Although the dog days of summer are long behind us, I simply can’t bring myself to put away my paddling gear. Fortunately, Vancouver is not only a world class water sport destination, but our mild climate means any day is a great day to paddle. Granted cooler fall and winter temperatures mean it is extremely important to be safe and sensible, but with proper preparation and good judgement year round paddling is a treat that can be enjoyed by all boating enthusiasts. Recently, my paddling partner and I saw a break in the weather and planned an afternoon trip out of Cates Park in North Vancouver. Known as Whey-Ah-Whichen, the Tsleil-Waututh ancestral name for the land means “faces the wind.” This area is the largest waterfront park in North Vancouver and one of my favourite launch spots. During the summer, the sandy beaches are full of beachcombers in search of treasure and the playground and picnic areas are teaming with families. Cates Park is also home to Takaya Tours and the Cates Park Paddling Centre. Open May to October, Takaya Tours is a First Nation owned eco-tourism company and one of Vancouver’s premiere cultural tourism businesses offering an exciting and authentic interpretation of Coast Salish culture.
On this cool fall day, we were drawn to the park on a quest to explore Indian Arm, British Columbia’s southernmost fjord! Who can resist mountains, forest and wildlife viewing minutes from downtown? Dressed in layers, toques on, we launched and began our afternoon tour of Indian Arm. Across Burrard Inlet we could see signs of industry and as we glanced towards the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge the Vancouver city skyline shimmered in the distance. Sitting quietly on the water, it seemed almost surreal that we were on the edge of a major shipping lane. Frequently, I am reminded of how unique Vancouver is, a thriving world class city on the edge of nature with countless opportunities for back country exploration. Could this be paradise?
Leaving the busy port traffic behind us, we paddled in silence, following the shoreline towards Deep Cove. Rounding the bend, we were treated to views of luxurious waterfront homes and their magnificent private docks. Our kayaks enabled us to paddle close to the assortment of yachts moored at the docks. Their immense size dwarfed our kayaks, but clearly our love of the sea was common ground. Continuing, we paddled past Grey Rocks Island. You don’t need to stretch your imagination to figure out how this little island was named. It is, literally, a small privately owned island consisting of a beautiful home and a stand of trees situated on grey rocks.
Of course, fall paddling means earlier sunsets, so we decided to forgo the waterfalls and estuary further up the fjord and circle Boulder Island. It seemed important to head for home while we still enjoyed daylight. Traditionally, Boulder Island was a burial ground for the Tsleil-Waututh people. History tells us that the dead were wrapped in cedar bark and placed in the trees on the island. Somberly, we circumnavigated the island reflecting on the rich history of the area, imaging what life must have been like all those years ago. Much has changed over time and today the island is privately owned, yet the legends and stories live on. Inspirational paddling to say the least!
Cates Park is located in the 4000 block of Dollarton Highway, just east of the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge. The boat ramp and launch site is open year round. Pay parking is in effect – be sure to read the signs.
Cool weather, cold water and quickly changing weather conditions dictate that all paddlers need to be prepared with proper safety equipment. Know the signs of hypothermia and know your limits. Your paddling partner will be depending on you.