A mountain range bisects Vancouver Island north and south, bordered by old growth forests, undulating rivers, and on the inland side, rolling fertile valleys. The valleys form the backdrop of Cowichan, a place of incredible beauty, timeless traditions and tidal rhythms. Inspiring vistas of valleys and vineyards, forests and farmland, sparkling lakes and crystal-clear rivers abound in the picturesque Cowichan region.
The Cowichan Valley is located between Victoria and Nanaimo and is named after the Cowichan First Nations for whom it means "land warmed by the sun". Between the mountains is some of the best agricultural land on the west coast, which has proven attractive to hobby farmers and many organic crop growers. Wineries are big business now, too, with at least a dozen in operation today.
Duncan is the Cowichan Valley's largest community, serving approximately 75,000 area residents. Known as the "City of Totems," Duncan is graced with nearly 80 totem poles, principally located downtown and along the highway. 3 km north of Duncan is the BC Forestry Discovery Centre where visitors can stroll under 200 year old, 55 metre-tall Douglas firs or visit a replica logging camp.
South of Duncan on Highway 1 are the small communities of Cowichan Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Cobble Hill and Mill Bay. These quaint, picturesque communities are steeped in fishing, logging, farming, and mining traditions.
The pristine Cowichan Lake District includes the communities of Lake Cowichan (featuring the Kaatza Station Museum), Honeymoon Bay, Youbou, Mesachie Lake, and Caycuse. This mountainous area, rich with wildlife, is an ideal destination for a family vacation or an outdoor adventure. The scenic 75-kilometre (47-mile) drive on paved and gravel roads around Cowichan Lake, the largest freshwater lake on Vancouver Island, takes about an hour-and-a-half. There are several parks such as Cowichan River Provincial Park with 20 km of hiking trails and advanced Kayaking at Marie Canyon, campsites, and lookouts with excellent photo opportunities and wildlife viewing.
Secondary roadways provide access to Port Renfrew (see South Vancouver Island) and Bamfield (see Pacific Rim), the trailheads for the West Coast Trail, as well as to the old-growth forests of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. These roads also connect to Nitinat Lake, a tidal lake that opens onto the Pacific Ocean which is popular with wind surfers.
Chemainus to the north of Duncan on Highway 1 has won international acclaim for its Festival of Murals, a very successful revitalization project that began in 1982 with the unveiling of five large murals, all professionally painted on existing downtown buildings. The Festival of Murals has grown and now there are 33 murals. Chemainus is also home to the Chemainus Theatre, offering five centre-stage shows every year and a pre-show gourmet buffet. Chemainus won the 1994 British Airways Tourism Award, a competition involving more than 200 communities world-wide.
Ladysmith is the most northern community in Cowichan. Situated on the 49th parallel, Ladysmith was established by coal baron James Dunsmuir as a shipping port for coal. Ladysmith received a provincial award for most beautiful community on Vancouver Island and a national Main Street Canada award as one of the four best revitalization projects in the country. First Avenue's restored 19th and 20th century buildings are worth leaving the highway to visit. Actress, Pamela Anderson who was raised in the community put Ladysmith on the map as a place for actor groupies to visit.
Communities to explore: Chemainus, Cobble Hill, Cowichan Bay, Crofton, Duncan, Honeymoon Bay, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan, Malahat, Maple Bay, Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Youbou.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia