by Margo Pfeiff
We’ve all seen them on highways and rural byways, massive roadside attractions that elicit a gasp or a guffaw — buffalo as big as locomotives, a helicopter-sized mosquito or a cowboy boot that would fit King Kong. Everybody loves a road trip and these kitschy, small-town landmarks are part of the fun. While they may not be a destination on their own, they offer a quirky target to aim for with the goal of exploring the surrounding region.
British Columbia has its share of mammoth landmarks and — since this is Canada — the Guinness Book of World Records’ holder for the world’s largest hockey stick (and puck), seems a good place to start. Recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 207-foot (63-metre), 33-tonne wooden goal-maker was created for Vancouver’s Expo 86 and now graces the community centre in Duncan, north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. And when hockey fans need to refuel? You’re in the heart of the Cowichan Valley, where produce is showcased weekly at the town’s lively Saturday farmers market. A short drive from Duncan promises a lush mini-Provence, where you can navigate scenic, winding country roads along “Gourmet Trail” tasting routes, dropping in on cheesemakers, wineries, cideries and organic farms. If adventure is your game, head west of Duncan for hiking and paddling around Cowichan Lake; 20 minutes to the south, Shawnigan Lake is the site of the historic Kinsol Trestle, one of the world’s largest free-standing wooden trestles at 187 metres (614 feet) in length and 46 metres (150 feet) in height. With views of the Koksilah River, this eye-popper can be found on a hiking/biking route that is part of the Trans-Canada Trail.
While Duncan is renowned for having more than 30 totem poles that stand tall along its downtown streets, the community of Hope, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Vancouver along the Fraser Valley, has its own wooden statue bragging rights. The town is an outdoor menagerie of more than 30 of Pete Ryan’s giant chainsaw-carved bears, cougars, eagles, foxes and mountain sheep that you’ll spot on a Carving Walk. Those critters in real life reside in the surrounding wilds since the town sits between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges with dramatic rainforests, alpine meadows and whitewater rivers to explore. Between Vancouver and Hope, the broad Fraser Valley is a fertile rural region where self-guided driving tours, Circle Farm Tours, lead to everything from hazelnut orchards and goat dairies to small wineries like Township 7 and Domaine de Chaberton with its fine bistro — some of the Lower Mainland’s best-kept secrets.
Serious wine lovers will want to continue from Hope 240 kilometres (149 miles) further northeast to Kelowna and the Thompson Okanagan grape-growing/wine-making Mecca where there is another quirky landmark worth searching out: a real pyramid. Summerhill Pyramid Winery is Canada’s largest certified organic winery and owner Stephen Cipes places his award-winning products — mostly sparkling wines — into the cool pyramid as the final step in production. Bonus: visitors can experience the serenity of the winery’s authentic, sacred geometric chamber on a tour. Post exploration, continue south along the vineyard-lined shores of Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos lakes, stopping in for tastings at dozens of wineries en route. Some of the province’s best reds ripen in the hot sun of Canada’s only true desert just shy of the US border in the Osoyoos region. And that’s not all; winery touring and tasting — even by bicycle — is year-round fun, while opportunities to raise a glass mark the seasons, thanks to lively celebrations hosted by the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society.