Indigenous charms of Vancouver Island


Orcas race through the waters in this image captured on an Aboriginal Journeys tour. (Photo courtesy of Aboriginal Journeys)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

Many travellers head to Vancouver Island’s west coast to explore the rainforest and enjoy Pacific Ocean thrills, but the eastern shore of the island offers sublime relaxation and outstanding opportunities for adventure as well. Aboriginal Tourism British Columbia recently filmed a series based on Nootka Island, located north of Tofino. Similar experiences can also be found in communities such as Campbell River, Quadra Island and Courtenay.

Here is how to fill your time with an itinerary primarily focused on Aboriginal experiences on Eastern Vancouver Island.

Day 1


Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge at Cape Mudge Resort is located amid an exquisite forest on Quadra Island. (Photo courtesy of Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge at Cape Mudge Resort)

Your stay begins on Quadra Island, part of the Discovery Islands. The island, which is reachable in 10 minutes from Campbell River with a ferry ride, is home to Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge at Cape Mudge Resort, an enchanted accommodation set amid 1,100 acres of forest. Belonging to the We Wai Kai band, Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge includes guest rooms, cottages and a multi-bedroom guest house that is ideal for large families. All accommodations feature views of the Discovery Passage, where explorers of many cultures have journeyed for hundreds of thousands of years.

Activities available include kayaking, hiking, biking and relaxing on the beaches of Quadra Island or in the hot tub at Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge. 

When you are ready to dine, venture to the lodge’s hama?elas (pronounced “ha-ma-ach-el-ash”) dining room for menu options that are typically Canadian, including eggs Benedict, fish and chips, and pork tenderloin. The resort serves Ga?Axstala (breakfast, pronounced “gha-ach-sta-la”), Neqelaxstala (lunch, pronounced “ne-khay-lach-sta-la”) and Dzaquaxtala (dinner, pronounced“dza-kwach-sta-la”).


Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre showcases the living culture of First Nations living on and around Quadra Island. (AboriginalBC.com photo)

The We Wai Kai are part of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation and their Aboriginal art and architecture — both traditional and contemporary — predominates the resort and the other primary Indigenous attraction on Quadra: the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre

Among its collection are seven rare petroglyphs dating 2,500-3,500 years. These petroglyphs, part of approximately 100 found on Quadra Island, were brought to the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre in 1972 to protect them from erosion. They are a fascinating piece of history and, along with other displays at the facility, help to tell the story of the We Wai Kai and Kwakwaka’wakw peoples and their living culture.

Day 2


An array of land and marine wildlife can be observed during tours with Aboriginal Journeys. (Photo courtesy of Aboriginal Journeys)

Head back to Campbell River to join a tour with Aboriginal Journeys, one of British Columbia’s leaders in wildlife tourism. Choose the Grizzly Bear Watching tour to see these unique animals in their natural habitat. The two-hour boat ride travels into the Toba Inlet, home to an exquisite fjord, where you will board a comfortable tour van and be taken on a 10-minute drive into grizzly bear territory. A Klahoose First Nation guide will escort you to viewing platforms designed for safe observation of the bears as they mingle with their young, fish for salmon and roam riverbeds looking for food. The tour will last four hours on land, giving you many opportunities to photograph these awesome creatures and understand their world, which is beautiful and breathtaking.

After that exhilarating trek, you’ll be starving. Head south to Courtenay (about 40 minutes by car from Campbell River) and dine at Locals, situated in a heritage building called the Old House. Though not Aboriginal owned, Locals serves cuisine with ingredients sourced exclusively from neighbouring communities on Vancouver Island. You’ll savour braised beef sourced from cattle in the Comox Valley, oysters from Cortes Island and crab cakes made from sockeye salmon and Dungeness crab. 

Your visit to Courtenay isn’t complete until you’ve also satiated your appetite for culture. The i-Hos Gallery will please your eyes with its decadent collection of First Nations art from multiple communities on the northwest coast. Woven cedar, masks and carvings, an array of jewelry and original artwork are on display. You can also purchase First Nations-designed apparel that features fashionable designs.

Day 3

After checking out of Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge, be sure to stop for a spot of tea. The Westholme Tea Farm is in Duncan, about 200 kilometres south of Campbell River, and is home to Canada’s first single origin tea. Located in a lovely part of Vancouver Island, surrounded by forest, the Tea Farm delivers soothing comfort in its environment and its product. Relax with a cup of tea, scones and other treats, and learn about tea and its benefits to both the body and spirit.


Orcas are the big attraction on wildlife adventure tours with Sidney Whale Watching. (Photo courtesy of Sidney Whale Watching)

Before heading back to Vancouver, you’ll also want to indulge in one more wilderness adventure. This time with Sidney Whale Watching, a family-run operation that has been taking guests on thrilling tours for more than two decades. Owner Mike Child of the Kwakiutl First Nation leads guests into the waters of Eastern Vancouver Island to find orcas (transients and residents), grey, humpback, minke and the occasional fin whales. Dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, seals, river otters and many sea birds are also frequently spotted on Sidney Whale Watching cruises.

Note: Aboriginal Tourism BC has released a three-episode video series based in Yuquot, a tiny village on Nootka Island noted for being the spot where Captain James Cook first made contact with the  people of the northwest Pacific coast. The series, called  “Indigenous British Columbia”, focuses on the culture and spirituality of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band, which is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation. View the series in its entirety here.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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