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Top Ten Reasons to Love Winter on Vancouver Island

Number 10
You can ski and golf on the same day.

Yes, it is possible! In fact, you can fly from say Calgary, arrive at Comox Airport on WestJet’s morning flight, make a tee time for noon at Crown Isle and depending on whether you play 9 or 18 holes you can be swooshing your way down the Coaster run on the slopes of Mt. Washington by late afternoon or under the lights for some night skiing (from 3:30pm to 10:00pm).

Number 9
It’s the perfect excuse for a spa weekend.

No matter how mild the winter…weather, work and worries can take their toll on the mind, body and spirit. So Vancouver Island spa resorts offer you some truly uplifting experiences to help you regain your balance. Let the elements of fire, water, wind and air guide you through the Hishuk Ish Tsawalk Awakening treatment in the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn. The Hot Chocolate Hydro Bath at the Grotto Spa in Parksville’s Tigh-Na-Mara Resort is a sweet treat and the Rainforest Facial at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort Spa will brighten your day and your skin.

Number 8
Bundling up for a brisk walk along a forested path.

We have some big trees on Vancouver Island and this is the perfect time for a walk in the forest. The air is fresh and fragrant, and the silence can be profound. The first growth cedar and fir trees of Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park are true green giants and there are a series of trails with interpretive signs to guide you. At Schooner Cove, out on the west coast, a boardwalk path winds its way past the ferns, moss and trees of a lush rainforest before emerging onto a beautiful secluded beach. 

Note: As always in winter, watch out for areas along any streams or riverbanks and do not venture into forested areas during periods of high wind and rain. In winter it can be wet and the footing slippery so dress appropriately with rain gear and sturdy foot wear.

Number 7
Dine out at a new to you restaurant or café.

Having someone else do the cooking (and the dishes) is almost as good a reason to go out to eat as the meal itself. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea… there is always a good time to dine at a local restaurant or café on Vancouver Island. From the down-home cooking of a local diner and High Tea with all the trimmings to the finest in gourmet fare, your options are plentiful here. West Coast cuisine, French, Thai, Italian, Greek… seafood, vegan… is it time for dinner yet?!

Number 6
Expand your mind at a local museum.

Immerse yourself in unexplored territory, a new culture or time period. Museums are places of learning, quiet contemplation and personal discovery and Vancouver Island offers some of the best and most interesting. Wrap yourself in the cultural history of the First Peoples Gallery or duck your head as you enter the stern section of the HMS Discovery replica in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Catch up to “Wandering Rosie,” a 70,000 year old walrus skeleton, part of one of Western Canada’s finest paleontology collections in the Qualicum Beach Museum. Ride the rails to the McLean Steam Sawmill in Port Alberni and see history in action.

Number 5
Growing a winter vegetable garden… or just eating the veggies.

The temperate climate on Vancouver Island means that the gardening never really stops. Even though December has arrived I still have a few brave blossoms holding their own and can go to the garden to collect greens and herbs to augment the dinner menu. Hardy vegetables still find their way to farmers’ markets and Island tables throughout the winter months. Chard, kale, winter squash, rutabagas, leeks and more, keep well in the protected, mulched garden beds of Island gardeners who experiment with plants that have been developed to thrive in our local environment.

Number 4
The wine keeps aging… beautifully!

All through the winter the process of Island winemakers’ continues, enhancing the pleasure of a winter’s evening from Victoria to Port Hardy. Award winning wines from local vineyards are gaining in reputation and availablility. From the rich, sweetness of Cherry Point Vineyard’s Solera Blackberry and the buttery flavour of Winter Apple Cider from Merridale Estate Cidery to Salt Spring Vineyards 2008 Aromata, to Church & State’s Quintessential red… Island wines have come into their own.

Number 3
Skiing at Mt Washington…

Looking for real winter… you know, that white stuff that blankets so much of Canada each winter?! Well, this season is off to a fine start at Mt Washington Ski Resort near Courtenay where a record snowfall brought an early start to the ski season for Winter 2009-2010. Alpine and Nordic ski areas, snowshoeing, snow tubing, night skiing and snow angel making are the activities of choice at this popular centre for all things winter-ish!

Number 2
And golfing everywhere else.

While the snow falls at higher elevations, the lovely verdant valleys of Vancouver Island are home to a fine collection of golf courses that manage to offer playing opportunities even in the middle of winter. Yes, there can be a frost delay (who wants to get up early anyway?!) and you should wear a wooly hat and gloves, but pass by an Island course anytime of year and you will see them out there… we Islanders are a hardy, golf-obsessed lot!

And the Number 1 reason to love winter on Vancouver Island…

Storm watching wasn’t even a spectator sport until the crashing waves and swirling winds of Vancouver Island’s west coast caught the fancy of travelers looking for the thrill of this naturally spectacular season on Vancouver Island. Credited with developing this niche market, Charles McDiarmid of the luxuriously wild Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino knew that the excitement of a winter storm was something worth experiencing and sharing. So bundle up, hunker down and let it blow, let it blow, let it blow!


Island Gold...

Bees, honey & sweet things from Vancouver Island!

The bees of Vancouver Island may be tucked snuggly in their hives awaiting the arrival of spring, but the fruits of their labour are available to enjoy year-round. Beekeepers can be found in most regions of Vancouver Island and range from the casual home hobbyist interested in the health and productivity of their gardens to larger scale operations that produce enough honey-based products to supply local farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

For those interested in supplementing the pollination work done by the honey bees, Gordon Cyr of Mason Bee Homes located in Black Creek has everything you need to start “farming” Blue Orchard Mason Bees. Pollinators are critical to our very survival and with honey bees and other pollinators like butterflies declining in numbers this is one of the best things you can do to assist in global food production. All you need to do is provide a little clean, dry shelter and these little beauties will do the rest. You can purchase bee houses, bee blocks and dormant cocoons from which these very busy bees will emerge in the spring. They require a minimal amount of care and provide a real boost to the environment.

Honey has been used for centuries and is one of mankind’s oldest forms of agriculture. Mesolithic era rock paintings found in Spain are the first indication of the gathering of honey and since then it has been used for everything from sweetening foodstuffs to embalming. Many folk remedies relied upon the antibacterial and antiviral properties found in this golden elixir.

Established in 1945, Babe’s honey has been a staple of Island kitchens. The life’s work of Alison “Babe” Warren (nee Smith) began with a few jars for sale at the end of their driveway and eventually expanded to Babe’s Honey Farm in Saanich with a line that includes a variety of honey products—Fireweed Blossom Honey, Kosher Honey, Onion Honey— as well as beeswax candles, pollen and Honey Balsamic Vinegar. Join them next summer (July 24-25, 2010) for their Festival of Ambrosia and celebrate all things bee and honey related.

In the Nanaimo area, master beekeeper Theo Fredrich has been producing honey since 1966 including comb honey still sealed in wax from the hive.

At Tugwell Creek Honey Farm, Bob Liptrot has taken honey in a different direction using it to create a specialized wine called mead, which has roots going back to ancient Egyptian, Indian, Celtic and Scandinavian cultures. This flavourful fermented beverage is essentially made with honey and water infused with herbs and other botanical elements, but the combination is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Try their seasonal Melomel paired with some wild BC salmon or enjoy the bubbly Sack Mead-Wassail Gold with dessert.

Meanwhile, on Hornby Island, Helen Grond and Steve McGrath have started their own artisan honey winery including their latest “Mead of Inspiration” made with honey and other island inspired ingredients like salal berries, rosehips and currants.

You’ll discover that everything is golden on Vancouver Island!

Sweet websites…


Spotlight on Saltspring Island

Salt Spring Island has become synonymous with the “Island getaway”— a place to shift gears, slow down and learn to breathe again! The largest of the southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring is also one of its most accessible. Hop on a BC ferry and make your way there from Victoria in the south Island, Crofton in the Cowichan region or take a quick hop on a harbour-to-harbour floatplane from Victoria and Vancouver.

Salt Spring Island has gained an international reputation as an enclave for creativity and Coastal Living magazine has declared it to be one of the “Top Ten Artists Colonies in North America.” World-class artists have indeed found their inspiration here in this peaceful rural setting, producing works in a vast array of media from paint and pastel, to clay, glass, metal and wood. There are those working with ceramics, photography, sculpture, basketry, jewelry, paper making, textiles—all have found a home on Salt Spring Island and you will find their studios & galleries scattered throughout.

Food has been elevated to an art form here, with an emphasis on organic, sustainable and handcrafted. This edible artistry is being expressed through lovingly crafted cheese, wine, breads and other foodstuffs. Farms flourish and a bustling Farmers Market runs on Saturdays from April through October with all products being locally grown and/or made. Foodies have come to know that a feast awaits them when they visit and happily cart home wheels of cheese, bottles of wine, loaves of bread, baskets of apples, organic greens and maybe a decadent truffle or two.

There are restful accommodations available to allow you to extend your stay for a day or a week or if the spirit moves you, you just might do what so many have done before you and start looking for your own little spot to put down some Island roots in this quaint, quirky and quintessential coastal paradise.


Getting Here via BC Ferries

Victoria (Swartz Bay) to Salt Spring (Fulford Harbour)… 35 minutes
Crofton (a short scenic drive from Nanaimo) to Salt Spring (Vesuvius Bay)… 20 minutes

From Lower Mainland
Tsawwassen - Victoria (Swartz Bay) - Salt Spring (Fulford Harbour) Remember to ask for a throughfare ticket at Tsawwassen)

Tsawwassen - Salt Spring (Long Harbour).
Take this seanic route… three other Island stops along the way—Galiano, Mayne & Pender, but check the schedule and make reservations for this route for sure! Actually, reservations are always a good idea  to avoid the possibility of spending any of your precious get away time in a ferry lineup!

A few helpful links for trip planning and inspiration!

BC Ferries  
Salt Spring Air
Seair Seaplanes
Kenmore Air
Harbour Air



Westcoast Palate

Butternut squash is classified as a winter squash, but that does not mean it grows in winter. These versatile veggies are grown in summer, harvested throughout the fall and can be stored well into January/February and then used in some wonderful and nutritious winter menu recipes. Butternut squash is a good source of vitamins A, C, & E, as well as providing potassium, manganese, calcium, B6, folate and much needed beta-carotene for your winter diet.

Twice Baked Squash
1 butternut squash
3 tbsp non-fat or light sour cream
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chives or green onions, handful chopped
2/3-cup breadcrumbs, lightly toasted

Cut butternut squash in half (lengthwise), scoop out the seeds. Bake the squash halves in a baking dish (add about 1/3 cup water and cover with foil) at 450°F for 35-45 minutes until tender.

Remove from oven and let cool. Scoop out the squash flesh being careful not to tear the skin. Mash the squash in a bowl and then stir in the sour cream, paprika, salt and pepper and chives or green onions.

Refill the squash halves with the mashed squash mixture and sprinkle with the lightly toasted breadcrumbs.

Bake again at 350°F for 20-30 minutes.

Island Reads

Polar Worlds: Life at the Ends of the Earth
By Robert Bateman
Published by Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2008

Acclaimed artist, and Salt Spring Island resident, Robert Bateman, invites young readers to join him on his journey to the ends of the Earth—both ends! His own respect for and fascination with the rich variety of wildlife able to survive—and even thrive—in both the Arctic and Antarctica are lovingly presented here in his paintings and sketches. Through the visuals he gives us a window into these natural landscapes; through his text he provides fascinating facts and profiles of polar inhabitants, including arctic wolves, polar bears, whales, seals and albatrosses. Curious young minds will be engaged by this delightful and informative book.

The Alchemist’s Dream
By John Wilson
Published by Key Porter Books, 2007

This historical adventure penned by Lantzville author, John Wilson, was a finalist for a 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award. In this engrossing adventure, John Wilson paints a vivid picture of a bygone era involving Henry Hudson’s fateful search for the elusive Northwest Passage, an alchemist, mysterious passengers, and enigmatic maps. The Alchemist’s Dream is a riveting tale of exploration, ambition, and betrayal.

In the fall of 1669, the vessel Nonsuch returns to London with a load of furs from Hudson Bay. It brings something else, too—the lost journal from Henry Hudson’s tragic search for a passage to Cathay in 1611. In the hands of a greedy sailor, the journal is merely an object to sell. But for Robert Bylot—a once-great maritime explorer—the book is a painful reminder of a past he’d rather forget. As Bylot relives his memories of a plague-ridden city, of the mysterious alchemist John Dee, and of mutiny in the frozen wastes of Hudson Bay, an age-old mystery is both revealed and solved.

Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life
By Brian Brett
Published by Greystone Books, 2009

An irreverent and illuminating journey through a day in the life of author Brian Brett’s own affectionately named farm on Salt Spring Island. With numerous side trips into the natural history of farming, Trauma Farm tells a story of rural life that’s poetic, passionate, practical, and frequently hilarious, providing an unforgettable portrait of one farm and our separation from the natural world, as well as a common-sense analysis of rural life. Brett understands both tall tales.


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