Pat and Jack Munson Traverse Canada

By Pat Munson, Associate Editor

The famous Lake Louise Chateau Hotel in Banff, Canada.
The famous Lake Louise Chateau Hotel in Banff, Canada.

This 16-day journey began on May 15, 2004. We arrived at the airport much too early. In order to get seat assignments we needed to input endless numbers, including our passport numbers. We located our gate with time to spare and to contemplate our upcoming adventure.

After our two-hour flight to Vancouver, we cleared customs, found our tour representative and boarded the first of many buses. After riding an hour or so, we then boarded a ferry with a 90-minute ride to the island of Victoria. Our dinner on the ferry was enjoyable as we passed many inhabited islands in the distance. All too soon we found ourselves in downtown Victoria.

We met our tour guide and walked the five blocks to the hotel. As we walked along the street on the edge of the harbor, we realized these were terribly long blocks. At one of our rest stops, a fellow riding a cab approached and asked if we would like a ride. We did. We checked into our hotel and rushed to our room. It was the greatest place to end an exceedingly long day.

The next morning we were awakened by the sea birds. We decided they were shouting a happy birthday to Jack. After a restful breakfast, we joined our tour group for a pleasant tour of Victoria. The highlight was our time at the Butchart Gardens. With my love of gardening, I examined many immaculately pruned trees and bushes. I crawled under taller plantings to touch ground cover. No one told me not to touch so I had a field day. Besides the wonderful plantings, I really enjoyed examining a life-sized boar made of bronze. He was sitting in an imaginary pond with creatures such as turtles, snakes and snails around his feet. I probably spent 30 minutes examining these replicas. Boy, did I enjoy myself!

Once back on the bus, Sue, the tour guide, presented Jack with a birthday cake with a candle and a card signed by the tour members. What fun! Later that day, a hotel staff person brought a wrapped gift to our room, again with a card. The latter was from Sue and the gift was a photo book of British Colombia. But that was not the end to the gifts. After having dinner in an old Victorian house down the street, we returned to the room to find a beautifully wrapped plate of chocolate-covered strawberries. What a birthday!

Day three of the tour we were on our own. We strolled down the street to a local museum. Many exhibits showed the history of North American Indians who lived in the Victoria area. Mining and logging displays were also shown. In the afternoon we took a ferryboat ride around the bay and then toured the very famous Empress Hotel. This restful day ended with dinner in our hotel where we had a lovely view of the local bay.

The following day we were obliged to say farewell to Victoria. We made the three-hour trip back to Vancouver. Our second hotel was also very beautiful, as were they all. We did some walking around the city but I quickly decided that one city is like them all: noisy, overrun by cars and lacking in greenery. But, I must say, Canada has more wonderful restaurants than any country we have visited. We never had a bad meal. The people were very friendly and well educated.

Wednesday, day five of the tour, we boarded our bus after lunch and toured Vancouver and the surrounding area. Our first two stops were two beautiful parks within the city limits. We found Canadian parks beautifully maintained and most enjoyable to visit. We then proceeded to a nearby ski area. We boarded an open tram and ascended to the mountain top. We proceeded along a path with snow around where we finally found an enclosure that housed two grizzly bear cubs who were motherless. I had fun listening to one of the animals that was splashing around in his pond searching for roots. We walked back and boarded our tram for the descent.

One of Canada’s many tree-top suspension bridges.
One of Canada’s many tree-top suspension bridges.

We continued on to yet another beautiful forest area. Some of the activities were a walk across a very long suspension bridge, a tree top walk and finally a cookout with entertainment by American Indians. For me, the suspension bridge was something, for I had to descend a set of swaying steps and then had a very long walk above the gorge; as I walked, I could hear the raging water a very long distance down. The treetop walk was somewhat the same. This time I walked up many uneven steps, studying each with my cane. At the top I then went down a number of steps and across a bridge-like walkway. The interesting part was realizing that when I reached out I could touch the tops of some smaller trees. However, the bridges between trees were only about halfway up these giant trees. Let me say that I was on my own; my white cane and railings were my only guides, as Jack was always a few steps ahead of me. Since I'm a member of the NFB, I know that if these activities are open to the public then they are for me, too. I did not meet any other blind people out there and no one questioned my ability to participate in these rather unusual activities. This tiring day ended back at the hotel at about 9 in the evening. Boy, were we all tired!

Let me say that in good Federation fashion I had a chat with our tour guide the first evening. I told her that if I needed something that I would ask, otherwise she was not to think about me at all. She felt it might be necessary to alert the hotels on my behalf as a blind person. I told her that was not necessary and that I would handle any personnel matters myself. The only time I noticed anyone trying to be overly helpful was when a waitress would tell me where she was placing my coffee. I would then find it but jokingly tell the person that I do not know left from right, so those directions are pointless.

The next day of the trip we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer Train for our first day going up into the Canadian Rockies. After a wonderful breakfast and lunch on the train, we finally reached Kamloops where we enjoyed a tasty buffet dinner and a western-theme musical show. Before I forget, note, when stepping off a bus or train, use the white cane to check where to make that final step. Many times there was a portable step which might be a little distance from the bottom step off the conveyance.

The next day we were back on the train, and this time we had two attendants in our car, Dorothy and David, who explained everything we passed and described every change in the scenery. We saw osprey nests, spiral tunnels and much wildlife. Of course, one could not ignore all the devastation of the surroundings from mining and logging. If there was money to be made, man did not worry at what cost to those who came later. Finally, our train reached Banff where we were to spend two glorious days at the top of Canada!

Before reaching our ski lodge where it was lightly snowing, our guide, Sue, warned us not to be out after dark, for we were in a National Park where wild animals rule. Canada also has strict rules concerning who can live in these park towns. Unless a person has a job in one of these towns, that area is off limits. The only exception would be for a person who works there and then retires; that person could stay.

We found this town very enchanting. Our lodge was a typical European lodge; as one entered, the smell of wood smoke permeated the air from the huge wood-burning fireplace.

The next day began with a delicious European-style buffet breakfast. It was then off on the tour bus to learn about the beautiful surroundings. We lunched at the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Louise Chateau Hotel. This hotel in the middle of nowhere was constructed for the idle rich many years ago. In wintertime guests ice skate on the lake and build unusual ice sculptures which are then illuminated for night viewing. The remainder of the day we spent back at our lodge enjoying the snow. We topped off the day with yet another wonderful dinner in the lodge. As we ate, snow fell. The sun even tried to penetrate the clouds shortly before nightfall. What a day!

The next morning we bid a sad farewell to Banff, but there was the ice field yet to visit. I would have to say that the ice field was my least favorite stop. We had to take a special bus out to the ice. The ice near the bus had been plowed so there was not as much danger in slipping. However, I used my cane before taking one step, for there were areas where the ice had melted, leaving three-foot drop-offs. There were no edge-protection strips here! The surrounding mountains with their jagged points were beautiful, but personally I was very tired of climbing up and down bus steps.

Pat enjoyed examining this bronze boar in Canada’s Butchart Gardens.
Pat enjoyed examining this bronze boar in Canada’s Butchart Gardens.

About an hour before our bus was to arrive at our next stop, some of us put on life preservers and boarded a raft for our ride into town. We never hit anything approaching level-three rapids, but we did manage to get wet. We saw lots of wildlife and got more and more hungry as we passed campers' evening fires. We arrived in Jasper just in time for dinner at our hotel.

On day 10 we were out on the bus to see the sights. A local guide gave us a pleasant walk through the forest. Of course, we passed waterfalls, lakes and many other things that were so pretty after a very long winter.

After lunch it was off to another train station. We boarded a train that traverses more of Canada. Since we were sleeping on this train for two nights, we had sleeping compartments with a stall shower down the hall. Again, they fed us royally as we rolled east.

I had plenty of time to roam the train, talk to many passengers and work on this report. The next day we woke up in Toronto. We again boarded our bus for a city tour. At one stop we walked around an old castle. As we entered, a man generously gave everyone a descriptive audio device. I was able to get headphones, which allowed my hands to be free. The only problem was that the headset was all I got. There was no Braille to guide me from room to room and no Braille to tell me where I was. The highlight of the day was a French dinner. We topped it off with a frozen dark chocolate orange Grand Marnier soufflé dessert. Oh, I forgot the candied orange slices on top! Besides the “fantastique” food, we knew we were in the French-speaking area of Canada, for we heard more French being spoken than English.

The next day we were on our bus to Ottawa. Our bus blew a tire so we spent two hours on the side of a freeway. We finally reached Kingston, a charming small college town where we had time to walk and enjoy lunch.

The next day we took yet another city tour ending at the Mounted Police stables. We walked among the horses and petted the stable cat, which was very friendly. We had another dinner to die for, but near the restaurant was one of the largest farmers' markets we had ever seen. Everyone was outside, for the day we were there was one of the first warm days of the year.

The following day we were on the bus for the last time. We were on our way to Montreal. Our first stop there was at a Catholic cathedral. Since Mass was in progress we were only allowed in the very back. I enjoyed the organ and large choir. After reaching our hotel we rested and readied ourselves for our farewell dinner. We were driven to the old part of the city where we ate a wonderful French dinner in a very old stone building. After dinner we had time to stroll about with many of the city dwellers as they enjoyed some of the first warm weather of the year.

The last morning we were up at 5 a.m. to grab breakfast and get to the airport for our journey back to California. We were certainly sorry to have to bid Canada good-bye!

We have been asked many times what we thought of Canada. We found the country very clean; the food wonderful; the people friendly, well educated (as I stated before) and articulate; and the rate of exchange very favorable. One-hundred U.S. dollars yielded about 130 Canadian dollars. Canadians pay almost half of their income for universal healthcare, but it looked as if many were enjoying life.

We would love to visit Canada again, but would travel far less and see more another time. These tours try to cover too much too fast, but now we are very happy with our memories. I'm sorry to report that I met no blind Canadians out and about; I found a little Braille in some hotels and very few of those beeping signals in a couple of cities. However, the blind of Canada have a charming, beautiful country in which to reside.