Connect with local indigenous and natural history with Fairmont Waterfront's new Talking Trees package
How often does a luxury Vancouver hotel stay include a light hike in Stanley Park on an iconically drizzly winter day, with mist rising cinematically off Beaver Lake?
The Talking Trees package offered by Coal Harbour's Fairmont Waterfront (available until May 31, 2019) kicks off with a special walking tour of the same name, guided by Candace Campo, the First Nations entrepreneur behind Talaysay Tours.
Candace introduces herself first in English, then by her traditional name (xets’emits’a) in her Sechelt dialect. Campo’s vocation as a school teacher is clear over the next 90 minutes, as she patiently and cheerfully herds a group of city slickers on an easy walk in the park, pausing to discuss the bountiful trees and plants. It's just one of a handful of First Nations-inspired adventures Talaysay Tours offers to locals, tourists, as well as corporate and school groups year-round.
“This time of year would be potlatch season,” she tells us. “It's about celebrating and sharing with our fellow tribes. We would be enjoying our surpluses and welcoming guests for the winter.”
She says Beaver Lake—clogged with bulrushes this time of year—would look like an early-spring buffet to a bear emerging from hibernation. “An acre of bulrushes has more carbs than an acre of potatoes,” she declares.
Along the trail, she points out low bushes with shiny dark leaves: in summer, they’ll heave with salal (a wild berry with five times the antioxidants of blueberries) and wild blackberries, which traditionally were preserved in a type of fruit leather for year-round use.
As we sip a tea made of licorice fern root, stinging nettle and berries, Campo and fellow guide and Sechelt tribe member, Alfonso Salinas, school us in the differences between the fir, hemlock and cedar trees we pass, and their uses. Red alder, for instance, is a medicinal “nurse tree,” with bark that can be made into a powerful healing tea—and the most aromatic wood for smoking salmon.
When our inspired group returns to the hotel, the Talking Trees dinner menu in Arc Restaurant feels as celebratory as a potlatch. Chef Anthony Marzo has created a menu that turns the walk’s nuggets of information into tasty inspiration, and is available as part of the package or as a stand-alone dinner offering.
The eucalyptus-hemlock foam washed over a half-shell oyster (pictured) evokes a sea-meets-forest moment. Elk tartare—served under a glass cloche that releases a poof of aromatic alder smoke—has pemmican-inspired touches like berries, nuts and a bone-marrow sabayon (pictured at top). A beautifully seared salmon with wild rice main is followed by a dessert of bannock-inspired sticks of chewy fry bread, with chocolate ganache and berry reduction.
Leila KwokCampo told us that, as a child, she was told to stop and pick a few berries even from wild bushes that weren’t flourishing, and to talk to the withered plant, “to tell it how much it was needed.” The sweet story inspires a few giggles from our group—because who among us, really, feels connected enough to nature these days to do that? Perhaps the reason that Talaysay Tours—and the Talking Trees package experience—are such accessible ways to connect again to the natural and indigenous culture that’s all around us.