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It’s a lively tasting room. A bachelorette party filters in while a group of friends forms an impromptu wine club, laughing and clinking glasses in front of a wall of bottles. Outside, a small vineyard of chardonnay grapes is showing the first signs of summer foliage. Inside, I’m chatting about gewurtztraminer and gamay as one of the experts at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery refills my glass for yet another swirl-and-sip.
I could be in British Columbia’s Okanagan. Rather, my wife and I are on 16th Avenue in the Township of Langley, a suburb of Metro Vancouver set in the lush Fraser Valley, about 40 kilometres from the Big Smoke’s downtown core.
As a destination, the Township of Langley’s proximity to Vancouver presents a bit of a mouse-and-elephant scenario. Vancouver is world-renowned, whereas Langley is a bit of a mystery even to many regional residents. And quite a few Vancouverites, like myself, often perceive the Fraser River bridges as leading over the edge of the world rather than as pathways to a charming day-trip.
My first stop already yielded some of the best wine in the province—and I didn’t have to drive 400 kilometres to reach the tasting room. What more secrets lie south of the Fraser?
Langley has a similar wine growing climate to Champagne, France.
The Langley Winery Trail
LANGLEY IS A broad term. There’s the City of Langley, a suburban service centre and home to about 26,000 people. Then there’s Fort Langley, a richly historic townsite with a plethora of cute boutiques and a Parks Canada National Historic Site by the same name. And there’s the Township of Langley, an area that wraps around the politically distinct City of Langley and encompasses the fort as well as other suburban locales like Aldergrove and Willoughby, and is home to some 100,000 residents. To the visitor, it’s semantics. Just turn off the Trans Canada at 200th Street, follow the signs to the Campbell Valley Wine Route and let Langley lead you forward from there.
Township 7 pays homage to the multifaceted place names of which Langley is comprised. The area was originally divided into seven townships; this popular vineyard sits in lucky number seven. It’s also a common first-stop on Langley’s Campbell Valley Wine Route, a taste of the Okanagan within an easy daytrip from anywhere in the Lower Mainland.
“We have a similar climate to Champagne, France,” my host explains as she fills my glass for the first of six samples. Because of that, she continues, the grapes grown onsite are generally used for their sparkling varietals. Their summery-sweet 7 Blanc—a blend of gewürztraminer, pinot gris, viognier, riesling and muscat—is a winner right out of the gate and would become one of the three bottles I purchase that day. While the climate and terroir in Langley is conducive to a lot of agriculture (berries in particular), I learn that most of the grapes used by Township 7 come from their vineyard in Naramata—classic Okanagan wine country. The lack of absolute locality matters less and less as we move into the fantastic reds—a rich merlot and a spicy Reserve 7 blend—both of which join the 7 Blanc in my wine bag.
Lunch at Chaberton Estate. Courtesy Noel West
Further along the route, Chaberton Estate Winery ups the drink-local game with vino like their estate-grown 2017 gamay noir and siegerrebe. The original owners of this boutique winery, a couple from the north of France, were told grapes couldn’t grow in the Fraser Valley when they planted vines 30 years ago. They proved naysayers wrong before passing the reigns to the current owners in the 1990s. Next up is Vista d’Oro Farms and Winery, which proves you can produce quality grapes in an area better known for blueberries and dairy cows; look for their Murphy’s Law labels for some of their best vintages. The final stop on the Campbell Valley Wine Route is Backyard Vineyards, where we find winemaker James Cambridge. He spent years learning the craft at top Canadian wineries in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and BC’s Okanagan before coming to the Fraser Valley. The concept of this winery? Show Vancouverites that quality vino can be made right in their, of course, backyard.
Horse riding in the Campbell Valley. Courtesy Jennifer Kirk
The Fraser Valley’s Agri-Tourism Hotspot
OTTER TRAIL, or the Township of Langley’s 248th Street, is not a place to find otters. Running from 0 Avenue (the Canada/US border) to just north of Highway 1, it’s named after a colonel who commanded during Canada’s North-West Rebellion of the late 1800s. As such, don’t expect aquatic mammals on display at the Otter Co-Op—it’s just a local grocery store—though there may be one hiding in woodsy Otter Park. What Otter Trail does harbour is a collection of shops and farms that extends our tour from the wine route into the Township of Langley’s farm country.
Breathe deep that pungent dairy-air; it’s a sure sign we’re in amidst agriculture—and in the Township of Langley’s case, agri-tourism. The scent is a specific mix of mud, grass and cow manure that’s both unpleasant yet somehow not, and for some, like my Albertan wife, downright nostalgic.
Kensington Prairie Farm, on Otter Trail, features a less-common four-legged mammal. Set on 18 hectares with a view of the snowcapped Coast Range beyond, this farm and storefront is home to some 40 alpacas (plus healthy hens, a handful of Polled Hereford cattle and a collection of honey-producing beehives). Shortly after wandering into their woolly mercantile, I learn that many of these alpacas are rescues from around the province, where they were discovered being poorly cared for due to naivety or negligence. Some of Kensington’s animals are raised for their fibres—the store has a display of cozy wool socks made from animals shorn on their property, as well as a large selection of imported woolly wares. Some for meat—alpaca sirloin, anyone? And some just live out their lives here, destined for neither socks nor supper; posing for Instagrams while chewing-and-spitting in the Fraser Valley sun.
Further, JD Farms Specialty Turkey Store & Bistro appears as if summoned by our rumbling tummies. Founded more than 30 years ago by Jack and Debbie Froese, and currently managed by their son, Jason, they raise quality birds onsite and work with several local farms to craft products ranging from gourmet sausage (the turkey breakfast sausage is a must) to raw dog food—plus casual breakfasts and lunches at their bistro. We order two turkey pot pies; smothered in gravy and served with a side of cranberry sauce, it’s like Thanksgiving dinner come early.
We pass Krause Berry Farms & Estate Winery—which beams out with its baby-blue buildings—Aldor Acres Farm, where you can learn to milk a cow, make a left on River Road, trace the mighty Fraser and find ourselves at Fort Langley National Historic Site and the cutesy namesake ‘burg.
A fun afternoon at the Fort Langley National Historic Site. Courtesy Noel West.
Fort Langley: History Made Fun
THE ONLY FORT in Greater Vancouver was originally built here in 1827 as a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post. It was forged through trade with indigenous people and played a role in a small Gold Rush and the occasional trade war and border dispute with the US before becoming a National Historic Site in 1923. Today, as Fort Langley National Historic Site promotions officer Andrea Mitchell explains, the 1800s are brought to life in one of the prime attractions to the region.
“We have a lot of school groups coming throughout the year—but a large part of our demographics is locals on a day-trip,” she says. The fort offers guided tours, led by an interpreter in period costume every day at 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. “In between those times, we have the blacksmith shop open, gold panning… at 2:00 pm you can sample traditional foods. In summer we have a large bake-oven open out back and historic gardens showcase some of the things that were grown at the time.”
Along with the day-tours, the fort is a popular staycation spot thanks to their five oTENTiks—canvas-walled cabins available for rent at Parks Canada sites across the country. Fort Langley’s are unique as their oTENTiks are themed to reflect the traditional cultures of the people who would have worked there—from gold prospectors, to local First Nations and even Hawaiians. There are also Learn to Camp weekends, where outdoors-newbies are shown the ropes—tent pitching, campfire building—in a comfortable environment.
Special events run throughout the year. This summer, Canada Day (free admission), Brigades Day (“re-enactors all day long… tents upon tents of them”) and National Indigenous Peoples Day are not to be missed. There’s even a Zombie Apocalypse Night planned for the end of September—a whimsical look at how the fort could play a role in a dystopian future.
The Village Antiques Mall in Fort Langley. Courtesy Jennifer Kirk
The surrounding town of Fort Langley is equally as engaging as the National Historic Site. Storefronts are picture-perfect with matching facades. Antique shops, cafes, restaurants, boutiques—this is browsers’ paradise.
On the main drag of Glover Road, Country Lane Antiques displays dutifully restored and repurposed antiques with a healthy amount of petroliana. Village Antiques Mall, around the corner on Mavis Avenue, offers a menagerie of curio from around the globe. Livingroom Home Décor & Accessories is worth the trip to satiate your inner designer. And Blacksmith Bakery makes coffee and baked goods to rival the best of Vancouver’s downtown cafes.
In fact, the Township of Langley has been steadily luring both locals and out-of-towners alike away from Vancouver. Mun Bagri, director, Destination Development & Sport for Tourism Langley, explains.
“We are becoming part of the complementary experience that comes with Vancouver. [Visitors are] extending their stays in Vancouver because of the easy access to Langley… with the wine country, breweries, agritourism. And people don’t mind the lower hotel rates out here.”
The Township of Langley has long had its staple attractions—from the wineries, to classic agri-tourism like Krause Berry Farms, the Greater Vancouver Regional Zoo and the last remaining drive-in movie theatre in the province. Today, with the new craft breweries, distilleries and restaurants—many of which are being developed by Vancouverites moving east for more affordable housing—the region is growing from a daytrip destination to an area in which visitors are finding reasons to stay a weekend.
As it so often does these days, our discussion turns to urban Millennials. This time, though, the kids aren’t killing an industry. They’re helping one.
“For them, time is more important than money,” Bagri says. “Rather than driving to the Okanagan and spending a few nights, as older people might, they rent a Car2Go and drive to Langley’s wine country for a day—and still get the selfies they need.”
A Perfect Weekend Getaway
PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING. As a Vancouverite, I’ve often viewed Langley as a place I practically need a passport to get to—despite the fact that, timed right, it’s only about 30 minutes from my house. That same 30 minutes could be spent grinding through traffic simply getting from the far east to the far west side of Vancouver; neighbourhoods I view as next door to one another. And perceptions of a suburb municipality as a “boring bedroom community” are shattered with a day at the Township’s chic wine tasting rooms or by browsing the character boutique stores of Fort Langley.
At the same time, the Township of Langley is still the Horse Capital of BC, home to multigenerational family farms and lonely country roads where the distances between intersections are measured in minutes, not metres. But maybe that’s the ultimate south Fraser secret: you have it all. Just look to Langley.
Township 7 Vineyards & Wineryhas a chic yet casual tasting room on 16th Avenue in Langley. township7.com
Chaberton Estate Winery serves quality BC vino as well as tasty fare in Bacchus Bistro, located just south of Township 7.
Enjoy the “Golden View” at Vista D’oro Farms & Winerywhile you sample fine reds and whites and tour the working farm. vistadoro.com
Backyard Wineryis producing VQA wine right in Vancouver’s “backyard.” Stroll the grounds and sip the reds, whites and bubbles crafted onsite. backyardvineyards.ca
Dead Frog Brewerywas the first craft brewery to open in Langley. Ten years in, they’re producing well-loved ales and lagers that can be found all over the Lower Mainland. deadfrog.ca
Whether you stop by the taphouse in the City of Langley or the eatery in Fort Langley, you’ll enjoy the suds from Trading Post Brewery, Langley’s newest brewer. tradingpostbrewing.com
Roots & Wings Distilleryis the first of its kind in Langley. They produce artisanal spirits from ingredients grown onsite. Stop by the tasting room on 240th Street to see for yourself.
Blacksmith Bakery in Fort Langley is known for croissants, Americanos and sumptuous brownies. blacksmithbakery.ca
Where did Fort Langley’s Little Donkeyrestaurant get its name? It’s translated from the Spanish “burrito.” So you can guess what they serve. littledonkey.ca
Into Chocolate Candy & Confections, in Fort Langley, is where you head to load up on sugary treats from the local area and around the world. intochocolate.ca
JD Farms Specialty Turkeyis not simply a place to grab sausage, whole birds, legs, drums and other turkey delights. The bistro serves casual fare like local eggs, sandwiches and pot pies every day. jdfarms.ca
No trip to Langley is complete without a tour of Fort Langley National Historic Site. See the Birthplace of BC as it looked 200 years ago. pc.gc.ca/Langley
Campbell Valley Regional Park offers a serene four-kilometre stroll through forest and wetland. Accessible year-round. tol.ca
Watch some of North America’s top equestrian athletes and their steeds at Thunderbird Show Park, at the intersection of 72nd Avenue and 248th Street (Otter Trail). tbird.ca
The brand-new Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centrehas a 500-seat arena, NHL sized ice rink, outdoor pool, waterpark, lazy river, playground and more. Opens in June. tol.ca
Keep an eye out for the bright blue buildings of Krause Berry Farms & Estate Winery, home to u-pick berries, berry wine, gourmet pies and family-friendly events.
The Twilight Drive-In is one of BC’s two remaining drive-in movie theatres. Head there for the newest releases viewed in old-fashioned style.
Stay in the heart of Fort Langley National Historic Siteby booking a night in an oTENTik, Parks Canada’s unique cross between an A-Frame cabin and a prospector tent. pc.gc.ca/langley
Track down a plethora of hotels, B&Bs and campsitesand more visitor info at tourism-langley.ca.
Hidden in the Southern Canadian Rockies, Island Lake Lodge is a luxury wilderness experience. With four log-cabin lodges, two restaurants, a spa and countless ways to explore the pristine mountainous landscape in its backyard, a visit to this lodge is something you won’t soon forget.
Nestled beside the Lizard Range of the Rocky Mountains, a visit to Island Lake Lodge is the ultimate way to unplug and enjoy a luxury wilderness experience. Explore the 7,000 acres of surrounding wilderness by day and spend the evenings in your own soaker tub or on the private balcony; watching the sun disappear behind the mountains to reveal a sky full of stars. With no phones or TV’s in the rooms of its four log-cabin accommodations, this lodge was made for slowing down and enjoying the great outdoors with good company—just one of the reasons it was named one of the most unique and authentic places to stay in Canada by National Geographic Traveler.
Guided hikes and 100 kilometres of hiking trails make Island Lake Lodge a nature lover’s paradise that everyone can experience. Choose from short hikes like the Goldilocks Trail, which boasts dramatic alpine views, or gear up to take on the 22-kilometre Heiko’s Trail for waterfalls, caves, mountain passes and snowfields.
Hike through the picturesque Southern Canadian Rockies with Island Lake Lodge’s guides. Choose from a half-day, full-day or overnight adventure in B.C.’s rugged terrain and learn about local flora and fauna. Hiking trails range from 2-22 kilometres of varying intensities, and will lead you into the wild lands of waterfalls, caves and mighty Cedar, Douglas Fir and Spruce trees.
The patio of the Bear Lodge Bistro is the perfect place for a cold beverage and tasty meal after a day on the trails. This sunny patio will give you a view of the iconic Three Bears mountain peaks rising above and a taste of locally sourced cuisine.
Reserve ahead for a table in the highly-recommended Tamarack Dining Room, recognized for its creative cuisine and serving some of the Elk Valley’s best culinary experiences. Choose from small plates like Grilled Lamb Pops or Scallop and Elk Chorizo and follow it up with a large plate of sustainably sourced Pacific Ling Cod and Mussels. Look closely and you might recognize something in your dish that was foraged on the property that day. Whatever you choose, you’re bound to find the perfect pairing from the 3,000-bottle wine library.
The Lazy Lizard bike trail located on the lower Island Lake property is a 7-kilometre machine-built, single-track trail suitable for the whole family. This popular mountain bike trail will lead you through towering old-growth trees to stunning lookouts.
Pack your bike and take on the Lazy Lizard bike trail located on the lower Island Lake property. One of Fernie’s more popular mountain biking trails, this machine-built, single-track trail is an adventure suitable for the whole family. Spend the day riding over bridges and winding through old-growth cedars and wildflowers to spectacular lookout points and head back to Island Lake for some refreshments and a well-deserved meal on the patio of the Bear Lodge Bistro.
Relax and unwind with first-class views of the spectacular mountain ranges and old-growth forests.
Unwind after an adventure-filled day with a trip to The Spa at Island Lake. Choose from a deep-tissue massage to work out the kinks from a day on the trails, a Swedish massage with aromatherapy using locally-crafted essential oils, sip a cup of tea in the outdoor sauna while soaking up mountain views or enjoy a manicure/pedicure, facials and other skin care and body treatments. For ultimate relaxation, opt for The Lazy Ascent or Mountain harmony, both half-day spa packages, or treat yourself to The Hibernation, a full-day head to toe experience. Don’t forget to visit the retail boutique for locally-made essential oils, soaps and tea to take the relaxation with you when you go.
Unplug from the hustle and relax on the private patio outside your room with company and a view that won’t disappoint. The only thing that could make this better is something to sip on while you sit in awe—perhaps a locally-crafted tea from the retail boutique or a bottle of wine from the impressive 3,000-bottle wine library.
Share your mountain memories with stunning photos, not hard in a place as beautiful as this. Island Lake makes it even easier to get the best shots possible with a list of 20 iconic photo spots. Spanning the entire trail system, this list will take you into the mountainous landscape to see old growth, historic railways, wildflowers and wildlife or just to the patio for dinner and a view. Be sure to include Island Lake’s location hashtags when you share your photos for a chance to win monthly prizes.
The Cowichan Valley Trail is open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders that want to experience all of the wonderful views available. The trail is about 122 kilometres long, stretching from the Capital Regional District all the way to the Regional District of Nanaimo. Along the way, part of the trail is looked after by the province, and sections also run along the roadway as you near Cowichan Lake Road and head north/northwest.
Kinsol Trestle. Photo by Roxana Gonzalez/Dreamstime.
The Cowichan Valley Trail is a leg of the Trans-Canada Trail. The final piece, connecting the Cowichan Valley Trail to the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, was completed in 2017.
While hiking, biking or riding along the Cowichan Valley Trail, there are six stunning trestles you’ll pass over: McGee Creek Trestle, Kinsol Trestle, Holt Creek Trestle, 64.4 Mile Trestle, 66 Mile Trestle and the 70.2 Mile Trestle. You’ll also pass by Shawnigan Lake, over the Koksilah River, through Cowichan River Provincial Park, by Skutz Falls, over the Chemainus River and travel along the ocean before arriving at the end of the trail near Nanaimo.
The majority of the Cowichan Valley Trail is made of gravel, wide and flat, making it a perfect trail for people of all ages and abilities. And you can complete as much or as little of the trail as you want. Some parts, such as the Malahat Connector near Victoria, include steep hills. Be sure you’re hiking or riding within your limits.
The Kinsol Trestle
You’ll pass over the Kinsol Trestle while travelling along the Cowichan Valley Trail, and this historic trestle is by far the largest trestle along the trail. It’s also one of the tallest free-standing, timber rail trestles in the world. The Kinsol Trestle spans 187 metres in length and stands 44 metres above the Koksilah River. You won’t want to miss this experience! There are picnic areas, beaches, toilet facilities and viewing platforms in the area, so this would be a great place to stop along the route.
Proudly held in the Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, since 2006, the 2019 BC Seafood Festival is back from June 7 to 16. It’s the largest seafood festival in western Canada!
Hurry and book your tickets and tours to experience the bounty of British Columbia’s wide array of seafood producers and participating chefs.
Stay at any of the participating Comox Valley hotels during the Festival June 14th or 15th and receive a free weekend pass per person. The Festival has grown extensively and each year, accommodations sell out earlier than the last. Don’t miss the biggest BC seafood event, just because you didn’t book a room! Learn more about how easy it is to get to the Comox Valley here.
Spend Saturday outdoors starting at Campbell Valley Regional Park where the Little River Loop Trail will have you strolling through the lush forest and pond where you’ll be sure to find some wildlife. A couple minutes down the road you’ll find the Fraser Valley Cider Company. Pack your own picnic lunch or order a charcuterie board of your own and sip cider while overlooking Mt.Baker. They even have rootbeer flights, so kids are not left out! Continue with the outdoors theme and visit more of Langley’s agritourism experiences with Circle Farm Tour!
Now that you’ve enjoyed a delicious meal, its time for shopping! The Fort Langley Village has plenty of great shops to visit including clothing, antique, home décor stores, bakeries, and art galleries. Not wanting to shop? Try brushing up on your history, Fort Langley is the perfect place for that. You can visit the Birthplace of British Columbia, the Fort Langley National Historic Site which is home to the oldest building in British Columbia. You can also walk around the CN Station, BC Farm Museum or Langley Centennial Museum.
May 16, 2019, marks the Red Cross’ National Lifejacket Day across Canada.
Whether you’re fishing, boating, kayaking, on a SUP, waterskiing – the list goes on and on; but when you’re on the water, you should have your lifejacket on. And that goes for smaller bodies of water, such as lakes, just as much as it does for the times you’re on the ocean.
Photo by iStock
According to the Red Cross, 161 Canadians drown every year while boating. Of these 161, about 87 per cent weren’t wearing a lifejacket or they had it on, but it wasn’t done up properly. Studies show that using a lifejacket or personal floatation device would prevent many of these deaths.
Today, there is a lifejacket or PFD specially designed for almost every activity on the water, so there’s no excuse to go out without one. Inflatable PFDs cannot be used for persons less than 16 years old, or who weigh under 36.3 kilograms. In some instances, such as when you’re in a personal water craft, whitewater rafting or being towed behind the boat while waterskiing or wakeboarding, you’re required to wear a lifejacket (which contains permanent floatation) rather than an inflatable PFD.
Hikers, campers – really all outdoor enthusiasts – know the value of being able to find edible plants and berries. Whether your food cache has run low on a camping trip, or you want to bring that sweet taste of nature back to your campfire, we have a list of six berries you can find in BC and you’ll definitely want to add these to your menu.
Cloudberry. Photo by Dreamstime/Inbj
Cloudberries have a somewhat sour taste to them, and they’re high in vitamin C. When the berries are ripe, they’re a salmon colour, with long stems and broad leaves with five lobes. Unripe berries will be hard and more of a red colour. Cloudberries can be found in peat bogs and peat forests.
Crowberry. Photo by Dreamstime/Pisotckii
The crowberry looks similar to a blueberry, and it has a glossy black colour on the outside and the berries are about a third-of-an-inch in size. These berries are modest in flavour, but that flavour will intensify as you cook them or with freezing. You’ll find crowberries in shady, dry areas, muskeg and forests.
White mulberry. Photo by Dreamstime/Cristina Dini
Mulberries are a wonderful fruit for picking and eating, or you can bake with them. The berries are juicy and sweet, and they ripen around midsummer. In BC, you’ll find white mulberries and they grow on a bush or small tree.
Salal. Photo by Dreamstime/Brigitte Eaton
As you get closer to the coast, you’ll find more salal. These berries have a mild, sweet flavour, and they’re good for drying. You’ll often find salal in thickets.
Salmonberry. Photo by Dreamstime/Pnwnature
Growing in wet, coastal forests, the salmonberry is right at home in BC. The ripe berries are a yellow-red colour with a mild, sweet flavour. Even the young shoots of this plant are edible, making them a top pick for survivalists.
Thimbleberry. Photo by Dreamstime/Stefan Schug
With no thorns, the thimbleberry is easy to find and pick, and it provides a nice flavour. This berry grows in the foothills and mountain regions, and even the young shoots can be peeled and eaten raw.
Next time you’re out camping or hiking, see if you can find some delicious berries to add to your dinner plate.
Revelling in a stunning ocean view—with my skin still tingling from last night’s eucalyptus steam—I feel like the busy world is, well, worlds away. I enjoy a refreshing glass of water infused with cucumber, strawberry and mint, and think of my only goal for the day: soaking in the outdoor mineral pools. Touted as a top luxury resort in the Pacific Northwest, and a destination known to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit, this is the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.
Oak Bay Beach: A Hotel with History
Oak Bay Beach Hotel a popular hang since the 1930s.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in Oak Bay, BC, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel has been an integral part of the neighbourhood for more than 90 years. Built in 1927, the original structure was destroyed by fire a mere three years after opening. An exact replica was rebuilt and the Oak Bay Beach Hotel quickly became “the place to be” and a regular hang out for locals and guests alike.
In 1972, the hotel was bought by Winnipeg businessmen Bruce Walker and Glenn Anderson, who took the hotel through another two decades of success. Continuing the family business and legacy, Bruce’s son, Kevin Walker, and his wife Shawna, purchased it in 1995.
Image of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel that stood for almost eight decades.
By 2006, the (now) 70-year-old building had reached its limit. Even with extensive renovations and upgrades it was evident that the aged building was failing and a rebuild was necessary to take the hotel to the next level. Careful to preserve the look and feel that so many had come to cherish, the owners were dedicated to preserving the key features of the hotel such as stained glass windows, old bricks and beams, classic furniture and the original entrance doors.
With a meticulous vision to reach, it took six years to complete and reopen. Designed as a modern take on the old Tudor-style manor, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel has been completely reconstructed, featuring highlights of the previous building throughout and remaining on the waterfront property, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where it all began. It is estimated that 95 per cent of the materials were reused and re-housed in the new building, and those original entrance doors now lead you to Kate’s Café, a quaint little coffee shop inside the hotel.
The Oak Bay Beach Hotel Feel
Breathtaking location on the edge of the Salish Sea.
Tucked between the Oak Bay Marina and the Victoria Golf Club, a darling seaside drive or walk from the hotel will lead you through the community of Oak Bay where heritage homes line the streets and boutique shops, cafes and galleries give you all the local flavor you could want.
Maintaining the charm and history of its roots, reclaimed pieces of the old hotel are seen throughout. Some of the notable features include the original bricks, fireplace and hearth in the front room, stain glass windows at the Snug Pub and tasting room, and of course, the dark wooden beams that bring the English Manor style all together.
The iconic Snug Pub is a classic English pub that serves both local craft beer and traditional pub favourites while overlooking Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve. Seeing a lot of action over the years. this venue has been a neighbourhood staple since 1954, when it was one of the only pubs in the university district. The menu offers everything from seasonal fare, to good ol’ English fish and chips.
Pub style, pool side or fine dining, there is amazing food for any mood.
Next door, the Dining Room will seat a cozy 34 people, granting an intimate dining experience with personal attention. The cuisine here highlights regional specialties, and if you don’t finish your bottle of BC wine, you can take it back to your room to enjoy along with the views from your patio.
Original, unique pieces of art work from local galleries are on display throughout the entire hotel. Stunning pieces reflecting nature and beauty from artists all over the world. Little nooks are located around every corner, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee, quiet time or an intimate glass of wine.
And no matter how impressive the features are inside, it’s the view outside that is the real show stopper. From the Grand Lobby, you can take in a view of the seaside gardens and mineral pools with the stunning Haro Strait in the distance.
Boathouse Spa & Baths
Low proof cocktails and stunning views.
The Boathouse Spa & Baths were created with the intention of renewing your body, relaxing your mind and refreshing your spirit in an environment inspired by the natural world.
“Travellers have a tendency to bring their stress with them,” says spa manager Tina Lyons. “We encourage practicing a ‘digital-detox’—leaving your phone, your emails, or any personal stressors behind and instead focusing on relaxing your mind. Our proximity to the ocean allows guests to experience a simply serene atmosphere.”
With wellness in mind, literally, the whole-body retreat is becoming more of a focal point than ever before. High season features yoga in the Seaside Garden, and coming soon, outdoor massage tables at the seaside. Menu options reflect more plant-based food options, fresh seasonal ingredients and low-proof cocktails.
This past February they hosted their first annual Wellness Weekend, a three-day retreat that lead participants through five in-depth modules on mindset, movement, nutrition, sleep and connection. Next year’s event is already planned for January 31 to Feb 2, 2020.
The mineral baths and restorative waters are set in the natural surroundings of open sky and coastal air to help renew balance and wellbeing. With stunning views of the Pacific Northwest and Mount Baker as a backdrop, indulge all your senses by enjoying a meal and a libation from the Boathouse Kitchen.
Upcoming Events at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel
Today’s Oak Bay Beach Hotel maintains the English Manor style with a modern day flare.
With a variety of meeting spaces suiting everything from cozy and quaint gatherings to red carpet soirées, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel hosts a series of annual events.
Upcoming this summer is the highly anticipated Wine Maker’s Long Table Dinner Series. Each evening begins with a reception in the Seaside Gardens, followed by a multi-course family style dinner inside the Grand Lobby. Each night a different BC wine is showcased by the guest winemaker or winery owner.
Find out more about the Winemaker’s Long Table Dinner Series and other exciting events hosted at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel here.
For more information on this special getaway visit: Oak Bay Beach Hotel 1175 Beach Dr. Victoria, BC.
My family and I are taking a trip to Vancouver Island this summer, specifically to Sooke. And since I’ll be doing some research about the best things to do in the area, I want to share my findings with you!
Whale watching adventures. Photo by Dreamstime/Lynda Dobbin Turner
Visit the Sooke Potholes
Grab your swimming gear and cool off in these spectacular, natural pools. Located in the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, these pools are carved into the bedrock of the Sooke River and this is a popular day-use area for locals and visitors alike. For more information, check out http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/sooke_potholes/.
The Sooke Potholes. Photo by Dreamstime/Russ Heinl
All of the beaches and all of the marine life we can find there is the part I’m looking forward to the most when we visit Sooke. Take the Juan De Fuca Highway from Sooke to Port Renfrew and you’ll find several hidden gems along the way: French Beach, Sombrio Beach, China Beach and Mystic Beach (these require a short hike, but it’s worth it!) and Botanical Beach, which is home to these amazing tide pools that are just waiting for you and your family to discover them.
Botanical Beach and its tide pools. Photo by Dreamstime/Fallsview
Hop on the Galloping Goose Trail
The Galloping Goose Trail is a hiking/biking trail that connects Victoria to Sooke, passing through Saanich, View Royal, Langford, Colwood and Metchosin. The trail is 60 kilometres long. The trail is beautiful in all seasons, and don’t forget to pack your camera – you’ll want photos on the trestle bridges.
Recreational users enjoying the Galloping Goose Regional Trail. Photo by Dreamstime/Gene Lee
Get out in nature
There is no shortage of beautiful places to explore on Vancouver Island, and even around Sooke specifically. Be sure to visit the East Sooke Regional Park during your stay in the area. The park features 50 kilometres of trails that will take you through forests, marshlands and fields. You can even try your hand at the 10-kilometre Coast Trail. There are a few beaches within the park, as well as tide pools, and you’ll find breathtaking views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. For more information, check out https://www.crd.bc.ca/parks-recreation-culture/parks-trails/find-park-trail/east-sooke.
Becher Bay in East Sooke Regional Park. Photo by Dreamstime/Jaahnlieb
Something big and black is moving down the beach. And it’s coming this way. I’m standing on a crescent of sand on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. It took almost a full day of travel to get here: a long drive on progressively narrower and rougher roads right to where the gravel turned into a dock at Fair Harbour; then an hour-long water taxi to a turquoise cove backed by soft sand.
It was worth every second. A moment ago I was alone eyeing up the empty surf break. Now I’m still alone but watching the black bear ambling the high-tide line looking for snacks. There is not another person in sight. No cellphone service or wifi. Just the roar of waves, wind in my hair, the smell of salt. This is why I come to northern Vancouver Island every summer.
Port Hardy. Photo by Steven Fines
For me, everything changes north of Campbell River. Just out of town, you pass the last in a line of oceanside homes that stretches all the way to Victoria. The highway shrinks to two lanes. Forest crowds the pavement. Other traffic disappears and the chances of spotting a black bear or Roosevelt elk increase dramatically.
The farther north and west you go, the rawer and wilder it feels. This is one of the best places on Earth to see orcas, humpback whales, grizzly bears and sea otters. Adventure is everywhere, the lush rainforest and rugged mountains, rushing rivers and the convoluted coastline.
Port Alice. Photo by Darrell McIntosh
It’s easy to get lost here—in a good way. To find a beach to yourself. To drive to the literal end of the road. To share a moment with a grizzly bear. To take a step back in time. To look around and realize you’re alone.
That’s how I felt watching that bear. Eventually he caught a whiff, squinted my way and casually ducked into the woods. As for me, I followed wolf tracks back to camp, napped in the sun, went for a sunset surf, cooked over an open fire and called it a perfect day.
Sea Kayak with Sea Otters
The sea otter represents one of the great wildlife recovery stories. The fur trade wiped them out on Vancouver Island. Reintroduced to a remote spot on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1969, they now number 3,000 and are commonly spotted from Bamfield to Cape Scott. One of the most reliable places to find large rafts of them is in the Nuchatlitz Provincial Marine Park with Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures’s Sea Otter Explorer. The five-day expedition style sea kayak trip hits the water in Zabellos, a former gold mining town, for a water taxi ride to the archipelago. Over the next four days, the group paddles around the islets, coves and beaches. Nights are in wilderness camps on soft sand. In addition to nearly guaranteed sea otter spotting, humpback whales, black bears and wolves are often seen in the area.
Extras: Kingfisher also offers tours in Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest, for those looking to get a bit more remote.
To see whales and dolphins, it’s not even necessary to leave land in Telegraph Cove. Powerful currents driven by shifting tides churn up a buffet of food that attracts orcas, dolphins, sea lions, seals and whales. It’s one of the best places in the world to see orcas. Walk the boardwalks of the charming collection of cabins at Telegraph Cove Resort and you’ve got a decent chance of spotting one of the resident marine mammals passing by the cove. Or tackle the Dave Farrant Trail to Blinkhorn lookout, a challenging trek through the woods to an amazing view point looking out to the glacier topped Coast Range, islands of the Broughton Archipelago and down to the waters below. Of course, the best way to meet the neighbours is with Stubbs Island Whale Watching, based in the cove. Their half-day boat tour is better than Marine Land.
Extras: Telegraph Cove was originally a company town for a fish cannery. The resort restored many of the old employee homes around the boardwalk as guest cabins.
Telegraph Cove. Photo by Boomer Jerritt
Hang with a Grizz
Vancouver Island is grizzly bear-free, but just across the Inside Passage on the mainland coast is one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in North America. Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures runs day tours from Telegraph Cove to view the bears as they feed along the coast. The tour starts with an hour-and-a-half boat ride through the Broughton Archipelago, BC’s largest marine park. There’s enough time to seek out orcas on the prowl and humpbacks filter feeding plankton. Once in Knight Inlet, the tour shifts to an open skiff for more intimate viewing. The grizzly bears come down to the ocean throughout the year: grazing protein-rich grasses in the spring, scavenging for tidal life in the summer and gorging on migrating salmon in the late summer and fall.
Extras: The tour includes breakfast and lunch, and if time allows they stop on the way home at a First Nations museum for an ice cream.
Grizzly Bears. Photo by Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures
Cold Water Diving
Famed explorer, naturalist and SCUBA diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau called the waters off northern Vancouver Island some of the best cold water diving on Earth. Strong currents deliver an endless buffet of nutrient rich waters, perfect conditions for corals, sponges and anemones that turn the rocky bottom a rainbow of colours. Wolf eels, giant Pacific octopus, rockfish and many kinds of sea cucumber are commonly spotted. The dive sites range from the sheer walls of world-famous Browning Pass to forests of kelp, and on to drifting through the Quatsino Narrows. Sun Fun Divers out of Port McNeil offers day trips to dive sites in the Broughton Archipelago. Destination divers should check out God’s Pocket Resort, a remote lodge close to Browning Pass and other world-famous dive sites.
Extras: Post dive hang out and refuel at Cafe Guido in Port Hardy and stay at Kwa’lilas Hotel, a beautiful First Nation-owned hotel.
Port McNeill Harbour. Photo by Ben Giesbrecht
Potlatch & Totem Poles
Northern Vancouver Island is home to the Kwakwaka’wakw people. One of the best places to learn about their ancient culture is in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Port McNeil. The U’mista Cultural Centre focuses on the potlatch, the traditional celebration ceremony and feast, with one of the largest collections of artifacts anywhere. There are several standing totem poles on the island. Most are at the ‘Namgis Original Burial Grounds and one of the largest in Canada is at the Big House. There are plenty of other things to do in Alert Bay and around the island, including a boardwalk into the ecological park and watching for orcas just offshore.
Extras: Every August long weekend, paddlers come to race around Cormorant Island in the Alert Bay 360. All manner of craft compete for prize money and amazing draw prizes.
U’mista Cultural Centre. Photo by Boomer Jerritt
Day-Trip to Malcolm Island
When a group of Finnish settlers arrived on the BC coast looking for an idyllic spot to set up a utopian community, they chose Malcolm Island. The ideal didn’t last long but the island remains a perfect day trip from Port McNeil. After the short ferry ride explore the town of Sointula—it means “place of harmony” in Finnish—before driving across the island to the 10-kilometre Beautiful Bay Trail. It follows a ridge through rainforest with peak-a-boo views through the trees. If the tide’s right, loop back along the shore, watching for the orcas that like to rub on the smooth pebbles. Stop at Big Lake for a swim on the way back and wait for the ferry at Coho Joe Coffee Shop.
Extras: If you’re not staying on Malcolm Island, bed down at the Cluxewe Resort, which offers campgrounds and cabins just outside Port McNeil where the river meets the ocean. The best place for dinner is Archipelago Bistro.
Cluxewe Campground. Photo by Boomer Jerritt
Backpack the Coast
Vancouver Island ends in a confluence of rainforest, endless beaches, sea stacks and crashing surf. The only way to experience it is by hiking the North Coast Trail, 60-kilometre of challenging and exquisite coastal hiking. Most hikers start with a water taxi from Port Hardy to Shushartie Bay and then start hiking west, through a unique bog, across rivers on a cable car, always following the coast and working with the tides. Wolves, bears and marine life are commonly spotted. At Nissen Bight take a day to hike out to the point and then head inland, following old settler roads to the trailhead and the pickup.
Extras: North Coast Trail Shuttle makes the logistics of the one-way hike easy, dropping off and picking up hikers at either end with a water taxi and van.
Little Huson Caves. Photo by Boomer Jerritt
Surfing is busy almost everywhere, but there are plenty of waves on northern Vancouver Island with no one on them. Part of the reason is that most are water-access only. Water taxi and floatplane services out of west coast communities can help get to these. Two other destinations are a little easier to access. Raft Cove Provincial Park has the most consistent waves. Surfers either paddle down the Macjack River or hike in on a good trail to reach the campground at the river mouth. San Josef Bay is another option, accessible by paddling down the river or hiking in from the Cape Scott Provincial Park parking lot.
Extras: Grab last-minute groceries and refreshments in Holberg, the last town on the way to both destinations. The Cove Surf Shop in Port Hardy is the only one in the north. It stocks wax, leashes, boards, rentals and local knowledge.