Tag Archives: Salt Spring Island

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

Ron Holcroft’s Walker’s Hook stage


Ronald S. Holcroft   

November 15, 1916 – August 4, 2015

When I lived on Salt Spring and in the North End after my third move in same number of years to the property of Marjorie Martin, I lived in the sturdy cottage that her father had built with her grandfather more than 50 years earlier.  Most days I’d take a stroll down what I consider to be one of the most beautiful roads on the island: Walker’s Hook Road.

My walk would extend from Hedger Road from where my little cabin was located, down Walker’s Hook to the Fernwood Road Café.

My jaunt always included a trip down to the end of the Fernwood dock to check for otters, inhale the sea air, see if anyone was crabbing, chat with visitors who I might happen upon (and often did) and look to the south to see if I might spot a ferry crossing in the distance towards Swartz Bay. It often included a meander along the beach to take photos of shells and whatever intrigued me.

It was such a breath of fresh air, literally, given that the road parallels narrow Trincomali Channel that separates Salt Spring from Galiano and named after a great sailing ship, the HCS Trincomali, built, if you can believe it, shortly after the Napoleanic wars, and now a restored ship in Hartlepool England if Wikipedia has it right.

One day as I was walking back, I saw a man coming towards me in the distance, looking as if he’d just stepped off a stage in Stratford, or perhaps to use an even more Canadian example, as if he was one of the characters in Stephen Leacock’s famous town of Mariposa.

He was elderly and he was dapper. He walked slowly but purposefully and his cane tapped the road and steadied him. He had on the kind of ascot cap that my own father used to wear on his daily walks, the kind many males from “the old country” don. He was wearing a tie and jacket. He seemed unusually put together for island life. But what really stood out was his mustache and his eyebrows both adorning his face (and hiding it) by impressive  lengthy wisps of white hair. His blue eyes were watery with age. He was the perfect subject for a watercolour painting. His feet sported black brogues, the kind my own grandfather, who lived to be 99, wore every day of his life.

I said hello, chatted about nothing for a bit, and then before he could get away, so taken by his appearance I was, I asked him if he’d mind if I took his photo. “You have such a great face,” I said. How could he resist?  Our interaction must have been no more than five minutes but he stuck with me as those who seem a bit extraordinary do.

A year later or thereabouts, I moved off Salt Spring. I put his photo in my online portfolio. I didn’t think much of it but I would look at that face from time to time and smile, and remember our short meeting.

A few years ago, his daughter, Anne Weerstra, contacted me for the photo. I forget how she came upon it or why specifically she wanted it. And then on August 4, 2015, I got an e-mail from her again, late that evening.

Hello Gayle,

A while ago I contacted you to ask for a copy of the photo of my father, Ron Holcroft “94 years strong”, and very much appreciated the positive response. I’m sorry to tell you now that my dad died this morning, almost 3 months shy of his 99th birthday. Your photo shows him as so many would remember him. I wondered if you would let us use it in the obituary…

Of course my answer was yes.

I’m looking forward to reading that obituary. I want to know a little more about the long life Ron Holcroft lived.