Romancing Your Soul in Chemainus
By Margaret Deefholts
Contributor Travelink Publishing
I am standing on a hillock gazing down at an expanse of soft blue water, fringed by evergreens, and a cluster of doll-sized cottages. I can hear the whistle of a train far below in the valley, and a family of four in a buggy drawn by a pair of white horses is cantering up the incline of the hill towards me. I resist the urge to duck out of the way, and turn around instead - only to be drawn, into the mesmeric gaze of three Native faces. They have strong, finely-chiselled features, and I lean forward to hear them speak.
And they might well do so, for this is Chemainus, a town where reality and illusion blur at the edges. Thirty-three enormous murals adorning the sides of shops, houses, above windows, around doorways and underneath arches. They arrest time, spin tales. Hong Hing who lived here selling groceries, chickens and second-hand goods, walks out of his store (where he also ran a clandestine bootlegging and gambling operation), to greet you. Lumber barons, John Humbard and H.R. MacMillian exude power as they pause to look down the long corridors of time, and telephone operators in long skirts, smile primly at passers-by from the telephone company's white-fenced porch.
Medieval romantic fantasy and sumptuous luxury blend into one another at Castlebury Cottage. The gracious mistress of the manor, "Lady" Virginia Blatchford, welcomes photographer Lee Beliveau and myself on arrival, and leads us into a royal retreat par excellence. Flagstone marble stairs open into a self-contained suite of rooms, with Romanesque vaulted ceilings and archways, mullioned casement windows, antique wrought-iron wall lamp sconces - and even a full-sized suit of armour standing in one corner. I wander onto the stone balcony feeling a bit like the Lady of Shalott as I look down at a tranquil shady lane winding down ... to Camelot?
Escapist and magical as it may be, there is nothing illusory about Castlebury Cottage's lavishly appointed suite. The furnishings are a voluptuous rich purple, with matching mauve linens, while fresh flower arrangements and the subtle fragrance of potpourri add that extra touch of elegance. An enormous bed, topped with satin pillows and down duvet is across from a huge marble soaker tub, above which is a mural of lovers gazing dreamily at one another, the caption being Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's well-known quotation "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." The surface of a bedside bookshelf has sepia reproduction of the Mapis Mundi, and contains vintage editions of poems by Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare. Camera whirring away, Lee sighs wistfully, "My, what a perfect haven for lovers..."
The living room is just as superb: a crackling fireplace, exquisite lace-covered breakfast table, set with delicate bone china, mauve crystal goblets and glittering silver-ware, a concealed TV and VCR (with a choice of movies such as The Titanic and Shakespeare In Love), a CD player with selection of music ranging from light classics to folk melodies, and a mini-kitchen with state-of-the-art range and fridge.
Lee and I make our way to the Chemainus theatre that evening to enjoy a buffet dinner, following which we are drawn into yet another realm of make-believe: Noel Coward's urbane comedy "Private Lives" which has delighted audiences since the '30s.
Rather than have our breakfast served at Castlebury Cottage, Lee and I opt to stroll across to the Blatchfords' adjoining B&B, "Birdsong". While "Sir" Larry plays the piano softly in the background, we sit down to breakfast. The table is a sonata of lace, silver and chinaware. At the centre is a bowl of pink roses, framed by four slender white candles. Our entrée of fresh strawberries - slivered into a circle of "petals" - is garnished with finely sliced bananas and star fruit, all topped with whippings of yoghurt. A teensy pansy adds the perfect final touch. It looks too good to eat, but it is also far too good not to eat! The main course is a gourmet's delight: crepes stuffed with scrambled eggs, asparagus and smoked salmon smothered in smoked gouda cheese sauce, capers and fresh herbs. And if this isn't enough, Virginia sets out a plate of heart-shaped fluffy scones, with a variety of jams: fresh strawberry, apricot mango, and (my favourite) creamy lemon curd. Freshly brewed Starbucks coffee and cream round off a breakfast - and a sojourn - fit for royalty.
If You Go:
9910 Croft Street
Hosts: Virginia and Larry Blatchford
Vancouver and other lower mainland travelers: B.C. Ferries accommodates travelers from Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay terminals to Duke Point or Departure Bay. General Information for sailing schedule is 1-888-BCFERRY (223-3779)
Chemainus is a 35-40 minute drive south from Nanaimo along the Island Highway
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