Travels with my History Books

0009 IMG_5019Nicola here, enjoying being back at home after an epic trip to Alaska and Canada. When I travel I do like to read up on the history of the places I'm visiting and to seek out historical sites – museums, old houses, monuments, battlefields, as well as experiencing as much as I can of a place as it is now. So today I'm sharing a bit of a whistle stop travelogue and I hope you enjoy it!

We arrived in Juneau Alaska twenty two hours after setting off from home and gratefully settled Patsy Ann into our beautiful bed and breakfast place. Suitably restored by a long sleep, we went out to explore the city. I guess the first thing that impressed us was the location; it was a gorgeous day and the mountains and the water looked simply stunning. What a beautiful setting the city has as well as a rich history. I thought St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894, was very striking. It has strong connections to both the native Tinglit and the European settlers, so this was my first history stop. Another quirky bit of Juneau history that I loved was the story of Patsy Ann, a bull terrier who came to the town in 1929. Although she was deaf she could tell when the steamships were coming in and would trot down to the docks to meet them, earning her the title of "Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska!"

0048 IMG_5192From Juneau we travelled up to Skagway on the ferry. Skagway still had something of the rough and ready feel of a frontier town which felt very authentic to the story of the Klondike Gold Rush. The first boatload of prospecters landed there in summer 1897 and by the autumn the town had developed from a row of tents to a place with well-laid-out streets, a number of frame buildings, stores, saloons, gambling houses, dance houses and a population of about 20,000. There were rich stories of lawlessness and profligate behaviour and equally compelling tales of the hardship many prospectors went through on the trail to the gold fields. Some of the old building remain and really conjure the raffish air of the old town. Something I hadn't appreciated though, was that the gold rush was over so quickly; by 1900 it had ended and Skagway was in danger of becoming a ghost town, although the coming of the railroad fortunately gave it a new purpose. We took some photographs in black and white to be in keeping with the historical atmosphere!

Our next stop, via the Alaska Marine Highway, was the city of Wrangell where we were staying for 5 days in the most gorgeous little 0001 IMG_5485 float house in the harbour. As well as giving us the chance to visit the Anan Bear observatory, this stop also took us to the Le Conte Glacier, and the town of Petersburg. We'd never seen bears and the chance to watch them in the wild was amazing. Later in our trip we had the unexpected experience of meeting a bear when we were out on a walk on our own, and fortunately we remembered our bear training! We were behind a barrier when we took this photo, by the way, in case anyone thinks we stopped on the path to take a picture!

RosemalingPetersburg was a very interesting place, like so many other settlements it had been a Tinglit fishing camp for hundreds of years before the European settlers arrived, in this case Norwegians who established a sawmill and cannery. Petersburg is known as "Little Norway" and the Scandinavian influence there is still strong. There's a great little museum, the Clausen Memorial Museum, that has traditional costumes on display and there is also a wonderful tradition of "rosemaling" in the town, which is decorative art that originated in Norway in the 18th century. It's so beautiful! There are painted panels on shops and houses and it's very evocative.

Alaska was wonderful and we'd love to return to travel further north and see more of the state. On this 0462 IMG_6965 occasion though, we were heading south, down to British Columbia. In Vancouver I zoomed in on the Roedde House Museum, which is beautifully restored heritage house in the city's West End. Gustav Roedde settled in Vancouver in 1888 and he became the city's first bookbinder. There was a real appetite for culture and information in the growing city and within 5 years, Gustav had been successful enough to commission the architect Francis Rattenbury to build him a very stylish house! This has been restored and preserved to reflect late Victorian family life and it reflects the age in perfect detail. It feels as though you are stepping back in time when you walk through the front door and as always it's the little details of day to day life that are so fascinating – the children's toys and the family photographs drew me into their lives and even the charred wood over the doorway told the story of Christmas 1913 when the Christmas tree with real candles on it caught fire! Luckily the Vancouver fire department was just round the corner and the fire fighters arrived quickly and saved the house.

0428 IMG_7755On to Toronto, then, via The Canadian, and a four day rail trip across Canada which was awesome. My final historical visit of the holiday was to the Fort York Historic Site, Canada's largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings and the 1813 battle site. I'd used the 1812-1814 war as background in one of my early Regency novels and it was so interesting to remind myself of the history and learn more about it. Fort York has a palpable sense of atmosphere which I think you find at a lot of battle sites. It was quite haunting. Even now, sandwiched between the railway and the freeway, it feels as though you're stepping back in time. I particularly loved the re-enactment of raising the flag and the demonstrations of military music, drill, musketry and artillery, all performed by students in uniforms of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, the soldiers who garrisoned the fort at the end of the War of 1812.

There were so many brilliant aspects to our holiday, both historical and other, that it left us wanting to return to see more of both the US and Canada. Most notable of all were the wonderful people we met along the way, so friendly and generous and helpful to these travellers! it really was a trip of a lifetime and I hope you have enjoyed a peek into some of the historical highlights!