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Artistic Explorations

Art Wells Festival - Wells, BC | Thomas Drasdauskis

Come to our region, where arts, culture and agritourism thrive.

The themes of exploration and discovery course through this region, as the earliest settlers discovered so long ago. Today, as current-day explorers experience our ruggedly beautiful scenery, they will also uncover any hidden gems. Arts, cuisine and agritourism thrive here and are generously shared by those who are inspired by our landscapes.

Arts and Culture

The topography of this vast region is often reflected in the culture and works of the talented artists who visit and live here. “It is a land of striking contrasts…a land that drew me like a magnet into its soul,” wrote Richmond P. Hobson in the first installment of his classic 1978 trilogy, Grass Beyond the Mountains.

Indigenous compositions have been performed around campfires for thousands of years and soaring totem poles, intricate beadwork and other arts reflect this region’s powerful sense of place. In 1904, Emily Carr roamed the region by “cowpony” and was inspired to paint landscapes in this place she loved. Touring the region in 1914, the Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson was equally enthralled.

He returned in the 1940s to produce works that are now displayed in galleries around the world.

Painter Mark Hobson is also inspired by the Chilcotin landscape and many locations in the Great Bear Rainforest such as Calvert Island, which he painted recently to raise awareness about preserving the coastline for future generations. To this end, he and more than 50 of Canada’s most celebrated artists, including painters, poets and writers, published a book titled Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast.

Art and nature lovers will want to experience the region’s many galleries. Some galleries are works of art themselves, such as the Central Cariboo Arts Centre, which houses a number of artisan groups in a decommissioned fire hall, and the Williams Lake Station House Gallery, a restored 1920s railway station showcasing pottery, weaving and other visual arts.

100 Mile House is a culture-seeker’s delight with many galleries to explore, including the Parkside Art Gallery; its exterior a work of art itself. Check out the murals depicting historical figures and pioneer life, displayed on the buildings here. And nearby, at 108 Mile House, drop by the Chris Harris Studio Gallery, a straw-bale structure featuring photography of the region by the award-winning photographer (open by chance, or call ahead).

The town of Wells is another arts and culture highlight. This artist retreat offers studios and galleries housed in colourfully painted heritage buildings and a celebrated art school, where vacationers can enroll in folk art and music classes. The town’s restored Sunset Theatre hosts professional music, film and theatre retreats, while the annual Art Wells Festival is the home to the Cariboo’s largest celebration of and “festival of all things art,” complete with art installations, performers, parades, readings, theatre shows, workshops and so much more.

In Barkerville Historic Town & Park, live theatre spills onto a unique streetscape of more than 125 heritage buildings, period displays, satellite museums, restaurants and shops. The costumed interpreters here are so convincing, they create the illusion of travelling back to the 1860s. The Studio Theatre Society in Williams Lake, meanwhile, has staged diverse seasonal theatre productions for the past 60 years. Horsefly’s Arts on the Fly festival presents music, dance, food and fun in equal measure. And Ashcroft’s Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society showcases creative talents in annual music concerts, festivals, art displays and workshops.

The Cariboo is also home to local artists “Camel” Dave Howell, who performs at festivals throughout the West, as does Frank Gleeson, the “Fastest Cowboy Poet in the West” and official cowboy poet of Williams Lake.

Culinary Bella Coola

Bella Coola, BC | Geoff Moore

Culinary Discoveries

The cultural and historical diversity of this region is also proudly showcased in the area’s culinary experiences. From traditional Indigenous and cowboy campfire cuisine to tastes of the Orient, the culinary offerings of these small communities remain somewhat undiscovered. Fueled by a strong agricultural community focused on sustainable growing and heirloom varietals, exciting new flavours are always on offer.

The fresh culinary perspective gained by exploring regional flavours can be further honed by visits to agricultural fairs and festivals. The South Cariboo Garlic Festival in Lac la Hache features a Master Garlic Chef Cook-Off, while Lillooet’s popular Apricot Tsaqwen (cho-com) Festival gives a nod to the local Indigenous culture.

Local restaurants and eateries are diverse, from popular food chains along Gold Rush Trail routes to sophisticated restaurants scattered throughout the region that offer fresh seasonal ingredients. Fort Berens Estate Winery’s gourmet meals are prepared from local ingredients and paired with award-winning wines, while KiNiKiNiK Restaurant on Highway 20 in the Chilcotin features pasture-to-plate locally produced beef and certified organic products and the Bella Coola Valley Inn offers fantastic Korean fare along with Western cuisine.

Coastal cuisine is nothing short of decadent: think succulent Dungeness crab, enormous spot prawns, fresh halibut and other fish. If you aren’t headed west on this trip, drop in at Big H’s Fish and Chips in Wells for a taste of the sea, gold rush style. Discover bakeries with secret family recipes, home-style cafés and eateries in historic buildings, each with its own tale to tell. Talented outfitters can even prepare gourmet grub on a mountain top. TripAdvisor reviews begin with openers like, “What an amazing surprise” and “Unbelievable meals and superb, friendly service.”

Indigenous rodeos and pow wows offer visitors a chance to munch on fresh, hot bannock and slurp hooshum, a traditional dessert made from whipped Soopolallie (also known as Soapberry) berries. Indigenous heritage sites at Tuckkwiowhum (tuck-we-ohm), Xatśūll (hat-sull), and Xwisten (hoysh-ten) all offer traditional culinary experiences (be sure to book in advance).

Agritourism Harvest Cariboo BC

Harvest in the Cariboo | Brad Kassleman

Agritours: Farms, Markets and Vineyards

Farmers, ranchers and specialty producers here share the art, science, and dedication involved in raising livestock and growing crops, including efforts to maintain sustainable farm and ranch ecosystems with healthy soils and free range pasture lands. They are increasingly aware that local, sustainably grown foods are vital to health and well-being and that reducing the environmental impact of long distance shipping and the need for food stabilizers and other preservatives are the key to sustainability.

In the north Cariboo, organic producers create birch syrup, tapped fresh from the tree, which they also use to make barbeque sauce. The central Cariboo features such delicacies as the Marguerite and Soda Creek area’s sweet corn (you can reach both by heading north from Williams Lake to Soda Creek, then onto Margeurite where you’ll also find a historic ferry crossing and interesting gold rush trail and ranching history).

Though the wine industry is relatively young in the Fraser Canyon, the BC Grapegrowers’ Association has test vineyards in the Lytton and Lillooet area. The vines at Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet are planted in soil enriched by 150 years of bountiful melon, tomato and alfalfa production, one possible reason why the winery continues to make headlines. Since 2012, Fort Berens has won many medals at international competitions, including the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition.

Lillooet has also evolved into a hotbed for hops growers who are helping fuel BC’s burgeoning craft-beer industry. In 2013, the organic hops grown by Lillooet’s Bitterbine Hop Company (now Harvesters of Organic Hops) were used by Vancouver’s Powell Street Craft Brewery to produce the Canadian Brewing Awards Beer of the Year. The presence of local hop farms also enables BC brewers to craft new, trend-setting products such as fresh-hopped beer, made by adding hops to brews within 24 hours of their harvest. Barkerville Brewing Co. in Quesnel blends local hops with gold rush stories, paying homage to this region with its award-winning beers. Meanwhile, vineyards and wineries are also making inroads in the region, with Cliff and Gorge Vineyards outside of Lillooet located on Historic Texas Creek Ranch – perfect for a tasting tour, walk, or picnic (stop in at Abundance Artisan Bakery in town before you head out for made from scratch delicacies) .

In the Fraser Canyon, there is a saying: “Add water to this sun-drenched land and you can grow anything.” For more than 150 years, produce grown here in this land of abundant orchards, farms and ranches has been winning awards, from Widow Smith apples in Spences Bridge to giant potatoes and tasty tomatoes from Ashcroft. The community of Lytton has become a destination for organic and heirloom growers with several farms growing fruits and vegetables, including onions, garlic, squash, melons, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, beets and more than 50 varieties of apples. Other ranches produce heritage poultry breeds and heirloom open-pollinated seeds to ensure food diversity.

Many communities host weekly farmers’ markets, often with local arts and crafts on offer. At the Bella Coola market, travellers can stock up on fresh produce and sample regional specialties such as honey, giant prawns, Dungeness crab and salmon. Gourmands can keep their eyes peeled for farmgate offerings of sweet Walla Walla onions, Russian red garlic and sun loving Kentucky wonder yellow beans. Other operators in the region open their barn doors so visitors can appreciate the fine art of “farming with the season” while sampling and purchasing local delicacies.

Country fairs also provide a window into local life. They showcase 4-H competitions, where youth raise livestock and grow crops while acquiring life skills. Mentored by local ranchers and farm producers, children between the ages of 9 and 19 years “Learn to do by doing” with cattle, horses, lambs, hogs, sewing, mechanics, photography, bees, gardening and more.

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