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Home / Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands / Cowichan / Duncan

Duncan

History

The town of Duncan is named after William Chalmers Duncan, who arrived in Victoria in May of 1862. Three months later, along with a party of one hundred settlers, he moved to the area now known as Duncan. Duncan's farm was named Alderlea, and this was the first name of the adjacent settlement. In August of 1886, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was opened. No stop had been scheduled at Alderlea for the inaugural train bearing Sir John A. Macdonald and Robert Dunsmuir. However, at Duncan's Crossing, the level crossing nearest Alderlea, a crowd of 2,000 had assembled around a decorated arch and the train came to an unplanned halt, quite literally putting it on the map. In 1887, the train station was built and today is a National Historic Site.

Duncan City was officially incorporated in 1912, and in the following year, a post office was built which is now Duncan's City Hall. Today, Duncan is the commercial centre of the Cowichan Region and attracts visitors to its trendy boutiques, art and antique galleries. It is also known as the "City of Totems"  with some 80 carved totem poles depicting the historic legends of the First Nations. 

Location

Duncan is located just off the Trans Canada Highway 1, 60 km (36 mi) north of Victoria, 51 km (31 mi) south of Nanaimo.

Places to See
  • BC Forest Discovery Centre

Explore this 100-acre open-air living museum in Duncan. An operational railway, exhibits and heritage buildings chronicle the forestry industry in British Columbia. A 1930s logging camp shows what life was like for the loggers. Marsh and forest trails offer excellent bird-watching opportunities. This is a fun attraction for kids and adults with events on-going throughout the year.

  • Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives

Housed inside Duncan's 'Heritage Designated' 1912 Railway Station along the E&N Railway, the vibrant history of the Cowichan Valley is displayed in the Museum's permanent exhibits. Illustrations of early pioneer life in the valley are housed in the Jack Fleetwood Gallery, the Alderlea General Store, and in the King's Daughters' Hospital Gallery. The Museum's Meeting Room also houses a number of fascinating permanent exhibits.

  • Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre

The Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre offers guests an authentic First Nations Experience: interpretive tDuncan - Close-up of a totem pole in Duncan - Tourism BC-Ricardo OrdonezIcours, traditional art work, and Native food. The centre is on 6 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds along the banks of the Cowichan River (a designated BC Heritage River) just off the Trans Canada Highway, minutes from the Duncan city centre. The QCCC offers a truly unique experience, sharing the stories and traditions of the Cowichan people from hundreds of years ago. It is a world of colour and pageantry, where first nations talent and pride are abundant. The centre is committed to a culture of warmth and sharing, to bridge the gaps that exist between cultures and promote Native culture in a positive way.

  • Somenos Marsh Wildlife Refuge 

Somenos Marsh is a fascinating, rich and diverse wetland complex in Duncan where more than 200 bird species have been identified.

  • Cowichan Bay Village

Located south of Duncan is Cowichan Bay Village, a picture-perfect community situated on the water with stunning views and sunsets. Cottages, shops and restaurants are built on stilts over the water's edge. Bird watchers come to explore the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre where Great Blue Herons nest in trees and over 220 species of bird can be found. There is a Maritime Centre with historic artifacts, boat festival and regatta during the summer, and while there you must try the local bread and cheese.

  • Cowichan River Provincial Park

Cowichan River Provincial Park is situated west of Duncan off Hwy 18 and is popular with outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Swimming, canoeing, white-water kayaking, tubing, camping, fishing and hiking are all available. The historic 20 km (12 mi) long Cowichan River Footpath and the restored 66-Mile and Holt Creek Trestles on the Trans-Canada Trail offer spectacular river views. This park protects significant stretches of the Cowichan River, a designated Provincial Heritage River internationally renowned for its wild salmon and steelhead fishery.  

  • The Raptor Centre

The Raptor Centre is a premier Flying Birds of Prey attraction in Duncan. The landscaped discovery centre provides flight demonstrations and visitors can get up close and witness first-hand these amazing birds of prey.  

Things to Do
  • Tour Totem Poles

Ducan has some 80 totem poles downtown and along the Trans Canada Highway. Many of them can be viewed by taking a self-guided, or guided tour. On the guided tour, knowledgeable guides will recount the rich history and fascinating legends of the Northwest Coast Natives.

  • Fishing

The Cowichan River is renowned for its brown trout, rainbow and steelhead trout, and its vigorous salmon runs of Chinook, coho, and steelhead that school in Cowichan Bay and enter the river to spawn in November and December. There is also a steelhead run in March. Shawnigan Lake, Cowichan Lake and other nearby lakes and rivers are also favourite freshwater fishing spots. Charters and guides are available to take visitors out for saltwater fishing. Salmon, crab and prawns top the catches in the area.

  • Biking

The Cowichan Valley Trail is a picturesque segment of the Trans Canada Trail. Cyclists can travel over eight historic rail trestles between Shawnigan Lake and Lake Cowichan. The Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society has maps on cycling routes. Cycling is also popular on the country roads that connect the wineries and farms. For some excellent mountain biking trails try Burnt Bridge, Mt. Tzouhalem, Cobble Hill Mountain and Bamberton.

  • Golfing

There are a number of golf courses in the area. These include: The scenic Cowichan Golf and Country Club, a 6,189 yard, par 70, course with many tight fairways lined with trees. The course also features views of Cowichan Bay and the surrounding mountains; Duncan Meadows Golf Club is a championship 18-hole par 72 course enjoyed by golfers of all levels. The course is an exceptionally strong mix of parkland and links style holes exquisitely sculpted from the gently rolling and verdant landscape. Mount Brenton Golf Course is a scenic 18-hole course located in Chemainus. It features plenty of creeks, ponds and towering firs which combine to make this a challenging course for every level of golfer.

  • Hiking

From peaceful, easy walks to rugged climbs, the Cowichan countryside offers an abundance of hiking opportunities for all levels of hikers. The Trans Canada Trail, the Cowichan River Corridor, and provincial parks offer gorgeous scenery and spectacular views.

  • Boating, Sailing & Kayaking

Whether you prefer the ocean or a lake, the Cowichan Region is a boater's paradise. From kayaking along the rocky shores of a bay to sailing the ocean, the waterways are both beautiful and accessible. Full service marinas and moorage are safe and conveniently located close to restaurants, pubs, and shopping areas. Charters and rentals are available. 

  • Wineries & Culinary Tourism

The mild climate and long growing season in the Cowichan region have created an agriculturally rich community that produces high quality fruits and vegetables, specialty foods such as artisan cheeses, breads, vinegars, jams and jellies and more. With many first class chefs and wine makers now calling the area home it is becoming renowned as a vibrant wine and culinary destination. Some 20 wineries, cidery, craft beers and distilled beverages are made in the Cowichan region. Many are open to the public throughout the year for tastings and tours and some have restaurants. A Wine Islands Guide is available from a Visitor Centre.

Nearby Communities
Contact Information

Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce &
Duncan Visitor Information Centre
#8, Trans Canada Highway 1
Duncan, BC V9L 3R5
Tel: 250-746-4636
Toll-Free: 888-303-3337
Web: duncancc.bc.ca

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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia

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