Duncan is the unofficial capital of the Cowichan Valley, a fertile crescent of rich farmland, lush vineyards, heritage river systems, and scenic backroads in the southeastern corner of Vancouver Island.
Dubbed the “City of Totems,” Duncan has more than 80 First Nations carvings located throughout town, and is also home to the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre. This Aboriginal cultural centre on the banks of the Cowichan River honours the ancient roots of the Coast Salish in the valley, which takes its name from a Salish word meaning “the warm lands.” Duncan is also known for great shopping and dining, the Saturday Farmer’s Market, Aboriginal experiences, BC Forestry Discovery Centre, and its historic old-town quarter.
Specialty Foods, Farms and Markets
Duncan was once a pitstop on the Trans-Canada Highway for fast food and gas. Now the area is rapidly evolving into a slow-food mecca known for its farms, organic crops, specialty food producers, and field-to-table philosophy (aka the 100 Mile Diet).
Bring more than one canvas shopping bag when touring the region’s farmgates, artisan bakeries, cheese shops, organic meat suppliers, and fruit stands. Dine in relaxed comfort at bistros and fine restaurants in the region. Cookbook author/mushroom hunter Bill Jones runs a local cooking school.
Cold Climate Wines
Many rural acreages have been transformed into vineyards to take advantage of the Cowichan’s terroir (soil) and sunny skies. Since the 1980s, close to a dozen wineries have opened in the area, and some are now producing award-winning vintages (pinot noir and pinot gris in particular). Take a self-guided tour of tasting rooms or join a group outing and leave the driving to knowledgeable experts.
More than 100 independent boutiques, galleries, fashion outlets, book stores, restaurants, a lively brewpub, and a handful of funky coffeeshops have reinvigorated downtown Duncan. Visit the Cowichan Valley Museum in the 1912 railway station. Tour the totem poles. And catch a show at the Duncan Garage Showroom, a delightfully intimate acoustic music venue. Just north of town is the BC Forestry Discovery Centre with its steam train ride and lumber-camp setting.
Close to Duncan
The Cowichan as a whole stretches from the towns of Mill Bay and Cobble Hill in the south (a half-hour northeast of Victoria over the Malahat mountain range) to Ladysmith (20 minutes south of Nanaimo). Maps, accommodation information, and more are available at the Duncan-Cowichan Visitor Centre (381 Trans-Canada Highway near the downtown Trunk Road stop light).
In Duncan’s immediate vicinity are the lovely, foodcentric hamlet of Cowichan Bay and the sheltered pleasure cruising harbours of Maple Bay and Genoa Bay. Inland to the west are two lakeside towns – Cowichan and Shawnigan – that are linked by a hiking and cycling route that follows the famous Galloping Goose train line over a series of remarkable wooden trestle bridges.
Pastoral backroads invite leisurely exploration. On the town’s eastern side is Cowichan Bay, home to fine B&Bs, tempting artisan food outlets, and the Cowichan Maritime Centre’s historic wooden boats. Maple Bay and Genoa Bay are a pair of impossibly scenic waterfront villages on the ocean side of Mount Tzouhalem – a great spot for hiking, mountain biking, and rambles through a rare Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.
West of Duncan along the Cowichan Valley Highway (#18) is the recreational (swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, cycling) Cowichan River corridor. Drivers can continue on the fully paved, big tree Pacific Marine Circle Route to the west coast, or circumnavigate the forestry roads around Cowichan Lake while making stops at Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay, Youbou, and the town of Lake Cowichan.
Where to Begin
Stop by the Duncan-Cowichan Visitor Centre for more information about Duncan and the surrounding Vancouver Island region, as well as maps of the area.
information from hellobc.com