Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
As Will and Kate journey through western Canada this week, they will spend plenty of time within aboriginal communities that are increasingly attractive as tourist draws. The ability British Columbia’s First Nations have shown in growing a range of diverse tourism products is extraordinary. Aboriginal tourism brings in more than $50 million a year to the provincial economy, double the amount from the start of this decade. The province even has a dedicated agency, Aboriginal Tourism BC, to market those distinct First Nations experiences to the world.
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have encountered, aboriginal tours of BC include wildlife-viewing opportunities, the chance to witness pristine nature, connections with influential artists, visiting a resort in wine country and taking a paddle in a canoe around protected waters.
Here are just a few of the province’s wealth of attractions that give visitors an immersive look into First Nations life as well as a chance to enjoy exciting activities.
1. Great Bear Rainforest
Will and Kate’s royal visit itinerary includes a flyover of this massive wilderness area that covers 32,000 square kilometres — larger than the size of Wales. Chances are they won’t see many bears from up high, but visitors are sure to spot grizzly bears and perhaps even sight the rare white Kermode, aka the Spirit Bear. At Spirit Bear Lodge, which is owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people, experienced aboriginal guides tour guests into the rainforest and around the surrounding area. The lodge is in the village of Klemtu and is open from early June to mid-October each year. Along with the Spirit Bear, whose unique colour is the result of a recessive gene, you may also spot eagles, orcas, salmon and many more species in this fascinating habitat.
2. Haida Gwaii
Nicknamed the Galapagos of the North, Haida Gwaii is a wonderland of big trees, amazing fishing, and rare wildlife. In the villages of Masset and Skidegate, you can learn how totem poles are made as well as find out more about the Haida, once regarded as among the greatest warriors of the west coast and whose artwork is now coveted around the world. Haida Gwaii, whose name means “Land of the People,” is an archipelago consisting of more than 150 islands. The westernmost point of Canada includes some of the best fishing lodges in North America, attracting large numbers of sportfishers each year. Canoeists and kayakers also revel in the opportunities to paddle around these beautiful islands that remain largely desolate.
3. Wya Point Resort
Amid 600 acres of old-growth forest on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Wya Point Resort provides a luxury experience that is breathtaking and indulgent. Owned and operated by the First Nations community in Ucluelet — Tofino’s neighbour to the south — Wya Point provides one- and two-bedroom lodgings in timber-framed buildings, as well as spacious yurts — those “glamping” accommodations that feature comfortable beds beneath warm tents and modern conveniences never more than a few feet away. The resort is on the Pacific Ocean, close to the famed West Coast Trail that leads hikers through the Pacific Rim National Park, and a short drive to the centre of Ucluelet, where visitors can depart on whale watching or kayaking excursions as well as enjoy sensational dining.
4. Spirit Ridge Resort
Overlooking Osoyoos Lake in the southern Okanagan Valley, Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort is home to the Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep), North America’s first aboriginal-owned and -operated winery. The property includes a museum that recounts the history of the Osoyoos Indian Band, whose members helped to create Spirit Ridge. Guests can enjoy a tour of the 18,000-square-foot winery, feast at the on-premises fine-dining restaurant, or visit the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, where some of Canada’s best wines are produced.
5. Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
In Whistler, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is a first-of-its-kind Canadian facility dedicated to the history and culture of a local aboriginal group. It is a light-filled building that provides a focused look at two important First Nations groups in British Columbia. Along with artifacts dating back centuries, the cultural centre features a theatre where films are shown and performances take place. One of the most eye-catching display is the huge canoe in the centre of the building. The 40-foot Xxays canoe, made in the style of traditional hunting vessels, is still in use, having recently voyaged from Whistler north to Bella Bella.