Virtual vs Actual: Chemainus 2020

Monday, Virtual Reality

In our virtual life this week we have packed up the Nelson Rod and Gun Club, and made a quick get-away to try to get to Chemainus by Monday evening. Going back is by hwy 3, the Crow’s Nest, all the way. Once again it’s up and over Blueberry/Paulson, through the Kettle Valley, over Anarchist Summit and down into Osoyoos. But then, instead of turning north into the Okanagan, we keep going west, past those really quite remarkable spotted lakes, vividly coloured by high concentrations of mineral deposits, especially magnesium.

If southern British Columbia is a smorgasbord of some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, the Similkameen Valley is on the dessert tray; it’s maybe even the chocolate truffle. Somehow the light here pours through some sort of “divine” filter. At the heart of it is the Similkameen River, flashing silver around broad gravel bars, lined with copses of huge cottonwoods, under which you want to tie up the horses, set up the wall tent, sit by a campfire and never leave. Enticing tracks cross the open grassland and wind themselves into gullies disappearing into the arid hills. Where do they go? And there are the orchards and vinyards. No matter how pressured we feel to make time to the coast, we always turn off the highway in Cawston, and drop by Orofino winery. They have taken the Similkameen valley, and distilled and bottle it.

Monday, Actual Reality

Actually, Monday started out here in Chemainus. Our big shipment from India has finally been released, and I am going to pick it up. It was due to leave India on the day that the country went into lock-down, and for six weeks we had no idea if it had been sent, or stored, or stolen. The news from the country was dire, and about our goods there was no news at all. Then out of the blue we received a link to the cargo ship it was on, in real time, sailing around the coast of Sri Lanka!

Even early on Monday morning the situation at BC ferries looks bad. ALL the Duke Point sailings are full. The 10:30 from Departure Bay is at 70%, and I make a dash for it. My luck is holding, and I make it on with five vehicles to spare. I pick up Katheryn in Vancouver, and as we are making our way to the warehouse on Annacis Is. we notice an unusual hot smell in the truck. No time to worry; but maybe I’m not paying attention as I should and I miss the East/West Connector turnoff, and have to back-track along No. 5 road. In a scene from a bad “don’t try this at home” video, a truck with an absurdly over-sized load is oncoming, and snaps the hydro and phone lines as we pass, which whiplash around the truck. No damage done, and we carry on, a little shaken, trying to get back onto the Westminster Highway. By this time the hot smell is undeniable. At a traffic light, smoke is coming out of the drivers side front wheel.


On our Virtual Monday road trip, all goes smoothly, and we return to Chemainus on time and problem free. It’s good to be back. We have been in Chemainus for three years now, and have grown fond of our little town. If you have heard of it at all, it is probably because of the murals. In the early 1980’s, Chemainus was yet another BC mill town facing a catastrophic plant closure. Using seed money from a Community Revitalization grant, the town began re-imagining itself. The painters started painting, and now there are more than 60 large murals depicting the experiences of the Indigenous, Asian and settler communities around town. With an impressive theatre built in 1992, Chemainus is rightfully proud of its image as an artsy destination.

What we like just as much as the murals is the over-all character of the place. Sure, in a normal year there are bus loads of tourists in the summer, but in its bones Chemainus is still an inside coast Vancouver Island working town. A small ferry plies the triangle route from downtown to Thetis and Penelakut Islands, passing the log sort of the re-opened mill. Penelakut Island is entirely First Nations, and is called by them Puneluxutth, meaning “Two Logs Half-buried by Sand”. Thetis is the “quiet” Gulf Island (no, that’s not redundant: go there, you’ll see), and in the spirit of less complicated times, has the province’s last one-room school house.

Many of the houses in Chemainus were built before the 1950’s, all cute gables, carved verandas and proud gardens. This time of year their honeysuckle, passion fruit and rose arbours are erupting in full glory. We set up our last virtual venue, the hall in the United Church, and commute by foot through the wafting aroma of fragrant flowers.


In the real world of freeways and burning brakes, there are decisions to be made. We have pulled off into a vacant lot to assess the situation. Conclusion: there are no good options. Getting a tow is a huge expense, and we would still have to rent a truck to pick up the shipment. Annacis Island isn’t far, but it is across the intimidating Alex Fraser Bridge, eight lanes of places not to break down. And then what? All the ferries to Duke Point are full, and the long way around via Swartz Bay means multiple sailing waits and the Malahat drive at night.

When the rotor has cooled off enough that spit doesn’t vapourize upon hitting it, we take off with trepidation back to the highway. All goes well, and we make it to the warehouse and load in a metric tonne of Indian textiles. By this point it is clear that continuing would be folly, and we take the truck to Sammy’s Truck and Trailer, a shop conveniently nearby.

The Beginning. The End.

Today, Sunday June 28 2020, here in Chemainus, our virtual and actual threads have merged into one. It is the last day of our Virtual Season. The truck and the shipment are safely back, and are being packed and sorted for the actual season. In the next post I will detail some of the highlights of the goods we will be bringing to the sales. To wrap things up, I have had a blast bringing you along on our virtual travels. I thank you all so much for indulging me, and may we see you in full un-pixilated reality when we come to your community!

Find out when that will be:

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Bye for now, see you soon,

One Reply to “Virtual vs Actual: Chemainus 2020”

  1. Fantastic writing of your blog!!!!! What an adventure your lives are!!! Thanks sooooo much for all you do–I totally LOVE your choices of fabrics and work!!!!!!


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