Richmond, BC: River Rock Casino

I have been to Vancouver many times. On my most recent visit I was actually based in the suburb of Richmond just by the airport, the site of an animal welfare conference I registered for.

Richmond ( is actually the fourth largest city in BC, just 25 minutes south of downtown Vancouver and 25 minutes north of the United States border – a city of stunning mountain vistas, beautiful waterfront sunsets and vibrant urban living. It is also where they shoot my favorite television series, once Upon a Time – more specifically the seaside village of Steveston.

I was fortunate that the National Animal Welfare Conference was being held at the amazing River Rock Casino Resort ( The casino itself has 90,000 square feet of game floor, 115 table games, 1,100 slot machines, a dedicated poker room and high limit rooms.


The resort has a swimming pool with big Jacuzzi and 70 foot waterslide, a spa with six private treatment rooms, a work-out gym and weight room, a very popular show theatre presenting some of the top modern artists in music, comedy, theatre and more. There are seven bars, restaurants and lounges spread throughout our property as well as live music with no cover charge four nights a week at Lulu’s, a beautiful marina and boardwalk overlooking the Fraser River and a heated waterfront patio. There is a 24-hour food court, as well as Java Jack’s, a convenient stop for quality artisan coffee, smoothies, soft drinks, pastries, sandwiches and more.

Back to the casino for a moment. Some slots are games of pure chance, such as penny and quarter slots like Wheel of Fortune, while others will test your skill, such as video poker. You can choose to play a progressive bank like Casino Cash, or try your luck to win a brand new car at Race to Win.


There certainly have been some good Montreal connections at the resort. The Lara Fabian Greatest Hits Tour just appeared there while April Wine was also on the list.

River Rock is centrally located between two major shopping districts: the diverse, world-class shopping centres and niche neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and the bustling and uniquely Asian-Canadian Richmond area shopping attractions. You can reach downtown in no time at all by taking the Skytrain, which also brings you directly to the airport.


As for the rooms, we stayed in a lovely 525 square foot one bedroom suite. This featured a luxury Euro-top cashmere King bed, with 300 thread count sheets and down/feather (60/40) duvet. There is a sofa bed with seven inch mattress in living room , a 42 inch TV in the living rooms and a 32 inch model in the bedroom, am iPod dock and speaker with alarm clock, quality bathroom amenities, a mini fridge, 24 hour room service and upon request a crib, a humidifier and microwave. It was very spacious and comfortable.

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Several accessible parking stalls are available on each level of the parkade near the elevators. The sidewalk leading to the hotel entrance is accessible, with curb cuts to parking surfaces. The main entrance has three sets of double swinging doors (one set is powered. There are two elevators from the lobby to guest room floor, both accessible and with control panels featuring tactile and Braille). As for the guest rooms, five are fully accessible, including wheel-in showers. Five other rooms are also available featuring light alarms, for visitors with impaired hearing.

WHERE TO DINE: While there are certainly some fabulous restaurants in Richmond, we could not resist the temptation of once again experiencing our favorite dining establishment in the heart of Vancouver – Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House ( on Thurlow Street. We were a party of four on the night we chose to eat there and this was an extraordinary dining experience from the moment we were seated. This is indeed one of the city’s finest restaurants.

FortesBistro warm

Our waiter Jamie, who has worked at Joe Forte’s for many years, gave us a very good presentation of the specialties.

One of Joe Fortes many unique qualities is the immediate sense of character and personality that guests recognize the moment they step inside. The large, bright room feels instantly powerful yet inviting, and it’s no coincidence that these qualities were also embodied by the legendary figure that the restaurant takes its name from: Seraphim “Joe Forte. In 1885, this burly seaman landed upon Vancouver’s shores and settled into a cabin in English Bay. There, Joe quickly became one of Vancouver’s most popular citizens, serving Vancouverites in a variety of ways first as a bartender and later as Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. Today, he is remembered by a monument near the site of his home, and his popularity lives on inside the welcoming walls of Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.

With a commitment to freshness, the Joe Forte’s kitchen receives daily local deliveries, ensuring that you’re guaranteed to find the freshest ingredients on your plate every day.
The restaurant is owned by noted restaurateur David Aisenstat. Born and bred into the restaurant industry, he first learned his chops from his father Hy Aisenstat, founder of the famous Hy’s Steakhouse chain. His ability to recognize and retain talented people, and his passion for art and design, combine for what have been consecutively successful ventures in the industry. He has since continued on to become a legendary restaurateur in his own right, as the owner of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Hy’s Steakhouse Cocktail Bar, Gotham Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Ki, and now Joe Fortes.

Scott Garrett is the general manager. For seven years he ran the Walt Disney Resorts in Florida’s food and beverage programs as the restaurant guest services manager, receiving AAA’s coveted Four Diamond Award for service excellence during his tenure.

The main dining room is anchored by a soaring horseshoe oyster bar. This Grand Room boasts large, cozy booths, perfect for hosting a high-powered lunch or dinner meetings, as well as intimate dinner dates. From the mezzanine, diners enjoy a bird’s eye view of the action and live musical entertainment below.

The mahogany-walled wine room offers guests a unique and discreet setting in which to enjoy an intimate lunch, or a private corporate celebration. The more casual side of Joe’s is experienced in the bistro and bar area where locals and out-of-towners alike mingle, soak up the live music and keep their eyes open for visiting celebrities.

For a breath of fresh air, guests can step up to Vancouver’s most desirable roof garden and into an urban oasis featuring a living green wall, cozy outdoor fireplace and bustling horseshoe bar.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House has been specializing in classic, American cuisine since 1985. It is a tribute to Executive Chef Wayne Sych and his dedicated kitchen staff that Joe’s has maintained its unparalleled popularity with both locals and tourists alike for more than 20 years – an astonishing feat in the restaurant business. But even a cursory glance at the menus reveals why Joe’s stays at the top of our customers’ minds and, quite literally, at the tip of their tongues.

The Joe Fortes kitchen prepares each dish with a focus on natural flavours and features the finest ingredients collected from Pacific Northwest farmers, fishermen and food artisans. Serving more than 50 kinds of fresh fish, including their legendary three-tiered Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

We decided to share the magnificent Seafood Tower, featuring Atlantic lobster, chilled crab, local oysters, clams, mussels, scallop ceviche, smoked local albacore tuna and poached jumbo prawns. Not too many restaurants anywhere I have travelled in the world can make something as appetizing as this. It is $59.95 a tier. We also started off with a small order of scallops – cooked to absolute perfection.

For drinks, members of our party had some prosecco, bitter sweet bliss, sparkling pear and Joe’s cranberry cocktail.

One member of our party vividly remembered the mouth-watering miso marinated sable fish from our visit two years earlier so there was no question what was on her list to order. It came with baby bok choy, mushrooms, ginger scallion butter and jasmine rice. She was not disappointed. The appetizer version of the scallops prompted another to order the Jumbo scallops as her main course – a wise choice. We rounded out our selections with the nine ounce filet mignon center cut filet, with café de Paris butter, scallop potatoes and market vegetables and a sensational bone-in rib steak (14 ounces) for myself with bacon, horse radish, mashed potatoes and market vegetables. To say this was the best steak I have had – well since I last dined at Joe Forte’s – would be accurate.

Save room for sweet indulgences. We shared the Dessert Trio – a Tahitian vanilla crème brulee, tiramisu, chocolate raspberry truffle tart, brandied cherries, biscotti and vanilla gelato. What a treat! In addition, we somehow found room to try the Pavlova crisp meringue, with fresh fruit, lemon curd and cream.

Reservations are required. Call 604-669-1940 or email They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Upon arrival at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), located in Richmond, visitors with mobility or agility challenges will appreciate innovative features such as tactile guidance maps of the terminal building, information kiosks equipped with closed-captioned decoders, and ticket counters with amplified hand-sets. YVR is connected to Richmond city centre by a fully-accessible transit system that includes the new Canada Line rapid transit system. From the city centre, getting around Richmond is easy because of the city’s flat, mostly sea-level topography and its many wheelchair-accessible walking trails.

More than 110 Richmond hotels, restaurants, retailers, attractions, and other tourism businesses have made it easy for visitors to identify their level of accessibility by displaying icons on doors, windows, websites, and marketing materials. The level of mobility, hearing and visual accessibility was assessed by 2010 Legacies Now and nearly half of Richmond’s participating businesses rated four or higher out of five. Twenty-four of Richmond’s brand-name hotels now offer wheelchair accessible rooms, and the city’s five modern shopping centres – Richmond Centre, Lansdown Centre, Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, and Parker Place – are all fully accessible options for convenient one-stop shopping.

The city also encourages full participation of citizens with disabilities. Richmond is the long-time home of Canada’s Man in Motion Rick Hansen, who has won six medals as a Paralympian since being paralysed from the waist down in a car crash at the age of 15. The Rick Hansen Foundation, which operates out of the BCIT Aerospace Campus in Richmond, helped to fund three newly opened playgrounds in Richmond that are specially designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities. These fully-inclusive play spaces along the Middle Arm Waterfront Greenway enable the children to play side-by-side with their friends and families.

Adjacent to the Middle Arm Trail is the Richmond Olympic Oval, which exceeds national standards for accessibility. It features standard ramps, wheel chair accessible washrooms, automatically opening doors, and oversized main elevators that can comfortably transport multiple athletes in wheelchairs. There’s also a wheelchair-accessible indoor rowing and paddling centre. The Richmond Olympic Oval plays a key role in its legacy phase as a multi-sport venue for sport hosting for people with accessibility needs.

Richmond has already successfully hosted the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby championships in May 2009, the World Wheelchair Basketball tournament in August 2009, the 2010 Canada Deaf Curling Championships, the 2010 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and of course they played a key role in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whistler, BC

My family and I recently made our first visit to Whistler, BC (, less than a two hour drive from Vancouver and one of the host cities of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Located in the Coast Mountain Range of British Columbia, Whistler consistently offers the most reliable snow conditions, receiving an average annual snowfall of 11.9 metres (39.1 feet) based on the past 10 years. Due to Whistler’s coastal proximity, temperatures are moderate through the winter season, rarely dipping below -10°C (12°F) in the valley and -15°C (5°F) in the alpine during the coldest part of the year. Expect -5°C (22°F) average daily alpine temperatures during most of the winter months. Summer in Whistler brings temperatures ranging from highs of 21°C / 70°F to 27°C / 80°F with August being the warmest month.

There are many things to do in the Village, the heart of Whistler. You can stay in a centrally located hotel, walk the Village Stroll, indulge yourself at one of many places to eat and browse the unique shops. The Village is located at the base of the lifts, making access to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains convenient for skiing, snowboarding and sightseeing. Whistler Village is big enough to have all the amenities expected of a world-class resort, yet small enough for you to feel its unique mountain culture and distinctive hospitality

Strolling in the village
picture: Mike Crane

The year-round population of Whistler Resort is almost 10,000 permanent residents. The elevation of the Village is 675 metres / 2,214 feet; Whistler Mountain’s elevation is 2,182 metres/7,160 feet and Blackcomb Mountain’s. As the host Mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler has recently improved accessibility throughout the Village, parks and accommodation.

The ski season in Whistler typically begins around the third weekend in November, coinciding with American Thanksgiving. From there, both mountains are open daily for winter operations until late April. Blackcomb Mountain stays open for spring skiing and snowboarding until mid-May. Summer glacier skiing and riding on Blackcomb Mountain starts the third week of June. In summer Whistler Mountain Bike Park opens as a haven for riders of all levels and the Village Gondola, Peak 2 Peak Gondola and Peak Chair are open for sightseeing.

picture: Mike Crane

PEAK 2 PEAK: There is no better experience than the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. You first take the Whistler Express Gondola from the Village, which takes 25 minutes. You’ll arrive at the Roundhouse, a lodge where you can have lunch or a snack, and take in the spectacular view of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. From here, hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for a thrilling 11-minute ride over to Blackcomb Mountain. For a more exciting experience we opted for the silver Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which has a glass bottom. Both mountains offer a variety of hiking trails for your enjoyment. We then took a short bus ride to the 7th Heaven open air chairlift way up to the top of the mountain, enabling us to view glaciers and whole lot of summer skiing.

Whistler Summer

I was told to budget at least 90 minutes to enjoy Peak 2 Peak. Well we devoted three and a half hours to the experience and that was with bringing our own lunch to eat while we waited in line. This experience is not to be missed. The Peak 2 Peak is wheelchair accessible in the summer while a sled is used in the winter to transport those in need to the Blackcomb Lodge.

ACCESSIBILITY: How accessible is Whistler? Norm DePlume broke his neck skiing at Whistler a few years ago. “I won’t go so far as to say, “No big deal,” but life rolls on, and so do I, ” DePlume says. “I’m still skiing in Whistler, laughing at jokes, calling my mother on Sundays and generally being a happy, healthy, and productive member of the community. Life rolls on.
“Admittedly, not many people think of Whistler as a place to find a lot of people with disabilities. It’s known for a rather active lifestyle and, thanks to the many after-school TV specials focusing on ‘the struggle,’ people with disabilities aren’t generally stereotyped as being all that active.
DePlume explains that while some people are born with disabilities, a large number acquire a spinal cord injury later in life. They were active before their accident and have no desire to give up on that lifestyle just because they now use a wheelchair to help them get around.
In 1999, with just a handful of equipment stored in a closet, the homegrown Whistler Adaptive Sports Program began taking people up the mountain to experience sit skiing. These days the program has grown to the point where they’re able to provide over 1,400 lessons each ski season, and have expanded into summer programs that include hiking, biking, canoeing, and kayaking.

Accessibility is built into Whistler Village with pedestrian-only streets, paved access to the Valley Trail and close proximity to transportation. The following links provide further information on getting around the town:

There is a comprehensive website for visitors with disabilities at ( Wheelchair accessible taxis are available from Whistler Resort Cabs – call 1.604.938.1515 to book.

The Whistler Blackcomb Mountain (WB) Peak 2 Peak Gondola is wheelchair accessible during the summer months and winter with a new sled to transport you to the Blackcomb Lodge at top during the snow season. Accessibility is an important feature of Whistler Blackcomb’s landmark project and Canada’s newest tourism icon the Peak to Peak Gondola.

ZIPTREK: Prior to this trip members of my family and I had never gone zip lining. However, upon discovering Ziptrek Ecotours ( we felt secure enough to give it a try.

Zip Trek eco tours
picture: Mike Crane

Ziptrek Ecotours is the pioneer of zipline tours in North America! With an award winning ecological curriculum and the highest, longest, and most ziplines around, Ziptrek offers an entertaining combination of education and adventure. On the Ziptrek Bear Tour, one gets to experience stunning aerial vistas over Fitzsimmons Creek. This tour is perfect for families, groups and those who have never ziplined before. There are five incredible ziplines, joined by a network of suspension bridges, boardwalks and trails. I was quite nervous in the weeks leading up to this experience, but because the first zipline was really one for beginners it removed all of my jitters. Our two guides, Catie and Niall were fantastic and really made us all feel at ease.

Ziptrek Ecotours covers over 33 acres of diverse terrain (old growth rain forest, second growth rain forest, steep cliff faces and lush forest floor) spanning between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and over the Fitzsimmons Creek.

Tours run throughout the day, every day of the year. Guests are encouraged to wear suitable outdoor clothing. Closed toe shoes are required. Heated and sheltered platforms minimize exposure to the elements. Tours include light stair climbing and trail walking guests must be able to walk unassisted
Guests are met by their tour guides and fitted with their harnesses and helmets before taking a complimentary 10 minute shuttle from Whistler Village to the base on Blackcomb Mountain. Guests will zipline between the two mountains directly over the river. The ziplines are gravity fed, so guests do not have to worry about controlling their own speed. The guides accompany guests on the tour, one to connect (launch platform) and one to disconnect (landing platform). The educational component provides a unique insight into the surrounding environment on both a local and global scale. Meanwhile, the ziplines provide an adrenaline rush like no other!

Pricing is $109 for adults, $89 for youth (six to 14) and $89 for seniors (65 plus). There are some other options as well.

Ziptrek is an outdoor adventure activity and operates in all weather conditions. Reservations are strongly recommended. There is a 24 hour cancellation policy, a 275 pound upper weight limit. Guest must be a minimum of 15 years old to zip without a guardian. Ziptrek will be setting up shop in Mont Tremblant, Quebec next spring.

If you are visually impaired, you can participate in this program but must have a personal guide.

WHERE TO STAY: I have always appreciated exploring Fairmont hotels. We had a great experience at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort Hotel ( , which does indeed define mountain luxury.


An all season resort destination, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel offers a seamless blend of year-round adventure and unsurpassed guest service for business or pleasure. With mountainside ski out the door convenience and an on-site Whistler golf course, the classic elegance of this award-winning hotel offers a modern alpine setting featuring exceptional dining, full resort amenities, a Vida Spa and Fairmont Gold – Fairmont’s exclusive lifestyle hotel experience. There are an incredible 550 rooms here (15 of which are fully handicapped accessible), an in-house reservation centre for all Whistler activities and a rental station for bikes and ski gear. A small and pretty shopping plaza is part of the facility as well, featuring an art gallery and some boutiques.

Not only is this hotel delighted to host your entire family, four-legged friends are welcome as well. Their dog-friendly program includes pet bed, bowls, special treats and menus. This also happens to be Whistler’s largest conference resort hotel, with 32,000 square feet of conference space.
We just loved the two outdoor pools, one for lap swimming and the other which connects to an indoor one. There are three whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms and two outdoor plexipave surface tennis courts. As I looked out at the mountains from my lounge chair, I thought I was in paradise.

High Speed internet connectivity is available in all guest rooms, an Ethernet network in meeting rooms and wireless internet access in public areas.
There is a spa and health club.

For dinner, the Wildflower and the Grill Room are particularly popular. At the former, their culinary team invites diners to enjoy a tantalizing showcase of locally inspired dishes and innovative classics in a warm and relaxed setting. The latter is Whistler’s newest destination for exceptional chops, steak and seafood. Our group had the pleasure of experiencing the latter. Reservations are highly recommended and they can be made online or by telephone. This is fine dining at its best, with delicious appetizers such as the heirloom tomato salad. Their eight and10 ounce tenderloins, rack of lamb and seared halibut are recommended. For the table, there is a selection of side dishes you can share. We opted for the truffled Yukon gold mashed potatoes and the sautéed BC mushrooms. For dessert, the chocolate mousse cake went over well.

Both restaurants even have a special lifestyle cuisine plus menu with very specific nutritious meals designed around select dietary needs such as diabetes, gluten free and vegan.

For a lighter bite, check out the Portobello Market & Fresh Bakery. You can also take advantage of poolside dining and order a sandwich, burger, drinks and more right from the comforts of your chair.

DINING: We heard some very good things about the Brewhouse Restaurant ( and our party of five was not disappointed. This is one of the busiest spots in the Whistler Village all year round. With a separate restaurant, bar and mezzanine, the Whistler Brewhouse is capable of accommodating groups large and small. The pub has a cozy two-sided fireplace and lots of TVs, making it the perfect place to watch the game when you’re tired from playing all day. The restaurant is warm and family friendly with a great kids’ menu and a huge patio for Whistler’s long, hot summers. The cuisine is an inspired and appetizing mix of barbeque and rotisserie classics, with exceptional pizza and pasta options. These flavours are complemented by their range of handcrafted ales and lagers, brewed onsite. There are even four kinds of poutine. Our party of five shared some starters, the fish tacos and tuna maki roll and decided upon a few different main courses: the wild mushroom pizza, mac & cheese, a 12 ounce angus stripline and chicken & ribs. The food and atmosphere was great. We particularly liked the cute model train which made its way through the restaurant on miniature tracks above us.


This is part of the Mark James Group Brewery Restaurant, with others in Vancouver (Yaletown), Richmond (Flying Beaver) and Surrey (Big Ridge). James is a member of the Jewish community and has been supportive of a number of charitable events. This includes the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner. It is no surprise then that one of his main appetizers is a gigantic bowl of matzah ball soup. This not only contains a large matzah ball, but plenty of pieces of chicken and vegetables.