-by Jane Lang
leepy streets with only occasional traffic; pleasant shops where clerks are eager to chat as well as serve; restaurants with ‘hearty’ instead of ‘nouveau’ cuisine are all part of small town, British Columbia. While we all enjoy the myriad attractions of large cities, there’s a lot to be said for visiting the quieter side of life. As well as being laid-back, these ten towns and villages hold surprises as diverse as stunning beaches and astounding artworks.
In the early 1980’s, this compact Vancouver Island town had a better idea. Instead of lamenting the close of a sawmill, the community leaders chose to pretty-up their waterfront village. Today over 33 larger-than-life historical murals done by a variety of Canadian artists, make a walking tour as impressive as a visit to a high-end gallery. Enjoyable year-round, there is an annual celebration of these dynamic works, July through October at the Festival of Murals. (Chemainus is 77 km north of Victoria)
The ‘Namgis people of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations established their village in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island in the 1870s. Visitors can explore the 6.5-square-kilometre island – there’s about 20 km of paved roads – and walk the tiny town to revel in the history of our native heritage. There are totem poles, burial ground, galleries, museum, an ecological garden and a cultural centre. (Alert Bay is reached by ferry from Port McNeill, near the northern tip of Vancouver Island.)
This fishing village becomes busy with tourists in summer months but it is a joy to visit year-round. Surrounded by deep forests and close to what is possibly Canada’s most impressive beach — Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park — Tofino is the ideal getaway where you stay in a cosy or classy B&B, dine on succulent seafood, tour pristine islands, whale watch and visit the Roy Vickers’ ‘Eagle Aerie Gallery’. Art aficionados will be in their element here but so will hikers, kayakers, anglers and beach-walkers. In winter, the main attraction is storm-watching. (Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island reached after a spectacular wilderness drive on Highway 4.)
Located on the Sunshine Coast, the harbour-front of Gibsons is picture perfect. Dine at Molly’s Reach Café where the popular television series, The Beachcombers was filmed; stroll the short sea walk; meander in and out of friendly shops and galleries and breathe sea air. Walk onto the wharf to admire the exquisite log building – it’s a work of art – and, eventually drive Gower Pt. Road to visit oceanfront parks. Uphill, there is the stunning ‘Gift of the Eagle’ gallery. All of the Sunshine Coast is a haven of artisans and it shows. If you fall in love with Gibsons, book a B&B and travel on to Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay and Pender Harbour. You won’t be disappointed. (Gibsons is a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.)
Pastoral setting, historical landmarks, and a gathering of intriguing shops and restaurants make Fort Langley a very special place. Just ask any of the 6,000 citizens who love where they live. The Fort – built in 1838, the original was established in 1827 – was the first European community in the area. You can have tea complete with lace tablecloths, take a paddlewheeler cruise on the nearby Fraser River, hunt for antiques, shop in a real general store and enjoy the locals’ splendid gardens. The Fort is a national historic site and a tour relates how the area was settled and developed. The turn-of-the-century storefronts and tree-lined streets make a stroll here a walk back in time. It is especially pretty around Christmas and it’s possible to cut your own tree nearby. (Fort Langley is about 47 km east of Vancouver. You can take the small Albion Ferry across the Fraser to the north shore which makes it a great circle drive from Vancouver.)
The over-a-century-old community of Kaslo is one of the BC’s oldest towns. It’s a slice of Switzerland set on a delta of the Kaslo River and nestled between the Selkirk and Purcell Mountain ranges. Leafy streets, Victorian-style homes, heritage storefronts and the doorway to wilderness, means locations don’t get much better than this. Once you’ve seen Kaslo, you may yearn to set up house here, especially if you are an outdoor-lover. It offers all-season sports: in warm weather it attracts hikers, mountaineers and water sport buffs and in chillier months it is a playground for snowmobilers, skiers, boarders and single-track aficionados. (Kaslo is located in the Kootenays about an hour’s drive north of Nelson.)
Snuggled amid the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers, the town of Golden holds many secrets. Although two highways run through it, it still boasts an enviable lifestyle. There are peaceful routes through forests and high mountain areas where lodges meld luxury with wilderness. You are more apt to see a moose than a street light in this countryside. Mountain and river activities abound: snowmobiling, mountaineering, heli-skiing, hang-gliding, rafting, kayaking and fishing. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has opened which may prove to be the ultimate in powder skiing. Reports label it as having ‘the champagne of powders’. Golden epitomizes a Rocky Mountain community. (Golden is located about 78 km west of Lake Louise.)
Beyond sleepy, the Okanagan town of Naramata has the look and feel of being an ‘end of the road’ journey. A visit to Naramata is a step back to the fifties. Visit vineyards, stroll sun-spangled streets, buy fresh fruit from a roadside stand, walk or cycle the Kettle Valley Railway and delight in water sports on Okanagan Lake. This is the best of the Okanagan but away from the crowds plus there are several wilderness parks to explore. (Naramata is 17 km north of Pentiction)
Gold was the incentive for creating this town and today wooden sidewalks and interesting storefronts recall these raucous days. Fun archival photography in the old Wells Hotel, a handful of excellent galleries and a small museum beckon. Most people visit on their way to Barkerville (8 km further) or to one of the four nearby provincial parks. Stay in Wells a night, and spend a day in Barkerville to brush up on your Gold Rush history, then paddle the amazing waterways in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the untouched backcountry is for the experienced or the guided. Sometimes these off-the-beaten-stops are the most memorable. (Wells is reached by turning on highway 26 5 km past Quesnel and travelling 80 km)
British Columbia’s most northwesterly town sits on the eastern shoreline of Atlin Lake, the province’s largest natural lake. Picturesque bright and pastel-painted houses and shops, colourful gardens and the glorious northern light make Atlin a place of beauty. It helps that lush forests, misty mornings and glorious glaciers are part of the scene. The hardy souls who reside here are friendly and point visitors to: air charters above ice fields, hiking trails, canoe and kayak excursions, gold panning spots and crystalline streams to be fished. (Atlin is near the Yukon Border on highway 7.)
-Written for Tourism British Columbia by travel writer Jane Lang.
Discovering British Columbia is as easy as calling toll-free 1-800-HELLO BC (North America) or HELLO BC (435-5622) in Greater Vancouver. This reservation and information service puts you in touch with a team of professional travel experts who can provide free help and advice in planning or booking every stage of your getaway, from travel ideas and tips to booking your accommodations, tours, and transportation. You can also order your free copy of the BC Escapes™ Getaways Guide. And be sure to check out the Tourism British Columbia web site at www.HelloBC.com
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