Archive for June, 2014

London Heritage Farm

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Steveston’s Historic Treasure
London Heritage Farm - outside - PallaMediaIt is said that ladybugs bring good luck. If this is true, London Heritage Farm has good fortune on its side, as plenty of these well-loved insects are hard at work throughout the site.

London Farm Heritage Society administrator, Mary Lou Schootman, laughs when she refers to the ladybugs as her pets. Following field trips to the Farm, she has had children tell her that sighting the spotted bugs is one of the highlights of their visit.

It is a certainty that Stevestonites are the lucky ones to have this historic site on our doorstep. Surprisingly, some locals have yet to discover this spectacular treasure. London Heritage Farm is located on 4 acres overlooking the south arm of the Fraser River. It is only a 3-kilometre walk along the dike from Steveston Village yet when you walk down the driveway there is an immediate feeling of tranquility as your senses zero in on fragrant flowers and birds chirping.

The park-like setting contains the restored London family farmhouse and the Spragg family barn, heritage and herb gardens, old farming equipment, a small hand tool museum, chickens, bees, allotment gardens, large lawns, gazebo and picnic area.

Bruce Livingston, President of the London Heritage Farm Society, points out that our community is not very old. The heritage buildings that remain in the Steveston area are primarily wooden structures, and we have lost many due to development and fires. He says, “To have this original structure on the original site is pretty special.”

London Heritage Farm - barn - PallaMediaIn 1877 Charles Edwin London and his brother William relocated from Ontario to British Columbia. Within three years the young men had purchased 200 acres of land for $2,000. They built a small farmhouse and began clearing and draining the land in preparation for farming. In 1888, Charles London married Henrietta Dalzeil and started building the farmhouse.

First to be constructed was the northern side of the house, which now contains the kitchen, gift shop and the upper floor where the children’s bedrooms and playroom are located. During the 1890s adding on the front section of the house doubled the square footage.

The farmhouse has been fully restored and furnished to reflect a snapshot of pioneering life in Richmond during the 1880s to 1930s. Six rooms display furniture, pictures, clothing, quilts, everyday items and photographs of the London family.

In addition to the house and farm, the London’s established a general store and post office, and they built a wharf (hence the name London Landing) from which they would ship produce to New Westminster.

In total the family had eight children, three of whom died in infancy. Roses are planted in the Memorial Rose Garden to commemorate the entire London family.

Charles London sold the farm in 1919 three years after his wife died and he moved the family to Marpole. In 1921 the London’s eldest daughter, Lucy, and her husband, Herbert Howse, bought the farm back and remained there until 1948. After a succession of rentals, the City of Richmond purchased London Farm in 1978. London Heritage Farm is owned by the City of Richmond. The London Heritage Farm Society is a non-profit organization and operates the Farm through fundraising, donations, and revenue from rentals, the tearoom and gift shop.

London Heritage Farm - tearoom - PallaMediaThe Society is responsible for the care of the heritage garden and the allotment gardens. The heritage garden is designed in the style of an English country garden and features a gorgeous seasonal display of annuals, bushes, berries, herbs, perennials, trees and vines, which could be found in local gardens at the turn of the 20th century.

Seventy allotment garden beds are available for public use. There is currently a waiting list; however once you have a plot it is time to express your individuality. It is inspiring to stroll through the west garden and have a peek at how gardeners personalize their spaces and see what they are growing. Allotment gardeners are required to join the London Heritage Farm Society, pay a fee, and contribute a minimum number of volunteer hours per year to the operation and maintenance of the Farm.

The “Chicken Club” has an active roost of ten chickens and a rooster. Free-range eggs are available for sale, mainly on the weekends.

London Heritage Farm relies heavily on volunteers. From assisting in the gift shop, to front line work in the tea room and behind the scenes work in the kitchen, lending a hand with special events, giving tours of the site, and working in the garden, there are many ways to contribute to keep any potential volunteer happy.

Wedding season is here and the south lawn with its large gazebo is a popular spot to exchange vows. The heritage gardens are an ideal backdrop for wedding photos. This summer Schootman has already booked over 30 weddings, picnics and other special events.

Afternoon tea is highly recommended. Tables are set formally with linen, china cups, teapots, silverware and a dessert platter. Tea service is located in the home’s former dining room that also served as the general store, post office and a makeshift church.

You will enjoy the Farm’s own blend of London Lady tea, a large and very tasty home baked scone accompanied by jam or jelly made on site, in addition to three other baked goodies. This is also a unique location to host a bridal shower, birthday party or baby shower. Schootman reports some young girls enjoy dressing up for the occasion, decked out in dresses and fascinators.

The gift shop sells London Farm’s tea blend, scone mix, jams and jellies and an assortment of gift items. In addition, they sell scones that you can take home and pop in the oven.

Special events are celebrated year round at the Farm. Both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are popular for afternoon tea – be sure to plan ahead for these special occasions with a reservation. A plant sale is held every year on Mother’s Day weekend. The house is decked in red and white trimmings to commemorate Canada Day. London Farm Family Farm Day in August is an event not to be missed. In November and December be sure to visit the house when it is adorned in Christmas finery.

They key message Schootman wishes to share is London Heritage Farm is a community resource. “Come and explore. Bring your friends and family. Pack a picnic basket. We love it when the site is used and enjoyed,” she says. And if good fortune is on your side, perhaps you will spot a ladybug.

London Heritage Farm
6511 Dyke Rd
Richmond, BC V7E 3R3
Telephone 604-271-5220

Vancouver Whale Watch

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Celebrating 15 Years in Steveston Village

Untitled-7The day that Cedric Towers and I planned to sit down for an interview he was in the midst of doing what he loves – tracking whales. I saw first hand what this busy owner and founder of Vancouver Whale Watch does to ensure his clients experience the adventure of a lifetime.

Armed with a radio (a whale citizens band radio of sorts), Towers stood in front of a chart of the Salish Sea, communicating with members of the Pacific Whale Watch Network both from Canada and America, as they shared up to the minute information about local whale sightings. Members of this cooperative network include ferry workers, fishermen, land-based spotters and other whale watching boats. Once the information is conveyed through the Network, Vancouver Whale Watch boats zip over to the area in hope of a viewing.

Sixteen years ago Towers came up with the idea of launching his business. The company began in 1998 as an eco-tourism company called Captain Zodiac. Within a year Towers decided that with the right boats, both seaworthy and fast, whale watching from Steveston was indeed possible. This was a groundbreaking concept as up until then this type of enterprise was considered fit only for the Vancouver Island area. It was Jamie Bray, Tower’s friend and whale watching colleague from Tofino, who shared his love of the business with Towers.

Vancouver Whale Watch - Cedric Towers - PallaMediaRaised in a science-oriented family, Tower’s father was a Botany professor. The family lived all over North America and in the 1960s Towers moved to Vancouver. After attending U.B.C. he fished commercially for salmon for a number of years and travelled up and down the coast working on various projects.

Vancouver Whale Watch started with a 12-passenger zodiac, and two years later added the larger Explorathor boat to the fleet. This boat was specifically designed for marine mammal viewing and provided passengers with excellent visual and picture taking opportunities. The Explorathor Express was purchased in 2002; increasing passenger capacity to 184 people a day over two trips using all three vessels.

In 2009 the original Explorathor was retired and in 2010 Explorathor II, built locally in North Vancouver, was launched. Towers designed the boats so that the forward roofs can be removed in the warmer months allowing the passengers to enjoy an open-air experience.

Both the Express and Explorathor vessels are powered with water jets and the most fuel-efficient engines available. These engines exceed emission standard requirements significantly reducing impact on the marine environment. In turn, passengers benefit through a faster, quieter and smoother ride.

Operating seven days a week from April 1st to October 31st and employing over 25 staff members during peak season, Vancouver Whale Watch welcomes thousands of passengers aboard each year for an experience they will never forget. One of the greatest perks of Towers’ job is seeing the anticipation as clients are fitted in weatherproof suits, hats and gloves. Upon their return the highlight is hearing excited stories about experiences out on the water. Towers jokes that he could have struck it rich by investing in real estate, but for him this is a much more satisfying career.

263891_180573932000216_823601_nWhat can you expect from a Vancouver Whale Watch excursion? With the unpredictable movement of whales, one must reserve 3 to 5 hours for a tour. The 5-hour window of time allows Vancouver Whale Watch to take you further afield, if necessary, to increase chances of locating the mighty mammals. And have no fear; there are washrooms onboard the Explorathor and Express boats.

Pack your lunch for the trip, or contact Pierside Deli on the dock, and they can organize a whale watching lunch for you.

Occasionally tours have hit the jackpot and come across a super pod. Comprised of the three resident pods (J, K and L), they are actually an extended family in the area. Constituting as many as 90 whales, they occasionally come together for a big family reunion of sorts, and in a greeting ceremony they form lines and communicate to one another.

Speaking of communicating, if whales are in the vicinity, Vancouver Whale Watch staff will shut off the boat’s engine and use a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) to eavesdrop on resident Orcas, which can be identified by their dialects. Passengers are able to listen to the conversation over a P.A. system.

Towers sees the boats as “floating classrooms” and with the expertise of the skipper and naturalist onboard, passengers learn about the eco system and the interrelationship between whales and the salmon on which they feed.

The chance of seeing Orcas varies with the seasons. Working with the Pacific Whale Watch Network gives the company a sighting success rate of over 95%. The vessels typically travel through the Gulf Islands and American San Juan Islands, allowing passengers to see a variety of wildlife including, seals, sea lions, porpoises, eagles, and occasionally dolphins (which have recently made an appearance in the area).

The business guarantees that should you not see a whale you are welcome to return for a free trip. This offer never expires. Towers reports that a Japanese tourist returned after twelve years to take them up on the offer. As for satisfied customers, many people come back for the thrill of getting out on the water again. A couple from Chicago returns each year and have taken ten tours.

Vancouver Whale Watch - Steveston staff - PallaMediaCloser to home, if you are interested in a tour of Steveston’s waterfront, the charming River Queen boat is in operation from June through to mid-September. On this 45 minute fully narrated expedition you will learn about the nature and history of the area. You will see the commercial fishing fleet, Shady Island, Britannia Heritage Shipyard and the Gulf of Georgia National Historic Cannery. Keep your eyes peeled; en route you may spot seals, eagles, herons, swans and cormorants.

Vancouver Whale Watch generously gives back to the community each December by donating the service of a skipper and open air zodiac to transport Santa and his helpers as part of the Steveston Merchants Association’s Christmas in Steveston Village event.

Vancouver Whale Watch - Steveston - PallaMediaThe summer months are prime whale watching months. People travel from all over the world to enjoy what is on our doorstep. We are so fortunate to live in a community where we have the opportunity to hop aboard a Vancouver Whale Watch boat and enjoy all of the breathtaking scenery this area has to offer – and have a 95% chance of spotting a whale!

Vancouver Whale Watch
210-12240 Second Avenue
Richmond, BC V7E 3L8
Telephone 604-274-9565