Visit to Canada – Vancouver and Gabriola Island

A “Getting Married” announcement arrived from Joanne and Stanis, my niece and nephew who live in Vancouver BC Canada announcing the forthcoming wedding of Chloe and Mark.  Chloe and  Mark had been inseparable sweethearts since meeting a few years ago and they were getting married,  Chloe is Joanne and Stanis’ daughter and the Granddaughter of my Late Sister, Bernice.  Chloe is my Great Niece.  I definitely wanted to be there.

At the same time, as I was to be in Vancouver, this would be an ideal time to visit one of my oldest and best friends, Ruth, who had moved to Gabriola Island, one of the Canadian Gulf Islands, sixteen years prior and I could easily get there from Vancouver.

The Wedding was beautiful and very romantic.  It was also sentimental because I know what joy this occasion would have given my Sister.  It was  a surprise seeing all the family and friends who had arrived from various parts of the world, catching up with news and observing that we were all older than I remembered. With the celebrations over it was time to say our goodbyes and for me to leave for Gabriola Island and visit Ruth.


Sitting in the departure lounge at the Vancouver Float Plane Terminal waiting to leave for Gabriola Island, I was able to observe the pattern of sea planes coming in and landing on the water.  Initially, they were tiny specks in the sky, but as they lowered themselves, I could make out the shape of the plane, its wings and spinning propellers.  It was fascinating to see how the pilots landed the sea planes on the water before tethering them to the gangplank and then helping the passengers disembark.

There are several Gulf Islands along the West Coast of Canada that are connected by ferries and seaplanes.  Gulf Air connects to four of these islands, Decourcy, Ruxton, Thetis and Gabriola. The seaplanes have a schedule but are flexible and will delay the departure if a passenger calls and asks them to hold the plane until they arrive, or make an unscheduled stop to pick up a package that needs to be delivered to the mainland.  It is a uniquely friendly and accommodating airline.

When our departure was announced, we followed the pilot along the walkway to the plane, like a hen with its chicks following, pulling our luggage along with us.

Boarding the plane and climbing into the cockpit, I became anxious and seemed to lose my center of gravity as the plane bobbed around in the waves caused by planes taking off around us. They allowed me to sit up front next to the pilot, as I had never flown this route before.  Not only did I have the best view, but I could also observe the pilot operating the controls.


The plane was a De Havilland Beaver Seaplane, vintage 1956. Gulf Air’s Fleet consists of two Beaver De Havilland Seaplanes that they own and one rented.  Three pilots including the owner Shawn, pilot the planes and they have been in service every day several times a day since 1956, flying between the Islands. They fly about five hundred feet above the ground (or water!!) at a speed of ninety miles an hour.  Safety is of the utmost importance and they never fly in high wind or ominous weather.  Each one is inspected and serviced every one hundred hours with a more specified service after four hundred flying hours

Fastening the seat belt, I was given covers to protect my ears from the noise of the engines. The pilot untethered the plane pushed it away from the the gangplank, at the same time climbing the spindly ladder to his seat and closed the door behind him.   It was a full plane, five adults and a child, plus the pilot and our luggage.

Looking around at the instrument panels and the equipment, I recognized this little flying machine had done a huge mileage.  It reminded me of an old car that goes and goes and never lets you down – hopefully !! The pilot checked the instrument panels before turning on the engine and starting the propellers. The plane gave a humongous roar, before doing a lap in the water and then rising steadily into the air.  No turning back now and no time to be scared.   The pilot was engrossed in flying the plane and had no time to offer re-assurance.  Instead I focused on what the pilot was doing and soon got used to the noise and vibrations.

As I became aware of the view from the front seat, any trepidation I had about flying in this little “bird” vanished.  The picture unfoldng below was captivating.

Looking down from the cockpit I was able to see the topography of the islands as we flew over them.  They were very green, some heavily forested and I could make out winding roads with little communities and harbors with boats. The plane was very steady once we were in the air and at times it seemed we were not moving at all – just perched up there in the sky!!  I wanted to ask questions but there was so much noise that I was left to my own observations.


Twenty minutes after take off, as the sun was disappearing into the horizon casting shimmering reflections on the water, the pilot gently lowered the plane for landing on Silva Bay, Gabriola Island. He landed smoothly on the water, and piloted us up to the landing gangplank causing all the little boats in the harbor to bob up and down from the waves generated by our landing.


Behind the barrier, Ruth was waiting.  She had last visited me in California seven years prior.  Seeing each other, the greeting was spontaneous and heartfelt.  Ruth wears her emotions on her sleeve and we were like little girls throwing our arms around each other and hugging in disbelief that this was happening. Ruth and I have been good friends since our first year at University in South Africa, where we met.  She is exuberant, very warm emotionally and known to say the most outrageous, cringeworthy things,  that may shock, but no longer surprise me !!  Ruth and her late husband Buddy emigrated first to the US and then to Canada.  They trusted me with their loving poodle Pepe, as he was not able to travel with them.  A few years later, I emigrated  to England,  where I struggled with the English weather.  After a few years when I realized there are more rainy days than sun days in London, I decided to move to California.  It took a further three years while I waited for a Green Card allowing me to move to the United States.

Even though the course of our lives has been different, we remained close friends, checking off milestones through the birth of our Children, Children’s marriages,  becoming Grandparents and all the “fun stuff”  that went in between.   We were each divorced and Ruth’s ex Husband, Buddy,  sadly lost his life to cancer a few years ago. We are both at a stage in our lives when we should not procrastinate as we are saddened that friends are disappearing from our “landscape,”


Ruth’s home is a wooden cottage with dormer windows, at the end of a cul de sac, carved into a forest.   A well preserved Mid-Century house, it  does not have central heating but is warmed throughout by a wood fire. Chopped wood is stored in a shed in the garden and Ruth physically hauls it into the house in a wheelbarrow and makes the fire.  Most evenings we enjoyed simple meals cooked at home, standing together in the kitchen instructing each other how to cook !!


We spent a week totally dedicated to sharing quality time, talking nonstop, reminiscing about times gone by and creating new memories as we explored the island. Ruth introduced me to friends and  I gained insight into the quality of life the people on this little piece of heaven enjoy.


There is  much to do on the Island, festivals and art galleries, garden tours, theater, spas, retreats, cycling, hiking, bridge – and relaxing.  I gained insight into the quality of life that is special to people on Gabriola Island.   There is a creative community of artists, ceramicists, potters, weavers woodcarvers, glass makers, writers and  poets and the island attracts a tourist “invasion” every summer.  Many of the inhabitants are transplants from afar and have chosen to live here, secluded from the rest of the world with its harsh reality, away from the tensions with which we live. Island life is tranquil.  The community is interesting and diverse, the tempo slower and friends have time to stop and chat with their neighbors in the village.  People on Gabriola Island expressed over and over how grateful they are to be living in this idyllic place.


It was a very special time and I cherish the new memories made with an old and trusted friend. Time may have passed but our friendship has endured and is as strong as ever. We are blessed to have had this time together.


At the peak of his career, when the late Michael Landon, (The Little House on the Prairie), actor, writer, director, producer found out he was terminally ill, he wrote;

Somebody should tell us right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the fullest, every minute of every day.

For those of us who are in the twilight of our lives, I say, if you can, whatever you need to do, do it now, don’t procrastinate.
There are only so many tomorrows. 

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the road less traveled