Merridale Cidery & Distillery

Like so many tourism businesses on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery began with a desire to leave city living behind and return to the simplicity of country life. Janet Docherty and Rick Pipes had accomplished quite a bit in their professional lives when the inspiration to start a cidery struck. At the time there was very little by way of locally grown cider and they spotted a niche that was needing to be filled. They purchased property in the Cowichan Valley, considered by many to be the bread basket of Vancouver Island and got down to work.

Merridale Distillery Building

Rick put his education in fermentation and distillation to work, first with creating cider and then a few years later expanding to gin, brandy and even vodka. In fact, in 2013 they became the first craft distillery certified in BC. But it wasn’t just agriculture that these two had in mind. They understood the importance of creating an experience for their customers that went beyond their product. They wanted to explore the full potential of their venture, and share Merridale as a whole with their costomers.

The Farmhouse Eatery with performer Dylan Stone

They made connections with the local tourism industry and opened their property up to tours and special events. They built a restaurant, gift shop, tasting room, and most surprising of all, set up two luxury yurts on the property that can be rented by guests. Today, Janet and Rick sit on several tourism-related boards on Vancouver Island, assisting in development of the tourism industry.

One of two luxury yurts that can be rented

Thinking about taking a trip to Merridale Cidery? Why not try our Taste of Cowichan tour!

St. Jean’s Cannery

St Jean’s

Whether you’ve lived on the west coast your whole life or you’re coming here for the first time, you’ve gotta try the fish! What better place to do so then at the largest salmon cannery in all of southern BC? St. Jean’s Cannery is well-known for their wild salmon, both smoked or candied. They come in a variety of flavors, making their gift shop well worth the visit. In addition, St. Jean’s has a variety of other seafood products such as shellfish, tuna, chowder and sauces, just to name a few.

St Jean’s was founded by Armand St. Jean, a young man from Quebec that made his way out to Vancouver Island with his family in the 1950’s. In the smoke house he built himself, Armand would often smoke oysters using techniques he learned back east. He would then package the oysters and sell them at local bars to hungry patrons. It didn’t take long for this small enterprise to grow into a proper cannery.

Armand St. Jean

Armand continued to run the business alongside his sons, and after a showcasing their products at Expo ’86, the family was able to open a larger facility. St. Jean’s also expanded their depots on the mainland and made connections with the sport fishing lodges along the coast. After purchasing Raincoast Trading, a brand dedicated to sustainable fishing practices, the majority shares in St. Jean’s were purchased by a group of five West Coast Nations. The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have always played a dual role as both stewards and participants in Vancouver Island’s seafood economy, and their values of sustainability were shared by St. Jean’s, leading to a fruitful partnership.

Cheers to a new partnership

Today St. Jean’s continues to build upon their reputation for sustainable, quality seafood. On their website you can purchase frozen or canned seafood products that are guaranteed hand-packed. However, their facility in south Nanaimo is well-worth the visit. The Smokehouse gift shop provides their full range of products, including a host of gift options. If you’re lucky, you might get a sample or two!

Thinking about visiting St. Jean’s? Why not try our Taste of Nanaimo tour?

Simply Gabriola Island Day Tour

Just steps from the Malaspina Galleries

Gabriola Island has earned itself the title of Isle of the Arts among the Gulf Islands. Home to a wide range of artisans and agriculturalists, Gabriola often feels like a world away despite being a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown Nanaimo. Small, independently owned shops, galleries and restaurants reflect local tastes and visitors can expect to encounter wildlife, scenic beaches, and unique sandstone formations on our Simply Gabriola Island tour.

La Belle Vie Studio

Learning about local plants

Our first stop on the Gabriola tour is La Belle Vie Wellnes Studio. This beautiful studio is also the home of our host, Josée, who is a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. She conducts mutiple workshops on her property that include foraging for local edible plants, creating tinctures and teas, as well as full wellness retreats. While her husband is an architect who has begun designing tiny homes and is interested in environmentally friendly building practices, they also host a bed & breakfast.

Pier Gallery Collective

Checking out the local art

Our next stop is the nearby Pier Gallery where the work of over a dozen local artists is featured. From glassware, to ceramics, silversmithing, painting and weaving, just about every medium is featured. While the gallery itself is small, the artists use every inch of space to showcase the range of work that can be found of Gabriola.

The Kitchen

Fried catfish and okra wrap with malt vinegar fries

The Kitchen is a restaurant that draws inspiration from just about everywhere. From fried catfish to porkbelly to smoked peach compote, the Kitchen has something for just about everybody. Settle in to enjoy some unique flavor profiles while listening to their impressive collection of vinyl records.

Paprika Studio

Paprika Gallery

Nina is no stranger to the art of silversmithing, as this skill was passed down to her from her mother. Inspired by the natural environment, Nina’s creations are beautifully shaped and uniquely patterned. Her gallery space where she showcases her work and the work of others, also doubles as her studio, where she carefully crafts her pieces. Inside she demonstrates different techniques and tools needed to manipulate and shape the silver into her vision and shares her passion with others.

Ravenskill Orchard

Enjoying a tasting of delicious Gabby’s Cider

What started out as a hobby for Keith Mackenzie and Marti Wright quickly took on a life of it’s own. When they first purchased their property on Gabriola, it was a tad overgrown but showed a lot of promise. The idea to grow heritage varieties came from Marti, who missed the Northern Spy apples of her native New York. Before long they had built their home and began the process of growing a high-density orchard, which involved grafting their trees to dwarf rootstock. Today, they’re becoming well-known for their delicious Gabby’s Cider, so named for the Island they now call home. Visit their rustic tasting room, pick some apples in the U-Pick, and learn about the fascinating work that goes into creating such a tasty product.

Malaspina Galleries

Walking the beautiful Malaspina Galleries

Take a stroll along the beautiful and historic Malaspina galleries. This natural sandstone formation was initially visited by the explorer Captain Malaspina and his crew, and then again later on by early British settlers in the area. The Galleries are a must-see for first time or repeat visitors, as the calm waters of the bay overlook Newcastle Island and downtown Nanaimo in the distance. It’s the perfect place to take a break and reflect on the day.

Welcome to the Team!

Tourism can sometimes be a tricky business. Most of the time, tourism operators are providing an intangible experience rather than a tangible product. So how do operators create a consistent and engaging experience? How do they market their experiences and to whom? And furthermore, how do you teach these skills to tourism professionals? These are the questions that the Tourism Management faculty at VIU faced. Their solution was to create a new class they called Experiential Product Development.

The instructor of this class decided to challenge the students to create real experiences and contacted several local tour operators to get involved. One such operator was Vancouver Island Expeditions, and we had a few different ideas for new experiences including a day tour to Gabriola Island and creating a farm-to-table series. The students provided enthusiasm, knowledge and hard work to make these projects a reality. We at VI Expeditions were so impressed by the work done that we decided to submit our summer student posting only to the students of this class.

This summer we are happy to welcome Christina to the team, whose group worked on our Gabriola Day Tour. Christina was born and raised in Nanaimo and is currently completing her fourth and final year in the Tourism Management program at VIU. In her spare time she volunteers on the Board of Directors at the Vancouver Island Exhibition and is known to enjoy a glass of wine (or two).

Off the Eaten Path Dinner Series – Part 1

The difficulty with managing a tourism business on Vancouver Island isn’t that there aren’t enough opportunities, it’s that there are just too many to choose from! Between the amazing wineries, world-class restaurants, and beautiful scenery, deciding where to go or what to showcase can be a challenge. There are, quite simply, too many amazing businesses to partner with.

Beautiful dinner made by the team at Hilltop Bistro

We had this in mind when we sought to create our Off the Eaten Path dinner series, a Farm to Table venture set in different locations. The series, we hoped, would be a way to provide rare and intimate dining experiences by partnering with local businesses. Farm to Table dining experiences have become popular and are in high demand. People want something unique and different to participate in, while at the same time supporting local agriculture.

The Hilltop team hard at work

We approached a few friends about our idea and it wasn’t long before it began to take shape. The team at Hilltop Bistro have created one of the most sought-after dining experiences in Nanaimo. We knew that they’d create an unforgettable menu for our guests while sourcing many of their ingredients from local farmers. The Chateau Wolff Estate Winery has a beautiful property in rural Nanaimo facing the southern slopes of Mount Benson. This lovely property would prove to be the perfect setting for what turned out to be a wonderful night.

Tables set and ready

While we set up the tents, laid out the silverware, went bushwacking for the salal centrepieces and watered the flower pots, clouds loomed overhead. The threat of rain had all of us on edge as we toiled away. While we were determined to see our vision through, we thought bringing a few blankets along might not be a bad idea.

Chateau Wolff Estate overlooking Mt. Benson

But of course, in the end, there was nothing to worry about. The dinner was a masterpiece of west coast fare, made with plenty of seafood, local seasonal ingredients and prepared with the utmost care. Chateau Wolff were ever the hospitable hosts, happy to share their piece of paradise with our guests. As for ourselves, we can’t thank our friends enough for all of their hard work and we look forward to the next one!

If you’re interested in hearing about Part 2 of our Off the Eaten Path dinner series, the date and venue have been set! It will be taking place at Cedar Valley Hop Yards on August 16th, so be sure to follow us on instagram and facebook for updates!