“Relax, it’s Qualicum!”
I heard this many times during my visit to this small Vancouver Island community, whose population of 8,900 swells to 16,000 in the summer. They boast the dubious honour of having the highest median age of any city in Canada. But if you think that means this is a sleepy, tea-room filled community, think again.
“If you’re bored in Qualicum Beach, it’s your own fault!” one of the residents said to me as I attended one of many concerts held at the Old School House Arts Centre. I would return to the Arts Centre the next day to take a watercolour painting class (which confirmed my career as a writer), one of a virtual plethora of programs and exhibits offered on an ever-changing basis. The centre’s grand piano was donated by longtime resident and hockey great Howie Meeker.
Qualicum life is exemplified at the Courtyard Café. Meryl and Peter Tryon run this community minded restaurant, and their specialty crepes have both locals and visitors visiting often. Good luck finding a chain restaurant; they’re not allowed in Qualicum Beach.
After filling up on their famous Crepe Benny, I headed to the Farmers Market(Saturdays only) which sees 70 per cent of the market stalls occupied by farmers and local food makers who are required to be there themselves, a “meet your maker” approach which is extremely successful. The other booths are filled with local crafters.
The market also serves another purpose, as active participants in the Food Nutrition Coupon program. Government-funded, 50 families are provided with $15 each week to spend at the market on fresh foods. Last year there was a 98 per cent redemption rate; clearly a much-needed and loved program. Families also have to enroll in at least one cooking class in order to learn how to prepare the foods they’re buying.
It’s B.C., so seafood? Of course. The CView Restaurant in the Qualicum Beach Inn has an extensive menu, which is best enjoyed on their cozy fire-pit laden patio. Take a drive down the highway a bit to Parksville and visit the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa & Resort, as well-known for its spa as it is their changing local cuisine.
While much of the full-time population may be in their retirement years, Qualicum Beach and its neighbour, Parksville, are full of visiting young families and couples from Victoria (just a two hour drive away) or from the Lower Mainland, via ferry. Families often opt to stay at the Beach Club Resort for its convenient suites, complete with full kitchens and well-traversed boardwalk on the ocean. Kite surfers and kite flyers fill the seascape.
I finished my visit with a hike through the 50-acre old growth Heritage Forest (a forest which is over 250 years old), where 200-year-old douglas firs rise up to 700 feet in the air. “There are no mosquitoes, skunks, grizzly bears or moose on the island,” said Gary Murdock of Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours. No wonder they’re relaxed. You had me at mosquitoes.
This article originally ran in The Metro News and has also been featured in The Huffington Post. Watch for Kathy’s “Get Set, Go” travel segment on CHCH Morning Live Television, starting June 23, 2016.