Image: Owl Spirit totem by Tom Lafortune
If you’ve ever visited historic Duncan, you know that taking time to explore the area is completely worth it. There are some great spots located right along the highway, and Duncan’s nearby charming town centre is home to many shops, restaurants, and cultural landmarks. A fantastic place to visit with family, friends, or solo, here are 7 things to do the next time you visit Duncan.
1. Take a Totem Walking Tour
The City of Totems, as Duncan is known, is an ongoing project that has developed one of the world’s largest outdoor collection of publicly displayed totem poles. Oral histories of totem pole carvers and their families depict stories on each pole, over 40 of which are displayed throughout the downtown core. You can enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the totems following this map or stop in to the Cowichan Valley Museum (Canada Avenue train station) for a free guided totem walking tour. Make sure to check out the newest addition, “Clan Totem of our Nations”, which is the Sesquicentennial Totem located in Station Street Park.
2. Visit the Farmer’s Market
Duncan has one of the only year-round farmer’s markets on Vancouver Island. Every Saturday, year-round, rain or shine, you can visit local artisans, buy fresh, local produce, enjoy live music, and explore a wide variety of booths in the heart of Downtown Duncan. The farmer’s market is free to visit and is both family and dog friendly.
3. Shop Local
With a concentration of small, locally-owned boutiques in the area, Duncan is a wonderful place to shop local. Whether you’re looking for boutique clothing or handcrafted wares, you’ll be sure to find something truly unique when you shop in Duncan. The store owners and artisans here are more than willing to engage with shoppers, so you can learn more about where and how your newly acquired treasures were crafted.
4. Eat Farm-to-Table
Cowichan is known as “the Warm Land”, and the region boasts one of the longest growing seasons in the country. As such, you will find farm-fresh produce, locally-raised meats, and seasonally-inspired dishes on most restaurant menus practically year-round. Locals will recommend a meal at Hudson’s on First, The Ainslie, or The Old Firehouse.
5. Seek out local arts & culture
Aside from the many totem poles and public art that can be found throughout Duncan, there are lovely galleries and museums to visit, too. Artist EG Hughes was an influential artist whose work highlighted symbols of life on the west coast, and his works can be seen at the EG Hughes Gallery in downtown Duncan. The Ou Gallery is a contemporary art space located just outside of the downtown core which hosts rotating exhibitions as well as an artist-in-residence program. The Cowichan Museum & Archives offers informative and interesting exhibitions that showcase various elements of Cowichan’s rich cultural and industrial history.
6. Enjoy 39 Days of July
Each summer, Duncan celebrates the sunny weather and local arts community with 39 Days of July, a 39-day festival of live music and free, public performances every single day. This year, the festival runs from June 28 – August 5, 2019. You can check out the full schedule and performance lineup online ahead of time, or just show up and enjoy the surprise. All the events are designed to be open and welcoming, family-friendly, and a celebration of both Canadian and International music scenes.
7. Hike or bike local trails
Surrounded by lush, coastal wilderness, it’s convenient to get out into nature from Duncan. Whether you’re an avid outdoorsperson or are just looking to try something new, there are hiking and biking experiences available for people of all ability levels. We recommend a visit to Mount Tzouhalem, where you’ll find clearly-marked, designated hiking and biking trails. A trip to the summit will reward you with stunning views. Learn more here. If you’re renting wheels, get in touch with Cowichan Cycles, Cycle Therapy, or Experience Cycling.
Bonus! Experience the Pacific Marine Circle Route
If you’re planning to visit Duncan from Victoria or have both locations included in your travel plans, we highly recommend taking 2-3 days to explore the Pacific Marine Circle Route. A renowned road trip route, the PMCR loops from Victoria up through Cowichan, across to Port Renfrew, and back to Victoria via Sooke. You’ll get a taste of wine country, port cities, deep rainforest, and coastal beauty.