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Five Indigenous people in traditional attire dance and play drums in a field with mist rising and the sun peeking over the mountains in the distance

Cultural Connections in British Columbia

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Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre/Logan Swayze

Reconnecting with nature is reason enough to hit the road to British Columbia, where the cities are surrounded by mountains, ocean, and forest. But it’s the people who shape the place through their diverse cultures, art, history, and ways of life. If you’re yearning to connect with it all—nature, culture, the locals, your loved ones, and your own spirit of adventure—fall is the ideal time to head out and explore.

Vancouver, Richmond, Victoria, and Whistler are all vibrant cities just a few hours north, and it’s easy to visit multiple places in one trip. Here’s what to do and where to go to experience arts and culture in BC this fall.

Mural in Mount Pleasant | Hubert Kang

VANCOUVER

A three-hour drive north of Seattle, British Columbia’s largest city is known for its diverse people and laid-back West Coast vibes. The Coast Salish people have called the Vancouver area home for thousands of years, contributing to the city’s rich history and living culture. You’ll find the center of BC’s arts scene here and plenty of opportunities to recharge outside with the locals.

Explore

Breathe in the ocean air while paddling around Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm. Owned and run by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Takaya Tours offers interpretive trips in traditional-style ocean-going canoes. Along the way, Indigenous guides sing, retell legends, and point out ancient village sites.

Spend time at the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery to explore their current exhibition, “Coast Salish Connections: Making it Flow 2024.” Or for a taste of local culture, head to Salmon n’ Bannock, where Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant offers up a series of creative salmon and game dishes served with their signature bannock.

Delve into Vancouver’s grittier history with Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours, promising tales of “dark crime, outrageous intrigue, and filthy scandal.” These small group tours offer a unique perspective on Gastown, Stanley Park, and the West End’s Davie Street Village, the latter through the Really Gay History Tour.

The mobile app on the Vancouver Mural Festival website leads you on self-guided tours through some of Vancouver’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Alternatively, experience the murals on a private tour with Vancouver DeTours for insight into Vancouver’s social history. Toonie Tours’ Street Art & Craft Beer Vancouver Tour connects you with a small group to socialize through Mount Pleasant, the go-to ‘hood for local craft beer enthusiasts. Want to take it inside? Learn about contemporary Indigenous Northwest Coast art at the celebrated Bill Reid Gallery.

Stay

The downtown Vancouver building that’s home to Skwachàys Lodge is also home to live/work studios for Indigenous artists in residence. Their work is sold at the gallery downstairs, and guestrooms also feature local Indigenous art.

Centrally located on Robson Street, The Listel Hotel is convenient to the city’s laid-back West End and iconic Stanley Park. The boutique hotel’s rooms and suites come adorned with original and limited-edition artwork.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site | @vancitywild

RICHMOND

Next door to Vancouver—and just a 45-minute drive from the US border—Richmond is a destination in its own right. You’ll find serene coastal views and maritime history where the Pacific Ocean meets the Fraser River, along with urban centres packed with Asian shopping and dining options.

Explore

Steveston Village is a charming place to get some fresh air alongside the locals, who walk and bike the waterside pathways. This is a thriving community steeped in history, where you can check out the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site to learn about how the area was once the centre of Western Canada’s fishing industry. Find vessels docked at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can buy freshly caught shrimp, Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and more. Nearby, the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site tells stories of the Chinese, European, Indigenous, and Japanese workers that lived and worked in the area. Richmond’s Public Art Trail also highlights the city’s history and reflects its natural environment, with pieces that range from a gigantic sturgeon to intricate Indigenous treasure boxes.

Learn more about Chinese art, culture, and Buddhist philosophy at the International Buddhist Temple, inspired by Beijing’s Forbidden City. The temple welcomes visitors with explanations in both English and Chinese.

And don’t leave without exploring Richmond’s diverse, ever-changing food scene. The food courts at shopping malls like Aberdeen Centre are great places to sample dumplings, rice rolls, decadent barbecue, curries, bubble waffles, and more.

Stay

The Versante Hotel sets itself apart with vivacious colour and bold style. Located near the Fraser River, this luxury boutique hotel boasts a rooftop saltwater pool.

The Radisson Hotel Vancouver Airport offers easy access to Asian eateries and shopping at Aberdeen Centre, President Plaza, and Yoahan Centre. It’s also conveniently located near the Canada Line’s Aberdeen SkyTrain station, which whisks you into Vancouver.

Royal BC Museum | Hubert Kang

VICTORIA

Take a ferry or hop a floatplane to British Columbia’s capital city, located on Vancouver Island. This garden-filled, beach-fringed city still shows its English heritage. Victoria‘s downtown is small, making its many museums and galleries easily accessible.

Explore

Snap a selfie in front of BC’s regal Parliament Buildings, or book a free guided tour for insight into the province’s political system. The Royal BC Museum next door tells British Columbia’s human and natural history, with exhibits that include a replica of a giant woolly mammoth, a First Peoples gallery displaying spectacular Indigenous carvings, a recreated “Old Town” exhibit, and much more.

Join the locals at Ogden Point for a wander along the GVHA Unity Wall, a 2,700-foot concrete breakwater. The much-loved spot is now a canvas for murals that honor the traditions and history of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. For more of the great outdoors, spend an afternoon in The Butchart Gardens, an iconic, tranquil landscape shaped by the Butchart family in a former limestone quarry.

Architecture fans will want to climb to the top of Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian-era national historic site built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.

Stay

Recently renovated, the landmark Fairmont Empress has played host to royalty and celebrities since 1908 and remains renowned for its elegant afternoon tea service.

Across the harbour at Vic West, the guesthouse accommodation at Spinnakers includes five Victorian-period rooms in an 1884 restored heritage house. One of Canada’s first brewpubs, Spinnakers is still a prime destination for craft-beer lovers, with excellent food prepared with locally sourced ingredients.

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre | Blake Jorgenson

WHISTLER

Home to Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s largest ski resort, the mountain town of Whistler enjoys a relaxing pace in fall. From Vancouver, follow the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway for less than two hours and you’ll find stimulating cultural experiences along with forested valleys, rivers, and lakes.

Explore

Autumn is a lovely time to wander through Whistler, and you’ll get a whole new perspective on this mountain town through the Cultural Connector. This scenic pathway links six cultural institutions with stops of interest along the way: You’ll find stories of Indigenous Peoples, settlers, adventurers, visionaries, and the 2010 Olympic Winter Games that highlight the local community’s evolution. (Get the Go Whistler Tours app for tips on curated tours—from art galleries to nature walks.)

At the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, cultural ambassadors from the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations welcome you with a hand drum song before a guided exhibit tour. Recharge with venison chilli or salmon chowder at the Thunderbird Café before continuing your travels with a deeper understanding of the land and the area’s Indigenous Peoples.

Find inspiration at the Audain Art Museum, where you can contemplate works such as James Hart’s spectacular the Dance Screen, and pieces by BC native Emily Carr and post-war modernist Gordon Smith. For something completely different, embark on an evening adventure with Vallea Lumina. This multimedia night walk activates the imagination through a light show based on Whistler legends.

Planning a trip in November? You won’t want to miss Cornucopia, Whistler’s annual celebration of food and drink. Enjoy tastings, seminars, and more over 10 decadent days.

Stay

Located in Whistler’s Upper Village steps away from the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the luxury Four Seasons Resort and Residences offers resort rooms and retreats where families can reconnect in private, multi-room residences.

And be sure to check out Tourism Whistler’s fall offers, with great rates on nightly accommodation and midweek savings on local dining.

Originally published in August of 2020.

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