Spotlight on Nanaimo

Spotlight on Nanaimo

Spotlight on Nanaimo

Just north of the Cowichan Valley and occupying a prime position on the shores of the Salish Sea along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, Nanaimo stands as a testament to the beauty and charm of the Island’s coastal communities. With its breathtaking natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and vibrant community spirit, Nanaimo offers a diverse array of experiences for residents and visitors alike. From its picturesque waterfront to its historic landmarks, Nanaimo captivates the imagination and invites exploration.

Nanaimo is surrounded by lush forests, rugged mountains, and pristine waters. The city provides a wealth of recreational opportunities, from kayaking and sailing to hiking and wildlife watching. Mount Benson rises 1,006 meters (3,300 feet) over the region providing hiking opportunities through its 292 hectares of forest land. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to destinations like Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, Protection Island, and Neck Point Park, where they can immerse themselves in the region’s natural splendor.

Nanaimo’s History

Far beyond its scenic landscapes, the city boasts a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Indigenous peoples such as the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a tribe of the Coast Salish people, have inhabited the area for millennia. These deep roots are celebrated through cultural events, traditional practices, and the preservation of archaeological sites, ensuring that Nanaimo’s Indigenous heritage remains an integral part of its identity.

European exploration and settlement began in the late 18th century when British and Spanish explorers arrived on Vancouver Island’s shores. Originally founded as Colvilletown around a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, it was named after Andrew Colvile, a Scot who served as governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1852 to 1856. In 1860 the settlement was renamed Sne-ny-mo from an Indigenous word meaning “a big, strong tribe”.

Coal Mining in Nanaimo

The city’s development accelerated with the discovery of nearby coal deposits in 1849 by local Indigenous people. This coal formed the first known large deposits on the west coast of North America. Since the type of coal found here was ideal for steam production, mining provided steady employment and settlers flocked to the area. The first ship to be loaded with coal was the Cadboro in September 1852.

The establishment of mining operations lead to the growth of a thriving community. Coal was mined in and around Nanaimo from 1852 through to the 1950s. During this time, over 50 million tons of coal was extracted from the mines.

Today, remnants of Nanaimo’s coal mining heritage can still be seen throughout the city, from the iconic Bastion, a former Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, to the Coal Tyee Trail, which winds its way through the forested hillsides once dotted with mineshafts and miner’s cottages. These historical sites serve as poignant reminders of Nanaimo’s industrial past and the resilience of its early settlers.

Nanaimo is Hub City

Nanaimo is often referred to as “Harbour City” but it is also known as the “Hub City” as its streets fan out from the harbour resembling the spokes of a wheel.

The city boasts a vibrant cultural scene, including art galleries, theaters, and festivals that showcase local talent and creativity. The Port Theatre, with its striking architecture and diverse programming, serves as a focal point for performing arts in the region, while the Nanaimo Museum offers insight into the city’s past through engaging exhibits and interactive displays.

Culinary enthusiasts will also find much to savour in Nanaimo, with a burgeoning food scene that highlights fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a wealth of culinary influences. From cozy cafes serving up artisanal coffee and baked goods to waterfront restaurants specializing in seafood delicacies, Nanaimo’s dining options cater to every palate and preference. Visitors can indulge in Nanaimo’s eponymous treat, the Nanaimo bar, a decadent dessert consisting of layers of chocolate, custard, and coconut, which has become a beloved Canadian confection.

Gateway to Wine Country

Nanaimo serves as the perfect gateway to explore the burgeoning wine region of the Cowichan Valley, known as “The Napa of the North,” which is just a short drive south along the scenic Island Highway.

Wine Tasting Tours offer visitors departing from Nanaimo a leisurely, scenic journey through the Cowichan Valley, stopping at charming wineries and vineyards along the way. Here, they can indulge in tastings of award-winning wines, including varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Ortega, all cultivated in the valley’s unique microclimate.

Nanaimo Bathtub Races

Yup! You read that right! Ever since the first race in 1967, Nanaimo has been home and host to the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race and Nanaimo Marine Festival. The 58 km race is taken seriously, in a fun way, by bathtub enthusiasts! There is an entire weekend of fun and activities planned each year for all comers.

Bathtubs aside, Nanaimo prides itself on being a gateway to Vancouver Island. It’s an ideal base for exploring the surrounding region. Whether embarking on a day trip to the nearby Gulf Islands, venturing into the rugged landscapes of Strathcona Provincial Park, or taking a scenic drive along the Pacific Marine Circle Route, adventurers will find no shortage of excursions to embark on from Nanaimo’s doorstep.

Whether you are an adrenaline junkie into ziplining or bungy jumping, or just looking to enjoy a day of sipping on wine and enjoying tasty treats, there is truly something here for everyone.

It’s Wine Time: Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s Wine Time: Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s Wine Time: Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cowichan Valley – lush landscapes, spectacular seascapes, and most recently, renowned for its burgeoning wine industry. While traditionally not associated with grape cultivation due to its cooler climate, Cowichan Valley has been making waves in recent years, particularly with its production of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape variety celebrated globally for its bold flavours and rich character. It’s no wonder it’s the most popular red wine in the world.

The Emergence of Cowichan Valley Wine

The wine industry in the Cowichan Valley traces its roots back to the 1970s when pioneering viticulturists recognized the region’s potential for grape cultivation. Despite initial reservations due to its cool, maritime climate, innovative techniques and dedication paved the way for success. Today, the Cowichan Valley stands as one of Canada’s premier wine regions, celebrated for its cool-climate varietals that exhibit distinctive terroir-driven characteristics.

As the story of Cabernet Sauvignon in Cowichan Valley unfolds, it becomes clear that this region is not merely producing wines; it is crafting experiences, fostering connections, and shaping the narrative of Canadian winemaking. With each sip of Cowichan Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, one can taste the dedication of the winemakers, feel the influence of the terroir, and sense the vibrancy of the local community.

Cabernet Sauvignon: A Tale of Adaptation

Typically associated with the warmer regions of Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon might seem an unlikely candidate for the Cowichan Valley’s cooler climate. However, winemakers here have embraced the challenge, employing meticulous vineyard management practices and modern viticultural techniques to coax the best out of this noble grape.

The unique microclimates within the Valley offer a range of growing conditions, allowing winemakers to experiment with different clones, rootstocks, and vineyard management techniques to coax the best expression of the grape from their terroir. Sustainable viticultural practices, including organic and biodynamic methods, are increasingly embraced, as wineries strive to preserve the natural balance of the land and minimize their environmental footprint.

The result? Cabernet Sauvignon wines that exude elegance, showcasing a unique expression of the region’s terroir.

Terroir and Flavour Profile

The terroir of Cowichan Valley, characterized by its maritime influence, gravelly soils, and moderate temperatures, imparts distinct nuances to the Cabernet Sauvignon produced here. Moderated by the nearby Pacific Ocean and sheltered by the Vancouver Island Range, the Valley provides an ideal environment for cultivating Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that ripen slowly and develop complex flavours while retaining crucial acidity. Cool nights and warm days foster optimal flavour development producing Cabernet Sauvignon wines that boast a balance of ripe fruit flavours, firm tannins, and vibrant acidity, often accompanied by notes of blackcurrant, plum, cedar, and subtle herb-like quality.

Harvest Time

As harvest approaches, anticipation builds among winemakers and viticulturists alike. The careful monitoring of sugar levels, acidity, and ripeness guides the decision to pick, ensuring that the grapes are harvested at the peak of their flavour development. Hand harvesting is preferred, allowing for the selective picking of grapes and minimizing damage to the delicate clusters.

In the winery, the transformation from grape to wine begins with gentle destemming and crushing, followed by fermentation in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. Temperature control is paramount, as winemakers seek to preserve the delicate aromas and flavours of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Extended soaking and softening of the grapes allows for optimal extraction of colour, tannins, and flavour compounds, imparting structure and complexity to the wine.

After fermentation, the wine is transferred to oak barrels for aging, where it gradually integrates oak flavours and textures while further developing its bouquet and palate. French and American oak are commonly used, each contributing distinct nuances to the final wine. Winemakers carefully monitor the aging process, periodically tasting and assessing the wine to determine the optimal time for bottling.

The release of a Cowichan Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is cause for celebration, the result of years of meticulous effort and unwavering dedication. The wine speaks of its origins, with aromas of ripe blackcurrants, cedar, and graphite, underscored by hints of tobacco and violet. On the palate, it displays a harmonious balance of fruit, acidity, and tannins, with a lingering finish that invites contemplation.

Exploring Cowichan Valley’s Wineries

A journey through Cowichan Valley’s wineries offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s winemaking. Here are a couple of wineries known for their production of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Valley:

  1. Blue Grouse Estate Winery: This pioneer of the Valley’s wine scene is known for their Pinot Noir and Ortega, but they also produce a limited quantity of Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Cabernet Sauvignon reflects the region’s unique terroir with a focus on balance, structure, and complexity.
  2. Enrico Winery: This family-owned boutique winery, is another notable producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Cowichan Valley. They are known for their small-batch, handcrafted wines made from estate-grown grapes. Their Cabernet Sauvignon showcases the rich fruit flavours of the grape and reflects the influence of the Valley’s maritime climate.

The tale of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Cowichan Valley is a testament to the power of passion, perseverance, and the undeniable influence of terroir. It is a story of innovation in the face of challenges and of the enduring spirit of a community united by a shared love for exceptional wine. As the region continues to carve out its place in the world of wine, one thing is certain – the journey of Cabernet Sauvignon in this remarkable region is only just beginning.


Spirits of the Cowichan Valley

Spirits of the Cowichan Valley

Spirits of the Cowichan Valley

Haunted by a desire for more than a glass of wine or the local pub’s brew? Explore the spirits of the Cowichan Valley. The distilleries nestled amid the Valley’s stunning landscapes and lush vineyards, are manifestations of its burgeoning artisanal culture. While often celebrated for its wineries, the Cowichan Valley has also emerged as a hotspot for craft distilleries, offering a diverse range of premium spirits created with passion and precision.

In this exploration, we delve into the rich tapestry of distilleries that grace the valley, uncovering their stories, techniques, and the unique flavours they bring to the world of spirits.

The Rise of Craft Distilleries and Spirits

In recent years, the craft spirits movement has gained significant momentum, with discerning consumers seeking authentic, locally-produced libations with character and depth. The Cowichan Valley’s temperate climate, fertile soil, and proximity to pristine water sources provide an ideal environment for cultivating premium ingredients essential for crafting exquisite spirits.

Home to a community of passionate artisans, the Valley has become a hub for this movement, with several distilleries leading the charge.

Exploring Distilleries in the Cowichan Valley


Merridale Cidery & Distillery:

  • Founded in 2000, Merridale Cidery & Distillery has garnered acclaim for its handcrafted ciders and spirits with an unconventional twist.
  • Following traditional techniques, including locally-sourced ingredients, they produce a range of spirits, including aromatic brandies, gins, rhumbs (rum), vodka, and fortifieds, each imbued with the essence of Vancouver Island’s terroir.
  • The distillery’s commitment to innovation is evident in their diverse product lineup. Their spirits collection showcases the artistry of their master distiller, who employs cider apples and honey to create Merridale’s unique selection of spirits.

Stillhead Distillery:

  • Situated on the outskirts of Duncan, Stillhead Distillery is a family-owned operation dedicated to producing small-batch, artisanal spirits of unparalleled quality.
  • Using distinctive local ingredients such as wild picked berries and locally farmed rhubarb, Stillhead puts the essence of the Island into every bottle.
  • With a dedication to traditional techniques and a passion for innovation, their portfolio includes a diverse array of spirits, from award-winning gin to barrel-aged whiskey, all crafted with precision and care.
  • Visitors are welcome to experience the artistry firsthand, immersing themselves in the distillation process and savouring the distinctive flavours that define Stillhead’s signature offerings.

Ampersand Distilling Company:

  • Founded by a dynamic duo with a shared passion for distillation, Ampersand Distilling Company is celebrated for its innovative approach to crafting premium spirits.
  • Standing as a beacon of creativity and craftsmanship in the world of spirits, their flagship gin is infused with locally foraged botanicals. Their award winning Vodka and experimental liqueurs are a testament to their commitment to quality and ingenuity.
  • Embracing traditional methods alongside modern techniques, Ampersand Distilling Company invites visitors to embark on a sensory journey, discovering the unique flavours and stories behind each meticulously crafted libation.

The Art of Distillation:

Crafting exceptional spirits is a delicate alchemy that requires a harmonious blend of science, artistry, and intuition. Distillers in the Cowichan Valley draw upon centuries-old traditions while embracing modern techniques to create spirits of unparalleled quality and complexity.

Just as winemakers celebrate the unique terroir of their vineyards, distillers in the Valley pay homage to the region’s distinctive landscape and microclimates. By sourcing locally-grown grains, fruits, and botanicals, they capture the essence of the land, infusing their spirits with a sense of place.

One of the hallmarks of the Cowichan Valley’s distilling scene is its spirit of collaboration and camaraderie. Distillers often come together to share knowledge, resources, and a passion for their craft, fostering a vibrant community dedicated to pushing the boundaries of artisanal spirits production.

In the Cowichan Valley, the art of distillation is more than just a craft; it’s a reflection of a community’s spirit, ingenuity, and connection to the land. As the valley continues to evolve and flourish, its distilleries stand as proud ambassadors of quality, creativity, and authenticity, inviting enthusiasts to savour the fruits of their labour and embark on a journey of discovery through the world of premium spirits (all without a single séance!).

Exploring the Grapevine: Cowichan Valley Wine Tours from Nanaimo

Exploring the Grapevine: Cowichan Valley Wine Tours from Nanaimo

Exploring the Grapevine: Cowichan Valley Wine Tours from Nanaimo

The Cowichan Valley may be the newest destination in the world of wine tourism, offering a delightful escape for enthusiasts seeking a unique and immersive experience. Just a short drive from Nanaimo, this picturesque region boasts a growing number of wineries and vineyards, each with its own distinct character and charm. Let’s take a virtual journey through the Cowichan Valley wine country and explore the flavours, landscapes, and stories that make this destination a must-visit for wine aficionados.

The Cowichan Valley’s Wine Renaissance

Traditionally known for its stunning landscapes and outdoor activities, the Cowichan Valley has undergone a wine renaissance in recent years. The combination of a favourable climate, diverse soil types, and passionate winemakers has transformed the region into a flourishing wine destination. In 2020 the Cowichan Valley was recognized as an official wine producing region in BC, a protected designation under BC law. Local vineyards are interspersed among the lush valleys, rolling hills, and pristine lakes in the valley, creating a picturesque setting that adds to the allure of the wine tours.

Departing from Nanaimo

Nanaimo, with its convenient location on coastal Vancouver Island, serves as an ideal starting point for a journey into the Valley’s wine country. A short drive south takes you through scenic landscapes, passing quaint towns and dense forests before unveiling the verdant vineyards of the Cowichan Valley. A wine tour shuttle bus means no designated driver required. Everyone can enjoy the fun and savour the fermented fruits of the region!

Enchanting Vineyards and Wineries

As you approach the Cowichan Valley, the landscape changes, giving way to neatly arranged rows of grapevines. The valley is home to a growing number of wineries, each with its own story to tell and a diverse selection of wines to offer. A few notable stops on your wine tour might include:

  1. Blue Grouse Estate Winery: Set against the backdrop of the mountains, Blue Grouse Estate Winery is known for its commitment to sustainable and organic practices. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the vineyards, learn about the winemaking process, and savour a tasting of their award-winning wines.
  2. Merridale Cidery & Distillery: While not a traditional winery, Merridale Cidery & Distillery is a must-visit for those seeking a unique tasting experience. Apart from their renowned ciders, they also produce brandies and fortified spirits. The picturesque orchards and rustic ambiance make it a delightful stop.
  3. Averill Creek Vineyard: This family-owned winery is perched on the sunny slopes of Mount Prevost. Averill Creek Vineyard is known for its cool-climate wines, especially Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The tasting room offers panoramic views of the valley, providing a perfect setting to enjoy their elegant wines.
  4. Unsworth Vineyards: Spread across the heart of Cowichan Valley, Unsworth Vineyards is celebrated for its commitment to crafting wines that reflect the region’s unique terroir. With a beautiful tasting room and a restaurant serving farm-to-table cuisine, it’s a place where wine and gastronomy come together seamlessly.

Wine Tasting Experiences

The wine tasting experiences in Cowichan Valley are diverse, catering to both novice tasters and seasoned connoisseurs. Many wineries offer guided tastings where knowledgeable staff provide insights into the nuances of each wine, from the aroma to the palate. Some vineyards even offer unique experiences like barrel tastings, blending workshops, or vineyard picnics, allowing visitors to deepen their understanding of winemaking.

Scenic Beauty and Outdoor Activities

Beyond the wine, the Cowichan Valley is renowned for its natural beauty and outdoor activities. A wine tour in this region provides the perfect opportunity to explore hiking trails, take a leisurely bike ride through vineyards, or enjoy a picnic with a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes. The combination of wine and nature makes for a holistic and rejuvenating experience.

Culinary Delights

The Cowichan Valley’s culinary scene is a delightful complement to its wines. Many wineries have on-site restaurants or partner with local chefs to offer wine-pairing menus that showcase the best of the region’s produce. From artisanal cheeses to fresh seafood and farm-fresh vegetables, the culinary offerings are as diverse as the wines themselves.

Community and Culture

One of the distinctive features of the Cowichan Valley wineries is the strong sense of community and culture. Many wineries actively engage with the local community, sourcing ingredients from nearby farms and supporting local artists. Visitors can immerse themselves in the region’s cultural events, farmers’ markets, and art galleries, creating a well-rounded experience that goes beyond the wine glass.

Starting a wine tour from Nanaimo to the Cowichan Valley is a journey of discovery, where each vineyard tells a unique story and each glass of wine reflects the terroir of this flourishing region. From the enchanting landscapes to the diverse flavours and the warm hospitality of the winemakers, the Cowichan Valley promises a memorable and enriching experience for all who venture into its wine country. So, pack your bags, raise your glass, and get ready to savour the essence of Cowichan Valley wine!


Spotlight on Ladysmith

Spotlight on Ladysmith

Spotlight on Ladysmith

Nestled in the Cowichan Valley on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island, Ladysmith is a picturesque town surrounded by stunning natural beauty. With a population of around 9,000 residents, this quaint community that sits on the 49th parallel, has become a popular destination for both locals and tourists seeking a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Ladysmith’s story is one of resilience, community spirit, and a deep connection to its surroundings.


The original inhabitants of this area of the Cowichan Valley, the people of the Stz’uminus First Nation, were established around Ladysmith Harbour for thousands of years living off the abundant fish and shellfish in the harbour.

After the arrival of Europeans, the town itself was founded in the late 19th century when coal mining became a prominent industry in the region. In 1898, James Dunsmuir, a prominent figure in British Columbia’s economic landscape, founded Ladysmith as Oyster Harbour to house the families of miners who worked the coal mines south of Nanaimo. The harbour was used as a shipping port for coal.

Dunsmuir renamed the town in 1900 to honour a British victory in the Second Boer War, particularly the siege of Ladysmith in South Africa. The name “Ladysmith” honours Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon Smith (known as Lady Smith), wife of the British Governor of the Cape Colony. Many of the streets were named for British military officers including Roberts, French, Buller, and Warren. The town quickly grew, becoming a hub for coal mining and shipping.

One of Ladysmith’s most iconic features is its well-preserved and vibrant downtown area. Strolling down First Avenue, the town’s commitment to heritage preservation is evident as visitors encounter the famous “Heritage Row”. The storefronts reflect the architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offering a visual journey through Ladysmith’s past and housing a variety of shops, cafes, and galleries.

The Ladysmith and District Historical Society actively works to maintain and promote the town’s heritage, offering guided tours and educational programs that delve into the area’s fascinating past.

A View to the Sea

Beyond its historical charm, Ladysmith boasts an abundance of natural beauty. Set against the backdrop of the Strait of Georgia, the town offers breathtaking views of the ocean and nearby islands. Transfer Beach, a waterfront park located in the heart of Ladysmith, is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. The sandy shores, grassy areas, and play structures make it an ideal destination for picnics, family outings, or simply enjoying the serenity of the sea. Ladysmith provides over 110 hectares of parks, playgrounds, playing fields, and open spaces for its residents and visitors.

The Ladysmith Maritime Society contributes to the town’s maritime allure, operating the Ladysmith Community Marina. Boating enthusiasts and casual visitors alike can explore the coastline, discovering hidden coves and witnessing the diverse marine life that inhabits the waters surrounding Vancouver Island. The marina also serves as a gateway to nearby attractions, such as the Gulf Islands, providing endless opportunities for exploration.

The town’s vibrant arts and cultural scene further enhance its appeal. Local galleries showcase the works of talented artists, reflecting the creative spirit that thrives in Ladysmith. The Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery, situated in a historic building overlooking the harbor, provides a platform for local artists to exhibit their creations and contribute to the town’s cultural tapestry.

The Great Outdoors

For those seeking outdoor adventure, Ladysmith offers a network of hiking and biking trails that showcase the region’s natural splendor. Heart Lake, just a short drive from the town center, is a popular destination for hikers, offering a tranquil escape surrounded by lush forests. The 26 km trail system caters to varying skill levels, making it accessible to both seasoned hikers and beginners. For those who want to enjoy a scenic stroll with their best friend, in addition to the trails, there are five off-leash dog areas.

Ladysmith has a challenging nine-hole par 3 golf course. The Ladysmith Golf Club is a public course, open to anyone over the age of six who can swing a club!

Ladysmith’s commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in its initiatives to protect and preserve its natural surroundings. The town actively promotes eco-friendly practices, from waste reduction programs to supporting local conservation efforts. This dedication to environmental stewardship ensures that Ladysmith remains a pristine destination for generations to come.

It’s Festival Time

Ladysmith’s commitment to fostering a sense of community is exemplified by its numerous events and festivals throughout the year. The Ladysmith Show and Shine, a car enthusiast’s dream featuring classic and vintage vehicles, revs up on the third Saturday in August. The Ladysmith Art Council’s Arts on the Avenue is another highlight of the summer, taking place in late August. The town’s calendar is filled with activities that bring residents and visitors together. These events not only celebrate Ladysmith’s diverse interests but also showcase the warmth and friendliness of its community.

A key highlight of Ladysmith’s heritage is the annual Festival of Lights, a holiday tradition that has garnered national attention. Each year, thousands of twinkling lights transform the town into a winter wonderland, attracting visitors from far and wide. The festival not only celebrates the holiday season but also pays homage to Ladysmith’s coal mining heritage, with the illuminations symbolizing the miners’ headlamps. The event embodies the community spirit that defines Ladysmith, as volunteers come together to create a magical experience for residents and visitors alike.

From its charming heritage buildings and the annual Festival of Lights to the stunning waterfront and outdoor recreational opportunities, Ladysmith offers a diverse range of experiences for those seeking a tranquil escape. Whether exploring the town’s historical sites, enjoying the picturesque landscapes, or immersing oneself in the local arts scene, Ladysmith beckons with open arms, inviting all to discover the unique charm and spirit that define this enchanting community in the Cowichan Valley.