Visitors to the new Malahat SkyWalk will have a thrilling, eagle-eye view across the Finlayson Arm fjord and Salish Sea islands to distant snow-capped mountains when the 10-storey spiral tower opens July 15.
Built over 18 months during the pandemic on the traditional lands of the Malahat First Nation, Vancouver Island’s newest attraction stands 250 metres (820 feet) above sea level off Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway).
The $17-million attraction, the first of its kind in British Columbia, is a 35-minute drive north of the provincial capital, Victoria.
The only way to the top of the SkyWalk is via a gentle spiral ramp. The grade along the Douglas fir ramp is slight, making it largely accessible for various abilities and ages.
There’s a quicker option for coming down: a 13-second 20-metre (66-foot) enclosed spiral side to the bottom. An adventure net suspended over part of the open central spiral adds more excitement. As the long-time purse holder for more adventurous pals, I chickened out on both. The views gave me all the thrills I needed.
I joined Malahat SkyWalk general manager Ken Bailey for a small-group, pre-opening tour on Tuesday.
“There was a lot of hand-wringing going on in 2020, a lot of discussions around whether we keep going or delay, or things like that,” he said. “But I think we had faith that eventually we would get over the pandemic and so we made the decision to keep going.”
Visitors enter the attraction through the welcome centre, shop, and café.
A sign on the edge of the forest outside explains the attraction’s sense of place.
“The goal behind that sign was to recognize and make sure everybody recognizes that we were on the ancestral lands of the Malahat Nation,” said Bailey.
A tree-ringed clearing marks the start of the experience. It was named the Gathering Place after elders shared that this area was a traditional meeting place as Indigenous peoples travelled north and south on the island for trade.
A 600-year-old diseased Douglas fir that had to be taken down near the site has been cut into thick slices and repurposed as seating. A huge burl from the tree is now a place for kids to climb and explore while imagining what kind of animal it looks like.
They might be inspired by one of three cougars created by Victoria driftwood artist Tanya Bub that sits on a nearby granite outcropping. Bub also created a pair of driftwood herons for the welcome centre and an eagle that’s perched in a tree near the SkyWalk.
Bailey says about $70,000 was spent on original art for the attraction, including two pieces by Stz’uminus master carver John Marston with Tla-o-qui-aht master carver Moy Sutherland. They are a canoe suspended above the welcome centre entrance and a colourful carving titled “The Thundering Prow” at the attraction’s main entrance.
The SkyWalk isn’t visible at first. We followed the gently upward-sloping TreeWalk, a 600-metre (1,970-foot) elevated walkway that follows a route between the trees 20 metres (66 feet) above the ground. There are hundreds of magnificent, copper-coloured Arbutus, as well as Douglas fir and newly planted Garry oaks.
Three pullouts have benches and interpretive signs. Sharp-eyed visitors may even spot a Sasquatch near one that explains the Coast Salish people’s origins of Sasq’ers — the supernatural wild man or woman of the woods.
Near the end of the elevated walkway, the dramatic 40-metre (132-foot) SkyWalk tower comes into view. The first wooden structure of its kind in North America, it’s made from Douglas fir and tall columns of bonded wood. Steel rods and hoops hold everything in place. The central curling stainless-steel slide and circular staircase add a steampunk feel.
A Dramatic View Near Victoria
The spiral is covered by the walkway above for much of the way up, with open sides to admire 360-degree views. The top is bare to the sky. People who prefer to keep their feet on the ground can relax in red plastic Muskoka chairs and admire the view across Finlayson Arm from a cantilevered viewpoint.
There’s an optional return trail back to the welcome centre that follows the same path as the TreeWalk.
Carpenter Joseph Sisson took a moment from last-minute preparations readying the SkyWalk for opening day to talk about what working on the structure meant to him.
“Two words: career defining,” he said. He pointed out some of his work. “Twenty-five years [as a carpenter] and I’ve never done anything like this,” he added.
There’s excitement around the opening. Visitors were arriving for a look around the welcome centre and gathering place, picking up season passes and tickets as well as doing some shopping.
Rosie and Joe Metcalfe live nearby. They were first in line to get their season passes and do a little shopping, including buying a stuffed Sasquatch dressed in a Malahat SkyWalk hoodie.
“It’s nice to have a place where we can finally have our family come to visit and our friends from the U.S.,” said Rosie. She’s going to leave Malahat SkyWalk swag for their guests as a welcome gift before they stroll above the trees.
The SkyWalk is partnering with local hotels and Bailey says he hopes visitors will want to spend a day or two in the Cowichan Valley area. “The wineries and cideries are up here. There’s no reason just to come up for the day. And it’s a fantastic place to come up for one or two nights to explore the region.”
MORE ABOUT THE MALAHAT SKYWALK
Location: 901 Trans-Canada Hwy, Malahat, BC (see map below)
Admission: $31.95 (adult), $28.95 (seniors 65+), $18.95 (children age 6-17), $86 for a Family Pass (two adults, two children). An annual pass is $87 (adult), $79 (senior), $52 (child) and $225 for a family pass. Children age five and under are free.
Victoria and the Cowichan Valley ranks No. 5 on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for ‘After the Pandemic’: “The Cowichan Valley, the first slow-food community in North America, is rapidly emerging as one of Canada’s leading viticulture areas. It smartly has focused its marketing around a single varietal, Charme de l’isle, a prosecco-style sparkling wine. Pinot noir and Marechal Foch are other grapes that do well in the area that is within a temperate rainforest.” Read More.