It's easy to add a culture-oriented daytrip or a museum visit to your stopover in Vancouver. B.C. and/or Vancouver Island, with the option of a little exercise and fresh air at the same time. A vibrant mecca of First Nations culture, British Columbia preserves and expresses its heritage in many ways, from carvings, art and totem poles to traditional festivals and world-renowned interpretive centers. And for cultural immersion, local tour companies give visitors a chance to learn about and experience First Nations traditions and history through narrated walks, talks, and kayak and canoe expeditions.
Salish Canoe Expedition
Near Vancouver in the spectacular, waterfall-sprinkled glacial fjord of Indian Arm and in Burrard Inlet, in replica 25-foot Salish canoes, First Nations guides with Takaya Tours tell of legends, sing traditional songs and explain the history of century-old villages as you gently paddle up the inlet. You can also take a 2-hour canoeing and walking tour that includes introduction to ancient lore, and identifying and harvesting indigenous flora and fauna on the ancestral grounds of Whey-ah-Wichen (Faces the Wind) Park.
Canoe Paddle at Tofino
On the west coast of Vancouver Island at Tofino, T'ashii Paddle School will take you on a cruise along Clayoquot Sound, by way of a handcrafted cedar vessel. You'll hear stories and history of Nuu-chah-nulth culture as you meander along. More here about how the dugout canoes are hollowed out of old-growth red cedar.
(In August, the Tofino Lantern Festival is a family-friendly evening happening that glows with hand-made lanterns, beginning with the Children's Lantern Parade. Food, live music and dance, a laser light show and fire spinning are on the magical menu of events.)
U'mista Cultural Centre
To the Kwakwaka'wakw people of northern Vancouver Island, u’mista means “the return of something important". The U'mista Cultural Centre and Museum, in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, displays something very important indeed: a collection of stunning masks and ceremonial regalia that was returned to the Kwakwaka'wakw beginning in 1979 after being confiscated by the federal government earlier in the century. In a totem-fronted Big House, the centre also showcases Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw history and art, including a spectacular potlatch collection. Guided tours and dance performances are available, too.
Shxwtà:selhawtxw Interpretive Centre
Also near Vancouver, the unique world of the Stó:lō people is showcased at Shxwtà:selhawtxw Interpretive Centre––the House of Long Ago and Today. Stó:lō tour guides recount stories and legends, demonstrate traditional arts and explain the artifacts on display. They talk about the language, salmon and fishing, cedar bark weaving, hunting and gathering, tools and weapons, carving, archaeology and much more. At the Coquleetza Longhouse, you will hear performances of the Stó:lō hand drum, sxowxiyám and sqwelqwel. And, the Ethnobotanical Garden is comprised of foods and medicinal plants that Stó:lō used in the past and still use today.
Nearby is the Sqeltzwer Creek Campground, and comfortable accommodations at the Sasquatch Eco-Lodge bed and breakfast style house on an 80-acre site with a waterfall, a creek, and a saltwater swimming pool.
More here about cultural tours and heritage in British Columbia.
A cultural tour curator, Karen Misuraca is a travel writer and the author of several guidebooks, including Backroads of the California Wine Country; Backroads of the California Coast, and Fun with the Family Northern California. Check out Karen's iPhone app, California Coast North.