Mill Bay was established in the 1860s, twenty years after Victoria was founded. Many of the settlers in Mill Bay arrived in 1862, when the HMS Hecate came to the Cowichan Bay area from England. According to written records, the standard payment to the natives for settlement land was two blankets.
Mill Bay was the location of a power-generating station for Henry Shepard's sawmill. An American industrialist named W. Sayward turned the mill into one of the major industries in the area. Cowichan Lake was too far into the wilderness at the time, but eventually logging spread into the area as well. Mill Bay continued to be the hub of the industry for a number of years. Logs had to be dragged by oxen in a process called 'skidding'.
Mill Bay is located on the southeast shore of Vancouver Island, 42 km (26 mi) north of Victoria, 19 km (12 mi) south of Duncan. BC Ferries operates a regularly scheduled service from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.
The largest and highest surviving timber trestle in North America at 40 m (130 ft) high and 187 m (613 ft) long, Kinsol Trestle was built in 1911 and has withstood floods and fires. It has now been rehabilitated and is open to the public. Forming part of the Trans Canada Trail, the Trestle is located off Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road west of the Trans Canada Highway 1.
For years the warm waters surrounding Vancouver Island's Mill Bay have been a popular destination for local salmon fishers. The inviting water and the 225 m (74 ft) long sandy beach have also made Bamberton Provincial Park an ideal spot for families. Swimming, picnicking, bird-watching, boating and enjoying the stunning views across the water draw thousands of visitors here each year.
The Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre offers guests an authentic First Nations Experience: interpretive tours, 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.
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 Bay Village is a picture-perfect community located 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.
Spectacle Lake Provincial Park is located 14 km (8.7 mi) south of Mill Bay just off Highway 1. It is popular for fishing, swimming and in winter, skating. An easy hiking trail winds around the lake with much of the trail wheelchair accessible.
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.
There are a number of golf courses in the area. These include: The Arbutus Ridge Golf Club which is located in the seaside community of Cobble Hill and has one of BC's most scenic patios overlooking the 18th hole with mountain and ocean views; the scenic Cowichan Golf and Country Club is a 6,189 yard, par 70, course with many tight fairways lined with trees. The course 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 a mix of parkland and links style holes exquisitely sculpted from the gently rolling and verdant landscape.
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.
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.
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.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia