The 240 residents of the Cariboo community of Wells generate extraordinary creative energy. For their annual ArtsWells festival (August 3 to 6, 2012), organizers coordinate some 100 musical performances on nine stages, including one dedicated to concerts for children. There are film screenings, live theatre productions (including a One Minute Play Festival), an ArtWalk and artisans market, and workshops in everything from beatboxing to Ukrainian dance to laughter yoga. What’s more, ticket holders get discounted entry to nearby Barkerville Historic Town.
Bamfield may seem an improbable setting for an international music festival. Best known for its Marine Sciences Centre, this remote hamlet (pop. about 200) is just three kilometres from Pachena Bay, northern terminus of Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail. That didn’t stop Christopher Donison, a former Shaw Festival music director, from founding Music by the Sea here. Every summer, patrons gather in the Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, an inspiring space with a scallop shell-shaped roof and towering walls of glass that offer sweeping north views of Barkley Sound and the Vancouver Island Ranges. Throughout the 10-concert series (July 7 to 15, 2012), each eclectic nightly show may segue from solo guitarist to string quartet to classical vocalist to full jazz ensemble.
Photo op of the summer: a smiling child (or adult!) astride a painted pony on the 1912 C.W. Parker Carousel at Burnaby Village Museum. Situated east of Vancouver, the four-hectare site is designed to enchant family visitors. Interpreters in 1920s costumes stroll the streets and give demonstrations in the museum’s heritage and replica buildings. Popular stops include the blacksmith, print shop, general store, and century-old carousel, its 1925 Wurlitzer military band organ pumping out merry tunes like the village Pied Piper.
A “field-to-flask” distillery—one in which grain grown on-site is processed into spirits—is rare these days, particularly outside of Scotland. That sets Vancouver Island’s new Shelter Point Distillery apart from other producers of single malt whisky (first release expected in 2014). So does the owners’ emphasis on habitat restoration at their 558-hectare farm property on the Oyster River, midway between Courtenay and Campbell River. They have partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada to restore wetlands here that support more than 100 species of local and migratory birds. By appointment, visitors can take an hour-long distillery tour, and access the 1.8-kilometre Pub to Pub Trail (from Fisherman’s Lodge in Oyster River north to Salmon Point Resort) for splendid views across the Strait of Georgia to the Coast Mountains.
Many trek to E.C. Manning Provincial Park in the Cascade Mountains to see the kaleidoscopic displays of subalpine wildflowers between mid-July and mid-August. Those in the know come earlier—in the first week or two of June—to see much rarer displays of indigenous Pacific rhododendrons. An easy 0.5-kilometre trail off Highway 3 (near the park’s west entrance) takes visitors to Rhododendron Flats, where the pinkish-red blooms of these evergreen shrubs glow with luminous beauty in the deep forest shade. You won’t see wild rhodos any farther north in B.C.; the colonies here and in nearby Skagit Valley Provincial Park are at the northern extent of their range.
If you’re an experienced mountain biker craving downhill thrills in the Rocky Mountains, the Fernie Singletrack Smorgasbord Weekend may be your ultimate buffet. In the lee of the Lizard Range, you and the guides from Sacred Rides will attack a network of more than 80 trails around Fernie: from such fast, smooth tracks as Dem Bones to gruelling reward climbs like Slunt Trail (it’s a grunt and a slog to the scenic outlook). Participants must be able to ride up to five hours a day and handle “moderately technical terrain” including roots, rocks, and log bridges up to two metres off the ground.
Forgo boil-in-bag camping fare and book Edible Canada’s twonight gourmet kayaking adventure. Departing from Cedar, near Nanaimo, paddlers glide among islets crowded with black cormorants, past seal colonies, and along Valdes Island’s intertidal shoreline and wavesculpted sandstone cliffs. On sheltered beaches, guides prepare meals of local ingredients, such as Cowichan Bay duck breast with a pinot-noir reduction, fingerling potatoes, and braised local greens. Toast the stars with B.C. wine at your campsite—or opt for the comfort of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
You haven’t truly soaked until you’ve submerged yourself in a wilderness hot spring. Three seaside springs south of Kitimat fit the bill—Weewanie, Bishop Bay, and Shearwater—each accessible by boat or floatplane only. All sites permit camping and have mooring buoys and simple concrete or wooden shelters over the hot springs.
Mountains rise from the shoreline in Weewanie Hot Springs Provincial Park on Devastation Channel, where visitors relax in odourless 38.6 C mineral waters within a low concrete bathhouse.
At Bishop Bay-Monkey Beach Corridor Conservancy on Ursula Channel, two 100-metre boardwalks lead away from a short boat dock. Take one path to the 38.8 C odourless hot pools and bathhouse, the other to a camping area with raised tent platforms.
Shearwater Hot Springs Conservancy is on the north side of Alan Reach in Gardner Canal. Soakers enjoy mountain views as they prune up in a sheltered bedrock pool of mildly sulphurous, 40.6 C water.
The Kekuli Cafe has a cheerfully cheeky slogan: “Don’t Panic . . .We Have Bannock!” While the aboriginal fry bread is a staple at this Westbank eatery, diners can expand their knowledge of First Nations cuisine with menu items such as Iroquois Three Sisters Soup— combining squash, corn, and beans—Saskatoon barbecued chicken, and bannock-wrapped buffalo burgers.
Vancouver’s Salmon n’ Bannock bistro specializes in aboriginal dishes with a gourmet spin. Sample candied salmon or barbecued salmon mousse, steamed fiddleheads (in season), and hearty bowls of venison stew. A baked sockeye fillet comes with a side of Ojibway wild rice studded with cranberries and forest mushrooms.
Elsewhere in B.C., aboriginal centres such as Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre in Duncan and Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre in Whistler have opened cafés to share their cultural cuisine.
Between Lasqueti and Texada islands in the Strait of Georgia’s Sabine Channel, 243-hectare Jedediah Island Marine Provincial Park is one of B.C.’s largest island parks. Kayakers and wilderness campers come to paddle its sheltered bays, dig clams in its mudflats, and hike established trails through its dense forest. Al and Mary Palmer lived on Jedediah from 1949 to 1995, then sold to the province to ensure their island’s perpetual protection. Visitors today see poignant reminders of the Palmers’ life here: the old farmhouse, descendants of their goats and sheep roaming the hills, and a memorial to their horse, Will, who lived out his final days on Jedediah.
The annual Kusam Klimb (June 23, 2012) lures some 300 trekkers to the village of Sayward on northeast Vancouver Island. They come to tackle Bill’s Trail, a 23-kilometre wilderness route that climbs from sea level up and over a 1,482-metre shoulder of Hkusam Mountain and back down the Stowe Creek watershed. They scramble up rocky slopes, over fallen trees and boulders, through clearcut and old-growth forest, across creeks and sometimes snow-crusted alpine meadows. Why? For the T-shirt, for bragging rights, for lofty views over Johnstone Strait. Incredibly, some run the trail, completing it in as little as 2.5 hours; most savour the vistas and finish in seven to nine hours.
While summer visitors crowd into Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park, savvy locals head for West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park. This 75-hectare sanctuary is named for the classic 1912 Point Atkinson Lighthouse, a National Historic Site, but nature here trumps the 18.3-metre-high working beacon. This truly rare, urban old-growth forest contains 60-metre-tall, 500-year-old specimens of virgin Douglas fir and western redcedar. When you tire of craning your neck upward, follow the park’s easy, well-groomed trails to high, granite promontories where southward views over Burrard Inlet, English Bay, and downtown Vancouver extend from Lions Gate Bridge west to the University of British Columbia.
In the Sunshine Coast town of Gibsons, Molly’s Reach is an icon of Canadian pop culture. The false-fronted 1930s building above the marina is a familiar sight to anyone who watched The Beachcombers, a CBC Television series shot in Gibsons from 1972 to 1991. Photos of fictional log salvagers Nick Adonidas, Relic, and friends adorn the walls inside, where owners have been serving pub fare with a generous side of nostalgia since 1995.
Take a wine tour with a helicopter pilot as your designated driver! Based at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa near Osoyoos, Wine Country Helicopter Adventures combines flight-seeing trips over the Okanagan Valley with a chance to try the local vino. One two-hour package takes wine fliers over the Okanagan Highlands, McIntyre Bluff, and the vineyards around Vaseux Lake before setting down on Black Sage Bench for an hour of wine tasting and a patio picnic at Oliver Twist Estate Winery.
Norm Hann of Mountain Surf Adventures has been guiding in the wild temperate rainforest of B.C.’s north coast for more than a decade. His appreciation for the Great Bear Rainforest and his friendships with the Gitga’at people of Hartley Bay led him to found a non-profit organization to promote its protection. Hann’s week-long paddleboard tours offer a truly fresh perspective as adventurers stand fully upright to manoeuvre their craft through whale, bear, and wolf habitat.
Rancher Joseph Guichon built the Quilchena Hotel on the shores of Nicola Lake in 1908 and his descendants carry on the tradition of hospitality. Period authenticity includes antique-furnished guest rooms with shared hall baths, an 1884 Heintzmann grand piano in the parlour, and a circa 1912 bullet hole in the saloon. Snoop for treasures in the 1912 Quilchena General Store. Play the prettily treed nine-hole golf course, book a group hayride or ranch tour. The Quilchena Cattle Company runs 4,000 head of cattle over its more than 113 deeded square kilometres.
Watch captive-bred hawks, owls, falcons, vultures, and eagles fly around you at Pacific Northwest Raptors in the Cowichan Valley north of Duncan. Hands-on sessions with birds of prey range from a 15-minute “hawk walk,” during which a Harris’s hawk may alight on your gloved hand, to five-day children’s summer camps, to adult falconry courses from introductory to advanced. Flight demonstrations are also offered at Church & State Wines north of Victoria.
Admission: $7 child to $14 adult; courses individually priced; pnwraptors.com
Swim on horseback
Send out the family posse to lasso Ogopogo. At Okanagan Stables near Kelowna, you can ride your rented ponies right into Okanagan Lake. With the Ride & Swim package, participants enjoy a two-hour trail ride then change into swimwear for an exhilarating freshwater gallop.
If you associate camping with cramped quarters and the musty funk of hiking socks, the seaside “tenthouses” at Rockwater Secret Cove Resort near Halfmoon Bay will be a revelation. Built on raised wooden platforms to overlook southern Malaspina Strait, these posh tents are fit for a sheik with luxury linens on king-size beds, radiant-floor heating, propane fireplaces, and hydrotherapy soaker tubs. Book a massage on your oceanfront veranda, raid the mini-fridge, or—if you must—use the free internet to connect to the wider world.
Cavers get excited about limestone deposits. That’s because underground water seepage naturally erodes limestone—prevalent on northern Vancouver Island—to create a fascinating network of tunnels. Even first-time spelunkers can explore the Upana Caves, 17 kilometres west of Gold River on the gravel Head Bay Forest Road. An easy 0.3-kilometre trail provides self-guided access to Corner Cave, Insect Cave, Slither Cave, and other cavities—some 450 metres of passages in all. Inside the Main Cave, the underground Upana River emerges for about 25 metres, then disappears; it reappears in the smoothly marbled Resurgence Cave. Dress warmly for 7 C cave temperatures, wear sturdy non-slip footwear, and carry two reliable backup light sources.
Village of Gold River: 250-283-2202
Valley of the Ghosts
A river of silver once flowed through the Valley of the Ghosts where Highway 31A now cuts through the West Kootenay. The route links the historic villages of Kaslo and New Denver to a string of less viable mining towns that sprang up after prospectors discovered rich ore deposits near Slocan Creek in 1891. A few tour highlights:
Kaslo’s 1896 Langham Cultural Centre, a former silver-rush hotel; the 1898 Village Hall, still a working municipal building; and 1898 sternwheeler SS Moyie, a National Historic Site.
The evocative Sandon townsite squeezed into Carpenter Creek valley. Sandon Historical Museum in the brick Slocan Mercantile Building (circa 1900) tells the boisterous story of Sandon’s saloon-lined streets, brothels, and population peak near 5,000 prior to 1900.
Some people collect waterfalls the way others collect stamps. Tally up sightings with a trip to Tumbler Ridge, the “Waterfall Capital of the North.” Prize cataracts include 100-metre-high Bergeron Falls, 60-metre-high Kinuseo Falls, and the Monkman cascades, a series of 10 falls descending Monkman Creek that Waterfalls of British Columbia ranks “in the realm of religious experience.”
North of Williams Lake, the people of the Xat’sull First Nation offer visitors a cultural immersion at Xat’sull Heritage Village along-side the Fraser River. Join elders for storytelling, share a traditional Secwepmec meal, enjoy ceremonial songs and dances, learn beading or birch-basket weaving. Complete your visit with an overnight stay in an authentic underground pit house dwelling; sleeps 10 comfortably, B.Y.O. sleeping bags and air mattresses.
Free admission; site tours $8.50 child to $20 adult; meals and workshops priced separately; pit house rental $110 per night; xatsullheritagevillage.com
Yoho geology Yoho National Park
is a place of geological superlatives: hoodoo formations; the Burgess Shale ancient fossil beds; and 28 peaks rising above 3,000 metres. Just three kilometres from Field, travellers can see a remarkable example of the power of water to defeat solid rock. A custom-built pedestrian bridge over the Kicking Horse River offers varied perspectives of the Natural Bridge. Over time, the river’s incessant action here bore away at fissures in the rock bed, widening the cracks until it could flow through the remaining hard band of limestone that now bridges the river.
Board an 8.5-metre skiff in Zeballos for a five-hour return trip to the Nuu-chah-nulth village of Yuquot (Friendly Cove), with wildlife viewing at Tahsis Inlet, Blowhole Bay, and elsewhere en route. Passengers often see “rafts” of sea otters floating together, their teddy bear faces peering up from the sea. Orcas, seals, and porpoises may appear, as well as black bears and wolves on shore. Lucky guests on a Zeballos Expeditions tour last September witnessed a cougar swimming between two islets.