Powell River: A Coastal Gem for Arts, History and Outdoor Lovers

At the northern end of the Sunshine Coast, Powell River beckons visitors with its mix of arts, beaches, trails and history

Credit: Flickr / quaelin

Powell River is located on the upper part of the Sunshine Coast, separated by a channel from the lower Sunshine Coast

Perched between mountain vistas and pebbled shores, Powell River is recreation and arts hub for community members and visitors alike

From the waterfront park and ferry terminal in Westview, to the picnic views at Powell Lake and historic mill buildings of Townsite, it’s a coastal gem for those who love art, festivals, history, and plenty of outdoor adventure.

Powell River is located on traditional territory of the Sliammon First Nation. The city is named after Dr. Israel Wood Powell, who travelled up the coast in 1881 as BC’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs and came across a short river that was flowing into the ocean, originating at a lake – both of which were then named after Powell. The area was soon surveyed and logging camps were established. It became a destination for the steamships and the pulp and paper mill started to flourish. Within two decades it became the largest newsprint mill in the world.

The mill company built up the town for its workers, providing a movie theatre, gardens, and recreational facilities, and became the home of some of BC’s first dial phones and radios. The historic Townsite is recognized by the federal government today as a National Historic District and there are over 400 heritage buildings near the mill that can be explored through walking tours.

Shops and Entertainment in Powell River

Powell River’s historic Patricia Theatre (Image: miss604)

Visitors at every activity level can enjoy Powell River as it offers a walkable downtown corridor in Westview with shops and restaurants.

You can check out the Powell River Historical Museum, with its collection of Sliammon First Nations art, the Powell River Open Air Market (on the last Saturday of the month, from April to October), and Purple Banner studios and galleries where visitors are welcome to tour, shop, or meet artisans.

The Patricia Theatre raised enough funds through a community campaign in the spring of 2012 to stay afloat and convert its projectors to digital. The Patricia is Canada’s longest running theatre company and this upgrade means that, in addition to offering the latest 3D releases, it can also do on-demand screenings at parties and televised events.

Also in Townsite is the new Townsite Brewing, where you can sample and purchase locally brewed beer at the Rodmay Inn. Stop in to Magpies (at the Rodmay) for a hearty diner breakfast.

For those looking for a bit of adventure, the Sunshine Coast is a natural playground.

Powell River’s Trails and Beaches

There are two words that pop up often when you’re searching for things to do in Powell River: 1. Beach; 2. Trail.

Being right on the coast, beaches are plentiful. Saltery Bay (where you would arrive from the Earls Cove ferry) has a provincial park campground and diving. Palm Beach Regional Park is a hit with the kids, with snorkelling and tidal pools to explore. For swimming try Mahood Beach, Stillwater Bluffs, Lang Bay, or Myrtle Rocks Regional Park.

Between Westview and Townsite, there’s also Grief Point Park and Willingdon Beach Park, which has a fishing pier and is a popular spot for sunbathing, hiking, and picnics.

When it comes to hikes and walks, the Sunshine Coast Trail is a top destination, yet still a very well-kept secret. It’s 180 kms that can be conquered over the course of a few days, or in smaller sections during one-off hikes. There are two-day, three-day, and four-day hike options and volunteers have built shelters to use along the way for overnight stops. Hikers can take in panoramic views from mountain ridges along the lower and upper Sunshine Coast stretches but plan ahead and be prepared for seasonal conditions.

For a trail route closer to the ground, there’s Inland Lake Provincial Park, Valentine Mountain (with about 100 wooden steps and a view to reward those who make it up), Willingdon Beach Trail for leisurely strolls, and at least a dozen more routes.

Other adventures opportunities include diving, fishing, canoeing, mountain biking, and golfing.

How to Get to Powell River

Powell River is located on the upper part of the Sunshine Coast, separated by a channel from the lower Sunshine Coast (Pender Harbor, Sechelt, Gibsons). To get there from Vancouver you can take BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (Gibsons), drive up the coast, and hop on another ferry at Earl’s Cove. That will get you into Saltery Bay, which is about a 30-minute drive south of Powell River.

Right in town, at Westview, there’s also a BC Ferries route over to Comox on Vancouver Island, which is between Campbell River and Nanaimo.

Travelling by car (or bus, with Malaspina Coachlines) you’ll take Highway 101 up through the Sunshine Coast which is also called the Pan-American Highway. It extends 15,020 kms from Chile’s south coast all the way up to Lund, which is just north of Powell River.

The best part of the journey is that you can stop at so many interesting places along the way and up the coast. There’s Gibsons Landing (art galleries, fresh catches off the docks, Molly’s Reach from The Beachcombers), Sechelt Inlet (for a seaside walk), Skookumchuck Narrows (for hikers and thrill-seekers on the rapids), and more.

If you would like to get to Powell River within a half hour, flights are available from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal via Pacific Coastal Airlines.

Sunshine Coast Upcoming Events

The Sunshine Coast is home to more artists per capita than any other region in Canada and with that comes a thriving community events calendar. Film festivals, studio tours, music festivals, the blackberry festival, arts festivals, and more.

Lund Shellfish Festival: Friday May 25 to Monday May 28, 2012
Spot Prawn Festival: Saturday, June 16, 2012
2nd Annual Powell River Blues Festival: Friday, June 1 to Saturday, June 2, 2012.