A Vancouver, Victoria, and Capilano Story. Part 1: After Crossing the Border

Past the Pines in Bellingham

*Here’s a story before the 2020 pandemic about being outside the US borders.*

Almost exactly one year since my first weekend getaway in Seattle, I found myself visiting my friend again and heading back to Vancouver. I had found flights that fit my schedule, and I wanted to explore Canada again. We planned to explore more of the Washington Coast and Vancouver, and Victoria by taking the Tsawwassen Ferry in Vancouver to the south point of Vancouver Island.


I did not arrive quite as late as midnight, so my friend and I were able to grab good food near the University Center before we headed to my friend’s co-op.

On the misty morning of my first day in Seattle again, we headed north. A little more than one hour away, sat a small town called Bellingham. I saw on the map that it was a unique place to visit, and quickly asked my friend to pull off the highway to explore. It didn’t take us long to enter Fairhaven Village, a settlement that became part of Bellingham city and looked as quaint as it sounds. 

Fairhaven Village was comprised of old brick buildings and buildings decked with wood painted in redwood stain and dark forest green. On this November day, orange maple leafs littered on the floor of freshly rained on sidewalks. A little diner with the sign “Fish and chips” stood on the corner of the road, a bus with the top windows of the second floor decorated with a photo of the Beatles and an old man with a fedora a newspaper.

Down the street, we saw numerous dining options, and as we wandered the cross streets, we found a beautiful mural depicting city life outside of the Fairhaven Hotel with what appeared to be a black Ford Model T. Even the visitor booth was interesting since it look like a gazebo.

Down the main road towards West was the harbor. We would have walked more near the harbor if we had more time, but we stopped right at the edge of the road where we could see the ocean. Though the trees has lost their leaves, the grass had not and they were a vibrant green. As I admired the foliage, I saw a cement plaque. “Chinese Deadline: No Chinese allowed beyond this point.”

I have always heard about this in the context of Asians immigrating through Alcatraz Island in California because I had a public school teacher who is Asian and passionate about Asian American history. Her family history played a role, and she was a big advocate of Asian American rights. However, no one else spoke of this on a regular basis. It is a rare topic since people also tend to assume Asians were model minorities.

The perpetual foreigner stereotype lingers in the shadows because, for the most part, Asians are the smallest minority in America. This was not the case in Canada, where they were the largest minority at only a mere 5% while the total of all minorities in the US is 24% and 13.4% Black, and the 5.6% Asian gets relatively ignored.

Part of it was the product of the US’s Chinese Exclusion Act and more… and only in the late 1990’s the Asian American population soar, and before then, in 1975, Republican President Ford signed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act which aided 130,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Still, most cities remained predominately white and most of them haven’t seen an Asian American or the Asian person, and if they did, Asians were always regarded as new immigrants. And of course, statistically most didn’t immigrate until the late 1900s (though not by choice but by systemic limitation-which is by its well-known word, racisim). This perception was amplified even more by stereotypical roles in media before the 21st century.

This plaque, a formal apology from the mayor, showed the truth about Asian immigration. On the side of this apology are Chinese words that I assumed (and hopefully) said the same thing. I suppose the thoughts were appreciated, but it wasn’t life-changing. Somehow, Americans and new immigrants in America Still, I remembered the Chinatown I went to last year, and I wondered how they were impacted, but I suppose it affected those who had the means and desire to go to a new land. Being able to travel, I was thankful enough. The Harbor itself looked too gloomy for good photography.

The Watershed in the City (Whatcom Falls Park)

Within an hour of driving, we swung out to the park with the waterfall to explore a part my friend hadn’t explored. We ran across the parking lot in the light rain to see a map that led us to a trail down to the rushing river and the waterfall.

The bridge across the river was made of stone and covered with moss. On the foggy day, the waterfall was stark white. Across the bridge, the trail went up the hill which allowed us to see the bridge and the river rushing underneath, and the moss on the bridge hung like a Christmas decoration. The green matched the moss on the trees and the leaves on the tree. Everything looked surreal compared to a now dried-up California.

This was one place that looked surreal because Southern California is really, to put it bluntly, nothing like the Pacific Northwest.

On the way back, we saw a trail to the fish hatchery with a pool of water that was completely covered by a metal frame. The mesh on these frames was too small to fit any bird except for their peaks.

Crossing the Border

Crossing the border was easy, but long… The sun started to set by the time we were there in our cars since it was November, and sunset before 5pm. For a moment, I wondered if we would see the Capilano Bridge that my friend had talked about, but scrolling down the site… the bridge was open for lights! The first night for Christmas lights! I don’t know how I managed to plan it for this time… but I really do think I luck out in planning sometimes.

My friend in the car said that it was normal for people to step out of the car zone onto the border park, Peace Arch Historical State Park before checking into the border, so I did. The cars are almost a standstill slow, and I was able to take a photo of the coast, the train tracks going into Canada, and the arch with the two nations’ flags and “Children of a Common Mother” inscription. Canada and the US had British ties.

We crossed the border after a passport check, and the further up we north we went, the colder it became and the steeper the roof. Then we found ourselves in nautical twilight as it started to rain.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

I really recommend the Capilano Bridge despite its price tag. At the time, it was about $40, which was a lot for new college graduates who just started working. Immediately across from the parking lot were Christmas lights of all color strung on the eaves of log cabins and on the tall evergreens. After figuring out parking and grabbing umbrellas, we went into the log cabin to pay for our tickets and crossed the street.

They gave us a map where we can find stations to stamp. The Capilano Bridge was decorated, there was something that looked like Tiki but most likely, totem poles. A bright light shone from the hollow, so I could stand behind it and stick my head out for a photo. A short walk later, we were at the bridge, and the river shone red. Taking a photo on the bridge with so many people and the bridge rocking while at night was impossible without a good camera, and I had an iPhone 6, so the best I could do was burst shot.

The night was unlike anything I’d had experienced. The lights, the glowing balls, the moon, the treehouse trails, the sound, and the fresh smell. Some of the music was interactive. Sometimes I wonder… will I find something amazing, ghostly, witchy, or Christmasy?

Soon, we went across the bridge again and onto the terrifying cliff trail… If anything fell through the crack of the suspended walkway, it would have fallen into the dark rushing river. We went through a garden on the way back before making it to the gift shop where I got my last stamp, and on the way out, I got their souvenir certificate that said I made it across the bridge.

Camping in the Car

After a journey through this mystical forest, we went into downtown Vancouver and bought poutine for dinner. The hot gravy sauce on the french fries and the topping were always a delight. It was like sipping on soup and eating protein while eating your favorite side.

That night we found a place to park and sleep, but the night was cold despite sleeping bags.

Victoria Bound: Tsawwassen Ferry

We wanted to wake up early, but if we were realistic, we’d end up taking a later ship… at 7:30 AM. Parking at the harbor was easy, but we needed to pay ahead for the days we were gone.

It was a long walk to the terminal, where we bought tickets. Many people were already in their seat and warming up before sunrise. We waited for a while with our luggage. The announcer sounded surprisingly American. Perhaps it was being close to the border or perhaps Canadians on the west coast just sounded like Americans on the west coast.

The boat ride to Victoria was beautiful. We pass by many breathtaking islands on sea green water and mansions in that gloomy, cloudy weather. The islands called to me. Outside was freezing as I tried to adjust to 40° weather with windchills.

The boat had four decks, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop, and our ship was so big that it carried cars. The best way to get to Victoria was by boat, no doubt. A local bus waited outside at the other terminal and since we didn’t have a lot of change in cash, we ended up paying more in USD. I bet this was pretty common, and the bus driver probably appreciated the tips.

From Dock to Downtown

The ride was long since the harbor was on one side of the island and Victoria, on the other. After passing many evergreen trees, the bus finally made it to Chinatown, where we got off early to explore. It fascinated us that there was a Chinatown, and we wanted to know its uniqueness. There were at least two alleys, and one of them was Fan Tan Allie. It’s about 3 feet wide, and very narrow, between two brick buildings. There’s a sign on the other side that said private here be dragons!

~End of Part 1~

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