Plus ça change




The Comox Valley has undergone some big changes since we published our first issue back in December 2014; many of the people, places, and endeavours that we’ve covered don’t look the same today as they did when first featured.

So, as we head into the CV Collective’s 10th year, we’re following up on a handful of stories from the inaugural issue. Let’s take a look at what has changed—and what those changes reveal about the continuous evolution of the place we call home.

In 2014, the Comox Valley was on the cusp of joining the craft beer revolution that was sweeping the rest of the province. Our article “The New Brewmox Valley” featured three brewing companies—the Valley’s first—that were just about to open, more or less at once: Cumberland Brewing (CBC), Gladstone Brewing, and Forbidden Brewing. The scene has continued to grow and not all have survived, but what has persisted is the strong sense of community provided by these local watering holes.

Thinking back to the early days of the CBC and Gladstone brings back fond memories—the relatively small and cozy tasting rooms filled with familiar faces and freshly filled growlers, with large communal tables facilitating conversations between friends and strangers alike. It almost feels like it was just yesterday, while simultaneously feeling like a lifetime ago. Each has become such an important fixture in our community that it’s difficult to remember it not always being so. Both have expanded their production and seating capacity, and have created beautiful and extensive year-round patios. They were joined in 2018 by Land & Sea Brewing Co. and Ace Brewing Company, each with its own community of devout fans and regulars.

As we sadly noted in our 2021 follow-up story, Forbidden Brewing has since closed—and more recently, so, too, has New Tradition Brewing (part of the second wave, along with Land & Sea and Ace). But out of the ashes of New Tradition the phoenix of RAD Brewing rises in the same Comox Mall location. RAD—which gets its name from the original tRADition sign with just a few letters missing (some call it brilliant marketing, others call it the laziest rebrand ever)—opened in July 2023, by the same trio that owns Church St. Taphouse just a few blocks away. After opening swiftly to catch the tail of the summer season, they are now preparing to kick things up a notch with a rebrand (though they’ll be holding on to the name), a room full of merch, and a kitchen expansion. They’ll also begin canning some of their beer, joining our other local breweries that began canning in response to market demand and the waning growler culture. That leaves CBC as the only brewery that hasn’t yet gone down this road. However, after years of sticking to their guns, they’re beginning to explore the idea of canning. (If this happens, you’ll still have to drop by, as their canned beers won’t be available anywhere else.)

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Raven’s Moon has experienced significant change since first opening in 2009, including a rebrand from its previous Blue Moon Winery moniker. (The original article can be found here.) Owners Marla and George have adapted to local demands while pursuing global markets, and have racked up a suite of awards along the way.

When Blue Moon Winery opened in 2009, it was strictly a producer of fruit wine, but Marla and George found this to be a tough sell in North America. They began experimenting with cider a couple of years in, and, as time went on, their cidery experimentation took off and their focus completely shifted. As the aforementioned brewery scene grew, they were invited to offer their cider on tap throughout the Valley and beyond.

They continue to refine their craft and have garnered international accolades for their efforts. They now have 110 medals on record (most for cider, though some for wine), and, in 2020/21, won GLINTCAP’s International Cider Maker of the Year award. They experiment with interesting fruit and botanical infusions, partner with other local businesses such as Hornby Island Tea, and use local fruit (their own berries, as well as fruit from LUSH Valley’s Fruit Tree program).

They’ve recently expanded their tasting room and created an inviting patio. They’ve also increased the
size of their orchard with 600 new cider apple trees. True to their roots, they continue to produce fruit wine (like iced blueberry) for local and international markets.

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Kindred has seen notable growth since its founders made their first snowboard in 2010 (the business officially launched in 2013). At the time of the original article, Kindred was predominantly a snowboard company, but they now offer a large assortment of skis and splitboards. The industry saw a real boom during Covid, particularly for backcountry skiing and riding, and they adjusted their production and offerings accordingly.

They relocated to a larger shop space in Merville eight years ago, which significantly increased their productivity and efficiency. They continue to focus on online sales and haven’t needed to create a retail space, and now employ between three and four additional staff members, depending on season. They’ve expanded their market—currently about 30 per cent of their customers are international—and have begun manufacturing work for other brands (meaning not every board or set of skis they produce is branded as a Kindred product). This has created opportunities for them to play with different materials and shapes, which feeds back into the growth of their own creations.

Another development is a change in the artwork application. They’ve added sublimation into their wood marquetry process (the art of applying pieces of veneer, bone, shell, and/or metal to a structure to form decorative patterns and designs) to create exceptionally beautiful and unique designs. They’ve also begun working with other local artists, such as K’ómoks and Kwakwaka’wakw artist Karver Everson and Nanaimo artist Mia Dudgeon.

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In the case of this particular follow-up, it’s not that anything has evolved or changed. However, we would like to address the short feature on Drac’s Castle in Merville, an article that resulted in many comments over the years—probably more comments than any other article we’ve published. It’s an ongoing point of contention among longtime locals.

Our original article featured the ruins of what was once a sawmill/power station for the town of Headquarters (now Merville), which many locals call Drac’s Castle. It’s also known as the Old Mill/Headquarters Mill.

What other locals call Drac’s Castle is the ruins of the No. 8 Mine on Comox Lake Rd near the old Puntledge townsite. One of the last mines in operation in the Comox Valley, it closed in 1953. Most of what was left of the mine has been removed, though there are still some moss- and graffiti-covered concrete structures, such as large pillars and sunken foundations. This is the location Google Maps will point you to if you search for Drac’s Castle.

We recommend a visit to both.