VANCOUVER ISLAND BOUNTY: MEET THE ARTISANS
A group of passionate, committed, supportive and innovative entrepreneurs have elevated Vancouver Island into a hub for exceptional produce and artisan-made specialties. These are a few of CSL’s favourites (available at the Qualicum Beach Farmers market and local specialty shops).
Love Your Mother Farm
If produce were a supermodel, it would look like the utterly perfect vegetables that farmer and owner of Love Your Mother farm, Lauren Stark grows. Her secret? “It’s really important for me to produce the most life-giving produce as naturally as possible to share with my community…that all starts with the soil health, and it’s what I focus on most.” Three seasons in, her vegetable displays at the local market are like pieces of art, one clear way she expresses her creativity. Stark’s family has been on the island for five generations and her charming enthusiasm and care is palpable.
The Product: Seasonal produce like mixed salad greens capped with pretty hand-picked pansies, robust emerald jewels of baby bok choy, Barbie-pink breakfast radishes make for a fresh feast. @lymfarm
There’s a long queue at a certain Qualicum Beach farmers market stall. Spotting the glorious coral hue of smoked salmon, I sample a generous chunk. The rich salmon, soft maple sweetness and hint of smoke is unlike any other I’ve tasted. Campbell River couple Kelly and Brian Flurer, veterans of the fishing industry saw a gap in the market for quality smoked seafood and, in 2008, started Flurer Smokery Ltd, an Aboriginal owned and operated facility that has won numerous awards. The Port Alberni processing facility is immaculate. Neat crates of fresh salmon are expertly filleted, trimmed and de-boned by hand. Premium grade brown sugar, salt, and occasionally spices (or teriyaki) are the only seasonings added before the fish enters a state-of-the-art smokehouse (using apple and alder wood). “You really can taste our attention to detail. There is love in every bite,” says Kelly.
The Product: An impressive array of seasonal smoked seafood ranges from sturgeon, black cod and halibut to mussels, prawns, oysters and more. A variety of Atlantic salmon fillets, chunks, ‘Flurer’s fins’ and jerky are available in six flavours. The company also processes and sells fresh fillets, portions and steaks. flurersmokery.com
Vancouver Island is a long way from Ucayali River, Peru but somehow, as the dark chocolate snaps then proceeds to slowly melt in my mouth I am transported. The smooth, balance of acidity, earthiness and fruit and calculated crisp, snap is textbook – the kind of chocolate you bring out to your favourite relative or give as a special gift. You wouldn’t know born-and-raised Vancouver Island couple Darcy and Nicole Mah only began two years ago, with a determined ethos to combine cocoa with local ingredients (even the packaging and stickers are locally made). “Ultimately all of [our chocolate] are unique because of local ingredients. Our bars are a display of what the island and surrounding areas has to offer… [like] spruce tips from Canadian Pine Pollen in North Vancouver.”
The Product: Rare varietals like 74% Dak Lak are incredibly complex. For a veritable taste of Canadiana in a bar, try the Woodland Crunch with butter crunch bits, spruce tips, juniper, and ginger. unchartedchocolate.com
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks
The nutty, sweet and ultra creamy milk I’m drinking came from a milk dispenser just minutes ago. Its complexity is matched and concentrated ten-fold when I sample a selection of cheese from the ‘free-ranger’ charcuterie grazing box, as complex as those I’ve tasted in Europe – a result of hand made, small batch craft. The Island Brie is lusciously rich, with its oozing centre, while the spicy and smoky Hot Jill is Monterey Jack’s fiery younger sister. Manitoba dairy farmers Chelsea Enns and Albert Gorter took over the cheeseworks and dairy farm in 2021, with an opportunity to process their own milk, they couldn’t refuse. “…Vancouver Island is made up of transplants of people from all over the world, bringing with them their own backgrounds, cultures and ideas. There’s such an eclectic group of artisans here.”
Tending to a herd of approximately 50 Holsteins, Jerseys, and a few brown Swiss. They are fed on mostly grass year-round, the key to high butter fat content (between 4.4 to 5%). The farm produces milk, a plethora of European and North American style cheese, seasonal ice cream and has a farmshop selling local items. Pro tip: Spend an afternoon here with the family, visiting the animals and romanticizing about the farm life.
British Columbia Crab Fishermen’s Association
The unmistakably sweet, briny taste is the ultimate culinary reward after picking through legs, backs and claws of West Coast Dungeness crab. On a foggy morning in Tofino, I walk to the docks where I meet Cam Edwards, a charismatic crab fisherman and David Arquette doppelganger who has been fishing since he was a child, and just pulled up a set of crab traps, brimming with dozens of reddish claws protruding from brown speckled shells that become beige on the underside. He tells me that a year-round season means these prized crustaceans are readily available, plucked from the waters around Tofino by a small group of around 1 000 dedicated fishermen, many family-run for generations. The ultimate in hyper local produce, one could say.
Though public perception about the fishing industry as a whole can sometimes be misconstrued as industrial, crab harvesters in BC are committed to a sustainable future. This includes using an electronic monitoring system that records trap hauls and boat movements, (a system that has become the world standard) and being certified Oceanwise (only mature male crabs are harvested). As Edwards adds, “Dungeness crab harvesters are 100% committed to the long-term sustainability and ecological health of the fishery…crab fishing is very much a lifestyle.”
Crab Fisherman Cam’s crab cake recipe
1 cup shucked Dungeness crab
1/2 cup mayo
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg whites
1/4 cup minced green onion
1 tbsp. Cilantro
1 tbsp. Lime juice
2 tsp. Minced fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
Pinch of salt and pepper
Panko, for coating
Mix ingredients in bowl, form into round cake and dip in panko.
Place in pan with 3-4 tbsps of oil on medium heat.
Check and flip once one side is golden brown and repeat on other side.
Cakes should be spongey when you press on them when cooked. You can further cook them by placing them in the oven at 300 for a few minutes if necessary.
Recipe credit: Ms. Edwards
WHAT TO DO
West Coast Aquatic Safaris
A trip to Vancouver Island wouldn’t be complete without an animal sighting or two. After all, the diverse range of ecosystems including temperate coastal rainforest, ocean and rocky coastal shores in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve are world renowned.
A conveyer belt of species can be seen year-round – the great grey whale migration begins in spring, followed by black bears and humpbacks in late spring, tufted puffins in the summer and then whale season revs up again throughout the fall. Stepping aboard the vessels, I note the 360-degree viewing deck and multiple platforms, a key differentiating factor designed and constructed by owner Keith Phillips, who, after working in the industry for years, saw that the comfort of guests seemed to be an afterthought. “We always have guests who’s bucket list dream is to watch whales in the wild. We have to remember that many visitors here come from parts of the world that are completely landlocked with no ocean… It is an investment for visitors to come out on a tour and we honour that,” notes Phillips.
Even on a sunny day, the chill off of the Tofino waters bites – the heated interior of the covered cabin is a welcome respite between the handful of sightings of feeding grey whales, California sea lions lounging on rock outcrops and otters happily playing in the water, that we’ve eyed today. The adventure lasts around two hours and I’ve completed a bingo card worth of animal sightings.
Upon boarding the Tsawwassen ferry terminal for the two-hour journey to Nanaimo, I glimpse out of the window and see a pair of seals rolling happily in the harbour. Efficient, comfortable spacious, it’s no wonder BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the world, carrying 21.6 million passengers and 9.4 million vehicles (during fiscal year ending March 31, 2023). BC Ferries provides frequent year-round ferry transportation services to the west coast of Canada on 25 routes, currently supported by 38 vessels and 47 terminals, and also manages other remote routes through contracts with independent operators.
Milner Gardens & Woodland – Vancouver Island University
A warm cup of tea and delicious scones smeared with fresh cream and jam overlooking an oceanside bluff – you could be mistaken for thinking it is a scene from southern England. Instead, the coastal gardens and forest, transferred to VIU by Ray and Veronica Milner, with a mission to “maintain the garden in perpetuity for education and the community’s benefit,” boasts 70 hectares including rare rhododendrons, a small orchard, berry and vegetable gardens. You won’t want to miss an indulgent afternoon tea and a few house-made desserts at Camellia tea room at the historic 1931 Milner House.
“You know what my favourite exhibit is right now? This year we have two kelp poachers – a fish that we have never exhibited before and that was only discovered in the 70s – very exciting! You could describe it as a Cheeto dragon: bright orange with frilly fins like a dragon,” Jess Cloutier, marketing coordinator, relays with excitement.
Beginning as a small mini aquarium almost twenty years ago, Canada first catch-and-release aquarium, is on a mission to raise awareness about local marine biodiversity and promote respect for the ocean environment.
The tiny poachers, living in an equally tiny tank are one of the dozens of specimens collected in February from local habitats, and, depending on the species will spend anywhere from a few months (for larger aquatic species like the Giant Pacific octopus) to up to a year as exhibits, until being released in November as part of the aquarium’s collect, educate, release motto.
WHERE TO EAT
Qualicum Beach Cafe
Driven by a West Coast ethos and Mediterranean flourish, the family-owned restaurant hits above its weight. The ocean-view is the perfect backdrop to extensive seafood-centric offerings – West coast crab cakes with a kaffir lime aioli, generous cod burger, and seafood pizza.
End your meal with the ‘all chocolate’ consisting of a rich crémeux with hazelnut feuilletine, or opt for the punchy lemon tart generously filled with curd, or the tiramisu that includes a textbook mascarpone and marsala liquor sabayon layered between strong coffee-soaked ladyfingers. Try the wine flight from local premium wine producers like Martins Lane and Checkmate or a ‘bitter brew’ cocktail. Reservations are recommended as the café is always bustling.
2023 Mazda CX-5 Signature
This compact crossover Mazda SUV with seating for up to five passengers is spacious enough for plenty of photography gear and luggage, and ideal for a long comfortable road trip. Inside, the abachi wood-trimmed front and rear door panels and decorative dash panel add to the upscale feel.
LED front and rear room lamps and front and rear parking sensors are handy when you’re driving back from all of that sunset watching. Peering out of the sunroof offers incredible mountain views and the vehicle is amazingly sharp and responsive drive around curves.
Plus, you’ll get plenty of fuel efficiency, at up to 8.7 L/100 km-highway on the approximately 400-kilometre round-trip journey. Turn up the Bose premium sound system with 10 speakers and blast your favourite folk album, and the 10.25-inch infotainment screen with two front USB-C outlets is ideal for charging all of your gear.
GETTING THERE Direct flights to Nanaimo from Calgary are available throughout the year. If you want the more scenic route, fly-in to Vancouver, and take BC Ferries over to Vancouver Island, where you can rent a car.
TIPS FOR THE ROAD There are dozens of lakes, waterfalls, and forest trails to fill a calendar year. Make sure to make time to explore just a handful.
WHEN TO GO Autumn coincides with a bustle of wildlife activity throughout the island including grizzly bears, spawning salmon and whales peak season runs through October.
This original article first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.
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