At first glance, Duncan appears to be a drive-through town along the coast, simply connecting Victoria to Nanaimo and other northern regions of the Island. However, if you take the time to dive deeper into the town and you will be rewarded with the treasures that are waiting to be found. Known as the “City of Totems,” you can expect to be immersed into a culture richly painted by the history of the Cowichan Tribe, the largest band of Coast Salish peoples. As the gateway to the Cowichan Valley, a burgeoning slow-food scene and culture will sweep you off your feet. Lush farms and a rich agricultural scene, as well as plentiful Farmer’s markets and award-winning wineries, cideries and other artisan creations can be found and toured. This makes Duncan a town that your body and taste buds will thank you for in the years following. The tours and unique experiences you will have in this nurturing Valley will create tasty memories to last a lifetime.
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Meander along with the Cowichan River for 20km on the Cowichan River Footpath. Although only one out of a number of trails located in the park, this path is the most popular. Protecting stretches of the Cowichan River, a BC Heritage and Canadian Heritage river, the park also gives visitors access to great boating and swimming areas. There’s an abandoned rail right-of-way nearby that leaves plenty of ground for adventures on foot, bike or horseback. Feel free to pack a picnic as there are day-use areas along the way. For those feeling adventurous, don’t miss the 66-Mile and Holt Creek Trestles along the Trans Canada Trail, which will take you back in time to the days when train cars would race across the woodwork bridges.
Although Duncan itself holds no courses, there are a few nearby in the surrounding Cowichan Valley. For those who see the warm climate of the area as the perfect opportunity for year-round golfing, pay a visit to Cowichan Golf and Country Club or Arbutus Ridge in Cobble Hill. Scenery and great golfing is what you’ll find at the Cowichan Golf and Country Club and it is somewhat of a golf trip dream. Arbutus Ridge is also picturesque and is surrounded by 9 wineries – the perfect way to top off an afternoon of golf.
Every Totem erected in the city is accompanied by rich history and the story of the artist who carved it. With over 40 in the city, there are plenty to see. Since 2012, there are signs and stories laid out with the totems that visitors can find on a self-guided walking tour. All along the sidewalks you will see yellow footprints; follow those to discover these towering pieces of art, or do the tour online.
Along the banks of the Cowichan River is the Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre. It is a perfect place to immerse yourself into the living traditions of the First Nations and their culture, which runs in the veins of the Cowichan Valley’s history. Besides a history lesson, you will be able to lose yourself in the beautiful gardens and amongst the riverside walking trails, explore long houses and other traditional buildings, and view incredibly crafted totems. There is also a café on site. The Centre hosts a variety of events and tours including a traditional Native Dance, Salmon BBQ and traditional crafts workshop. Call ahead to see about getting tickets for events.
Where else would you expect to find the largest hockey stick and puck other than Canada? Making the nation proud, the giant version of the equipment for the country’s favourite game can be found on top of the Cowichan Community Centre. Originally crafted in 1986 out of Douglas fir wooden beams, the 61,000 pound, 205ft hockey stick was part of the Expo ’86 in Vancouver. Afterwards, the province of B.C. held a Canada-wide competition to determine where the massive creation would finally call home. It’s hard to miss when drive along James Street, as it towers over the parking lot of the recreation centre.
Delight your senses with one of the largest Farmer’s markets in all of BC! It comes as no surprise that the fertile crescent of the Cowichan Valley would host such a market, and with their “you make it, you bake it, you grow it, you sell it” motto, you know that everything you find is of the finest and freshest quality. Delve into local artisan goods and crafts with the rest of the community every Saturday. Fresh goodies are just one of the gems of this town and are an added bonus to stopping by on the weekend.
This fertile area is also rich in another way: Art. There are a number of events geared towards having locals and visitors alike experience and learn about the artists who live in the area, putting life, colour and culture into the community.
The Cowichan Artisans Annual Fall Studio Tour in November allows visitors to delve into the working studios of artists of a variety of mediums including paint, woodwork, glass and clay.
WildWings Nature and Arts Festival runs for a luxurious 6 weeks, allowing for plenty of time to attend any number of the 30 events that focus not only culture and art, but also the abundant wildlife of the Cowichan Valley.
Under the Red Umbrella Artwalk is a unique and intriguing initiative. Signified by a red umbrella adorning the participating shop front, guests are given the chance to enjoy the work of the showcased local artist within.
For foodies and sommeliers, the Cowichan Valley is bound to be pretty close to heaven on Earth. The burgeoning slow food industry has been a blissful product of the perfect growing climate of the “warm lands;” something the Valley’s residents have taken full advantage of. Discover locally grown teas, house brewed beer, incredibly flavorful balsamics and house-cured sausages and cheeses. The more you look, the more you will find to tease and test your palate. There are even distilleries with tastefully crafted spirits like gin, brandy and vodka. Merridale Cider also makes for a refreshing stop on a hot summer’s day.
Easily the jewel of Cowichan Valley, however, are the wineries, of which you could spend days visiting. There are over 15 tasting rooms to explore and plenty of the lush vineyards boast picnic areas and gourmet restaurants encompassed within their magnificent properties. Book a tour so you don’t have to worry about the driving and literally taste the fruits of this fertile valley’s labor.