Dining with a Difference

Written by Harold McNeill on September 10th, 2011. Posted in Travelogue


The article was reprinted along with photographs in February/April 2011 issue of the Island RV Guide (p. 38ff)

Dining with a Difference stakes a claim at Clover Point in Victoria, British Columbia

In our third month of outdoor exploration, Lynn and I continue to search for novel ways to experience our city. While “Dinner and a Movie” proved to be a lot of fun during the winter (see Movie Reviews), we wanted to keep to the outdoors as September is such a special time of the year.

In Victoria, and indeed across Canada, beginning in September there is a period of time referred to for centuries as Indian Summer. In the prairies, it came after the first frosts began to darken the tops and vines of garden plants, and the trees slowly displayed their fall colours. I remember my first days of school as lazy and warm, perhaps a time to escape for a few days or weeks to help with the fall harvest. The evening chill and frost was a sure sign that the bitter cold days of winter were patiently waiting to attack with their penetrating winds.

Fog over Island ViewHere on the coast, it is a time when banks of fog drift across the coastal waters (see Island View Post) and envelop our Island paradise. The drifting fog slowly fills the low lying valleys well before dawn and can often take until noon to burn off. Looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the base of the Olympic Mountains is often buried to half their depth.

Photo: Early morning fog drifts in over Island View Beach.

In past times, one could hear the forlorn sound of a foghorn. It was a sound that reminded me of my first winter in Victoria in the fall of 1963 while living in James Bay. Most recently, Lynn and I awoke in a forested area at Kemp Lake (west of Sooke) to the sound of a foghorn somewhere in our midst. Perhaps it was Shearingham Point? This surprised me as I thought all horns had been silenced in favour of satellite navigation systems.

As for finding new ways to incorporate a September evening walk along the waterfront, we decided to try dining at a few of our favourite spots?  Accompanied by our good friends, Linda and Bjorn Simonsen,we headed down to a wonderful Victoria waterfront walk around Clover Point. 

Clover Point is a small point of land on the extreme south tip of Vancouver Island facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is at that point we are closest to our American neighbour, Port Angeles, the small community from which Marilyn Bell began her historic swim in 1956. Ms. Bell reached the Canadian shore just a few hundred meters from Clover Point. Strangely, while Marilyn Bell’s name first comes to mind as conquering the Strait, she was not the first to swim that treacherous stretch of tidal water. That honour was gained one year earlier by a 29 year old Marine from the United States, Bert Thomas, who walked away with the $3,500 prize – a prize that had been awaiting a winner for many years. The young man’s name quickly fell from the history books when Marilyn, the media darling of Canada who first conquered Lake Ontario, completed her Juan de Fuca swim.

Today, the area of Clover Point is a popular spot for kite flying, parasailing, surfing and, of course, an evening stroll. Every day, dozens of seagoing cargo ships can be observed navigating the waters to and from Seattle and Vancouver. On other occasions, such as the annual Swift Sure Race, we are treated to the grandeur of hundreds of colourful sails jockeying for position at the Start Line west of Clover Point.  Later in the fall, as gale force winds batter the coast, Clover Point provides an incredible view of giant waves breaking over Dallas Road.

Upon arriving at the point, we quickly secured three parking spots at the extreme south end.Scold Twenty minutes later it looked as if we were settling in for an extended stay. It should be noted that Clover Point, as with all public parking areas, prohibits overnight camping. Day use, however, is permitted. On this day, we were not the only ‘day campers’ who decided a waterfront meal away from home was in order.

Photo: As the sun begins to sink toward the western horizen, we settle in for a fine evening meal with our friends Linda and Bjorn.

After Bjorn and I finished setting up camp, Lynn and Linda put the final touches to our pasta dinner while I wandered around taking a few pictures (who ever heard of Harold taking just a few pictures?).  While several Clover Point park users wandered by with quizzical looks, a few stopped to chat, delighting in the fun and uniqueness of our special dinner plans. When the chill westerly of late evening pushed us indoors, we shared a coffee before decamping and heading for home.

A few days later, when again the sun was hot and the weather calm, we ventured east, crossing behind the Tweed Curtain that mythical barrier that insulates Oak Bay from the rest of the world. The Oak Bay Marina Resturant had always been a favorite that provided an incredible 180 degree view over the hundreds of sail boats moored in the Marina and out across Haro Straight. Two decades earlier, Sealand of the Pacific attracted tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to watch spectacular performances by killer whales and seals with aboriginal names such as Tilikum, Nootka II and Haida II. On whale of particular note, Miracle, became the darling of the nation when, as a baby, she was found nearly dead on a beach after being shot (attach link to story)

Miracle PerfromsIn those halcyon years of performing whales and spectacular underwater shows, there would not have been a chance of finding three side-by-side parking spots in the Marina lot.  Today, however, we were able to snag a prime location at the east end overlooking Turkey Head.  The site was complete with park benches, a spectacular view and, with very few cars in the parking lot, almost secluded.

File Photo: Miracle the Killer Whale performs at Sealand of the Pacific. Millions of people around the world waited with baited breath as a baby whale, shot and left dying on a loney Vancouver Island beach, was nursed back to health by caring staff at Sealand. The name Miracle was a natural. Read a full story of Sealand

After setting up, we wondered how long it might be before some kindly sole might nudge the Oak Bay Police to have them check out the Clampetts (of Beverly Hillbillies fame) who had just set up camp on a prime piece of Oak Bay real estate.  That did not happen but we gained more than few side glances from occasional strollers enjoying the fine evening. We even chanced to see a retired Victoria policeman, Kevin Worth, who lives just around the corner. He stopped in and chatted long enough to realize we were both following similar paths in retirement (he retired about six years back).

Ever available to give an assist to a passing group of tourists, I would set them up, using their camera, for a series of shots along the waterfront. Some did not speak English, but that is never a barrier when having fun. After a fine dinner and a soft, warm breeze blowing off the water, we were again joined by Linda and Bjorn for coffee and desert. Linda had made this delicious blueberry shortcake desert that had me begging for seconds. Again as the Washington State skyline turned a delicate tinge of mauve, we broke camp and headed for home.

For those folks who have a camping unit that is self contained or allows a quick connect, set-up and takedown, with facilities to bring a few of the comforts of home, there are virtually dozens of Oceanside parking spots that provide a wonderful new perspective on fine dining in city. There is no need to let the tourists have all the fun!

Harold and Lynn McNeill

Home away from Home

Lynn and Harold

While retirement has provided more time to explore our interests, earlier hectic careers for both Lynn and Harold simply limited the amount of time we could dedicate to extracurricular pursuits, When the budget was tight, the four kids were young and time limited,
we still managed to sneak in dozens of exciting new adventures.
Photo by Linda Simonsen

Sunset at Clover Point

Sunset at Clover Point

The Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains of Washinton State provide the backdrop. Across the Strait, on the leeward side of the mountains, the fog, which can be seen as a thin line, begins to build over the night.  On calm mornings, most of the Strait and the mountains will often disappear until at lest noon the next day.

Oak Bay Marina – Dessert is Served

Desert is Served

This evening Linda provided the excellent blueberry shortcake. (This photo by Linda Simonsen)

Marina – Fishing at Sunset

Fisherment at Sunset

Three fisherman now cast their lines, and sailboats rest, at point where thousands of tourists
and locals would watch in rapt attention as killer whales and harbour seals performed
their daily routines.

In the background is Jimmy Chicken Island: According to accounts by Bea Hamilton, an Oak Bay resident in the 1890s, Jimmy was a Songhees Indian who lived in a little shack on Mary Tod Island with his wife Jenny. Apparently Jimmy would occasionally paddle in at night and steal a chicken. Area residents nicknamed him ‘Jimmy Chicken” and, some years later, the little Island, immediately off the breakwater, was named after him. (Oak Bay Encyclopedia)

Visitors from California

A fall visit with Suzanne and Joseph provided another opportunity to travel for a new dining experience, this time to Beacon Hill Park in the heart of downtown Victoria.  Wine (disguised in wine glasses of course), fresh bread, pasta and a variety of other ingredients to please the palette of the most discriminating diner. During dinner we had a few visitors including a friendly peacock looking for a handout.

Friendly Peacock Checking on our Visitors

Panorama from our Table

We paid an arm and a leg to secure this vew table. It was worth it just to remind
our visitors from California of that which they left behind just to secure a few more
hours of surf and sunshine.

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Comments

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold