The signs on Highway 99 have been installed for years now.
“Squamish, the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.” Those signs must have amused the folks in Whistler or Banff. For most tourists, Squamish was the place where you stopped for gas if you forgot to fill up in Vancouver. Wow, have things ever changed.
My first outdoor experience in Squamish 30 years ago was hiking the Chieftain, a lung opener that still puts the Grouse Grind to shame. Rock climbing up the face of the Chief has always been popular and Mt. Garibaldi, Diamond Head and Black Tusk were fun summer climbs. Mostly, I passed by Squamish for ski vacations in Whistler.
Recently I went for business in Squamish where I needed to stay a few nights. Quality accommodations are still hard to find. The Executive Suites Hotel looked the best of the lot. Checking in, I bumped into a squadron of river rafters, bubbling with enthusiasm after a day racing down the Elaho River. I talked to the concierge. River rafting is booming. So, apparently, is back country hiking, camping, rock climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding, kite boarding, wind surfing, mountain biking, eagle watching, fly fishing, horseback riding, backcountry hiking, mountain climbing, scenic flights, a huge new railway museum, a mining museum in Britannia Beach, the new Furry Creek golf course, and the list goes on. Squamish as a recreation destination has arrived.
The new Sea to Sky Gondola opened last year south of town is the reason. In its first season the Gondola brought over 300,000 new visitors to the region. Not just Vancouver day trippers but vacationers from the United States and Europe. Expectations are for those numbers to double or triple in the next few years.
Young active entrepreneurs are moving to Squamish in droves. I started my day with a hearty breakfast at Fergies Café up in Brackendale, the social centre for locals. The only place to eat is at picnic tables under the trees and at 8.30 in the morning there was a lineup. Jake and Jesse are from England, river guides who discovered Squamish and decided to make it home. They operate renovated Sunwolf cabins and a river rafting operation. Breakfast proved they were born for the hospitality business.
A farmers market in any town is the place to go to meet locals. The Squamish market was packed. Organic food stalls vied with live music and vendors selling cool drinks on a very hot day. Most stalls posted signs listing their Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter addresses. They may be selling chard, but these Squamish farmers are a new kind of farmer.
The Howe Sound Brewery has won the Best Brew Pub in B.C. award the last few years and it’s easy to see why. The cavernous pub serves up top quality craft beer, hand crafted on the rear of the premises, now shipping all over the province. Good pub food with great service.
The Executive Suites Resort was just that, full suites with kitchens and dining space and huge patios and a swimming pool. Evidently it’s the place in Squamish for family get-togethers and people booking for multi-day stays. Obviously there is a huge need in Squamish for more quality resorts, boutique hotels or multi-day inns.
I dropped by the Squamish tourism office (look for the sign that says Adventure Centre) and talked with the very helpful staff. I signed up for river rafting, a scenic flight and kayaking so I’ll be back again soon. Much to explore. The improved Sea-to-Sky Highway makes it an easy 45-minute drive from Vancouver. The signs aren’t kidding when they say this is the “outdoors capital” of Canada. Hey, I bet the folks up in Whistler are watching. There’s a new kid in town.