A Taste of Squamish
It was just starting to rain as we walked up the snow-lined path, our feet crunching noisily on the gravel. It was also much colder than I’d expected it to be, and my hands were balled tightly into fists and shoved deep into my pockets as we shuffled along the path. I heard the waterfall before I saw it, though the roaring of the water falling 335 metres into the rocks below was soon drowned out by the chattering and camera clicks that could only belong to a group of equally cold tourists. We picked our way awkwardly through a group of over excited toddlers wrapped head to toe in what looked like polyester covered marshmallows, and took our own photos of the Shannon Falls. A steep path to the right of the viewing area led down to the side of the waterfall, where we watched the ice-cold water smash into the side of the river bank. The trees provided some welcome cover from the rain, and the noise of screaming toddlers was soon replaced with the infinitely more welcome sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling. Facing away from the viewing gallery and into the trees, we could have been wandering through the depths of a remote, West Coast rainforest. We savoured the moment for the last time, before making the three minute walk back to the small parking lot on the edge of Highway 99.
Squamish is a small, rural community of a little over 15,000 people nestled in between Vancouver and Whistler on the infamous Sea to Sky Corridor. This number does not include the population of the ‘Squamish Nation’, an amalgamation of self-governed Indian Reserves which stretch from Squamish across the North Shore. The recent improvements to the previously shaky Sea to Sky Highway in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics have puts Squamish a mere hour’s drive North from Downtown Vancouver, and many Squamish residents commute to ‘the city’ daily.
My previous trips to Squamish have been fleeting at best, and mainly work related. In March 2011 a series of unfortunate events resulted in a 90 minute visit for pleasure rather than work, though at least 85 of these minutes were spent standing outside Shoppers Drug Mart waiting for a ride back to Vancouver, so I don’t really count that one. Needless to say, I was excited to be spending a weekend in Squamish on my own terms, and with no other agenda than relaxing.
We were staying in the Garibaldi Executive Suites, just north of Downtown Squamish, and my heart leapt as we pulled into the drive and up to the large, wooden chalet-esque structure. The wood theme continued inside, this time much darker and sleeker, and the smoking fire in the elegant lobby gave off an air of apres-ski meets luxury. The thick, comfortable chairs in the restaurant were positioned with the perfect view over the disused golf course that made up the grounds of the hotel, and even on a cloudy afternoon the green-brown grass, wooden bridge and snow topped mountains outside made my warming black bean soup and homemade biscuit taste even better than expected. The outdoor hot tub epitomized the true atmosphere of the hotel; the dream destination for the outdoor lover who spends long days on the mountains and long nights resting their aching muscles.
Dinner was a short drive to Squamish’s very own Howe Sound Brewing Company; a brewery, bar, restaurant and guesthouse in one and perhaps the most recommended venue on the Sea to Sky Highway. Another wood-filled building, the high ceilings in the bar were the perfect backdrop for the kayak and the windsurf hanging from the beams, and the multi-coloured mugs dangling from hook upon hook behind the bar. There were seven year round and six seasonal brews on tap, and the Saturday night special was the Devil’s Elbow India Pale Ale. The menu was comprised of pub classics and comfort food, and it seemed only fitting to fill up on the BBQ pizza and cheesy nachos. I found myself gazing round the room and staring at the increasing numbers of patrons crowded around tables and lounging on well worn sofas, wondering if they were locals, tourists on vacation, or simply visitors dropping in on their way to or from Whistler. The residents of Squamish I’m acquainted with are fiercely proud of their community, and maintain a strong sense of individuality on the Sea to Sky Corridor. Squamish isn’t Vancouver. And it isn’t Whistler either. It’s the middle sister in a family of hot shot destinations which, despite its adamant independence, was demonstrating that some Canadian ties are inescapable by showing the Vancouver Canucks game on the big screen. Hockey is stronger than water, eh?
We were about half way through our nachos when I heard a greeting aimed in our general direction. At first I ignored it – who could I possibly know in Squamish? – before realizing that the accented voice belonged to a fellow Brit we met in Vancouver in early 2011. I asked him what he was doing in Squamish: ‘Just visiting a friend on my way up to Whistler’. Of course.
Squamish is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, largely due to the year round activities on offer. Many of those we were sharing the hotel with were taking advantage of nordic skiing, snow shoeing, eagle viewing and horseback riding, whilst warmer weather will attract hikers, white water rafters, golfers and kite-surfers. Squamish is home to more vantage points than I could ever have imagined; each one looking out over striking mountains, lush greenery and crystal lakes with water so blue you’ll mistake it for a photoshopped Facebook profile picture. Gazing out across Porteau Cove made me feel so utterly at peace with myself and the world around me, until a crushing wave of disappointment and frustration hit with the realization that no camera could fully replicate what I was looking at.
I used to mentally divide residents of a particular area into ‘town folk’ and ‘country folk’, with nothing and nowhere in between. People either like living in the town, or the country, just like the mice of Aesop’s fable. I definitely saw myself as a town mouse, and couldn’t imagine living somewhere in the middle of nowhere (read: more than a mile from Starbucks). Much like in the story, I imagined my visit to Squamish would be much like the town mouse’s visit to his country-loving cousin; a brief fling with a quaint and picturesque community which was no match for my real and exciting life in the city. Unlike in the story, I didn’t scoff or look down at what I found when I arrived, and I left wondering if any such grey area between the two camps might exist.
The omelette chef in the hotel restaurant the next morning surprised me with his simple reason for leaving his native Vancouver and relocating to Squamish. ‘The city is too noisy, too busy and too full of people. Here I wake up to this beautiful scenery every day, but I can be in Downtown in 45 minutes when I want to be. I wouldn’t move back there if you paid me’. Aside from the fact that he’d have to have outstanding luck for the drive down the Highway to make it to Downtown in 45 minutes, the man had a point. At that point in time I felt a million miles away from home, a state of mind conjured up by my oh-so-relaxed surroundings, but all of a sudden 67 km was starting to look like a hop, skip and a jump. Maybe rural living isn’t just for country mice.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to swap my Downtown condo for a cabin in the woods, but my weekend in Squamish did give me some food for thought. I can’t wait to go back for another taste later in the year, and I’ll be looking to see if the warmer weather can shed a little more light on that grey area.