Squamish - Where Mountains Meet Fjord
Not long ago, Squamish was one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets as a tourist destination. The logging town at the north end of Howe Sound was mostly thought of as a sojourn along Highway 99 between Vancouver and Whistler. In recent years, however, Squamish has emerged as a thriving venue for all sorts of adventures — from tame to hardcore. One look at the geography surrounding the community of 20,000 — the end of the spectacular Howe Sound fjord, the awe-inspiring granite monolith known as the Stawamus Chief and the distinctive peak of the 2,678-metre (8,787-foot) Mount Garibaldi, to name but three features — and it’s easy to see why.
Forestry has seen a decline but remains an important part of the economy, which has diversified. In the 1980s, Squamish began marketing itself as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” because of the abundant outdoor activity opportunities including whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and trail running. Perhaps the seminal moment in Squamish’s emergence as a tourist destination was the opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola in 2014. Ascending past the Chief and 1,099-foot Shannon Falls to a ridge below the summit of Mount Habrich, guests are whisked 885 metres (2,903 feet) to the Summit Lodge, from which they can enjoy stunning views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains, including nearby Sky Pilot and the more-distant peaks of the Tantalus Range.
At the lodge, guests can enjoy a drink or a meal while taking in the incredible views. Several hiking trails — some accessible to all, including those with mobility challenges — fan out into the mountains, several of them ending at scenic viewpoints. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge is another key attraction. Along the pathways you’ll find interpretive signage showcasing the area’s flora and fauna and the legends of the Squamish Nation people who have called the area home for millennia. In February 2019, gondola officials announced plans to construct an “architecturally spectacular” elevated tree walk. The 34-metre structure will be fully accessible and will rise 34 metres (112 feet) above the forest floor. The feature was still at the proposal stage at press time, but if all goes according to plan, the tree walk plans to open in the spring of 2020.
The Sea to Sky Gondola also hosts numerous events including trail races, classes in yoga and outdoor adventure skills, weddings and a Friday night summer concert series. Because of the popularity of the Friday series, Thursday evening shows featuring solo acoustic music have been added in July and August.
The Squamish area is home to other world-class attractions including the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, featuring vintage, meticulously restored railcars and the famed Royal Hudson steam locomotive. The park hosts numerous events throughout the year (wcra.ca). Eleven kilometres south of town in Britannia Beach, the Britannia Mine Museum was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire. Now a National Historic Site, the museum has added a significant new attraction this year: “Boom!,” a live-action, multi-sensory special-effects show that brings the 96-year-old, 20-storey Mill No. 3 building to life. The $4 million attraction was set to open June 1.
“Millions of people have driven up the Sea to Sky Highway throughout the years and wondered what this giant building is attached to the side of the mountain,” said Kirstin Clausen, the museum’s executive director. “Boom!” is a compelling way for us to share the mill’s authentic and heart-warming story, and its purpose and function as a historically significant community beacon to the more than 60,000 people who used to live and work here at the Britannia Mine.”
Squamish’s summer event calendar is replete with outdoor fun. The Squamish Days Logger Sports competition, a long-running civic festival, brings together some of the world’s top lumberjacks for log rolling (a.k.a. birling), hand bucking, tree topping and falling and the like.
The Wind Festival, July 18 to 20, features live music and art as well as competitions in wind and kite surfing, sailing and stand-up paddleboarding. The following weekend (July 26 to 28), the new Squamish Constellation Festival takes centre stage with top-name musical acts including Serena Ryder, Bahamas and A Tribe Called Red.
For information about events and activities, visit the Squamish Adventure Centre just off Highway 99 near downtown: phone (604) 815-4994 (local) or 1-877-815-5084 (toll-free).