By Hans Tammemagi
Sitting on a bench in Sidney’s Tulista Park, I’m dazzled by the beauty around me. The Gulf Islands dot the horizon, dominated by the majestic, snowcapped Mount Baker in the distance. The sun is shining and the waves are sparkling. Here and there, glistening white sails scud along the water like silvery ghosts.
My plan is to spend this glorious summer afternoon on foot, casually strolling northward along the waterfront of Sidney, the small town right beside the Victoria International Airport. I’m excited to explore Sidney-by-the-Sea, as it is known, and the magical place where land meets the ocean.
A quick survey of Tulista Park leads me to Artsea Gallery with its array of paintings by local artists. My heart jumps as, nearby, youngsters on skateboards perform seemingly death-defying stunts on the rolling concrete of Sidney Skate Park.
I calm my nerves by starting my walk and gazing at the beautiful, tranquil Salish Sea.
Beside the dock that services ferries to the US San Juan Islands when cross-border travel is permitted), the first of many art sculptures arises before me. The Keeper, a massive piece of sandstone by artist Ron Crawford, represents strength as it leans into the wind that whips the shoreline during winter storms.
This is the first of many works of art that grace the shoreline path of the Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk.
My legs stretch out as I enjoy the at easy stroll north. I descend a short staircase from the walking path to the shoreline and wiggle my toes in the water, admiring the numerous driftwood logs that are as beautiful as sculptures. As I hunt for sea glass, shells and odd pieces of driftwood, I keep a sharp eye out for sea life. For a few moments, the baleful round eyes of a seal stare at me, before it quietly slips under the water without a ripple.
Back on the path, I pass several other strollers. The locals unfailingly exchange pleasantries, and all of their dogs are just as outgoing, their tails wagging furiously as I pet them.
Fresh flowers had been placed in the hands of a fisherman sculpture that marks the beginning of the fishing pier, a wooden structure that extends far into the water. Chatting with Rand, a retired local, I discover crabbing and fishing aren’t just reserved for deep-sea fisherfolk.
He explains that catching rock crab is easy, particularly if you start early in the morning.
Pointing to a rope on the railing that marks a trap he had immersed below the waves, he says, “I always catch my limit of four a day, and they taste great, especially when soaked in butter.”
I drool at the thought of it.
The path curves around Glass Beach, a tiny cove lined with logs. Lawns grace the landward side of the path and sculptures become more frequent. I stop to chat with Tony, another stroller, who says, “This shoreline walk is the prettiest part of Sidney. I love how meticulously the path and adjacent gardens are maintained.”
The Beacon Wharf, an extension of Sidney’s main street, is next on my journey. The funky Pier Bistro at the end tempts me, as a friend has raved about its eggs benny served on top of fresh crab cakes.
The Fish Market also catches my attention — a blue building sitting on dark wooden pilings covered in molluscs. Fresh fish is delivered to the market daily, often direct from fishing boats. Inside, a man with a gaff tosses lingcod from a large bin into smaller iced containers.
Beside the wharf sits Beacon Park with its small, covered stage and several sculptures, including one of Jake James, a notorious pirate with a peg leg, a patch over one eye and a long telescope pointing out to sea.
The statue makes me think of the prohibition era, when smugglers snuck alcohol across the nearby US border. Many locals, I learn, commemorate the town’s rum-running past at the Rumrunner Pub.
At Sidney’s award-winning aquarium, the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, I get up close and personal with wolf eels, jellyfish, rockfish, a giant Pacific octopus and hundreds of other creatures. And I never even get wet.
I enter Victoria Distillers, Canada’s only oceanfront distillery, since, after all, sundowner time is approaching. Touring the distillery, I discover it produces many quality spirits, including my favourite, Empress 1908 Gin.
At the Port Sidney Marina, an immense flotilla of gleaming yachts and sailboats bobs in the water, the boats’ reflections shimmering in the clear, mirror-like sea. A small group of kayakers paddles past.
Near the northern end of the walk, a plaque describes how sail transformed to steam on the seven seas. This is one of a series of signs, part of a self-guided historical walking tour, marking significant past events in the development of Sidney. (Map available from the Sidney Visitor
Watching the graceful boats in the marina, their forest of masts swaying gently in the breeze, and reflecting on the wildlife and sights I’ve passed, I realize, and appreciate, that Sidney has one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the world.
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