Vacay.ca contributors are as eager as anyone to again explore Canada. We are determined to do it safely, though, and to spotlight community initiatives that best support healthcare’s recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In this article, our Victoria-based writer Linda Barnard looks at what’s happening on Vancouver Island.
Land of tall trees, outdoor adventure, and creative, local-focused cuisine. I’ve missed so much about my Vancouver Island home as we adjusted to the stay-put life because of COVID-19. Even a short drive past the lush farms along the country roads of the Saanich peninsula felt like an epic road trip after months tied down close to home in Victoria.
As British Columbia cautiously moves towards the June-to-September Phase 3 reopening of the province, residents can begin to explore our spectacular island once again — with precautions still top of mind. I’ve been itching to visit some of my favourite places, while keeping with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s directive that residents should get outside, but stay close to home. Destination British Columbia’s newest marketing campaign, “Explore BC…Local”, is right on the nose.
“Let’s make this our summer of care and consideration for our families, our communities and our province. A summer for us all to remember to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe,” Henry said in a recent news conference.
Here’s where I can’t wait to go, places you should add to your future plans for your trip to Vancouver Island as reopening expands later this fall and out-of-province Canadians are welcomed back.
Victoria’s Brunch Highlights
Victoria earns its cred as the brunch capital of Canada and I’ve missed heading out for breakfast’s laid-back cousin. Jam Café (542 Herald Street) is my favourite and re-opens around May 25. They’ll be following WorkSafeBC and Ministry of Health distancing guidelines, including fewer tables with physical barriers between them and extra spacing to keep to two-metre distancing. Victorians are used to lining up for Jam and sidewalk chalk boxes will ensure it’s done safely.
I’m always tempted by the Green Eggs and Ham and anything with the house-made buttery biscuits. But for my welcome-back brunch, it’s Eggs Benny all the way, west-coast style, with sliced cold-smoked local salmon under a smoosh of homemade hollandaise. It comes with a thin, flat square of crispy hash browns and jammy, oven-roasted roma tomatoes on the side.
Tofino and Ucluelet Beckon
The isolated jewel of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast, Tofino and neighbouring Ucluelet are where I head to feel openness and space, to walk on packed pale-sand beaches and hunt for colourful sea stars in craggy rock pools at low tide.
About a four-hour drive from Victoria, the area is bracketed by dramatic northern rainforest on one side and the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean on the other. The monster waves entice surfers but I’m a hiker and the Wild Pacific Trail is my passion, especially the winding, 2.5-kilometre (1.6-mile) Artist Loop. Walking the undulating forest path is invigorating, with smells of spruce and wildflowers all around. I can spend a long time just watching the surf pounding the black rocks below from step-out viewing decks. Trails are open for hikers who keep two metres apart.
I’d love to hunker down at the luxurious Wickaninnish Inn, which opens June 15 to BC residents with a minimum three-night stay. The Inn’s The Pointe Restaurant is open for guests only. WorkSafe BC and Ministry of Health guidelines are being followed on the property and each room will be put on maintenance for 72 hours after a guest checks out. Long Beach Lodge Resort opens June 3 with limited capacity in the main lodge and cabins and with a host of safety protocols in place. Tofino Resort + Marina reopens June 1, following provincial health guidelines around social distancing and safety, including touchless check-in and extra cleaning protocols.
Just Beachy in Parksville
When the tide goes out at Parksville’s Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, you can walk nearly a kilometre into the Strait of Georgia. It’s such a cool experience and one of my favourite spots on the island. About a two-hour drive north of Victoria, Rathtrevor is an ideal way to social distance because it covers a large area. It is only open for day use, with no camping yet.
When I’m on the eastern side of the island, I can’t resist kicking off my shoes to walk on the cool, ridged sand. Tiny tidal pools left by the retreating water are home to clams and wee sea creatures — always fun to watch. Then I’ll pop over to Morningstar Farm (403 Lowry’s Road), a few minutes’ drive away from Rathtrevor, to meet the resident cows that are automatically milked by a robotic system. Their grass-fed, whole milk goes into a range of delicious cheeses, made on-site at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and on sale in the Farmgate Store. Due to COVID, it will be a while until I can get another cold litre of super-fresh whole milk from Canada’s first coin-operated, milk-on-tap dispenser. But I don’t mind coming back.
(Morningstar Farm is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm.)
Goats on the Roof Will Lift Spirits
Celebrity goats Pip and twin brothers Minyon and Nibbles are back munching grass and spring flowers on the sod roof on top of the The Old Country Market in Coombs (2326 Alberni Highway).
Instagram-famous for their luxuriant beards and impressive horns, the goats have been in quarantine since March and now “have their work cut out for them” keeping the grass roof mowed, said general manager Arthur Urie.
The market, a short drive from Parksville, has expanded from its early days as a road-side fruit stand. I like to drop in to pick up fruit and vegetables from Vancouver Island farms. There’s also lots of deli, a good selection of island-made cheeses, plus groceries.
In June, the Cuckoo Trattoria and Pizzeria is expected to open for dine-in customers. But, real talk, I rarely make it past the doughnut shop or ice cream stand.
Tea Time in Victoria
Victoria is known for its afternoon tea services. The Fairmont Empress Hotel, where tea has been a tradition since 1908, reopens at the end of June. You should go, but there are other less-publicized options that will also impress.
I know of a hidden gem that serves an excellent tea overlooking a magnificent garden. And it comes with a royal love story. Abkhazi Garden is on a quiet street in a residential Victoria neighbourhood. It was the home of Shanghai-born Peggy Pemberton-Carter and exiled Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi. They met in Paris in 1922. Separated by the Second World War, they finally reunited in 1946, married and settled in Victoria, turning the one acre around their home into a lush garden that reflected their exotic travels. Filled with magnificent flowers and trees, the garden even has a green grass river winding through it.
A visit to “the garden that love built” includes a quiet walk to carefully arranged viewpoints that are delightful and relaxing. The couple’s modest former home is now The Teahouse at Abkhazi Garden, reopening June 2 with WorkSafe BC regulations in place for safe dining and physical distancing. I’ll book a table on the stone terrace overlooking the garden and indulge in the $55 Royal Abkhazi High Tea, sipping from a pot of Victoria’s Silk Road Teas Royal Abkhazi blend and feel very grateful indeed.