Back to Jammin’ on Down the Road – Cowichan Valley, BC

Cowichan Valley is the region where we drove back and forth to meet Betsy’s appointed repair schedule.  Our campgrounds were at Crofton, Chemainus, and Duncan, which make up some of the communities surrounding the area.  It wasn’t a bad place to be stuck for a few extra days, as it offered many activities and gorgeous summer weather.  We even discussed coming back for an extended visit someday, minus Betsy and the border crossings!

The valley is a farming community, with fresh produce and eggs sold from farms dotting the roadsides.  We stopped to get both at an “honor box” stand, happy to see they still exist in this part of the world 🙂

We happened to be here on a Saturday to visit the farmers market in Duncan, one of the largest markets of its kind in B.C.  The last two markets we had visited in Washington State had been duds, so we were happy to see many vendors with fruits, vegetables, baked goods and even beer and wine tasting booths!

We haven’t been very impressed with the craft beers here, but some of the wines were outstanding (notably at Unsworth and Averill Creek wineries).  They bragged that the valley is the “Napa of the North”, and being from a California wine mecca we can say that at least in our opinion some of these were very good, and without the crowds.

On the historical side, we walked the Kinsol Trestle Trail, with the former train trestle that’s considered noteworthy because of its unusual seven-degree curve and massive size.  It was built in the 1920’s as part of a network of railways and trestles threading through the wilderness of Vancouver Island.  It’s one of the tallest free-standing timber railway trestles in the world, built by local farmers and loggers.

That represents a lot of trees, but they have a lot of them here

We followed a trail that took us under the trestle and a few miles along the river

Culturally, we stopped by Petroglyph Provincial Park to see examples of early First Nation rock carvings.  We noticed that their style was a bit different than what the ancient people in the U.S. have created, although the intent is similar in that the carvings were intended to record important ceremonies and events. These were dated by radio-carbon analysis to around 2,000 years ago:

Strange figures seen only in this area
Sea wolves
Another area displayed replica castings of area carvings, with interpretations.

The town of Chemainus attracted me as a place to learn some local history and capture the 53 striking murals painted on many buildings and walls.  It’s art with a story to tell, and a community-driven project to revitalize the town.

A street scene depicts the 1939 festivities of the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Victoria Lumber & Manufacturing Company.  I asked a passer-by to join the celebration
1884 Chinese Bull Gang who worked in “bull gangs” struggling to move huge lumber planks to the ships

I embarked on this walking tour solo, as Steve had to drive back to Duncan to get the correct remote for our new inverter/charger.  He was very happy that they had it in stock and corrected their mistake.  Finally got that problem resolved!

Logging with oxen- Around 1898, oxen were the main form of power in logging
Mill Street in 1948
The Winning Float – a Japanese entry in 1939 that won first prize
Letters From the Front
The Lumber Barons

Steve felt like celebrating and brought some live Dungeness crabs and a bottle of good wine home for dinner.  I wasted no time cleaning and cooking them while he set up the table outside.  Now, this is the way we like to camp!

Duncan’s claim to fame is its collection of 44 colorful totem poles displayed around town.  The community acknowledges the collection that is located on traditional lands of the Quw’utsun’(Cowichan) people.  And what better way to celebrate their cross-cultural cooperation than by raising these beautiful works of art throughout the city?

Eagle Pole – The Eagle for the Horne family represents freedom of spirit.  This was the first pole raised here in 1986

We followed the painted yellow footprints for a self-guided tour to each totem pole.  It was a nice day to walk around town as homeless people, since Betsy was in the shop for several hours.  We appreciated the effort the city had gone to in displaying dedicated signage for each totem pole.  Oral history undertaken with the carvers and their families told the stories depicted on the poles, helping us to understand the meaning of the carved symbols on each of them.

Cedar Man Walking is the world’s widest totem pole at 5’9″ across on a 750-year-old log
I call this the gossiping totems

The Thunderbird is a mythical creature that is common in First Nations stories, and the Killer Whale is often shown on poles with the Thunderbird.

Thunderbird and Bald Eagle
Steve having a talk with the Thunderbird

Each totem pole design told a family’s story.  The designs represent family crests or traditional symbols in Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw culture.  It’s their way of passing information down to future generations.

The latest addition is the Centennial Pole

Our week of stressful waiting for Betsy’s repair turned out OK, with a lot of distractions to keep us busy.  After the successful inverter/charger installation we were ready to roll!

Jammin’ on down the road again!



  1. We loved the Cowichan Valley, too. Every little town has special treasures, as you discovered. I think we did all of the same things you guys did—it’s so much fun to revisit one of our all-time favorite trips with you, and to see it through your beautiful photos. We enjoyed Unsworth for wine and lunch in the vineyard, but didn’t make it to Averill Creek, so that’s on our list for next time. We also missed Petroglyph Park—it looks very interesting.

    So glad you got all of your mechanical problems taken care of so that you could continue this wonderful journey. And celebrating with Dungeness crabs sounds perfect! I love it that you’re enjoying the island so much that you would consider returning for an entire summer. We feel the same way.

  2. I’m glad you guys are finding ways to make the most of a challenging couple of weeks. There are definitely worse places to get stuck for a bit. I love, love, love those murals, and I love that you can take a walking tour and check each of them out. The totem poles, too, are so cool! Good for these communities for providing so much beautiful artwork and respecting their history. We go through so many sort of “forgettable” towns. The ones that get this stuff right really stand out in our memories.

    • We got back our grove once we snag an appointment for Betsy. Murals, Totem Poles and Wineries are a hit at the Cowichan Valley. I think Vancouver Island should be on your list for future outings, that is if you come back to the west 🙂

  3. Beautiful place! I love the huge variety of totems and the interesting petroglyphs. I love your version of camping – fresh crab and good wine!

  4. Petroglyph Provincial Park was so great and the totem poles interesting but the Dungeness crab dinner was icing on the cake. Glad you are all tuned up so you can continue on.

  5. Haven’t tried any craft breweries in Cowichan Valley, but if you head over to Saltspring Island, their brewery is worth a visit, as is Hoyne (Dark Matter), Driftwood (Fat Tug IPA) & 4-Mile (Rice Pudding Porter) in Victoria. Unfortunately in Victoria, they cannot serve beer, other than tastings at the breweries. Best choices are over in Metro Vancouver, where we have 75 to 100 breweries.

    Other issue during the summer is that most of them are focusing on light beers and lagers. Stouts/Porters/Scotch Ales, etc will be more available next month.

    • We did notice that stout is not on their beer menu. We will try that Rice Pudding Porter once we get to Victoria. Not sure why we missed the brewery at Salt Spring.

  6. First, before I forget, I love your hair!! Now the blog…I am so hoping for a few good farmers markets in Colorado. I haven’t been to one in a long time. I don’t believe I’ve seen petroglyphs like those. The carvings are so unique. I was looking at Steve in the mural before I read. I was trying to figure out what he was watching, but then the scene didn’t look real…haha! Great job! He fit right in and looked like part of it. Lots of great murals. But those totem poles are spectacular. I remember my first introduction to this town was through Hector and Brenda’s visit. This spot has been on my list since then. Being able to read the story for each would make all the difference. You made my mouth water looking at the beautiful dungeness crabs. Glad is well with Betsy!!

    • Thank You, Pam, the lady in La Grande, OR did a great job! I wish all hairstylist can copy that same cut. We have been very happy with all the Farmers Market, it’s more farm produce than arts and crafts. The signage did help and made it more engaging. I think that one day a visit to Vancouver Island should be on your list 🙂

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