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Cultural Connections in British Columbia

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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—now’s the 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.

Note: This story has been written specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies. Plan ahead and visit our Know Before You Go page, where you’ll find important, real-time information on the Canadian border, local public health orders and recommendations, driving routes, wildfires, and more.

Looking at 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 replica ocean-going canoes. Along the way, guides from the Coast Salish Nation sing, retell legends, and point out ancient village sites.

Spend time at the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery for a deeper look into contemporary Indigenous designer Corrine Hunt’s current multi-media exhibit, Kapiguxw’id: Iklegans dudakwo | Gathering: It’s good to see you [again]. Or for a taste of local culture, head to Salmon n’ Bannock, where Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant offers casual fare like “bannockwiches” and elk stew.

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 take place outdoors with social distancing in mind. They 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 maps and app on the Vancouver Mural Festival website lead you on self-guided tours through some of Vancouver’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Or, see the murals through a private tour with Vancouver DeTours for insight into Vancouver’s social history. Toonie Tours’ Street Art and Craft Beer Walking 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? Check out the DaVinci Experience in Tsawwassen Mills, a multi-sensory, 360º immersive journey that explores Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest inventions.

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 centers packed with Asian shopping and dining options.

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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 center of Western Canada’s fishing industry. You’ll still find vessels docked at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can buy shrimp, Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and more. Nearby Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site tells stories of the Chinese, European, Indigenous, and Japanese workers that lived and worked in the area, while 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, which is inspired by Beijing’s Forbidden City. The temple welcomes visitors with explanations in both English and Chinese.

And don’t miss exploring Richmond’s diverse, ever-changing food scene. The food courts at shopping malls like Aberdeen Centre are great places to sample dumplings, curries, bubble waffles, and more.

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The brand new Versante Hotel sets itself apart with vivacious color 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.

A couple admiring the art at the Royal BC Museum | Hubert Kang

VICTORIA

Take a ferry or hop a floatplane to British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, which is located on Vancouver Island. This garden-filled, beach-fringed city still shows its English heritage. You can explore many of its downtown museums and galleries on foot.

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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; an interactive exhibit celebrates the resiliency and diversity of Indigenous languages in the province, and a new pocket gallery focuses on Black British Columbians.

Join the locals at Ogden Point for a walk 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.

Visit the Bateman Gallery to see the largest collection of original works by Canadian artist and naturalist Robert Bateman. Across town, architecture fans will want to climb to the top of Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian-era national historic site built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.

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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 based on locally sourced ingredients.

Exploring the 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.

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Autumn is a lovely time to stroll 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, pioneers, 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 draw’s café before continuing with a deeper understanding of the land and the area’s Indigenous peoples.

Find inspiration at the Audain Art Museum, where you can enjoy a contemplative experience with a reduced capacity for social distancing. Highlights include Indigenous masks, Emily Carr paintings, and works by internationally regarded contemporary artists such as Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham.

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.

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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 don’t forget to check out Tourism Whistler’s fall offer, complete with nightly savings at brand-name hotels and dining vouchers.

Featured Image: Mural at Gene Coffee Bar in Vancouver. | Hubert Kang

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