Photo by Rachel Ashe
I had my car at the hotel but snow was expected, and driving home alone in a snowstorm around the hairpin curves edged with deep ravines on Highway 101 was the last thing I wanted to do.
On December 27th I returned to Vancouver from a visit to Texas, and I went directly from the airport to the Hotel Sylvia, where I have been staying off and on since I first came to British Columbia in 1973. This time I would stay just for one night. The following evening, my friend, Frank White, was returning to Vancouver from a trip to Mexico, and we planned to drive back together to Pender Harbour, on the Sechelt Peninsula, where we both live. I had my car at the hotel but snow was expected, and driving home alone in a snowstorm around the hairpin curves edged with deep ravines on Highway 101 was the last thing I wanted to do; unlike Frank, who finds slipping and sliding along that perilous road invigorating.
Frank arrived on schedule, suntanned and eager to start for home. It had already begun to snow quite heavily, and the reports from Pender Harbour were filled with ominous detail about the road conditions, so we decided to stay overnight and drive home in daylight.
The Hotel Sylvia, owned and operated by the Sawers family, is an ivy-clad, eight-storey heritage building overlooking English Bay in the West End of Vancouver, with a splendid view of sailboat races and parked freighters waiting to load. It is, in all ways, a delight. My room on the top floor had five windows overlooking the bay, and Frank and I watched as the snow fell and the traffic faded until there was only an occasional car on the streets below. In the morning, all five windows were screened in white, and the traffic lights changing from red to green, green to red, were the only colours we could see through that misty white film. The parked freighters had vanished behind a white screen, and an impudent young sea gull sat on the window ledge surveying us. At breakfast, while we were eating bacon and eggs, we observed the snow gathering on the balcony outside the restaurant, and estimated the depth of snow on the balustrade to be about two feet. Shovellers appeared on the other side of the window.
"How clever we are to be here and not there!" we kept saying. And the snow kept falling. We felt even better when telephone calls from Pender Harbour described massive snowdrifts, unplowed roads and power failures. I continued the book I had started on the plane, Madame Bovary, a Christmas present from my son in Texas when he discovered I had never read it, and Frank regaled me with newspaper accounts of the blizzard, interrupting me to share hair-raising details of the record snowfall. A leisurely lunch, followed by a refreshing nap and more reading completed our day's activity. We had dinner at eight in style, drinking a toast to our dear ones back home who by that time were getting out the primus stoves and eating in the flickering light of oil lamps.
We gazed with wonder from our five windows as the snow fell, in light flakes now. Eight stories down, we could see clearly that there was no traffic at all, and a soft silence seemed to float up to us from the empty streets. It was beautifully white everywhere, even on the bay, and the beach was a large snowy untouched field. Frank turned from staring out the window and said, "I feel detached from the world—as if I’m looking down from heaven!" And the snow kept falling.
Another splendid morning! The hotel was teeming with refugees from the snowfall, like us, and as we ate our meals, we exchanged notes from table to table about snow and conditions back home. The waiters, young men and one waitress who has been there as long as I have been coming, chatted with us as if we were family, taking care of us with a courtesy and concern that dazzled us. "Wow!" Frank said, "nobody at home treats me like this!"
Upstairs again, I opened the window and spread toast crumbs from breakfast on the sill. Instantly, a rush of screaming sea gulls descended from the sky, flapping their wings and pushing each other aside. They covered the ledges. Where had they been hiding in that snowy mist, and how had so many of them come, so fast?
At noon, we ventured outside along narrow trails made by earlier explorers, but Frank had no snow boots. Slipping and sliding and clinging to lamp posts, we made our way back to the hotel and decided that such activity warranted a special treat, the Sylvia’s afternoon tea platter of little sandwiches and cake. We peered anxiously out the window. It was still snowing but not heavily enough. "I hope the snow doesn’t stop for a week," I said.
That night, over wine and steamed mussels, we drank a toast to our struggling relatives at home, and prayed for more snow.
Our morning view was a clear one, right across the bay to the freighters; and no sign of snow. I fed the sea gulls from last night’s dinner rolls, and was considering what to order for breakfast when the telephone rang. Bad news. Highway 101 was clear, and the ferries were running, and on time. The Sylvia seemed cozier than ever. I hung back. "Hold my room," I said to Mr. DeVerrier, the elegant French manager, when we were leaving. "If it starts to snow again, we’ll be right back!"
The roads into Pender Harbour were plowed, but I couldn’t get past a four-foot snowdrift in my driveway for another three days. If there is any more snow this winter, I’m going to race for the first ferry I can get to Vancouver, so I can be snowed in again at the Sylvia.