There is something special about a working river - a tug and tow heading in from the sea, fishing boats speeding out for an opening, sedate freighters idling past. As pleasure boaters, we initially felt out of place on the Fraser - the other boats were busy, their crews labouring, while we meandered along, enjoying the sun. But our run up the river soon captivated us, and motoring with the mild current we watched the action for a few nautical miles before heading up the quiet Sea Reach channel.
Tucked off the South Arm of the Fraser River is the little village of Ladner, part of the municipality of Delta - and our destination. The village was born in 1873, when brothers William and Thomas Ladner built a wharf so farmers could ship their produce to the region's urban markets. A perfect reflection of the river, Ladner is an historic working town, filled with farmers and fishermen. The waterfront is not tourist driven; it's bustling with fishing boats and almost reluctantly seems to make space for pleasure craft.
At first, it seemed that our stay in Ladner would be a quiet one; we're used to tourist-oriented Gulf Island villages or empty coves. Yet, here we were in a lively little town that seemed quaint but uninteresting. It turned out that Ladner is simply an unassuming place. And the way to enjoy Ladner (or any place for that matter) was to look for its unique qualities. In Ladner, these qualities include a rich history of fishing and farming and an abundance of parkland.
There are a wealth of riverfront and dyke trails for visitors to stroll along uncrowded paths through forests and wetlands. We started with the trail that ran past Captain's Cove Marina; then headed towards downtown Ladner. Near town, we diverged from the trail and headed into Ladner Harbour Park.
The park offered a playground, which delighted our daughter Maia - and after playtime, we continued along the trail, enjoying the river, ending at a scenic viewpoint of Ladner's busy harbour.
I could devote hours watching the harbour. The narrow channel houses a large commercial fishing fleet and a variety of waterfront businesses. Unlike many waterfronts today, Ladner's is not gentrified for tourists. Instead, it maintains authentic charm, augmented by a few derelict boats and buildings.
We finished harbour watching sooner than liked as we realized that the local museum was nearby with limited hours (10am - 3:30pm Tuesday-Saturday). As connoisseurs of small town museums, the Delta Museum and Archives, housed in a 1912 Tudor-style heritage building was a gem, an unexpected pleasure.
At the door we were greeted warmly and informed that the museum's admission was by donation. The docent briefed us, outlining the museum contents; then left to wander. Divided into three floors, the basement is a well-designed, early street scene - complete with general store, schoolhouse and a jail. The main floor depicts a range of rooms that might have been found in Victorian or Edwardian-era homes. The top floor captivates visiting boaters, highlighting the historic waterfront uses in Ladner.
Our visit coincided with Ladner's Village Market - an event in the village centre every other Sunday - June through August. Stalls selling the usual array of local arts and crafts and a sumptuous variety of local produce lined the streets. Live music and a variety of activities in cordoned off streets provided a festive, carnival air.
Visiting the market and checking the local produce made us curious about the surrounding farms. We decided that it would be fun to check out nearby Westham Island and visit one of the many berry farms and the famous berry winery.
When we reached the Island, we were treated to the sight of the old wooden deck, one-lane swing bridge in action, opening passage for a boat. Then, we visited the renowned Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Located on a small island at the tip Westham Island, the lush sanctuary provides a habitat for 287 species of resident and migrating birds. Visitors watch birds from a three-story observation tower or one of five bird blinds located on the network of walking trails.
Next, we stopped in at Westham Island Winery where I discovered that black currants are a surprisingly good ingredient to fashion wine. At Emma Lee Farms, we blueberry-picked then carried on our exploration to Westham Island Herb Farm, an organic farm that invites visitors to stroll through the crops. We happily discovered that the farm grew artichokes - a vegetable we assumed didn't grow at our latitude. Stocking up on artichokes and other delicacies, we passed up Ladner's restaurants to plan an onboard feast of locally grown produce, complete with cranberry wine and a blueberry cobbler for desert. Dodging a few slow moving tractors, we headed back to the boat with our bounty.
Dusk on the river is pleasant. The birds become active and a light breeze discourages mosquitoes. The setting sun reflects on the calm water and the mountain peaks grow steeper and close. An occasional Jet Ski interrupted our idyll, but the consensus was that our river run up the Fraser to Ladner was an unqualified success, a unique option for a lazy, midsummer weekend.
Diane Selkirk writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the US.
Diane Selkirk: Ladner harbour, Delta Museum and Archive, Westham Island artichoke