You’re greeted at a dock between the ocean and wide open sky. A traditional toq qaymıxw (Klahoose) welcome song reverberates between the trees. You take a deep breath and let the busyness slip away.
Nestled in Thee chum mi yich (Homfray Channel) near the Sunshine Coast and Desolation Sound, Klahoose Wilderness Resort’s position in remote waters lends itself to a quiet immersion seemingly unparalleled for experiencing nature’s wonders through sound and sight—eagles swoop, whales breach, bears roam. While such extraordinary wildlife experiences can be found elsewhere in the region, what really sets the resort apart are the intertwining of stories of the land and its people. The resort is deeply rooted in tradition, while also bringing forward-thinking technology and new business initiatives to the region—allowing its residents
(both human and animal) to thrive.
Open just over a year, Klahoose Wilderness Resort is the result of the Klahoose Nation’s desire to take an approach that puts reconciliation, language, and the environment at the forefront of future development. An approach the resort’s Tourism Manager, Chris Tait, believes sets them apart from resorts that focus solely on the wildlife. “Part of reconciliation is regenerative tourism—visitors coming and connecting, going home looking at the world a little differently. Also for those who work here—they are Indigenous staff, coming and learning about their culture.” He finds joy in the number of bookings from Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Sea-to-Sky region, alongside those from all over the world—an indication there is a local want to learn more about the history and culture of the places we dwell.
Opportunities for this are abundant. Not only are many of the staff from Klahoose First Nation or neighbouring First Nations, but lessons in history, language, and culture are prominent through their website. The resort is 100 per cent owned by Klahoose First Nation and, in 2022, received Authentic Indigenous designation from Indigenous Tourism BC, which awards “compelling, culturally appropriate Indigenous tourism experiences, that contribute to the revitalization and preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages.”
Upon arrival, the entire staff greets guests on the dock with the welcome song, and there is engagement with cultural ambassadors and guides throughout your stay. “People here on the coast have been in a kind of tourism for 100s of years,” notes Tait. “Visiting relatives in different communities, arriving by canoe, and welcoming each other with song.” There is also a song when visitors leave the dock at the end of their stay, and Tait has often witnessed tears. He believes it’s simply the result of an “intimate, immersive experience—something authentic and special, and a connection with the people that call this place home.”
It’s not just the revitalization and protection of people at the centre of the resort’s values, but the planet too. Having received a grant from the First Nation Clean Energy Business Fund (FNCEBF) last year, the team quickly put the funds to work, turning on a “brand new clean energy system in late summer, early fall.” The resort was already off-grid, but ran on a diesel generator—its sound and smell now replaced by a quiet, unobtrusive system that generates hydropower from a small dam in the rainforest that funnels water into a peloton wheel. Tucked away behind the resort, the dam has become part of the eco-experience, as guests wander through the lush vegetation to see it for themselves.
This considered approach to improve the relationship with the land extends to their bear viewing tours. The resort, along with partner tour operators in Campbell River, has joined the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CBVA)—the only organization in BC that looks at sustainability within bear viewing. This partnership includes research, a two-day training course for all member guides, and conservation (including salmon habitat), as well as standards that also apply to managers like Tait.
When asked for an example of how such a partnership impacts bear viewing, Tait says: “Predictability is one. Meaning the bears know what’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen. Things like setting up viewing platforms along the river in permanent spots so we’re not just wandering around, and visiting at set times every day—they know we’re there but we’re not causing stress by surprising them.”
Interestingly, the resort has seen a benefit to growth in their approach. “The area used to be dominated by male bears, but we’ve been seeing way more mums with cubs. It’s scientifically proven females feel less threatened with humans around. Male bears will often kill cubs, so there’s been an increase in mums coming to feed near us to protect them,” says Tait.
The resort’s commitment to wildlife conservation also saw them become a member of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA) in early 2023, which operates within Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish First Nations territories. Similarly to the CBVA, this membership means their guides, skippers, and cultural interpreters go through training that includes best practices for marine mammal viewing. Tait delights in his observation that “just a few years ago there were barely any humpback whales locally, now it’s amazing to have around 400.”
Moving forward, the resort and Klahoose First Nation have set their sights on expanding conservation to its people and culture in 2023. Starting organically with internal staff, new First Nation tourism workers are receiving mentorship from elders to become Senior Cultural Interpreters and learn how to communicate stories of where they are from, and how to respectfully share them. The goal is to formalize a program over the next few years that includes language, culture, and other ways of teaching through a community-led project in consultation with the Klahoose First Nation Chief and Council—an opportunity for the business to further provide space for Indigenous peoples to tell their stories and share them with guests after years of restrictive legislation forbade it.
To elevate their offerings, a wood-fired cedar sauna located on the dock will be ready for the upcoming season, along with the chance to cool off in the sea. In fact, the entire resort will be renovated, including the addition of new art from Indigenous artists on the walls, new furniture, and more.
Klahoose First Nation and resort staff have thought of it all—a connection to self, to people and to the place at the heart of their vision. “Having it all integrated is pretty special,” says Tait as we wrap up our conversation. “We’re already in a beautiful location, but these Indigenous-led experiences—whether you’re sitting quietly at the lodge or are out on the land—have you seeing it through Indigenous eyes.” For three to four days guests are immersed in the natural and supernatural spirits of the land, developing new friendships with other guests and staff members at their side. As you leave by boat or by seaplane, you’ll take in the vistas that surround this special place tucked away from the world, but absolutely a part of its future.