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POWELL RIVER: NO LONGER JUST A MILL TOWN


By Jane Cassie

In 1911, Powell River, British Columbia was thriving. It was home to BC's largest pulp and paper mill and during its peak, employed 3,500 workers. Perched on the hillside, overlooking this bread and butter industry was a line up of affluent homes, one of which belonged to the manager of the mill.

Today, this historical haven services those who are in search of other needs. As we discover during our visit, the lovingly restored Cooper House B&B is a wonderful retreat where we ironically escape our modern day grind.

Manicured gardens skirt its shingled exterior and a pathway leads to the homey indoors. Rich fir, finely preserved antiques, and Arts and Crafts décor take us back to a bygone era. Turkish linens, blissful beds, retro-revived bathrooms provide modern day comforts. And an onsite massage therapist takes pampered patrons to Nirvana!

A fire flickers in the living room where we flip through paperbacks, watch a Hollywood flick, and gaze through mullioned windows that frame the ocean view. Backed by picturesque Harwood Island is today's much quieter Catalyst Paper Mill and a line up of ship hulls from World War II. These concrete beacons of the past, known as The Hulks, serve as sturdy breakwaters for the present.

In 1995, this original town site was designated a National Historic District and we discover more of its glory days on the Heritage Walking Tour. From the postmaster's craftsman-style home, we stroll the main avenue of Ash where a once creaky boardwalk hosted horse-drawn carriages. We peek into the grand Patricia Theatre, the oldest continually running cinema in Western Canada, where tonight, a Vaudeville performance features Can Can girls, slapstick and burlesque. It has my husband's attention.

I'm more intrigued by another great gal in town. The Dwight Hall, AKA the Grand Old Lady had been a vivacious venue for concerts, plays and dances. A twenties version of a disco ball still oscillates from the domed roof and sends light beams over the sprung dance floor where eight hundred dancers once partied on!

We also gaze into the Rodmay Hotel, circ 1918, peer into a Tudor Revival edifice that had been the Bank of Montreal, and wander through the Provincial Building, once home to a jailhouse, police station and courthouse. Today, this fully restored beauty welcomes guests as the Courthouse Inn. Memorabilia and photographs line its heritage hallways and hugging up to one end is the trendy Manzanita restaurant that dishes up West Coast wizardry with an ocean view.

As well as being fans of home-grown fare, this eatery practices principles that Mother Earth loves. Karen has been serving customers since the opening in June of 2007 and is proud of their enviro-friendly formula. "We recycle everything we can," she informs us. "From composting remaining raw items to saving cooked scraps for local pigs. Our linen napkins are washable and instead of unfriendly Styrofoam, our 'to go' containers are recyclable."

Local butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms are churned into my sensational soup. Fresh off the boat seafood, tomatoes and saffron are infused into Brent's chowder. Our main courses -BC salmon, paired with a maple citrus glaze, and vegetarian penne pasta, tossed with local leeks, and cambozola cheese, are equally tasty. After the grand Crème Brule finale our palates and waistbands are maxed to the limit and there is nothing left for the pigs!

Although eateries and activities are limited in this older area, the actual Powell River region stretches all the way from Saltery Bay to Lund, and includes Texada and Savary Islands and the impressive Desolation Sound. Inlets are carved all along this Upper Sunshine Coast shoreline, mountain peaks provide a stunning backdrop and in-between are enough lakes, trails, and old growth timber to satisfy any outdoorsman (or woman). Hike the 180-km (112-mi) Sunshine Coast Trail that weaves through the back country. Kayak the ocean chop or clear lakes. Explore the sea life that thrives beneath the surface. Or pull into one of the many off-road picnic sites and enjoy some basic R&R. Picturesque Powell River-it's steeped with as much natural beauty as it is history-and is no longer just a mill town.

IF YOU GO:

The Cooper House B&B
Contact: Kate Groves / James Fries
5800 Marine Avenue
Powell River BC
Tel: (604) 414-0186 / (866) 618-0186
Email: thecooperhouse@shaw.ca
Website: www.thecooperhouse.ca

Manzanita Restaurant at the Old Courthouse Inn
Old Courthouse Inn 6243 Walnut St
Tel: 604 483 2228
Email: info@manzanita.ca
http://www.manzanita.ca/

Tourism Powell River
http://www.discoverpowellriver.com/

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PHOTOS: Images by Brent Cassie

1. Cooper House B&B overlooks Georgia Strait
2. Lovingly restored guest suite provides modern day perks
3. The Patricia Theatre -the oldest continually running cinema in Western Canada
4. Rodmay Hotel, circ 1918
5. Manzanita restaurant dishes up West Coast wizardry with an ocean view

 


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