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Natural Splendor in British Columbia's Fraser Valley

© By Barbara Pearson

Leaving Vancouver city limits is mandatory if you truly want to experience British Columbia; and you won't be disappointed if you venture into the Fraser Valley, a lush green oasis nestled between the Coast and the Cascade mountain ranges. This valley derives its name from the Fraser River, one of Canada's largest, foraging through the southwestern end of the province and emptying into the Pacific Ocean. For optimum viewing of the area, the most desirable route leads east on the Lougheed Highway, following the Fraser River on it's northern shore.
     Approximately one hour east of Vancouver you arrive at Mission, a community of 35,000 whose inhabitants hug the mountainside. I recommend a short detour off the highway to visit Westminster Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that occupies a 200 acre site on a 180 metre elevation. It affords a panoramic view of the Fraser Valley as well as a unique opportunity to experience the lifestyle of the monks. Take the opportunity to visit the chapel to view the beautiful stained glass windows that progress in circular fashion through the colors of a prism.
     Passing through Mission, the highway becomes a secondary road and you roam through areas inhabited by many of the coastal First Nation tribes. Often, the road hugs the precipitous side of the mountains while the mighty Fraser winds its way through the lower terrain. The scenery is breathtaking.
     Situated at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley at the confluence of the Fraser and the Coquihalla Rivers resides the small town of Hope. Only a few miles from Hope are the Othello Tunnels, one of the prime highlights in this part of B.C. In the early 1900's, the Canadian Pacific Railway was built over three mountain ranges. The engineers constructed a straight line of tunnels through the Coquihalla Gorge, a 300 foot deep channel of granite, an engineering marvel. The tunnels were surprisingly named after Shakespearean characters; hence, the name "Othello Tunnels." The railway was abandoned many years ago, but the tunnels are maintained and the railway bed has been converted into part of the Trans Canada trail. It hooks up with the Kettle Valley Railway in the Okanagan region of B.C. There is an easy 3.5 kilometer round trip walk that permits truly spectacular viewing opportunities. Remarkably, the only cost is a few dollars for a parking ticket purchased at the entrance.


     After some exercise, head west for a well-deserved rest at Harrison Hot Springs, located on the shores of Harrison Lake. This compromises the largest lake is southwestern B.C. and its known for the beautiful colour of water and a sandy beach, a rare phenomenon in this mountainous province. The lake spreads over 40 miles, as deep as 900 feet in some spots even though sitting a few feet above sea level. It's worth experiencing the mineral-rich, hot spring water, piped into the local public pool, believed to be a "healing place" by the Coast Salish First Nations peoples. There are many choices for accommodation; however, it is a truly magical experience to spend time in the hot springs pools and spa located within the Harrison Hot Springs Resort. There are pools of varied temperature gradients at the hotel, depending on your preference. I enjoyed soaking during the evening when weary from sightseeing. There, I blissfully reposed amidst the steam slowly rising off the surface while soft lights twinkled in the garden. To leave Harrison Hot Springs, one travels through Agassiz, a small farming community where the magnificent, 7000 foot Mount Cheam dominates the skyline. The town is a farming community where it is worth the diversion to visit Farm House Natural Cheeses, a working dairy farm where the whole family is involved in making delicious cheeses. If you enjoy the delicate taste of goat cheese, try the Cranberry Goat Caerphilly for a spectacular gustatory sensation.
     Once your appetite is satisfied, follow Highway 1 westbound on the south side of the Fraser River, but be sure to allow time for a few more stops. Minter Gardens is an exquisite 27 acre garden that contains 11 themed gardens, two restaurants, a wine shop and a store to pick up some unique gifts. In harmony with its natural surroundings, many of the breathtaking plant displays are built into the rocks.
     A few minutes drive away from Minter Gardens affords one of the area's most beautiful views, Bridal Veil Falls. Take a 15 minute walk to the falls which cascade 60 metres down the side of Mount Cheam and create a veil-like effect as the water tumbles over the smooth rock, creating a fine mist. This lushly forested area is a wonderful environment to relax and catch one's breath before heading back to the frantic pace of the city.

Barb Pearson is a photographer and writer who explores the world and wants to share her experiences and favourite locations with kindred souls seeking an enchanting place to visit. She lives in the Fraser Valley. barbpearson@gmail.com

Photo credits:
Barbara Pearson, Karl Pearson: view of Fraser River from Westminster Abbey; stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey chapel; Othello Tunnels and Coquihalla Gorge; Agassiz farmland with Mount Cheam in the background. Vancouver Coast and Mountains Region Tourism: Fraser River, Barn near Chilliwack, boating on the Harrison, fishing on the Fraser.

If you go
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Harrison Hot Springs: www.harrison.ca
Harrison Hot Springs Resort: www.harrisonresort.com
Minter Gardens: www.mintergardens.com
The District of Mission: www.mission.ca
The Farm House Natural Cheeses: www.farmhousecheeses.com
Vancouver, Coast and Mountains Tourism: www.vcmbc.com
Westminster Abbey: 34224 Dewdney Trunk Road, Mission, BC, Ph: 604-826-8975
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