Floral Clock actually works and was originally donated by Bulova in 1966. This original was designed as a replica of the famous Bulova Floral Clock in Berne, Switzerland, but inner workings were replaced in recent years by a clock from St Louis, Missouri.  The clock contains over 2,000 flowers with the design changing yearly, and reminds visitors to take time for the peaceful feeling surrounding the gardens.

Just down the road in the Turtle Mountains near Dunseith, North Dakota is the largest man-made turtle in the world. Constructed of nearly 2,000 wheel rims, this “W’eel Turtle made from Wheels” has a head that actually bobs up and down. While the turtle is nearly forty feet long, its head alone weighs almost a ton! Stop and visit this tire rim sculpture at Dale’s Thrifty Barn – a gas-station, cafe, and motel in Dunseith, North Dakota. Little extras like this always bring a smile.

Turtle Mountains seem to be a perfect location for the International Garden of Peace as the slow movement of the turtle gives a relaxed and peaceful feeling just like the gardens. May peace prevail in your world as well. We should all attempt to be more like the turtle… at ease in our own shell.

The International Peace Garden in North Dakota can be reached by taking I-29 North in North Dakota to Exit 203.  Take Route 81/281 West to Dunseith where 281 bends North to the Canadian border.  This is a beautiful back-road drive away from the crowds.

Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Nearly 100 years in bloom ! Fifty acres of beautifully landscaped floral beds capture your attention as you wander along the meandering paths through Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia.  The Canadians certainly created a masterpiece here on Vancouver Island.

Robert and Jennie Butchart, pioneers in the manufacture of Portland Cement, came to Vancouver Island in 1904 because of rich limestone deposits needed for cement production. A few years later, the limestone quarry was exhausted so Mrs. Butchart pictured it replaced with a beautiful garden.  Being transported by horse and cart, tons of top soil were placed on the floor of the quarry.  Little by little the floor blossomed into the spectacular Sunken Garden, which is one of the exquisite spots at Butchart Gardens.

While Mrs. Butchard enjoyed planning her garden, Mr. Butchard collected ornamental birds from all over the world. A parrot lived in their house, peacocks strutted across the front lawn, and birdhouses were placed strategically throughout the garden.

Totem poles carved by artists of the Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations are a recent addition to the gardens. Totems are very symbolic and designed to tell a story, quite often starting at the bottom. This particular totem tells a story about Butchart Gardens. The bottom figure represents all the people who come to the gardens. In the center is carved a whale, symbolizing the fact that people traveled from afar to arrive here. On top is the mystical, yet powerful, thunderbird, which watches over the gardens and protects it with his outstretched wings.

In 1939, the Butcharts gave the gardens to their grandson, Ian Ross  for quite the spectacular 21st birthday present. Ross Fountain was installed on the 60th Anniversary of the gardens. The Ross Pond with fountain looks great at any season, or any time of the day or night. Today the gardens are still family owned with great-granddaughter, Robin-Lee Clarke, being the present owner/manager.

Through a floral covered archway, visitors find themselves in the relaxing Italian Garden, which includes a dining area where you can sit outside or enjoy the view of the beautifully landscaped pond from inside. Afternoon tea outside under the beautiful hanging baskets, and plants cascading from window boxes, is a scrumptious experience.

Butchart Gardens is delightful every season of the year, which seems quite surprising for Canada. But the gardens are located on the coast so their weather is a little milder than what we might imagine Canada to experience. Beautiful Night Illumination occurs each evening, when the garden looks magical with the flickering lights. Saturday Fireworks draws such large crowds, people sometimes wait in line for hours to get inside the gates.

Every year millions visit these gardens at all seasons of the year in one of the loveliest corners of the world.  Maybe you will get a chance sometime soon to visit there too. During my last visit in the summer when glorious blossoms were at their peak, they even offered me a job in their greenhouse or gift shop.  See you there?

Butchart Gardens can easily be reached from every direction on Vancouver Island. Start out on Route 17, then turn west on Keating X Road, which becomes Benvenuto Avenue and leads directly to the gardens. Cruise ships frequently stop at Vancouver Island and offer transportation to the gardens as well.

Anne of Green Gables – Prince Edward Island

“I know I chatter on way too much…but if you only know how many things I want to say and don’t,” exclaimed Anne, the  fictional, red-haired orphan from Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Green Gables is the house where author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, drew her inspiration for writing the famous children’s story, Anne of Green Gables, way back in 1903.  Since the book has sold over 50 million copies, it is understandable that the area has been developed as a tourist attraction with Anne at its center.

According to this old tale, Anne was an orphan adopted by a brother and sister on Prince Edward Island.  She was always an imaginative, redheaded girl and quite the chatterbox.  This is the story of her growing up in Avonlea and eventually teaching at the Avonlea School.

Inside Green Gables, there was a beautiful cake designed to image the house with all edible decorations. Hopefully, it was flavored with vanilla, and not liniment that Anne accidentally once used in her cake.  Within walking distance are Balsam Hollow and the forest that inspired Haunted Woods. Sometimes it is very relaxing to get away from the excitement of the day and stroll through the woods where Nature’s peace will surround you.

The nearby town of Avonlea is the place that Anne went to church and school. Throughout the village, bits of the story were being performed along the street and had pretty much stopped traffic, at least the walking kind. In one small shop, a woodcarver was cutting a five foot wood sculpture of Anne.

In the evening watched a local Variety Show which included everything from ballads to step dancing to fiddling. There was even a surprise performance by a local legend, who just happened to be in the audience that night.  Surprises always make these road trips more exciting.

Drove on to Charlottetown, the big city on the island, with 32,500 people. Visited a beautiful Art Gallery as well as Confederation Shopping Center, which covered three levels over a city block.   Then on to a very interesting and well done performance of “Anne of Green Gables“, the musical version, at the Confederation Centre Theater.

Beaches naturally abound on the island and one of the most intriguing is The Singing Sands Beach at Basin Head.  Here the waves don’t actually break in close to the beach, they just hum in. It is a mystical place to slip off your shoes and take a long walk.

On down the road, red sandstone cliffs make for a scenic Cavendish Beach walk along the beautiful Gulf of St Lawrence.  Great place to read a good book, or go for a sunset stroll to relax from all the cares of the day, and think peaceful thoughts…or maybe plan your next road trip.

Be certain you reread the book, Anne of Green Gables, before heading for a visit to Prince Edward Island. Anne had a very inquisitive mind and leaves you with this thought:

  • “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
    – Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia

Enjoy Your Life!  That was the theme of Gampo Abbey, a small Buddhist Monastery situated along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. This was certainly a place where it was easy to enjoy the beauties of nature as well as the peaceful environment on the Northern tip of this island.

Fiddle Farm Bed & Breakfast became the starting point for this adventure. While visiting the other boarders in the evening, Arlin, a young geologist, discussed his plans to go to the Abbey in the morning for a one month stay. Here he would relax and develop an openness of mind and heart by plunging himself into a time of meditation. He was to call the Abbey for pick up, but there was a problem that day so this gypsy volunteered to drive him to the Abbey – but then, only with the Abbey’s approval.

Having been here before, Arlin was a great travel guide.  With his background in geology, he pointed out and explained the rock formations along the way. One of the breathtaking spots very near the monastery was Cathedral Rock.  This was viewed off a three hundred foot drop into the vast Gulf of St Lawrence. Have to be careful not to get too close to the edge!

Then came the beautiful white Gampo Abbey trimmed with red. Arrived just in time for lunch, which today was salmon – their one meal of the week where meat or fish was served.  The beautiful salad really caught my eye as it was made from the various plants in the yard and garden of the Abbey, and even had flowers mixed in for beauty. Turned out the flowers were also quite tasty. They did explain that they studied the plants in the area so they knew which plants were safe to eat and which were poisonous. Lucky not to have any poisonous plants that day!

Seating for the meal was at long plain tables with benches. Everyone served themselves and when finished, washed their own dishes. Arlin volunteered to serve me that day, but personally felt it would be an interesting part of the experience to follow their example.  While washing my dishes, also got to talk to others on the retreat and felt very welcome.

Then toured the shrine rooms elaborately decorated with Buddhas and pictures of leaders of their Tibetian section.  This was where they meditated nine to ten hours a day while sitting on rugs on the floor.  The aim was to make their mind blank and then allow that space to be filled with the beauty and blessings existing in their present world.  Silence was an important part of their training.

Everyone participating in the retreat must agree to abide by the five Buddhist principles: avoid killing, stealing,  lying, sexual activity and intoxicants. Everyone must participate in the daily schedule and observe silence. Heads were shaved on men and women alike, and both wore the garb of monastic life. No outdoor shoes are allowed inside the Abbey, just slippers.

Gampo Abbey is a very powerful place to become a loving, caring person interested in helping others. Relax your mind and listen to the world around you so you can enjoy the moment.  One important question they pose is: What is the best use of each day of our lives? That would be a great question for us to ask ourselves every morning.  Enjoy your life!

Bottle Houses of Prince Edward Island

People who live in glass houses should never throw stones!  You certainly wouldn’t want any stones in the area where this unusual Canadian attraction has three different structures made of glass bottles.

Edouard Arsenault was a native of the area and lived in Cap-Egmont, Prince Edward Island, Canada all of his life.  His occupations varied from fisherman to carpenter to lighthouse keeper. After receiving a post card from his daughter of a glass castle on Vancouver Island, Edouard decided to recycle glass bottles in a very unusual manner. After collecting bottles from restaurants, dance halls, friends and neighbors, he spent the winter months in his basement cleaning the bottles and removing the labels. There aren’t many pop or beer bottles in his structures as those bottles at that time still had a deposit refund when returned.

When he was 66 years old he began construction of his first bottle house, a six gabled house composed of nearly 12,000 bottles.  This interesting arrangement of glass bottles measures 20′ by 14′  and is in three sections.  Carefully cementing 300-400 bottles per row, Mr Arsenault used bag after bag of cement as he carefully arranged the beautiful patterns. Everywhere you experience the serenity and beauty of the flowers he enjoyed.

The second house, a tavern, was constructed in a hexagon shape. Built in 1982 this is a much smaller house using 8,000 bottles. The pillar of bottles, viewed through this open door, stands near the bottle bar. This bottle cylinder is the only original part actually constructed by Edouard. Originally this building was used to house the souvenirs and special bottles that he did not want to be part of the structures. Today you will find here his personal collection of bottles that he felt had extra special features.

The chapel was the third and last building completed before his death.  It is a real work of art. Approximately 10,000 bottles form the chapel, complete with pews and altar. It was situated so that sunset streams in behind the altar giving a feeling of peace to those who visit.

Due to the terrible winters on Prince Edward Island, it was necessary to reconstruct these buildings in the late 1990s.  The same bottles were used in the original design.  The roof and center of the tavern are the only two that are almost completely the original structure.

A beautiful Acadian garden path meanders through the houses and ends up at the present gift shop.  Here you can find many locally made gifts as well as Prince Edward Island souvenirs.

These beautiful Bottle Houses are a real inspiration of what can be done with recycled products in our environment… and a lot of creativity.  Plus, they reflect beauty from every angle!

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