Summer Travel ’09: British Columbia

Sea, sky and everything in between
Brian Banks

British ColumbiaOkanagan Summer Wine Festival/Vernon (Aug. 7-8) This is the eighth year for the Okanagan Summer Wine Festival and, like a quality wine, it’s improving with age. Hosted by the Silver Star Mountain Resort in Vernon, the two-day festival’s scheduled events include wine tasting and wine education as well as art, music and outdoor recreation. Tasting sessions are geared to both connoisseurs and novice drinkers alike. The program also offers “wine masters’ dinners” hosted by four resort restaurants and eight local wineries. Toss in some customarily hot, dry, midsummer Okanagan weather, and you’ll have yourself a perfect summer weekend in the province’s largest and most popular wine-growing region.

Hornby Festival/Hornby Island (July 30—Aug. 8) You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more charming B.C. summer activity than this nine-day cultural festival on one of the province’s more laid-back Gulf Islands. First held in 1982, the Hornby Festival features a modest lineup of nationally known musicians, singers and dancers alongside an undercard of talented local acts. Primary venues are the Community Hall for indoor shows and Olsen Farm for outdoor performances. During the course of the festival, main-stage acts also perform short sets at unusual outdoor locations. Hornby’s summertime population has increased substantially in recent years, and the popularity of the festival continues to grow right along with it.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

Mountaintop Hiking/Winter Olympic Preview/Whistler Summertime activities in Whistler keep multiplying. This year’s big addition: the new Peak 2 Peak gondola, a 4.4-km link between the upper reaches of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains that opened last December. Not only is the gondola a spectacular sightseeing platform (at one point it is suspended a world-record 436 m above the valley floor), but it also gives summer visitors much easier access to more than 50 km of high-alpine hiking trails. This year, too, there’s pre-Olympic fever in the air. If you catch it, tour the Whistler Sliding Centre, where all luge, bobsleigh and skeleton races will be run.

HSBC Celebration of Light/Vancouver (July 22—Aug. 1) As a form of municipal entertainment, waterfront musical fireworks competitions are a bit past their peak—but not so with Vancouver’s HSBC Celebration of Light. While finding sponsors is now a struggle (the event was briefly cancelled this spring), the show continues to draw huge crowds—an estimated 1.6 million spectators, some from great distances. And no wonder. For while the pyrotechnics are amazing, so is the English Bay setting. Combined, they have the potential to be magical. This year, teams from Canada, South Africa, Britain and China are in the running—each competes on a different night—with Canada the two-time defending champ.

Hot Springs Tour/Kootenay Rockies Hot springs are an abundant geological phenomenon in the Kootenay Rockies region of southeastern B.C. What’s more, faith in these springs’ therapeutic properties played an important role in first attracting people and development to the area. Today, that appeal is once again turning these springs—with names like Radium, Lussier, Canyon, Ainsworth and Halycon—into much-sought-after summer destinations. Water temperatures typically range from about 40° C to 44° C. In terms of facilities, spring seekers can choose from the high-end luxury of the Fairmont Hot Springs hotel to the wilderness setting of Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park and all calibre of places in between.