June 15, 2024

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Family travel: Say hello to B.C.’s scenic Shuswap

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Unassuming and surprising — in the best way possible — Shuswap is a scenic gem comprising eight unique communities and a namesake lake offering seemingly endless exploration and outdoor adventure. Salmon Arm is the region’s urban hub and the birthplace of the annual Roots and Blues Festival, drawing top talent like Sarah McLachlan and Amanda Marshall to its 2024 stage.

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Most of the Shuswap’s family-friendly attractions are open from mid-May through Thanksgiving, and while summer is the clear winner for peak season, the months neighbouring July and August are the prime time to play. During my May visit, I practically had the place to myself and, if you can swing September — post-Labour Day — locals say it’s the best time to visit. The lake is warm, the crowds are gone, and the fall colours begin their dramatic display.

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Until recently, my area knowledge was limited to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments when travelling between Calgary and Vancouver on Highway 1, and hazy memories of houseboating in my twenties. Thankfully, returning for family fun presents a whole new world of possibilities.

Stroll historic Front Street at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum.
Stroll historic Front Street at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum. cal

Discover turn-of-the-century Salmon Arm

Tucked away in a picturesque, 40-acre expanse of rolling farmland, the R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum is a testament to the area’s rich history. The charming attraction tells the story of Salmon Arm, featuring interactive exhibits in both replica and original turn-of-the-century buildings, like the one-room Broadview School, Mt. Ida Church, the A.D. Meek filling station, Salmon Valley Homestead, and the opulent Haney House, built onsite around 1910. Each building showcases the unique and colourful characters who helped shape the municipality, including dressmaker Ms. Puff, laundry-owner Mah Yik, Master Blacksmith Wm. Newnes and wealthy pioneer R.J. Haney. In addition to the interactive exhibits, complete with in-character costumed guides, there’s an excellent Children’s Museum and Discovery Centre, outdoor playground and 2.3-km nature walk. Visitors can pack a picnic or dine on made-from-scratch soups, sandwiches and desserts at the licensed, reasonably priced Spring of Heather restaurant. Family admission costs $30 for two adults and all dependent children – or grandchildren. A single-adult admission is $12, and if you visit in July or August, the Rotary Club of Salmon Arm will cover the cost of one child’s admission per paying adult.

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Explore present-day Salmon Arm

After delving into the community’s past, I headed downtown to check out the city sights. Using the On This Spot app, I embarked on a self-guided tour of local landmarks, including some of the original buildings I’d seen at Heritage Village. The app offers a glimpse into the past, comparing historical photos with what’s there now, and allows visitors to snap a picture of themselves in front of the original scene. Marine Peace Park & Wharf is a tour highlight, showcasing lake and mountain views and top-notch birding opportunities. Having worked up an appetite, I stopped at the Night Café for lunch. The local hotspot, which serves exceptional pork bao buns and woodfired pizzas, is bustling most evenings from spring through summer thanks to its eclectic décor, cozy seating, and creative craft cocktails. It’s also a perfect venue for lunch with the kids, thanks to its individual-size pizza and strawberries and cream crepes. To satisfy your sweet tooth further, swing by the old-fashioned Candy Vault and treat the kids to a nostalgic selection of chocolates and sweets.

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Family-friendly Sunnybrae Vineyard & Winery is a picturesque setting for a picnic and tasting. Photo, Mhairri Woodhall cal

Waterfall walk & wine in Sunnybrae

I spent a lovely afternoon in Sunnybrae, a quiet lakeside hamlet about 25 minutes outside Salmon Arm. My first stop was Margaret Falls in Herald Provincial Park. Once at the trailhead parking lot, it’s a short, 10-minute stroller-friendly walk through a towering old-growth forest to the base of the 90-foot cascading falls. The spring runoff creates a mighty rush, spraying a cool mist upon the viewing platform. Families with older kids can tackle the five-kilometre upper loop to see the falls from above. Après-hike refreshments are best on the lakeview patio at Sunnybrae Vineyards and Winery. Picnic provisions, wine, local cider and beer, and non-alcoholic drinks are available for purchase, and the pastoral property offers a self-guided tour of the vineyards and meadow, allowing kids to roam, explore and learn about the owner’s sustainable farming practices.

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Chris and Marianne Whittaker at their Timber restaurant in Blind Bay. Files cal

Savour the season in Blind Bay

Blind Bay on the south shore of Shuswap Lake is home to two of the region’s hallmark eateries. Finz Bar & Grill’s waterfront boat-up location offers an unbeatable setting for happy hour, especially if you can snag the fire table like we did. In May, it is primarily locals basking in the quiet sunshine; however, once the weather heats up, reservations are your best friend. Shuswap’s most notable dining experience is care of multi-award-winning chef Chris Whittaker, his wife Marianne, and their talented team at Timber, just off the Trans-Canada Highway. Talk about unassuming and delightfully surprising. The ever-changing menu embodies the essence of the Shuswap, drawing from a local bounty harvested from fields and forests. Each dish and drink tells a personal story or something about the region. The restaurant pays tribute to Vancouver’s now-closed Timber, sister restaurant to Forage, the renowned culinary concept Chris created and helped earn a spot on OpenTable’s 100 restaurants in Canada. Timber Shuswap welcomes diners of all ages and promises to delight every palate — from burger and fry guys to oyster slurpers and everyone in between.

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Dancing and partying while enjoying the beautiful twilight sunset sky aboard a houseboat on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. Files Photo by Photo by Ryan Cox /Getty Images/iStockphoto

Play a round in Sicamous

Home to Twin Anchors Houseboats, the Shuswap’s hallmark on-the-water vacation adventure, Sicamous on Mara Lake is another family-friendly haven. Twin Anchors’ first reservations of the season set off at the end of April, with bookings continuing through early October. Boats can sleep a family of six, up to 22 people, ideal for multi-generational getaways and family reunions. The luxury level on new models will satisfy your most particular traveller, myself included, with onboard washer-dryers, hot tubs, and waterslides enhancing the experience. Golfing families can moor on the protected sandy shoreline of the Mara Hills Golf Resort to play a round on the Les Furber-designed 18-hole course. The resort also has boat slips for smaller watercraft and a restaurant patio with out-of-this-world lake views.

For more destination information, visit shuswaptourism.ca.

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