Spend a few days in Harrison Hot Springs, and you leave city life far behind you. Not so much in physical distance — for the commute is just a couple of hours. But as you leave Highway 1 and weave your way on roads dotted with farmland, and soaring mountains thick with forest, you can’t help but feel the rat race recede into the background.
Most people are drawn to the village for the hot springs, whose 140 degree Celsius water bubbles to the surface from deep inside the Earth. In the 1800s, those who bathed in the pools were convinced its rich mineral content would fix their ailments and restore them to health.
But bathing in the hot springs is just where Harrison begins. To really experience the village and its environs, you have to travel by car to the nearby farms and taste your way through their gift shops. Or you could jump into a speedboat and head out on Harrison Lake.
The water was choppy on the gusty June morning we boarded a boat destined for Echo Island and Rainbow Falls. Skippers Lorne Sherwood and Bill Sibak, with Harrison Eco Tours, pointed to Sandy Cove, a small beach not far from the resort. "It’s slated for development," Sherwood noted with a touch of remorse. "I only hope they do it tastefully."
With only a few exceptions, the landscape that surrounds Harrison Lake is pristine, thick with verdant, second-growth forest and granite boulders that plunge deep into the water. This is Sasquatch country, a landscape owned by the birds and bears, with little sign of human interference.
Some who relish the peace and quiet have built log homes and cabins with walls of glass, most of them accessible only by boat. On Echo Island, a couple of B&B owners ferry their guests to and from the village for sleepovers, promising the ultimate in peace and quiet. At one, Elfinlau B&B, an outhouse containing a composting toilet sits open to the view, giving its occupants privacy as long as there’s no boat traffic, and a stunning view of the lake that would almost certainly inspire a longer than necessary stay.
On a two-hour boat trip in the fall, during the salmon run, you could easily see several hundred of the 3,000 bald eagles that live in the Harrison River estuary. In June, though, there’s little wildlife viewing to be had, so we check out the remains of a 150-year-old steam-powered vessel called the Bubble and Squeak, which sank upriver years ago and drifted into the lake. We marvel at pictographs painted on rocks thousands of years ago. Then we fire up the engine and set off for Rainbow Falls.
Situated not far from the southernmost point of the lake, the falls are a short walk through the rainforest, and the thundering sound of water hitting the earth is audible almost immediately. It’s a magnificent sight, and in the height of summer, when the water flow has tapered off a little, visitors can dip in a pool at the base of the falls. In late June a swim is out of the question, though, so we can only look in wonder through the mist before heading back to the boat.
Back on land, we spend an afternoon on the Farm Circle Tour that encompasses Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Harrison Mills. We sample Gouda at Farm House Natural Cheeses, crunch beer-flavoured hazelnuts at Canadian Hazelnuts and catch the scent of aromatic herbs at Limbert Mountain Farm.
Owners Claude and Trudie Bouchard farm an acre of garlic among a sea of 75 varieties of herbs that they sell in their gift shop. Their product line, Simply Fine Foods, includes garlic sauce and hibiscus tea, and its ingredients are available at mealtimes in an open kitchen restaurant. Here Claude delivers gourmet herb bread, asparagus tarragon soup and seasonal desserts, all made using ingredients harvested hours earlier, straight from the garden.
At the Kilby Historic Site we stop to see what the area looked like 100 years ago. Home to a general store and hotel that operated for 71 years from 1906, the family-owned business included a post office.
The store contains original product containers with everything from canned soup and candy to riding tackle. Venture up the creaky stairs, and various bedrooms display period furniture and exhibits of the faces of those who lived here.
Black-and-white photographs depict the floods that forced residents to build their homes, businesses and even their outhouses on stilts above the water, connected by boardwalks. In one darkened bedroom a figure sleeps on the bed, an eerie sight in this old hotel where the past is tangible.
It’s a fascinating excursion back in time, but it feels good to return to the year 2010 at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, where we book a half-hour evening soak in a private, chlorine-free pool at the Healing Waters Spa. The hot, mineral-rich water washes away the last grains of sand from a day of exploring, and we leave with flushed, tingling skin, our bodies soothed and relaxed from the texture of water that comes — almost — straight from the source.
If You Go
Harrison Eco Tours offers scenic jet-boat tours of Harrison Lake, the Harrison River and the Fraser River, priced from $69 per person and up. www.harrisonecotours.com;(877) 796-3345
Sasquatch Findings: Local Sasquatch researchers Bill Miller and Tom Steenberg offer information about the Sasquatch at Harrison Lake Plaza on Thursdays 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Find out the latest news on sightings and encounters, hear real-life stories and view cast footprints and photographs on July 8, 22 and 29 and August 12, 19 and 28.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort (www. harrisonresort. co; 800-663-2266) is the best known of the accommodation options in the village. But if you’re looking for something completely different, check out Elfinlau (www.elfinlau.com;604-788-8493) or The Echoes Harrison River Retreat (www.harrisonriverretreat.com;800.970-2083) for cedar log cabins and cottages.
The Circle Farm Tour is accessible by car or bicycle and will be on the circuit of the Slow Food Cycle Tour on August 21. For info, visit www.circlefarmtour.comor, for the tour, www.slowfoodvancouver.com.
The Harrison Festival of the Arts runs July 10 to 18, with an art market in front of the beach, art exhibits at the Ranger Station Gallery and performances at the Harrison Memorial Hall and on the Beach Stage. Tickets cost $22 for performances at the Memorial Hall, but for a toonie you can purchase a festival button that gives you access to the performances of The Tabla Guy, Bette & Wallet, Tony Cox and North to Canada. July 14 is Children’s Day, featuring performances by a tightwire walker and comic and the Checkerboard Guy, as well as a climbing wall, craft stations and a giant sandbox. Info: (604) 796-3664; www.harrisonfestival.com