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Canadian Connection
British Columbia's Great Indoors
Sue Kernaghan
British Columbia's Great Outdoors is the stuff of legend (think: massive mountain peaks and surf-tossed shores), but there are some winter days when it's tempting to shuck off the woollies and embrace your indoor side — to browse galleries, linger over lunch or hit the spa; in short, to explore BC's great indoors.



Fortunately, wherever you travel in BC, you'll find prime locales for an inside day — intriguing museums and galleries, serene spas, cozy cafés and plenty of ways to put a picture window between yourself and whatever Mother Nature is up to that day.

History, Art & Culture

A great place to start is at one of the many cultural centers around the province evoking traditional First Nations architecture — the kind of building that's extended a warm welcome for centuries. The Museum of Northern British Columbia, for example, in a longhouse-style building on Prince Rupert's waterfront, offers views of Tuck Inlet and a safe harbor on stormy days. It's also a top spot to see one of Canada's finest collections of Northwest Coast First Nations artifacts, from tools and ceremonial regalia to intricate bentwood boxes, as well as archeological finds revealing at least 10,000 years of settlement in the area.



Remote, but worth the journey, is the U'mista Cultural Centre and Museum, in Alert Bay, off northeastern Vancouver Island. Set in a waterfront Big House, it's home to some of the most important Aboriginal artifacts in Canada. In the late 1970s, collections of ceremonial regalia, masks and other works were returned from as far afield as the British Museum and the Smithsonian to the Kwakwaka'wak people of Northern Vancouver Island. These treasures are now on display at the museum; U'mista, by the way, means "the return of something important."



Fascinating inside and out is Whistler's Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, where you can take in mountain scenery through the lofty windows of the center's imposing Great Hall. This grass-roofed building in Whistler Village evokes both a Squamish Longhouse and a Lil'wat Istken (earthen pit house dwelling) and celebrates the art, history and traditions of the area's two First Nations. Here, you can admire the welcome figures and weavings in cedar and wool, catch rotating exhibits in the contemporary galleries, join a themed tour on anything from music to language, try your hand at a traditional craft, then grab a bowl of Squamish salmon chowder and traditional bannock bread at the on-site café. Make a day of it; you can ski tomorrow.



In the Thompson Okanagan region, take a break from the slopes and head for Kelowna's Cultural District, a cluster of museums, galleries, shops and cafés in the valley's urban heart. Learn about local history at the Okanagan Heritage Museum and the Okanagan Military Museum, or see what's on display at the Kelowna Art Gallery or behind the dramatic glass façade of the Rotary Centre for the Arts. And don't miss the historic Laurel Packinghouse: the BC Wine Museum, a VQA Wine Shop and the BC Orchard Industry Museum all call this 1917 landmark home. Shopping? Head for Cannery Lane, where a historic factory-turned-retail-space houses myriad galleries and boutiques under one retro-industrial roof.



If your pursuit of powder takes you to the Kootenay Rockies, be sure to stop in the charming lakeside town of Nelson, where 350 beautifully restored heritage buildings line the streets. Make a beeline for Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History, set in an imposing 1902 Romanesque chateau-style building downtown. This former post office is now the cultural heart of arts-minded Nelson; historic exhibits, plus rotating shows of visiting and local works, make this a creative choice for an indoor day.



Or, if you happen to be moseying through the Cariboo for a cross-country skiing or dogsledding adventure, stop in at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin in Williams Lake. Home to the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame, plus an extensive collection of Williams Lake memorabilia, it's a fascinating spot to learn about the region's ranching heritage, get the backstory on local rodeo stars and hear about the people, events and industries that have shaped this thriving community.



Further north, captivating galleries to check out include the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, set in a historic grain elevator, and the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George, where you can admire the art or make your own. Traveling west, don't miss the fascinating northern aviation displays and more at the Bulkley Valley Museum in the mountain-framed town of Smithers.



Spa Getaways

Art can warm the heart, but sometimes only true pampering will ward off the cold. Fortunately, in BC, where there's weather, there are spas. Kick off those ski boots and treat your feet to an Alpine Retreat Pedicure at the Four Seasons Spa Whistler, or try the spa's Spirit of Whistler treatment, which applies soothing heat therapy to ski-weary muscles. Post-pampering, you'll be encouraged to linger, thanks to a eucalyptus steam room and two zen relaxation lounges.

Even folks in the Kootenay Rockies, the heli- and cat-skiing capital of the world, understand the need for an occasional indoor day. Island Lake Catskiing's Winter Lunch and Spa package, available Fridays and Saturdays through March, starts with a 25-minute ride up to the lodge in a snowcat (it's like a minibus on tracks; passengers ride inside), followed by lunch in the Tamarack Dining Room (think: grilled pork chops with fennel and sage chutney followed by warm honey cake with berry compote). Finish with a relaxation treatment, deep tissue massage or hot stone therapy at the lodge's spa.



For something completely different, try a whole new way to chill out at Sparkling Hill Resort, in BC's Okanagan Valley. This luxurious retreat on Lake Okanagan is the first in North America to offer a Cryotherapy Cold Sauna treatment. The treatment, which involves spending up to three minutes in a room set at -110°C (-166°F), is said to be both therapeutic and energizing.



A more traditional spa experience awaits at The Hills Health Ranch in BC's remote Cariboo ranchlands. This country-style spa has all kinds of indoor ways to get fit and de-stress, from over 40 fitness classes and workshops per week, including yoga and personal training programs, to an indoor pool, hot tub and steaming sauna. Add spa treatments using the ranch's own organic rosehip oil, and you've got yourself some serious indoor pampering. Warning: cross-country skiing, hiking and snowshoe trails through woods and rolling hills, plus a downhill ski slope, might just tempt you outside.

Storm watching
Stormy weather? Stay in by all means, but do it right. Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is the birthplace of the great Canadian sport of storm watching. Here's how it works: powerful winter tempests lash the coast with tree-bending winds and crashing waves; you stay inside and revel in the weather though floor-to-ceiling windows.



Settle in to watch the show from a resort, like Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn, where The Pointe Restaurant takes in 230 degree views of the crashing surf, or head to Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in nearby Ucluelet; it's built over a surge channel for extra drama. Both resorts have an in-house restaurant and spa so there's no need to venture out.

To prep for a good storm watching session, enjoy a spa treatment, order some hot drinks and check the weather report: if it looks bad, that's good news. See you inside. For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, visit www.HelloBC.com.

CONTACTS:
Museum of Northern BC: www.museumofnorthernbc.com
U'mista Cultural Centre: umista.org
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre: slcc.ca
Kelowna Cultural District: www.tourismkelowna.com/do/arts-entertainment/galleries-studios/
Touchstones Nelson: www.touchstonesnelson.ca
Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin: www.cowboy-museum.com
Dawson Creek Art Gallery: www.dcartgallery.ca
Two Rivers Gallery: www.tworiversgallery.ca
Bulkley Valley Museum: www.bvmuseum.com
Four Seasons Resort Whistler: www.fourseasons.com/whistler/spa
Island Lake Catskiing: www.islandlakecatskiing.com/winter/activities
Sparkling Hill Resort: www.sparklinghill.com
Hills Health Ranch: www.spabc.com
Wickaninnish Inn: www.wickinn.com
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort: www.blackrockresort.com
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