Vancouver Island sweetens up to mead


Driftwood on Sooke’s secluded beaches is evidence of powerful waves hitting shores at edge of Canada. The city west of Victoria is home to a unique meadery that makes wine from honey. (Kathleen Kenna/

Story by Kathleen Kenna Senior Writer


Robert Liptrot pours a glass of mead at Tugwell Creek Farm & Meadery in Sooke. (Kathleen Kenna/

SOOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The “nectar of the gods” is such a sweet success at the far edge of Canada that it’s a sellout every year.

Mead, traced to China 9,000 years ago, is believed to be the world’s first fermented drink. Once a favourite of European royalty, the honey wine is so popular at Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery that partners Robert Liptrot and Dana LeComte sell out all their varietals, every year.

There are less than a dozen meaderies in Canada and this was the first commercially licensed meadery in British Columbia in 2003. Liptrot has been a beekeeper for 40 years and he’s been making mead for more than two decades.

“There’s something pure about making something from the honey collected by bees,” he says. “It’s important to know where the honey is coming from, the type of forage, what the bees bring into the hive … it’s all reflected in the product.”

Liptrot, with a Masters’ degree in entomology, teaches beekeeping at Royal Roads University in Victoria, and also teaches visitors about the link between honeybees and almost everything we consume.

Tugwell’s annual Honeybee Awareness Day on May 27 includes free tours. Tasting Tugwell mead or honey will lead to chatting about wildflowers and the health of honeybees on this farm overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Or wild berries — marionberries, loganberries and gooseberries are used in some meads. Some Tugwell Creek meads taste like champagne; the Kickass Currant Mead, like red wine. While some meads are aged in French oak for a year or so, a maple mead has been aged 12 years, as an aperitif.

Drinking award-winning mead while admiring the view of rainforests and Juan de Fuca Strait is a great way to enjoy Sooke, dubbed Canada’s “southern-most gateway to the Pacific.”

One of Canada’s top waterfront hotels, Sooke Harbour House, is known for its elegance, Canadian art, and local, organic food (from wild mushrooms to seafood to edible blossoms from the inn’s gardens).

Walk to Whiffen Spit to watch fishing boats — “catch of the day” bears real meaning on Sooke menus — or meet fishermen tossing crab traps from the Sooke Rotary pier. Salmon fishing, kayaking/sailing/boating and whale watching can also be experienced in Sooke.

We just wanted to walk the beaches and trails.

Beaches along this southern part of Vancouver Island range from powdery white sands to cobble — long stretches of ocean-washed pebbles.

Fossilized cliffs, with ancient shells and carbonized wood embedded in rock are a highlight at Muir Creek. Other beaches are strewn with twisted driftwood.

Some days, we had the beach to ourselves, marvelling at the clear water fringed by great forests to the north, and snow-crested Washington state’s Olympic mountains to the south.

“It’s all about the trees,” Liptrot says. “We have some of the oldest and largest trees in North America.”

While surfing is popular at Jordan Beach to the west, it’s all about hiking at Sooke. Tidepools near the shore are as enchanting as wildflowers along the Galloping Goose Trail. The ocean is sapphire, depending on the weather. Waterfalls, swimming holes and rapids appear emerald at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park.

Old-growth Douglas fir provide a canopy for a wildlife corridor at this park, allowing elk and black bears to move through the wilderness.

We only saw bald eagles along the coast, and spectacular sunsets each day at Point-No-Point Resort. Its private cabins are luxurious, as is the cuisine at its Teahouse Restaurant, overlooking the ocean. Manmade luxury can’t match the wild scenery of this west coast destination. Point-No-Point’s private trails allowed us to walk through tranquil rainforest, with only the crash of Pacific waves for company.

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Kathleen Kenna is an award-winning writer who has traveled the world, and tells everyone British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. She has traveled from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific; worked in some of the most dangerous places as the Toronto Star's South Asia bureau chief; and finds peace, always, kayaking the Pacific Coast. She blogs with her husband, photojournalist Hadi Dadashian, at

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