By Susan Lyons
To roam through the Canadian Rockies in mid-summer is to experience some of nature’s grandest, most ancient vistas: mile-high craggy cliffs, glaciers on the move, rushing, even deafening, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and acres of stately pines up to the timberline — all serving to renew one’s sense of the pristine. The two-week trip my partner and I took through these parts was visually exciting at every turn. It was also proof positive that one needn’t be a hardy hiker to come face to face with such majesty.
We flew from New York to the industrial city of Calgary, then headed by car to the charming, if heavily tourist-filled, village of Banff. Surrounded by mountains, its main attraction is a breathtaking eight-minute gondola climb up Sulphur Mountain ( so named for the nearby springs). From its peak, the expanse of the Bow River Valley below is extraordinary, and a hint of what was to come. An hour west is Lake Louise. Crystal clear aqua, fed by a glacier, and cold, the lake is the essence of timeless beauty. Then, a half-day-long drive up the Iceland Parkway took us past snow and ice-capped cliffs, blue river waters, and more glacial formations. We walked above them on a well-placed “skywalk,” then descended to tiptoe on a glacier. Those who know the area well speak often about glacial shrinkage. Being there render those reports undeniable.
We drove on to the village of Jasper and boarded a Canadian Railroad train, complete with a doubt-decker sleeper, an elegant dining car, and a panoramic touring car, for a 20-hour rolling adventure through the countryside southwest into Vancouver. We saw bears foraging, elk standing watch, the rushing Fraser River said to be harboring the beginnings of the year’s salmon spawn, and miles and miles of peacefulness.
From Vancouver we ferried to Vancouver Island, home to the phenomenal 55-acre Butchart Gardens, now more than a century old. Jennie Butchart originally conceived the garden to shield the sight of the cement factory her husband, Robert, established near a quarry 13 miles north of British Columbia’s provincial capital of Victoria. The gardens are blessed by a prevailing westerly wind and benevolent climate, which enables a year-round growing season — and an astounding variety of trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials.
The beds are replanted in each of four seasons and include an expansive rose garden, a sunken garden, a Japanese garden (designed in 1906 with the help of a Japanese landscape designer), a seed garden, many fountains, a tea house, an outdoor amphitheater, a formal dining room, and more. Having passed through several dedicated Butchart generations, the garden remains family-managed and visitors are welcomed every day of the year.
The vast, truly vast, array of flowers in full bloom in July was remarkable. Wandering through, we noted that all looked nigh on to perfect, and I wondered: Do the 50-some gardeners use pesticides and such to keep it looking so grand? I asked about this at the information center and was happy to learn that the garden’s staff have perfected seasonal applications of beneficial nematodes and other ecosystemic processes to handle any natural assaults. Honestly, the results are amazing. Well worth a visit.
Victoria is charming. Vancouver is burgeoning and has a gorgeous, expansive public park, Stanley Park, and a terrific waterfront market on nearby Granville Island. The city also has a marvelous walkable suspension bridge just out of town and up another mountain, which brings visitors up into the treetops and into the company of herons and ravens.
Oh, Canada: You are a fine host and guardian of some of nature’s best.