Learn to travel BC's rural islands respectfully, from locals

It's easy to travel respectfully when you visit the BC rural islands of Cormorant, Cortes, Gabriola, Hornby and Quadra. Just take your cues from the locals. #exploreBCruralislands

For 'Namgis First Nation Chief William Cranmer, incorporating respect into travel is something his community on Cormorant Island, traditional Kwakwaka’wakw Territory, has been doing for thousands of years.

“When you have the opportunity to come to our U’mista Cultural Centre, we want you to leave with a greater appreciation for our people and our culture,” explains Chief William Cranmer, whose visionary leadership and advocacy has spurred cultural shifts on the small island. 

It was on November 1, 1980 that Cranmer and the 'Namgis founded U'mista Cultural Centre, now home to one of the world's largest collections of potlach artifacts. The artifacts were repatriated from museums and private collectors around the world.

Witnessing this history today is just one of many ways in which visitors to these islands, off the north and east coasts of Vancouver Island, can travel and learn greater respect for local place and culture along the way.

Music performed by Eli Cranmer, of 'Namgis First Nation

When you visit Cormorant and the U'mista Cultural Centre, you can’t help but be transformed when learning about the art of a potlatch and what it means to be present at such a historic event.

“You are not to clap or bring anything to a potlatch,” explains Chief Cranmer. Rather, you are to take in the hospitality of your host family.

“The more they give away, the more respect and honour the host family receives.”

U'Mista Cultural Centre Cormorant Island Gulf Islands BC Melissa Renwick ZenSeekers
Photo: Melissa Renwick
Chief Cranmer inside the U'mista Cultural Centre.

As part of an epic fall road trip, continue south from Cormorant down the coast to Campbell River, where you hop a 10-minute BC Ferry to Quadra Island: located in the traditional territories of the Coast Salish Indigenous People, which includes the traditional lands of the Wei Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Indigenous People.

Here, locals are serving up the opportunity to put the respect in travel simply by shopping local.

Those who enjoy their java will want to visit Aroma Specialty Coffee Roasters or Café Aroma, two outlets that follow a respecful ethos. 

Visit BC's rural islands and see how respectful, local travel transforms the experience.

“Why support big companies, when you can put your money into the local community, fostering employment for local people that closes the loop on where your money ends up when travelling,” says Maria Mallis, co-owner of Café Aroma.

The island’s food creatives have come together under the Quadra Island cookbook to serve you up a BC island culinary experience from whichever location you call home. The cookbook is available through its dedicated website.

Cafe Aroma Quadra Island BC Melissa Renwick ZenSeekers
Photo: Melissa Renwick
Aroma Specialty Coffee Roasters bring local love to the coffee experience.

From Quadra, you can continue to #exploreBCruralislands by making the 40-minute sailing onto Cortes Island, located on Klahoose, Tla'amin and Homalco traditional territory. Greenpeace was founded here. The island offers a bounty of hiking and nature-based locations, supported by the conservation group, Friends of Cortes Island. 

The society offer a series of nature-based guides, allowing any traveller to gain perspective on the land and how our presence on the land makes an impact. Perhaps your visit will support their Sea Star observation efforts.

Members of the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust hiking through old growth forest.

As you can read here within ZenSeekers continued #exploreBCruralislands coverage, you can click into the Cortes Island vibe anytime you want by bringing up one of Canada’s top community radio stations, Cortes Radio. 

Back on Vancouver Island, the #exploreBCruralislands tour can take you on to Hornby Island, on K'ómoks traditional territory, home to an eclectic community of artists and artisans. You can log in to their self-guided artisans map app to help you unlock access to the 50-plus artists’ studios across the island. Take a page from the potlatch tradition, respectfully, and bring back some unique gifts to share with friends and family over your Christmas or winter holiday season.

Visiting a pottery studio on Hornby Island.

“Our visitors who support us talk about how they enjoy getting away from the mall. When they experience the studios tour, they appreciate the life and work balance with creative practices,” explains Hornby artisan and ceramist, Rachelle Chinnery.

Last but not least as part of what could be your next best 10-day fall road trip, board BC Ferries for a 20-minute sailing over to Gabriola Island, traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw Nation.

Support local, travel respectfully on BC's rural islands

Gabriola’s Agricultural Coop wants you to get your hands dirty this fall, and learn more about food, food security and just how it is made.

While on tour, we had the chance to get in on the slow rise of life, with a visit to the Slow Rise Bakery for a preview to their upcoming bread making workshop, part of a 12-part series of workshops – those details can be found right on the co-op’s website.

Slow Rise Bakery owner Heidi Vanderkwaak had a few tips for those looking to up their game around respectful visitation:

  1. Take It slow, you are not in a rush, it’s why you are travelling.
  2. Be patient, leave any angst at home.
  3. Support local - look for the opportunity to buy your food locally, from local producers and makers.

The next time you are making a road trip, we @ZenSeekers challenge you to think about how to be a respectful traveller, we encourage you to do as the Namgis do, give all you got, and get back more value while earning respect. Let us know what you discover and use the #exploreBCruralislands hashtag in your posts.

When You Go 

Seek out Indigenous businesses like the 'Namgis First Nation’s The Cabins at Alert Bay… learn more about them here within Melissa Renwick’s #exploreBCruralislands coverage.

Where to stay

Book your stay at the Heriot Bay Inn (known locally as Quadra’s HBI) to check out some live music and for a taste of their signature Quadra Island Iced tea.

On Cortes Island, The Cortes Motel made our basecamp smooth given their kitchenettes and gracious hosts.

Hornby is home to the Ford Cove Cabins & Campgrounds, giving you access to some really unique coastal landscape with sandstone cliffs with its “bubbled” coastal rock landscape. 

On Gabriola, stay in history at the Surf Lodge attached to the Surf’s Pub who has a host of live music options through this October, November and December.

Getting there

Island hop with BC Ferries to check out all five islands:

  • Nanaimo to Cormorant (out of Port McNeill), 3 hours drive and a 40 min ferry
  • Nanaimo to Quadra (out of Campbell River), 2 hour drive and 10 min ferry
  • Nanaimo to Cortes (out of Campbell River), 2 hour drive, one 10 min ferry, 15 min drive, and one 40 min ferry 
  • Nanaimo to Hornby (out of Buckley Bay), 1.5 hour drive, one 10 min ferry, 15 min drive, and one 10 min ferry
  • Nanaimo to Gabriola, 10 min ferry from Downtown Nanaimo

For more inspiration

#exploreBCruralislands is a collaboration between Seekers Media and the Rural Islands Economic Partnership (RIEP).

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