When people hear I’m from rural British Columbia, I know what their reaction will be: rhapsodic. ‘BC’ is their favourite place on earth — they had a life-changing encounter with nature there, and only their marriage/job/children stopped them dropping everything and moving there for ever. It may be one of the most beautiful corners of the Earth, but it’s also the place I grew up. In other words: I’ve always found it kind of boring.
Marrying someone whose parents retired to Canada’s west coast gave me more reason to keep going back, and being there with people who aren’t blasé locals has given me a new perspective. I’ve gradually opened my eyes to what new visitors find obvious: the whole province is one scene from a nature documentary after another. Vancouver has excellent restaurants, galleries and shopping, but nature is the big show around here.
An easy trip for first-timers is to Grouse Mountain, a short drive from downtown Vancouver. The very fit can do as the locals do, and attempt a two-mile trail up the mountain’s face, known as the ‘Grouse grind’. It’s the view that’s the prize, though, so you should feel no guilt about taking a cable-car to the summit. From above the clouds you can see as far as the Gulf Islands over in the west. Once on top of the mountain, there are plenty of trails where you’re likely to spot families of scurrying grouse, or to be observed from above by a handsome eagle perched on a Douglas fir.
After that, I’d suggest taking a leisurely ferry ride through the Georgia Straits to Vancouver Island. A seaplane would be quicker, but you’d miss out on gliding past the misty shapes of the Gulf Islands. Stand on the deck and you are likely to spy harbour seals or sea otters monkeying around by the rocks — and once I took a ferry that was escorted for half an hour by two -killer whales. They sprayed fountains of water, breaching the ocean’s surface over and over while we all gasped. Even for a jaded ex-local it was heart-pounding.
Then I’d recommend heading north to MacMillan Provincial Park and taking in the spectacular group of ancient Douglas firs known as Cathedral Grove. And a cathedral it really is, with centuries-old columns dripping in fluorescent green moss. Even the tallest human couldn’t help but feel small next to the largest of these giants, 240ft high and 30ft around.
The raw western edge of Canada can be enjoyed from the comfort of the windows of the chic Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, a fishing village. But come rain or shine — and I’m afraid it’s usually rain — you’ll be better off outside. The brave can rent wetsuits and try surf lessons. For more cautious travellers, there are whale-watching tours. Both grey and humpback whales thrive in the waters nearby.
Even a quiet walk on the beach is teeming with life. My kids love flipping over the flat rocks of the tide pools and seeing the tiny crabs underneath scrabble madly for cover. Back home in Toronto they tell their friends, ‘BC is the best.’