The author's 'Sunset Stroll' portrays a winter sunset during a family hike of a North Island beach.

The author's 'Sunset Stroll' portrays a winter sunset during a family hike of a North Island beach.

Sunset stroll

Gordon Henschel reflects on beautiful west-coast winters; made all the more enjoyable in comparison with our neighbours to the east.

Most British Columbians live here because of an infinite love for the land. Either we were born here and the sea and the mountains are so much part of our being that it would be inconceivable to live anywhere else, or we immigrated here, drawn by the incredible beauty and diversity of the place; and of course, by the climate. I can remember my dad’s comment when he first visited B.C., coming from Manitoba during the winter. “This is God’s country; we’ve got to move here!”

As North Islanders, we enjoy the added benefit of a free, relatively unpopulated landscape filled with the wild things so many of us love. Here are forest paths, silent and almost unreal; beaches that beg to be walked upon; and little gems of lakes that you can call your very own! Here, too, is the mild winter climate.

The climate — ah, yes, the climate. Not everyone thinks it so mild. Witness the mass migration of “snow birds” to the southern U.S. and Mexico each winter. However, if you have any doubts about its mildness, you need to head east, not south.

Our family belongs to the list of immigrants to this fair province. We came from Manitoba some thirty-nine years ago, leaving family and friends for an adventure on the West Coast. Occasionally we make forays back there to visit everyone. Last year we decided to go there for the Christmas Holidays.

We chose Dec. 16 to fly there, plenty of time for Christmas dinner at my brother-in-law’s house in Winnipeg. We now know why they call it “Winterpeg”. Thirty-nine years of West Coast winters is plenty of time to become acclimatized (or should I say “spoiled”) so that we think it’s cold here, with Mexico looking better all the time! On this trip we were in for a re-introduction to “cold”.

Our pilot told us that Vancouver on Christmas Day, under cloudy skies was plus five degrees Celsius. Three hours later in Winnipeg, under clear skies, it was a breathtaking minus thirty-eight degrees. During the next three weeks the temperature never went above minus twenty, yet everywhere people were enjoying the outdoors. Kids were playing hockey in makeshift outdoor rinks, folks were out using snow blowers, while power toboggans dominated the small rural town where we stayed. In fact, the town had a by-law allowing them street access. Often we spied them driving alongside us beside the highway at one hundred km an hour.

On Jan. 11, our holiday over, we landed in Vancouver to what felt like Hawaiian temperatures. In shirtsleeves, I retrieved our van from the parking lot, a re-invigorated British Columbian.

Home again and finally returning to painting, I celebrated the event by doing a watercolour I named Sunset Stroll. It is presented here: a family of three walking, with their dog, on a Vancouver Island beach at sunset in the winter. Without a power toboggan!

Gordon Henschel owns an art gallery in Nimpkish Heights. www.henschel.ca