From Tsawwassen, board BC Ferries and sail to Vancouver Island. You can take a detour and visit one of the southern Gulf Islands where many artists commonly sell their work. Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Pender islands each have a community of artists, but the biggest concentration of galleries and studios is on Salt Spring Island in the village of Ganges.
Drop by Sidney and find Canada’s only “BookTown” where, within a four-block radius, book lovers have nine stores to shop for modern, used, collector’s and antiquarian books.
Plan to visit the world famous Butchart Gardens, located in Brentwood Bay. Another must-see is the popular Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. Learn about this living eco-system and see marine life from the surrounding waters.
In the capital city of Victoria, stop by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which houses BC’s largest public art collection. Its permanent collection totals 17,000 and features artists from Asia, Europe and North America, including works by Emily Carr. Other galleries include the Winchester Gallery, the Fran Willis Gallery and Starfish Glassworks. Peruse BC’s natural history dating back 10,000 years at the Royal BC Museum.
From Victoria, head north. As you head over the summit of Malahat Drive, pull into the viewpoint for panoramic ocean views over Saanich Inlet and the Saanich Peninsula to distant Mount Baker along this scenic stretch of Highway 1. Stop in Duncan – the “City of Totems” – in the Cowichan Valley to visit carvers at work at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre. A tour of local wineries and BC’s first cidery is a must.
Continue north to Chemainus, originally a logging town, to see the world’s largest outdoor gallery of murals and sculptures. Through the hands of artists, this town transformed its economy and now offers visitors an array of boutiques filled with west-coast-inspired art from local artists and artisans.
Further north, the pretty little town of Ladysmith has heritage walks and various antique and curio shops to peruse. The Ladysmith Historical Society can provide more insight into the town’s coal mining and logging past.
Continue north from Ladysmith to Nanaimo. In Nanaimo, take a heritage tour, stroll along the waterfront or enjoy a short ferry ride to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park for a picnic on one of the many beaches.
Head north to Qualicum Beach. For those interested in antiques and artisan studios, detour west of Parksville to Coombs – famous for its market with the goats grazing on the roof. Garden lovers should stop at Milner Gardens & Woodland in Qualicum Beach. Plan to visit the Comox Air Force Museum, located on the Canadian Forces Base, for a fascinating history of west coast military aviation. A side trip to historic Cumberland is also worth the trip.
The Sunshine Coast is the next stop on your journey. In Comox, board BC Ferries to Powell River. Nestled between ocean and forest and rich in lakes and rivers, Powell River is a hub of the Sunshine Coast that successfully combines the great outdoors with historic and cultural appeal. Stop to catch a flick at the Patricia Theatre – Canada’s oldest, continuously operating movie theatre.
Drive north to explore the eclectic community of Lund, located at the end of Highway 101, and visit the Historic Lund Hotel, complete with art gallery and general store. Watch for whales, sea lions, porpoises, seals and coastal marine birds on a scenic cruise into Desolation Sound. You can board this cruise out of Lund, Powell River or Okeover Inlet to view what are considered to be some of the world’s best cruising waters. Or take a 15-minute water taxi ride from Lund to Savary Island; the island’s white sand beaches and warm swimming waters are reminiscent of more tropical destinations.
South of Powell River at Saltery Bay, board another BC Ferries vessel to Earls Cove to see Harmony Falls in Hotham Sound – it drops 420m/1,400ft into the sound. At Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, hike the easy 4-km/2.5-mi trail to a viewpoint of Sechelt and Jervis inlets. These turbulent waters form spectacular whirlpools and whitewater during peak tide change. Cast a line in Pender Harbour to fish for salmon and rent a kayak to paddle the peaceful curve of Halfmoon Bay’s coastline.
Drive south and keep watch for purple banners. The Sunshine Coast is home to one of the highest per capita ratios of artists, crafters and talented artisans anywhere in Canada, and these banners signal that an artist’s studio is open to the public to browse or purchase. “The Purple Banner Route” stretches from Powell River to Gibsons.
Sechelt boasts a multitude of eclectic studios, galleries and shops. Check out the year-round schedule of exhibitions displaying local and off-coast art works at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt. Adventurers may want to rent a kayak or take a guided paddling tour of Sechelt Inlet.
Visit Gibsons’ numerous galleries and spend time on the waterfront. Complete your holiday with a visit to the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives in Gibsons before boarding BC Ferries to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver.
Ferry from Gibsons to Vancouver, BC’s largest city, and finish your trip in the heart of the downtown shopping district. At the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city’s former courthouse, marvel at the building’s exterior built in the early 20th century by world-renowned architect Francis Rattenbury. Inside are the most significant holdings of works by BC-born artist Emily Carr, whose paintings feature the landscape and Aboriginal peoples of the west and northwest coasts. The gallery also hosts international exhibits ranging in scope and origin.
Further south of downtown is the art lover’s haven of South Granville, with approximately 20 small galleries showcasing art, photography, Aboriginal work and fine antiques. It’s not surprising that area residents call the strip from the Granville Street Bridge to 16th Avenue “Gallery Row.”