A Visit to the Historic Brockville Railway Tunnel


Here’s something many of you may not know:  the oldest railway tunnel in Canada still exists under the downtown core of my home town, Brockville, Ontario, located on the shores of the St Lawrence River at the eastern edge of The Thousand Islands.

Until the waterfront area at the bottom of Market Street was revitalized and turned into a venue for various family activities, I too was unaware of its existence, and even then doors to the entrance were always closed. Both the northern and southern portals have been upgraded and maintained by the City of Brockville, since the tunnel was acquired as part of a waterfront land deal between the City and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Several years ago a short portion at the southern entrance (about 80 feet) was upgraded and opened to the public during the day as a sort of museum.

In 2011 a committee of Brockville’s City Council was formed with the goal to open the tunnel end-to-end for residents and visitors and to eventually see the tunnel and its north gorge area connected as part of the Brock Trail system. Renovation construction started in August of 2016. On August 12, 2017, as part of the City’s Rails to Trails Festival and its Canada 150 celebrations, the renovated interior of the tunnel was opened to visitors to enjoy during the summer months.

This past Saturday, a beautiful autumn day, Jim and I joined my son and my brother, and his friend on the walk through. We were very impressed. The atmosphere has been complimented with music playing and sometimes the sounds of train wheels turning and whistles blowing. The strips of every changing coloured lights passing through the tunnel give the impression of train lights approaching and reflect off the stalagmites and dripping water on the walls.

Unfortunately, while packing to go to Brockville the day before, I neglected to check my camera. When I tried to shoot some photos, I discovered that I had left my SD card in my computer at home!  I had to rely on my cell phone. Next time I go I’ll make sure I have everything I need, including a tripod, but for now, here are a few shots.

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Southern Entrance

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Inside looking out

Some History

The tunnel was built between 1854 and 1860 to allow the fledging Brockville and Ottawa Railway to connect the Brockville industrial waterfront area to the outlying areas lying between the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.

On December 31 of 1860, the first small train, a wood-burning locomotive and two coaches came through the completed tunnel and the tunnel was officially open for traffic. The tunnel is arch-shaped, measuring 14 feet 9 inches from the top of the arch to the ground and 14 feet across. The overall length of the tunnel is 1721 feet in length and passes right under Brockville City Hall.

To learn more, click here: History of Brockville Railway Tunnel

Adventures in British Columbia, Part Four – Hornby Island


On Tuesday, September 22nd my son-in-law Frank dropped me off at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal where I bought my ticket to Hornby Island at the low price of $17.00. I was there in plenty of time, but apparently my brain hadn’t quite woken up yet. I heard the ticket agent tell me to take the stairs up and then follow the red line to Waiting Area A, but the red line part didn’t register. I looked for signs and when I saw a sign that read “Waiting Area A” with an arrow that appeared to be pointing to my right, I followed it through a door and across an outside passenger bridge. That didn’t seem right. I eventually got turned back around and this time followed the red line! The room slowly filled to capacity before we were called to board. Because the vehicle passengers hadn’t yet made it to the main deck, there were no lines at the cafeterias. I took advantage and bought myself a packaged sandwich and a coffee that would be my breakfast and lunch, supplemented with the cheese sticks and granola bars that I had in my bag. Those two items cost me almost as much as the ferry ticket, at $11.25! Be forewarned, if you plan to travel on the BC Ferry System, and you’re on a budget, pack some food if at all possible.

The hour and a half trip went quite quickly. I slept for a while; I read my book, and I people watched, one of my favourite pastimes. I chatted with the woman sitting next to me who was travelling with her daughter and two granddaughters.  She’d traveled by foot before and told me where to find the Island Link shuttle bus that I needed to catch when I got off the ship. I found it without any problem and an hour later I was at Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island, where my sister Pauline and her husband Jim were waiting to drive me, via two more much smaller ferries, to Hornby Island. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could relax for a week.

On the Hornby Island Ferry

On the Hornby Island Ferry

Every time I visit Hornby I am charmed by the island’s uniqueness. This small island has lots to offer to anyone seeking a relaxed vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a place where there are no trains to catch, or crowds to push through. There are no big department stores or grand hotels and the only “traffic jam” you’ll encounter is while you’re waiting in line to catch the ferry when, reluctantly, you need to leave.

Driving up from the ferry you will come to the hub of the island where all roads seem to meet.  Here you will find a variety of little shops, including a bicycle rental shop, a couple of clothing stores displaying colourful summer wear and a few little eateries where you can experience some great and maybe unusual lunch items.  The main destination in the hub is the Co-op, where you will find all the staples you need, such as groceries (many organic), pharmacy items, dishes, clothing and rubber boots.  You will also find the post office nestled in one corner and an ATM somewhere in the middle.  The only island gas station is outside the door.

There are many residences on the island, but they are usually partially hidden from the road by the natural vegetation and are quite unobtrusive.  The pace is slow and relaxed.  The only “industries” are cottage industries – a variety of potters and weavers, and small farms.

Some of the highlights of this trip were:

Outdoor Cooking

Campfire Dinner

 

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Beautiful Sunsets

Beautiful Sunsets

 

Walks on the Beaches

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

Rocky Sand Piper Beach

 

Good Food

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Blackberries

Freshly picked Blackberries

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Walking the Trails

A hidden treasure along one trail

A hidden treasure along one trail

Helliwell Trail

Helliwell Trail

We also enjoyed a fantastic music concert by renowned Marc Atkinson – acoustic lead guitar, Brett Martens – acoustic rhythm guitar and Scott White – stand up bass, at the Community Centre one evening, and a delicious meal at the Sea Breeze Lodge dining room another night.

Before I knew it, it was time to pack for home.

Adventures in British Columbia, Part Three – Vancouver


After having another visit with Judy, enjoying a wonderful sushi dinner at a Vernon restaurant with her and Keith, and then another night’s sleep, I was back to the airport for my morning flight to Vancouver. This time my bag had a few new items in it, including a piece of fairly flat pottery, but I had left a couple of pieces of clothing with Sarah so it wasn’t much thicker. However, this plane was smaller and the overhead bins were just a little more shallow. Neither I nor the men around me were able to squeeze my bag into place. I was stuck with it on my seat while I waited for everyone else to get past me, then I told the flight attendant of my predicament. She said, “No problem. I have magic hands.”  She did indeed. With very little effort and no pounding, she got it in! At the end of the 45 minute flight I had to ask for her assistance again to get it out.

It seemed like every plane had landed at Vancouver Airport at once because the pickup area outside was jammed with traffic. But my daughter, Ann, eventually got to me and we were off to Abbotsford, where her husband was playing baseball. We caught only the last few minutes of the game and then socialized while we waited for his daughter to appear with the two grandkids, one of whom I hadn’t yet met. That was a special time.

My great-grandchildren, Lucas and baby Andrew

My great-grandchildren, Lucas and baby Andrew

We finally arrived at Ann and Frank’s place in Burnaby where we had a late dinner at the nearby Golf Club before we all crashed.

The next morning Frank was back to the Ball Tournament and Ann and I headed to the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) where we indulged in some carnival food and drinks, watched the Super Dog Show and the Langley Ukulele Ensemble performance. As we wandered through the Market Place Pavilion I found a few things of interest, but remembering my problems with getting my only suitcase onto the last plane, I refrained from purchasing.

Japanese Lanterns

Elephant Japanese Lanterns

Obviously I was still a little weary. I forgot to take my camera along and captured only these two pictures during the whole day!

On Monday Frank was back to work. Ann had the day off and suggested we drive to Squamish to ride the Sea to Sky Gondola and see what was to be seen at the top of the mountain. It was a perfect day to walk the trails and enjoy the views from the patio while enjoying lunch.

Taking the Sea to Sky Gondola

Taking the Sea to Sky Gondola

Taking the Sea to Sky Gondola

Taking the Sea to Sky Gondola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overlooking  the Fjord

Ann Overlooking the Howe Sound Fjord

Views from the top

Views from the top

Along the Trails

Along the Trails

Made it to the Top!

Made it to the Top!

After dinner at home the three of us went out for Gelato and then it was time to repack my bags in preparation for the next part of my journey. My visit with Ann and Frank was brief because they both had jobs to go to the rest of the week.

I have to admit that by the time I crawled into bed I was feeling a little overwhelmed with all the traveling and almost wished that instead of boarding a ferry the next day, I was boarding a plane home. But after a good sleep I was up for the challenge early in the morning, knowing that Frank was going to take me to the ferry terminal so I didn’t need to worry about catching buses and sky trains. That was so much appreciated!

Tour Guiding Around Mesa and Area, Arizona


We have been busy since arriving at our winter home, but mostly with things inside the park. On Friday, after the unexpected evening arrival of our friends Jane and Lloyd, from back home, that changed. They are taking a “long way round” trip this year on their way to their winter home in Florida. Because of some cold, windy weather in Winslow Arizona they decided to come further south before turning toward California. We were so glad to see them, and happy to offer them a tour of some of the things that we find amazing in the area.

After some catching up and warming up in the hot tub on Friday night, and a good night’s sleep, we took off to one of our favourite breakfast spots that we hadn’t yet been to this year – What the Hell Bar and Grill, and then we journeyed to Tortilla Flat on Superstition Mountain. Jane is as much of a camera buff as I am, so it was a slow climb, taking time to snap pictures. They were very much in awe of the mountain scenery along the way, and then the unique décor and lunch in the restaurant.

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Customer donated paper currency from around the world covers the walls and ceilings.

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Tortilla Flat gets its name from this rock formation that resembles a stack of tortillas

We were too full to indulge in the prickly pear ice cream, but we enjoyed a little “gunfight” outside the school house. While we waited for the show to begin, the actors made small talk with us, establishing that we were all Canadian. Before the fight began, two of the actors asked for a Canadian volunteer.  Lloyd, being the good sport that he is, allowed himself to be drawn inside the rope, where he was immediately hand-cuffed and led to the hanging tree!

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When the noose was around his neck, the Sheriff appeared and asked what was going on.

“We’re going to hang this guy!” his captors exclaimed.

“I’m innocent,” cried Lloyd.

“He says he’s innocent,” replied the Sheriff.

“But he’s Canadian! So we’re still going to hang him!

At the Sheriff’s command, they let him go and got on with the show. The air filled with gun smoke after the shootout between a few former bank robbers and the Sheriff.

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Of course, on the way back down the mountain we had to let Jane and Lloyd experience Goldfield Mine Ghost Town, a place I’ve written about before. We arrived just time to catch the last more elaborate gunfight of the day there. Lloyd wasn’t recruited this time. It was a great photo op though.

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Sunday morning we were out for breakfast again, at another favourite Sunday morning breakfast place, Midwestern Meats, before starting out on new adventure. We drove out through Miami and Globe towards the other side of Superstition Mountain. Our destination was Tonto International Monument, a heritage site of cliff dwellings.

We took a wrong turn and got ourselves onto a narrow trail meant for four-wheelers, not a Sebring convertible! But Jim got us turned around without dropping over the edge and we found some more scenes worth shooting.

A few years ago we took Jim’s daughter Karen to the cliff dwellings and we hiked up to the upper dwellings. This time we did the lower ones, which was just right for us, since I’m still recovering from my hip surgery and Lloyd has a bad knee. This trail was paved all the way.

The weather was perfect, although I found it a little too cold and windy sitting in the back seat with the top down on the convertible. By the next morning my allergies were acting up.

We took the Bush Highway back into the city, and we were excited to finally discover some of the wild horses that had eluded us last year!

When we got back to Mesa I suggested The Organ Stop Pizza for dinner for Jane and Lloyd’s final adventure before they had to be on their way the next day. I’ve written about this before too, but it is always just as amazing. The food is very good, but the entertainment is spectacular. Music played by the very talented Mr.  Charlie Balogh, on the huge Wurlitzer organ, kept everyone bobbing and clapping and turning our heads to watch all of the various instruments on the walls and ceiling jump into action at the appropriate times. Again, Jane became so excited she could hardly eat her dinner. It was so much fun to see them enjoy themselves.

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We hope that we have provided some good memories of their trip, and wish them safe travels.

Six Days, Seven States, 2,110 Miles


I said that I would keep you posted along our journey to Arizona, but that hasn’t worked out so well. We are in Holbrook Arizona tonight and will be in Mesa tomorrow, so I’ll give you a synopsis of our travels during the last six days.

Since we have driven this route several times, and this time we aren’t taking time for any sightseeing, there isn’t too much to share with you. The things that have made this an adventure this time are the inconveniences that have occurred.

We got away last Thursday afternoon and got caught up in the rush hour traffic in Toronto. We’d planned to make it to Windsor, ready to cross the border to the US in the morning, but it was dark and rainy so we stopped at the Onroute (Travel Centre) at Guelph for some dinner and the night. We’d driven away from the light snow that was falling when we left, but the temperature was just above freezing. The furnace was necessary. This was the first inconvenience. Jim started it up. The fan came on and we could hear the click of the propane burner trying to fire, but it never made it. Jim started the generator so I could use the microwave, and the furnace came on. It ran the whole time that the generator was on, shutting down when the required temperature was reached, and starting up again. We shut the generator off and went back inside the building to read before bed so as not to use up battery power by using the coach lights. When we got back, it wasn’t so warm, but we were ready for bed anyway. Jim plugged his APAP into the 12 volt outlet and we left the furnace running. At 1:00 a.m. he woke up, unable to breath. The APAP wasn’t working and the coach was very cold, so he had to turn the generator on again to charge up the batteries. Seems the furnace will only run on 110 watts and if that battery gets just a little low, it shuts off. The fan, however, will keep on going on the 12 volt batteries until they too die! It had been running for several hours non-stop, using up all the battery power. Well, at least we knew that. We turned off the furnace once the place was good and warm, and crawled under the covers. Thank goodness for the silk and down duvet that I’d snagged at a patio sale last year!

The second night we parked in a Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night, after enjoying a delicious home-style meal, in Joliet Illinois. Again we had to play the game with the furnace. We were up early and back on the road by 8:10 the next morning. We stopped for gas and just nicely got cruising down I-55 when the passenger side-view mirror, which had seemed a little wobbly the day before and Jim had tightened up the bolts holding it to the arm, was suddenly vibrating so hard that it would soon be off on the side of the road. So Jim got out to check it again and this time discovered that the problem was with the wood behind the siding where the mirror arm was attached. It was rotten! There was nothing he could do but remove the whole thing. Now that’s not so good when you’re driving a vehicle with no back window, so therefore no rearview mirror, and you have to depend on your side-view mirrors. Back on the highway Jim avoided passing anyone because he wouldn’t be able to see well enough to get back into the lane after. He figured if he had some longer bolts he could put them through into the plywood under the inside dash, so when we stopped in Leitchfield for lunch he got what he needed at the local NAPA dealer and replaced the mirror. We’d planned to make it to Lambert’s Café in Sullivan for dinner, but by 5:00 we’d had enough and stopped at the KOA in Stanton, Missouri. Since we’d had to winterize the motor home with antifreeze before we left home, we had only bottled water on board, so it was really nice to be able to hook up to water, sewer and electricity. Oh yes, the water pump wasn’t working anyway so we couldn’t have used our own water. We enjoyed hot showers (thank goodness the water heater was working!) and recharged all of our electronics before crawling into bed.

The next morning we timed it just right to have lunch at Lambert’s. Each other time that we’ve gone there we didn’t have much of a wait and we were out within the hour, but we forgot that it was Sunday of the US Thanksgiving weekend this time. The parking lots were full, but we got lucky enough to grab an RV spot that had just been vacated. However, the porch was filled with people waiting to get into the restaurant and there was a line up at the outdoor Registration Booth!

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We were told there was a 70 to 80 minute wait, but since we’d been anticipating this since the evening before, we decided to wait. It was cold outside so we went into the Gift Shop. Many others had the same idea. We had to get extra layers out of the motor home. At 90 minutes our names were called and we were shown to our seats in a room filled with large families and lots of chatter and of course rolls being tossed across the room. Jim enjoyed a pork variety platter and I decided to try the fried chicken. I hadn’t had fried chicken like that in years. Of course it was too much, so we had the base for our dinner in the RV that night, buying some salad at the Walmart in Claremore Oklahoma, where we parked for the night. It was windy there, but a little warmer.

We were on our way by 7:30 the next morning and except for a stop at a 60’s style diner, Jerry’s Restaurant, in Weatherford, and a short rest at a rest stop in Texas where we could have bought a stuffed buffalo for $20,000, we kept driving until Jim could fight the strong winds sweeping across the plains no more. We stopped in Tucumcari New Mexico for dinner at Denny’s, and checked in for the night at Red Mountain RV Park. The winds were so strong that they would slow the RV down so much that it shifted into a lower gear, making it difficult to climb hills.

Today we left early and stopped for lunch in Sky City at the Dancing Eagle Casino. We indulged ourselves with $5.00 each to play on the slots. Although that lasted us for a good half hour, we came away with nothing to show for it. At 4:00 this afternoon we arrived in Arizona, having traveled 2,110 miles. We drove through a bit of snow flurries and saw more in the ditches and fields along the way as we rose in elevation, but fortunately none was on the roads. We are in the OK RV Park in Holbrook tonight. We’re hoping that the snow will hold off again tomorrow, at least until we get down into the valley. It’s supposed to be well below freezing, so they wouldn’t allow us to hook up to water, but at least we have electricity and WiFi.

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One Last Adventure in Arizona – Biosphere2


With our days here dwindling quickly, we went on one last adventure before starting the task of sorting and packing to get ready for our trip back to Ontario. Saturday morning we packed a lunch, and struck out in the car, top down, towards Oracle and Biosphere 2.

An hour later, we stopped for a stretch at a little park that displayed a memorial to Tom Mix, a famous movie cowboy who died in a car accident at the spot in 1940, too long ago for me to know anything about him, but his interesting story was posted.

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It was lunch time when we arrived at Biosphere 2, so we sat outside on one of the stone benches and enjoyed our lunch while soaking up the sunny atmosphere. Then we went inside to wait for the tour to begin.

Biosphere 2 contains 5 biomes, including a 900,000-gallon salt water ocean, a rain forest, a desert, agricultural areas and a human habitat, all within the 7,200,000-cubic-foot sealed glass and space-frame structure.

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A Little History

Biosphere 2 was a Space Biospheres Venture project that began in 1984 with the purchase of the property near Oracle Arizona that had previously been the site of a conference centre for Motorola, and then the University of Arizona. Two years later an iconic facility was constructed with $150 million in funding from Texas oil magnate Edward Bass. It was designed as an airtight replica of Earth’s environment (Biosphere 1).

Some of the early designers and managers were interested in space travel and the possibility of colonizing the Moon or Mars.  With the hope of learning what problems would arise from living in a closed system, in 1991 a colony of eight people were sealed inside Biosphere 2 for two years. Six months later another crew of seven entered Biosphere 2, but after a number of physical and social problems developed these experiments were suspended in 1994.

In the years following, the facility was managed by Decisions Investment Corporation and Columbia University until 2007 when CDO Ranching and Development bought it. The University of Arizona assumed management, and was then gifted the facility in 2011. It has been a state-of-the art research laboratory for students of science ever since, with tourism providing some extra funding.

After a five-minute video that highlighted some of the things we would see, our tour began. I can’t remember the tour guide’s name because he was not a memorable soul and brought no life to the tour. It seemed like he didn’t have enough to tell us and was always checking his watch and then saying, “So I’ll give you a minute or two to stand here and look around” as if he was killing time. That was disappointing.

We saw banana and eucalyptus trees in the rainforest, and a little experiment in progress that some school children had set up. It was a several-tiered vegetable garden that was being nourished with the run-off water from a Koi fish pond at the top level. We walked through the mangrove marsh and the desert.

There are two “lungs”, white domes that are variable air-volume control devices. Our guide took us through a tunnel, into the South Lung and explained a little bit about how it works.

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Inside the “lung”

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I think with a more enthusiastic guide, the hour and a half long tour would have been very interesting, but as it was, we were glad when it was over.

Then we were allowed to do self-guided tours of the Ocean from below, through a windowed tunnel, but some sections were under repair or construction, so there really wasn’t much to see. We decided to skip the self-guided tour of the Upper Habitat, where the crews had lived in 1991 to 1994, since we’d been given views of it in the video, and we were ready to continue on to Globe for dinner.

Although the history of the Biosphere 2 is interesting, I felt that today it would be far more enticing to spend some time there as a science student or researcher, living in one of the adobe apartments and making use of the facility for experiments and further knowledge. Summer programs are offered to young students as well.

To learn more about Biosphere2 check out these websites:

http://www.desertusa.com/desert-arizona/bios2.html#ixzz44HTcoxGj

http://biosphere2.org/

A Visit to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum


Our time in Arizona is quickly slipping away and we, like many others here, are trying to pack our last few weeks with as much as we can. On Monday some of our neighbours invited us to join them on a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, near Superior, Arizona. We had never heard of it, but it was one item on their Bucket List, so we accepted.

Tuesday morning, we were up early and headed out Hwy 60 for the one hour drive. It was a perfect day for a hike through this intriguing botanical garden — sunny, but cool enough for a light jacket. We arrived perhaps a little earlier than necessary since the guided tour didn’t begin until 11:00, but we strolled along some of the smaller trails, and then bought some snacks in the gift shop while we waited.

The first stop on the tour was the Smith Interpretive Center, which was built in 1925 of locally quarried stone, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building served as the original visitor’s center until the present one was built, and has two greenhouses attached to either side, one housing cacti from around the world, and the other showcasing succulent plants from other plant families.

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Taking the tour was the way to go. Jim, our guide, was a wealth of knowledge concerning the history of the park and the plants that were there.

The hike lasted nearly two hours and took us through the Hummingbird & Butterfly Garden, and Heritage Rose Garden, home to a large selection of Heritage roses. Unfortunately we were just a few weeks too early to see these in full bloom.

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We saw many beds of native and southern European herb plantings divided into specific use areas: culinary, medicinals, cosmetics, insect repellents, etc. The Wing Memorial Herb Garden is said to contain any type of herb or spice that one could want. Jim also pointed out the trees from which myrrh and carob beans come.

At the Cactus & Succulents Garden, Jim told us some interesting facts about the Saguaro Cactus. It is a protected species that cannot be destroyed under any circumstances, even when roads are being built. That is why we have often seen rows of them, their roots wrapped, sitting alongside of highways that are being expanded.  They have been dug up and will be transplanted to a new location. The Saguaro also has very long roots, extending for five feet or more just eighteen inches below the ground. Jim had samples of honey made from Prickly Pear Cactus, and syrup made from Agave Cactus, which he passed around with plastic spoons for us to try. Yummy!

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Saguaro Cactus

We stopped at Ayer Lake, a man-made reservoir that supplies the arboretum with irrigation water, and is home to several different species of migratory waterfowl.

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Ayres Lake

From the high trail along Queen Creek Canyon we had magnificent views of Magma Ridge and the historic Picketpost Mansion, former home of Colonel William Boyce Thompson, which is perched on volcanic cliffs overlooking his namesake Arboretum.

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The Australian Desert Exhibit and Walkabout Trail transported us to a different type of desert life.

It would be great to be able to return later in the spring when more plants are in full bloom, but our welcome here would be overstayed.