Sidney, Vancouver Island, Canada
Waterfront, Sidney, Vancouver Island
Waterfront, Sidney, Vancouver Island

Canada, eh?

We leave Friday Harbor at 9:45 in the morning. Actually, we were supposed to leave at 9:45, but for whatever, unexplained, reason, the ferry from Anacortes was late. We actually departed at 10:05, which gave us an opportunity to have a last look at the Friday Harbor waterfront. The town seemed a bit hungover; after the excitement of the Fourth of July festivities, few people were out; the snap had gone out of the rope.

Our late arriving ferry arrived, and after a brisk passage around the top of San Juan Island, we crossed the Haro Strait and pulled into Sidney, British Columbia. Sidney, a sleepy town perched between the Victoria Airport and the Strait, is the point of entry for the Washington Ferries. In this age of heightened security, I was expecting a rigorous examination at the Canadian Border station. In fact, it was as relaxed as pair of Canadian wool knickers after a long winter: the officer glanced at the photos on the front page of our passports, asked about our itinerary and whether we were carrying firearms (keep them out, very sensible), and then wished us a pleasant trip and waved us on. He didn't even stamp our passports with an entry visa. According to the Canadian Immigration website, a US citizen can stay for 180 days on a tourist visa. Without a stamp in my passport, I wonder how they will keep track of the time? I would seem to have an open visa. I just may stay.

A short drive north brought us to downtown Sidney. It is a small town of 11,000 people, but it offers some appealing attractions. Food is first on our list, and I happily found a parking spot right across the street from Maria's Souvlaki, a Greek diner. It is an odd combination: authentic Greek cuisine, doled out in a room that could have served as a set for an episode of Happy Days. Short on ambiance, but long on excellent, inexpensive Greek food.

After eating, we had a couple of hours to explore Sidney. The main arterial is Beacon Avenue, which connects the waterfront and Highway 17. It is a pleasant street, lined with bookstores, antique shops, and art galleries. One of the shocking aspects of Canada (for an American) is that when a pedestrian approaches a crosswalk, the cars stop. Driver courtesy is exemplary in Sidney, and I began to feel a little guilty: the cars braked to a shuddering halt whenever I seemed to even be contemplating crossing the street. In a town full of pedestrians, it remains a mystery how automobiles make any forward progress. I could imagine getting trapped for weeks in the central roundabout, exits blocked by walkers, doomed to circle ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Sidney: A congenial town for pedestrians and dog-walkers
Sidney: A congenial town for pedestrians and dog-walkers

The percentage of elderly residents in Sidney is one of the highest in the nation. Lacking major hills, this fundamentally flat city is easily managed by those who are no longer spry. It also offers a temperate climate, rarely too hot, or too cold. It's hard not to be impressed with the city.

The wise leaders of this community (and how often is one inclined to say that about politicians) have poured a significant amount of money into waterfront beautification. A lovely walkway parallels the shore, and two piers run out into the harbor, framing a beach where kids may stuff their pockets with low tide treasures, stolen from Neptune's domain.

Fishing Pier, Sidney, BC
Fishing Pier, Sidney, BC

Seagulls lined the railings of the fishing pier, where today the interest seems to be crabs. Several groups of people were distributed along the length of the pier, monitoring crab pots baited with chicken carcasses. As we watched, excitement erupted at the extreme end of the pier: a shark had wandered into a crab pot and been caught.

"Second shark in two days," shouted the fisherman, as he carefully worked the small fish loose from the mesh and displayed it for the admiring crowd. As a working pedant, I would call it a Dogfish, but in fact, the Dogfish is a member of the shark family. It's not a Great White Shark, but it is certainly more interesting than a starfish. After we all had a look, he dangled it out over the water and let it drop. The Dogfish lay on the surface, stunned by his adventure in the Upper World, and then swam off into the murk.

Sidney Shark (Dogfish)
Sidney Shark (Dogfish)

The other pier supports a seafood market, and the Pier Bistro, a seafood restaurant. Had I not just stuffed myself with Lamb Souvlaki, I would have been tempted to pop in for an oyster burger. In my experience, it is always a mistake of the highest order to pass up an opportunity for an oyster burger.

Our final stop of the afternoon was the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea. Opened in 2009, this aquarium offers an introduction to the variety of sea life found in the Salish Sea (the waters of the Straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca, and the Puget Sound to the south). Exhibits range from Orca skeletons to tanks of salmon fingerlings that will be released into the sea when they are old enough.

I must say that although I enjoyed the aquarium very much, the entrance into the exhibition put the Velveeta in cheesy: you walk into what appears to be a large, round elevator. A solemn voice announces that in 15 seconds the airlock door will close. 15 ... 10 ... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The "airlock" slides closed behind you. Then comes the sound of a flooding sea. Overhead, display screens make it appear that "the vessel" is submerging, but in fact, it doesn't move at all. Finally, the exit door of the "airlock" opens and we can walk into next room. This is probably all very impressive for children of a certain age, but it does strike me as a bit much.

Inside, I was enthralled by a tank of jellyfish, which, with undulating tentacles, moved back and forth in a man-made current. They drifted with surprising speed, and as I attempted to capture them on my Leica, I fervently regretted my camera's lack of autofocus. My D810 would lock right on here, but in low light, at wide aperture, I had a devil of a time getting the critters in focus manually.

Jellyfish, Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea
Jellyfish, Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea

The aquarium is very well done, interesting, and enjoyable. It is staffed by knowledgeable people, and we learned quite a bit from our visit. I, for instance, did not know that Wolf Eels were not true eels. I also didn't know that they ate crustaceans and echinoderms like Sea Urchins. In the end, we run out of time before we run out of interest, which is always a good quality in an attraction.

Unfortunately, we needed to meet our contact in Victoria to secure the lodging for the next leg of our trip, so we were forced to make our departure. A light rain was falling, deterring some of the pedestrians, and we escaped this lovely little town in good order.

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Click Here for Part Five of the Salish Sojourn
Copyright, 2016 Richard J. Goodrich