August 31, 2015

The Devil's Elbow ~ great beer and good food

On Beatty Street in downtown Vancouver is the wonderful Devil's Elbow. It's located next door to the new and improved location of the popular Chambar.

The full name for the pub is Devil's Elbow Ale & Smoke House, and it's the Vancouver venue for the Howe Sound Brewing Co. of Squamish. Howe Sound brews some of the best craft beer in BC and the Inn in Squamish has become a favourite spot for Jeem and others too. The Vancouver pub takes its name from Howe Sound's popular Devil's Elbow India Pale Ale.

The place is nice, rustic and simple. There is the full range of Howe Sound brews available, and other local brews too. The restaurant carries whisky products from local craft distilleries too.

We were in the neighbourhood in advance of a Whitecaps FC game and the Devil's Elbow turned out to be a perfect place for some pre-game drinks and food. The atmosphere was fun and lively with a number of the Curva Collective in attendance before the game, so the singing-march out of the pub was an added entertainment bonus.

Service was excellent and the food interesting. The focus is on smoked meat, with the meat smoked in-house. It all went well with the beer.

We shared  a couple of appetizers in deep fried pickles and pulled pork purses. The pickles were a nice treat, salty and tart at the same time.

The purses were excellent, though another deep fried item is not exactly what Jeem needed. They featured smoked bacon, smoked pork butt, cabbage and a honey-barbecue sauce.

For his main Jeem had a smoked beef brisket plate, with the meat served in a smoked coffee bourbon sauce. Coleslaw and potato salad rounded out the plate and neither were particularly impressive; both were dry and bland, which probably worked to balance the heavy-handed punch of the smoked meat.

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All in all a fine experience. The menu is different from that offered by the Inn in Squamish, and it's a nice change from most other pubs in Vancouver. The beer from Howe Sound is always excellent.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

August 27, 2015

Lighthouse Bistro on Nanaimo's waterfront

What is now the city of Nanaimo used to be home to five Coast Salish First Nation villages. That all changed when the Europeans came and especially after the Hudson's Bay Company set up an outpost here over 150 years ago.

Today, Nanaimo is home to over 80,000 and the city's citizens enjoy a lifestyle that balances modern amenities with an attachment to nature and recreation.

The waterfront shopping district is relatively new is well worth the visit. It blends with the Fishermen's Wharf, the old downtown business district, an artsy neighbourhood, and the launching pad for boats and sea planes.

And it is here we found ourselves one beautiful Sunday afternoon for a late lunch, or brunch, or something.

There are a number of eateries along the waterfront but few can boast the view one finds at the Lighthouse Bistro, Pub and Restaurant. Being a wonderful day, we chose the outdoor venue that seemed to be the Lighthouse Bistro portion of the complex.

Service was attentive and friendly. As one tired of looking east towards the roar of the sea planes, there was always the open kitchen to watch as the cooks pondered menu requests.

And menu requests here are simple and pub-inspired. One of our party had a Caesar salad with grilled sockeye, while Jeem opted for the halibut and chips.

The Caesar salad was adequate at best, lacking that extra punch one might expect from a waterfront restaurant on Canada's southwest coast.

Jeem's halibut was fresh and tasty, though not inspired, and still the better of the two dishes. The chips were boring beyond belief, and the portion of fries small by most standards. Not that Jeem needs more fries, but charge an extra toonie and offer hand-cut fries done properly. McCain offers as much in the frozen food section of any Argentinian or Canadian supermarket. In fact, Canada's McCain company is the largest provider of frozen fries on the planet. The chips served here are probably from McCain, so why not offer the better version? But I digress.

All that being said, the location is wonderful. The service was pleasant. The wine selection better than one might expect. And the company was great. Not bad for a summer Sunday afternoon in Nanaimo.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

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August 26, 2015

Little Qualicum River Regional Park

Recently while visiting the east side of Vancouver Island, we went for a walk through Little Qualicum River Regional Park near Parksville.

Little Qualicum River Regional Park is part of the Regional District of Nanaimo, and was acquired by the district in 1999.

The park runs along both sides of the Little Qualicum River immediately downstream from the much larger Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. The two parks connect through hiking trails, though I'm not sure we ever found the connection. I'm not sure we were even looking for a connection.

The regional park is 44 ha in size and is largely undeveloped, with various trails, of varying degrees of difficulty, all leading somewhere, and some obviously to the little river itself.

The regional park is largely undeveloped, though there are camp sites, and several walking trails. And the trails are quite invigorating, for exercise and for the sheer beauty of the park. There are many birds to be heard and sometimes seen, and a variety of animals can be stumbled upon, including, though not on our visit, bear, deer and cougar.

And Canada's most dangerous spiders, which are small yet highly poisonous. Which we did see. Often, as it turned out.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

August 25, 2015

BC can defeat Stephen Harper

Polls are interesting. And often worth a grain of salt, as we learned from the last provincial election.

The most recent poll from BC shows the NDP solidifying its numbers here in BC with the Conservatives running third and fading.

At this stage of the campaign, voters in BC are moving away from Stephen Harper's Conservatives and towards the NDP. 

That trend makes it ever more important for those of us hoping to put an end to Stephen Harper's government to stick with the NDP. Waffling and shifting votes to the Greens or Liberals will not defeat the Conservatives. 

The other reality is that polls are one thing, actually getting out to vote is another. We saw that truth in the last provincial election too. The only way to really change things in this federal election is to vote and we all have a part to play, especially in encouraging young people.

We're all in this together.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Attending a Whitecaps FC game

As much as I've always liked the world's beautiful game, I have never been to a Whitecaps game in Vancouver. So when my daughter and son-in-law invited me to the game last Saturday...

We started at the Devil's Elbow and enjoyed the chants and exhortations of members of the Curva Collective who were also imbibing at the pub, not all that far from the stadium.

Not only was this my first Whitecaps game, it was also my first visit to the new and improved BC Place. The renovations, wildly over budget, clocked in at well over $500 million, and were an impressive sight. But over $500 million of taxpayer money? Hmmm....  funny how quickly voters forget these things in this province.

My hosts have season tickets on the south-side of the stadium, and this is where the Curva Collective and the Southsiders have their seats, or rather where they choose to stand for the entire game. The Curva Collective and the Southsiders are two independent fan-based support groups for the Whitecaps. In fact, the Southsiders are the largest fan-based group of its kind in Canada with over 1200 members.

The Curva Collective is the smaller of the  two groups, though more visible with their flags and banners, and probably louder with their chants and songs. The Collective, as befits their name, has adopted a more democratic model in the way they present themselves in public.

We sat nearer the Curva Collective, in fact quite near, so it was easy to get caught up in their antics. The fellow with the beard and megaphone spent the entire match with his back to the pitch, calling out the chants and willing the larger group into doing all sorts of things. Like taking off your shoes to show support, or your shirt, or wave your arms... I got tired just watching. It's all family-friendly and fun.

A highlight at Saturday's game was the Curva Collective's recognition of Uruguay's Independence Day, and the unfurling of a large banner depicting the four Uruguayan players on Whitecaps FC.

Both fan groups are open to all, including families, and both strive to be positive role models for the entire crowd of 20,000. You won't hear much negativity from these guys.

The game itself featured a win for Vancouver over Dallas, was entertaining and fast. None of the long drawn out breaks for television at an MSL game.

At the end of the game all of us were standing to salute the Whitecaps, and most of us were singing the Whitecaps song.

If you haven't been to a game, it should be considered. Join the Curva Collective. It's all great fun. Especially when our team wins. Next game is tomorrow, August 26, at BC Place, against the Montreal Impact.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.
Front-on picture of banner from Curva Collective facebook page. 

August 23, 2015

Migrants are not the problem ~ the word is a problem

Lately, I've been thinking about the migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. I've been considering the way the word migrant is being used by journalists and politicians alike. Somehow, I think, we have become desensitised to what is really happening, and part of that desensitisation is the repeated use of the word migrant.

When we allow our media and governments to apply reductive terminology to human beings, we get the British foreign minister referring to "marauding migrants," and an increase in hate speech and racism.

We don't really have a migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. In fact, according to the UN, the vast majority of these people are fleeing war. The largest group comes from Syria, a nation where about 300,000 have been killed in that escalating brutality. Others come from Afghanistan, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia and Iraq.

These people are not migrants, nor are they economic migrants. They most definitely are not marauding migrants.They are overwhelmingly refugees escaping the misery and danger of war, which includes, but is not limited to, rape, torture and death. And yet we call them migrants, as though they are on some kind of family excursion. "Oh, let's visit Europe this summer. Maybe next year we can see the Rocky Mountains." Yeah, right.

In the first seven months of this year, about 340,000 people have crossed into Europe. A large number, but in the context of a European population of over 700 million, not so significant at all. Contrast that with Turkey, which hosts almost 2 million refugees from Syria alone, or Lebanon where there are more than a million refugees from Syria.

And so, when hundreds of people drown crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, they aren't called refugees. They are only migrants. Perhaps that is what our governments would have us believe. Perhaps it suits a political agenda to dehumanise the problem, to call them migrants instead of people or refugees.

Words are important. Migrant is a word that robs suffering people of identity and voice.

Not all that long ago we turned away boats filled with European Jews, escaping the madness of that war. We found convenient ways to dehumanise that problem too. Is history repeating itself ? Shame on Europe and shame on us.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.
Photos by Milos Bicanski/Al Jazeera

August 22, 2015

Cumberland Brewing Company

The village of Cumberland, slightly south of Courtenay, has a reputation for being on the fringes. From the late 1800s through to the middle of the 1900s, Cumberland was a coal town, and at its peak, coal employed over 600 and supported a town of 3000. At one time Cumberland boasted the second largest Chinatown on the west coast of North America. There are still a number of old company houses and structures in Cumberland, including parts of the Chinatown, and some of the best hiking and mountain biking trails in BC, but... that's not why we're here.

Today's Cumberland, still on the fringes, features one of the new craft breweries springing up around the province and this one is definitely worth a look.

On the main street of the village it's not hard to miss, though the door that fronts the street actually looks in on the brew master and all his equipment. The proper entry is around the side and it boasts a large, mostly-covered patio for the summer-time crowd and indoor seating as well.

Mike Tymchuk is the brew master and his story is one of a passion for beer. While attending university and working at Canada's first in-house brew pub, Spinnakers in Victoria, in the 1980s, Mike was offered an opportunity to make beer, and one thing led to another.

A few years ago, Mike and his life-partner Caroline, found themselves in Cumberland. On the fringes. They opened Riders Pizza to blazing success, and in December 2014, together with another partner, opened the Cumberland Brewing Company.

There are flights of beer to be had, "and, why not?" said Jeem. Flights offer five different brews, though Cumberland Brewing Co. currently offers six, ranging from a delicious bitter to a wonderful oatmeal stout. The brews change with the season and available ingredients. All are worth tasting of course, though the English Bitter caught Jeem's favour.

Impressive as all this beer is, there's something else going on here too, and it's just as impressive. Caroline and Mike Tymchuk, through their two business ventures, have created twenty jobs in Cumberland, jobs that didn't exist before Riders Pizza and Cumberland Brewing. It's an example of how to grow jobs across our country. We don't need big corporations to produce beer, and we don't need to truck in beer from centralised breweries, let alone from Mexico or Belgium.

Beer can be produced in small batches, often with local ingredients, in every town and neighbourhood across the land. It's the way the industry began and it can happen again, giving us uniquely local brews with different flavours and tastes. Local breweries would be good for all of us. Mike and Caroline Tymchuk are doing something good for Cumberland, and other craft brewers are doing the same for their communities.

Globalization is the past. Localization is the future.

Cumberland Brewing Co. is a fun place with great people, beer and pizza. While the village might be on the fringes, the brewery provides all of us with a great reason to visit.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.