Taking its name from a native reference meaning land warmed by the sun, there are many good reasons to take break from the busy island highway and visit Cowichan Bay, a place that seems married to another time. Driving through farmland dotted with old wooden houses and orchards, drivers leaving the island highway will find themselves slowing, and will soon feel compelled to stop.
Cowichan Bay is one of only a few places in British Columbia that truly deserve the title of ‘village’. As early as 1900, the charm of the waterfront settlement brought tourists, delivered in their finery from steamships, to picnic and enjoy the outdoors. Growing up from roots as a Hudson’s Bay Fort, and then as a center for commercial fishing and logging, the working harbour feel, and historic English influence, is maintained and sits side by side with tasteful development, proportional to the small space, and includes numerous restaurants, shops, float homes and artists’ studios. Stories of the whole bay, from shore to shore, glistening with salmon as they gathered to go up the Cowichan River can still be heard as you enjoy some “slow food dining” of hearty clam chowder or organic chicken, and take in the peaceful view across the docks and fishing boats.
Activities popular in the area include all sorts of boating, wildlife viewing (including the over 200 bird species that use the estuary of the Cowichan River); whale watching, river and ocean fishing, diving, hiking at nearby Mount Tzouhale, and wine tasting. It is also host to the Wooden Boat display at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre; the site of several exemplary organic and sustainable farms; the second oldest Lawn Tennis court in the world; the June Boat Festival, and sailing, including the Cowichan Bay Regatta. There are three nearby golf courses: Cowichan Golf and Country Club, Duncan Meadows Golf and Country Club in Duncan, and Arbutus Ridge Golf and Country Club. Depending on the season, visitors and locals still go down to the docks to buy local fish and seafood right off the boats.
Location and access:
Cowichan Bay is situated approximately 40 km north of Victoria on the east side of Vancouver Island. Access is via Cowichan Bay road that exits the Island Highway (Trans Canada no. 1) at two points, one just south of Duncan for those heading south from Nanaimo, and one north of Mill Bay for travelers heading north from Victoria. For more information please visit www.cowichanbay.com