Beautiful British Columbia.” Even the licence plates acknowledge just how scenic Canada’s westernmost province is.
But that beauty runs more than just skin deep. This is also a place with a strong economy that has evolved from a tough resource-based past to a future based on trade, technology and tolerance. Its cities are progressive, multicultural and eco-friendly. Its culture is a laid-back blend of Aboriginal, European and Asian traditions that are deliciously reflected in an exceptional cuisine. No wonder so many visitors come here for the scenery, but end up staying for the lifestyle.
Now that’s beautiful.
Vancouver is the province’s biggest city, a modern, multicultural metropolis that is regularly rated one of the world’s most livable cities. Bordered by mountains and ocean, it has an easygoing lifestyle that combines outdoor adventure with urban sophistication. It is home to Canada’s largest and busiest port, as well as thriving film, tech, tourism and green industries. It is also a centre for culinary excellence, best known for its obsession with fresh, seasonal farm-to-table ingredients. From Vancouver, it’s just a short drive to the farming communities of Fraser Valley, the exceptional Asian cuisine of Richmond and the seaside communities of the Sunshine Coast.
Along the Pacific coast lie a series of idyllic isles. Vancouver Island, a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland, is home to B.C.’s historic capital city, Victoria, as well as vineyards, mountain parks and the surfing mecca of Tofino. Between Vancouver Island and the mainland are the Gulf Islands, populated by a quirky mix of artisans and fisher folk. Further north is Haida Gwaii, a remote archipelago known for its unspoiled natural beauty and traditional Aboriginal culture.
Think of B.C. as wave upon wave of towering mountain ranges: the Coastal Mountains, Cascades, Selkirks, Kootenays and Rockies, just to name a few. Those mountains are not only scenic, they are also popular destinations for outdoors enthusiasts of all sorts. Many are located in the province’s more than 1,000 parks and protected areas. Many others, like Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks and Big White, are world-class ski resorts with full-service villages and year-round activities, including dozens of top-notch golf courses.
The bucolic Thompson and Okanagan valleys stretch through the middle of the province. To the west is the cowboy country of the Thompson region, with its dude ranches and vast grasslands. To the east, the Okanagan is B.C.’s wine country, with its vineyards, orchards and sophisticated culinary culture. Both offer plenty for outdoor enthusiasts to do, whether it’s houseboating on Shuswap Lake, scaling the Skaha Bluffs or cycling along the trestles of the abandoned railway line that hurtles across Myra Canyon.
Back in the 1860’s, gold was discovered up in the Cariboo region, and the Rush was on. Today, people are more likely to visit the wide open spaces of B.C.’s north for the unparalleled wilderness experiences. That could mean bear-watching along the northern coast, fly fishing in a rushing river, paddling through the still waters of the Bowron Lakes, camping out under the northern lights or panning for gold in historic Barkerville.
Whistler Blackcomb celebrates its 50th anniversary with a series of exciting events throughout the year (www.whistler.com).
Also in Whistler, the highly anticipated Audain Art Museum opens late this year with a remarkable collection of First Nations masks and works by B.C. artists (www.audainartmuseum.com).
The Richmond Olympic Experience (ROX) becomes North America’s first and only official member of the Olympic Museums Network (www.therox.ca
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s new “Cloud Camp” pitches luxury tents high in the sky—at 1,372 m (4,500 ft.) above sea level (www.wildretreat.com
In Cariboo country, Siwash Lake Ranch has launched heli-adventures that include high alpine hikes and a safari-style picnic along the Fraser River (www.siwashlakeranch.com
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s newly installed Via Ferrata
, an “iron road” of cables, ladders, bridges and handholds, scales towering Terminator Peak (www.kickinghorseresort.com
Vancouver has recently welcomed North America’s first McArthurGlen designer outlet mall (www.mcarthurglen.com
as well as the Nordstrom (ca.nordstrom.com
) and Simons (www.simons.ca
) department stores and countless new boutiques.
Hometown writer/artist Douglas Coupland famously labelled Vancouver the “City of Glass” and, at first glance, the clusters of glittering high-rises towering above downtown suggest that it’s just that: a thoroughly modern, if slightly anonymous, metropolis. But look again and you’ll see it is so much more. It is also Lotusland and Vangroovy, a sometimes eccentric community of graceful heritage homes and lush green spaces, which includes the world-famous Stanley Park and multicultural neighbourhoods such as Gastown, Chinatown, Little Italy and Little India. And then there’s the city’s dramatic setting: the beaches, the ocean, the graceful Lions Gate Bridge that connects the city to the North Shore Mountains, where visitors can take the scenic gondola to the top of Grouse Mountain, and attractions that include Science World and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Throw in a booming economy, low crime rate, a lively social scene and mild climate, and it’s easy to see why Vancouver is considered one of the world’s most livable cities (www.tourismvancouver.com
Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is a smaller and slower-paced city, filled with historic charm, passionate foodies and endless outdoor activities. It is considered by many to be Canada’s most cycling-friendly city, and is home to several spectacular gardens, including the world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Many of the city’s attractions cluster around the bustling Inner Harbour, including the floating shops and homes of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Royal BC Museum, horse-drawn buggy rides and the neo-baroque B.C. Parliament Buildings (www.tourismvictoria.com
Head east instead of west, and in the heart of the Okanagan Valley you’ll come to Kelowna, a bustling centre of commerce, technological innovation and wine culture (www.tourismkelowna.com
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
With its vast expanses of ruggedly pristine yet surprisingly accessible wilderness, B.C. is a must-visit for any nature lover.
This mountainous province is home to 13 major ski resorts (and many smaller ones) that boast epic powder, heart-stopping descents and pristine backcountry bowls for downhillers, as well as miles of trails for those who prefer skinny skis and snowshoes. In summer, the resorts turn their lifts over to daredevil mountain bikers and hikers eager to explore the alpine meadows. Several, including Whistler Blackcomb and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, have also installed a Via Ferrata
that allows climbers to scale once-inaccessible peaks.
But you don’t have to climb a mountain to find adventure here. Awash as it is with rivers, lakes and the ocean, B.C. is a popular playground for water sport enthusiasts of all sorts. You can sail alongside orcas in Desolation Sound, paddle the Bowron Lakes, raft down the Fraser Canyon, surf the waves near Tofino or cast for trout in Lake Country. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can hike through dozens of national and provincial parks or ride a horse under the endless skies in the grasslands. Even city slickers can find mountains to climb and waters to sail right in their own backyard.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Think of British Columbia as three vibrant cultural strands woven indelibly together: the Aboriginal, the European and the Asian.
First Nations peoples have fished, hunted and traded here for some 10,000 years. Today, Aboriginal culture is preserved in many galleries and museums, including the renowned UBC Museum of Anthropology (www.moa.ubc.ca
), and thrives in authentic experiences such as the Kamloopa Powwow (www.aboriginalbc.com
). In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans arrived to extract B.C.’s vast natural resources. Their stories live on in historic settings such as Barkerville, a former Gold Rush town turned living museum (www.barkerville.ca
). They were followed by Asian immigrants, whose traditions are captured in the historic Chinatowns of Victoria and Vancouver, as well as in the City of Richmond, with its modern Asian shopping malls, restaurants and summer night markets (www.tourismrichmond.com
). One of the best places to see how all three cultures lived and worked side by side is at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, now a national historic site (www.gulfofgeorgiacannery.com
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Take a whale-watching tour from Tofino. You’ll spot dolphins, orcas, sea lions and, if you’re lucky, majestic humpbacks frolicking in the waters off Vancouver Island (www.tourismtofino.com
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola whisks you from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain, a breathtaking 4.4-km (2.73-mi.) journey 436 m (1,427 ft.) above the valley floor (www.whistlerblackcomb.com/events-and-activities/activities/peak-2-peak
Explore the wineries of the South Okanagan Valley via a guided electric bike tour led by Heatstroke Cycles (www.heatstrokecycle.com
In Vancouver, board a foot passenger ferry for a trip across False Creek to Granville Island and its galleries, shops, restaurants, theatres and popular Public Market (www.granvilleisland.com
Did you know that golf balls fly farther at higher elevations? Prove it on the many championship mountain courses in the Kootenay Rockies (www.golfinbritishcolumbia.com
At the Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s northern coast, First Nations guides will take you on a search for the elusive white kermode spirit bear (www.spiritbear.com
No trip to Victoria is complete without a visit to the Chateau-style Fairmont Empress Hotel, which was designated a National Historic Site in 1981. Stop in for afternoon tea or cocktails in The Bengal Lounge (www.fairmont.com
The Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy. 99) travels to Whistler alongside the dramatic Howe Sound fjord, then joins with the mountainous switchbacks of Duffey Lake Road.
The open road of Route 97 takes you from the grasslands of the Thompson River Valley cowboy country through the bountiful Okanagan Valley vineyards and, if you like, into Washington State (www.route97.net).
Under the towering peaks of the snow-capped Beaufort Mountains, the Comox Valley drive on Vancouver Island zips past parks, vineyards, farms, craft galleries and a pretty marina.
Take the week-long Hot Springs Circle Route through the Kootenay Rockies and soak in the region’s spectacular mountain views as well as its mineral-rich hot springs.
For info on these and other driving trips visit: www.HelloBC.com/british-columbia/driving-routes.aspx
Your little monkeys will love swinging through the rainforest along the seven suspension bridges of Treetops Adventure at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver. The 11-ha (27-acre) park also features First Nations exhibits, Cliffwalk and, of course, the famous swaying bridge, which stretches for nearly 137 m (450 ft.), some 70 m (230 ft.) above Capilano River (www.capbridge.com). Then again, you could always follow the locals down the road to Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, which doesn’t have a gift shop, but is completely free (www.lynncanyon.ca
PARK PICK: FORT LANGLEY NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Back in 1827, B.C. was a vast, rugged and largely uninhabited wilderness. Then the adventurous souls of the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived to set up a trading post and, 30 years later, the colony of British Columbia was born. Today, thousands visit Fort Langley National Historic Site each year to experience what life was like nearly two centuries ago. The park features several historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, cooperage and bastions. It is a vibrant, interactive experience where guests can pan for gold and dress like a pioneer, enjoy a historic afternoon tea and learn how to make a barrel or horseshoe. Happy campers can even stay overnight in historically themed oTENTiks (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/bc/langley/visit.aspx
More info on National Parks and Historic Sites: www.pc.gc.ca