Rich History, Stunning Beauty
UNESCO Designation Adds to Town’s Reputation as a Mecca for Outdoor Pursuits
Story by David Burke | Images By Joern Rohde
In 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the fjord known as Howe Sound as Canada’s 19th Biosphere Region in recognition of its “rich Indigenous culture, biodiversity and unique geography.”
The community at the head of the inlet, Squamish, was once known mostly as a stopping-off point between better-known destinations Vancouver and Whistler. But no longer. The UNESCO designation of Átl’ḵa7tsem, as it’s known to the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (a.k.a. Squamish) First Nations people who call the area home, was just the latest enhancement to the community’s growing reputation as one worth visiting in its own right.
The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh have inhabited the area watched over by the impressive granite monolith known as the Stawamus Chief and Mount Garibaldi (Nch’kay) for millennia. Europeans and other immigrants began settling here in the 19th century, establishing logging and mining as the primary industries. While forestry is still part of the economy, the town has gained fame as a place to enjoy mountain biking, climbing, wind and water sports, and the area’s vibrant natural and historical attractions.
Hiking up the Stawamus Chief has been a popular activity for decades. In 2014, the opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola, just south of the Chief, introduced vast new opportunities for softer tourism and more adventurous activities. After ascending 885 metres (2,903 feet) to the Summit Lodge, guests enjoy stunning views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. The ride up also features unique vistas of 335 m (1,099 ft.) Shannon Falls and the 702 m (2,303 ft.) Chief.
A network of hiking trails, suited to both a short walk or a longer trek, radiates out from the lodge, or you can sit back on the vast open sundeck and enjoy a meal or a tall, cool one. The gondola hosts special summertime events including the Mountain Music series. Every Friday evening from June 9 to Sept. 15, live bands from near and far keep audiences rockin’ in one of the most stunning outdoor concert settings imaginable. seatoskygondola.com
The Railway Museum of British Columbia, featuring vintage, meticulously restored railcars and the famed Royal Hudson steam locomotive, is a popular attraction with train and history buffs. There’s also a mini-rail and the chance to visit the nearby Restoration Shop to see skilled technicians restoring vintage railcars to their former glory. wcra.org
In Britannia Beach, 11 kilometres south of Squamish, Britannia Mine Museum is located on the site of what was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire. In 2023 the museum marks the 100th year of historic Mill No. 3 with a feature exhibit on its workings. No visit is complete without a fascinating ride on the museum’s underground mine train. Advance booking for the museum is strongly encouraged. britanniaminemuseum.ca
Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the corner of Cleveland and Victoria downtown, the Squamish Farmers’ Market, with more than 50 vendors, is a great place to stock up on fresh local produce, eggs and more. squamishfarmersmarket.com
The Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival is the community’s signature summer event, from Aug. 3 to 6, 2023. It features a kettle boil and lumberjack chili cook-off, a chainsaw carving competition, kids’ events, the popular bed races and festival parade, and amateur and professional loggers’ sports competitions. squamisdays.ca