Experience Harrison Hot Springs
to access the Village of Harrison Hot Springs, tucked into the south shore of Harrison Lake, you have to pass over a bridge whether you’re approaching from the Lower Mainland or the Okanagan. The physical act of traversing a river such as the mighty Fraser — gateway to the Pacific Ocean or Harrison and designated as Canada’s first salmon stronghold — is fitting. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you travel through fertile farm country to a forgotten time. The area lies on a lush delta amid lofty cedars and is framed by spectacular snow-capped mountains. Unlike its trendy cousin Whistler Blackcomb which is groomed in the latest chic, Harrison Hot Springs has a country casual style and is a place to find solitude and healing rather than a place to be seen and dazzled. Most guests come for the soothing mineral hot springs as did the First Nations people; this was long before the first resort, the St. Alice Hotel, was established in 1886 by Joseph Armstrong, There is much more to do here than soak in the hot springs. Still, this quaint setting creates the illusion of the gift of time to savour even the most exhilarating of adventures. Harrison Eco Tours offers a wide range of experiences — one option is an invigorating jet boat excursion from Harrison Lake down the Harrison River to its meeting place with the Fraser River. The tour begins with a stroll across the parking lot of the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa to join your knowledgeable and friendly guide. You can choose to sit under the boat’s heated canopy or stay on deck while you gaze at serene waterways and drink in the sweet smell of the forests which cover peaks such as Mount Cheam. Chances are you’ll see soaring eagles, herons and other waterfowl, fish jumping, deer, seals and perhaps a bear. Our guide Tony advised that he’d had no Bigfoot sightings despite the proximity to Sasquatch Provincial Park. Nevertheless, throughout the village you will see many statues (some intricately carved) devoted to the ape-like creature. The Harrison River may inspire you try your hand at fishing; it is home to the world’s oldest fish, the white sturgeon, as well as salmon and trout, The pristine waters of Harrison Lake, which has no industry other than the hot springs, beckons you to enjoy all forms of boating. In the warmest months, you might venture into the glacier-fed waters for a quick swim. In any season, you can recharge with a walk along the promenade where you’ll encounter a relaxed and friendly population, or dip into those alluring hot springs.
To access the healing springs, locals and day visitors can access the public pool in the village centre. If you are a guest at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa, you may choose from five pools. There are three outdoor pools, which vary in temperature — one is designated for family, one for adults only and the third is a lap pool. Indoors you will find a medium-sized pool for wading and swimming, and the hottest pool which is small and circular with the added relaxation feature of a waterfall cascading from a nearby glass wall. The enclosure has 30-foot ceilings with large wooden rafters and exudes the sensual aroma of cedar. In this beautiful structure that leads to the outdoor pools and lush gardens, you’ll find the resort’s Healing Spa. Complimenting the healing aspect of the hot springs, the spa offers a full menu of “stress-relieving, immune-system boosting, energy-building and rebalancing treatments.”
After my therapeutic 55-minute massage, I was fully recharged. It was easy to relax in our well-appointed suite overlooking Harrison Lake. Despite its tranquillity, this site has seen transition: first as the St. Alice Hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1920, followed by The Harrison Hot Springs Hotel (1926 to 1949), as a convalescent hospital operated by the Department of National Defense (1943 to 1945). The Harrison Hotel (1949 to 1998) under varying ownership, and finally as Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa since 1998 — the Delaware North Companies took ownership in 2002. Delaware North has invested roughly $18 million in upgrading gardens and driveways, spa and pool areas, guestrooms, meeting and retail spaces as well as The Copper Room. During our visit the tennis courts were being refinished.
The Copper Room is another element of that magical time forgotten and is truly an heirloom of dining tradition. It offers the elegance of dine and dance old-style with Fraser Valley “farm-to-table” cuisine and live music by one of the two house bands. “The Jones Boys”, who have been playing there for 25 years, entertained us with a range of tunes extending from Glenn Miller’s classic supper club music to Bob Seger’s old-time rock-and-roll. There is a dress code but don’t worry. Just leave T-shirts, shorts and running shoes behind and spruce up a bit in good jeans and a nice pair of shoes. The tasteful decor harkens back to a golden age; ladies in particular might enjoy dolling up a bit more. Other dining options are available within the hotel and the Village. Although the Village is small, it offers a variety from pubs and cafés to The Black Forest Steak and Schnitzel House and the Kitami Japanese Restaurant. Golfing is available at the local nine-hole course or you can enjoy a scenic drive to the Pretty Resort Property at historic Harrison Mills for access to the 18-hole Sandpiper Golf Course. This course was designed by Canadian Russ Olsen; he leveraged its location on Harrison
River to sculpt the attractive track capitalizing on the stunning mountain vistas and natural forests. Well-manicured and easy to walk, the par 72 course is complete with impressive warm-up and training facilities. Arrive early or linger to dine at the River’s Edge Restaurant. Or better yet, stay a night at the stately Rowena’s Inn on the River. Don’t miss the Agassiz-Harrison Mills Circle Farm Tour, a gastronomic extravaganza of the region’s agricultural bounty. With most farms only a five to 15-minute drive away, you can wind your way through charming country roads on a self-guided tour to artisan cheese-makers, organic coffee roasting sheds, nut producers, herb and edible flower nurseries and demonstration kitchens that sell home-made fudge, jams and salsas. Debra Amrein-Boyes, one of Canada’s top artisanal cheese makers, head cheese maker and coowner of The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses, praised the tour for its support to local farmers and educating visitors about where food comes from. She said, “It’s an awesome tool for tourism and assists in addressing concerns about our farming culture. If people don’t learn the importance of buying local to support local producers as well as for their own health and future food-source security, the younger generations won’t take over and a way of life will be lost.” On their family farm, a large range of artisan cheeses and dairy products are made using the rich pure milk from their own cows and goats. You can witness the cheese making process through viewing windows, as well as taste and buy about 20 varieties of cheese. The quaint shop also sells milk, farm-raised meats and vegetables, local and regional food products and gifts including Amrein-Boyes’ informative book 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt. At the Tasty Chicken Farm, the Wouda family raises non-medicated, organically-fed free range chicken and turkey on five pristine acres between a hazelnut orchard and reclaimed wetlands. From her front porch, Hoa Wouda retails chicken and turkey as well as grass-fed beef and lamb. In fact, the sheep belong to her brother-in-law and winter at his property, then graze with the chickens to protect them from eagles. To make the business sustainable the family has diversified, says Hoa. She operates the retail aspect, her oldest son Philip markets the business, and husband John tends the animals. Canadian Hazelnut is Canada’s largest certified organic hazelnut orchard, owned by Pennti and Debbie Hanninen and family, In season you can pick your own hazelnuts or peruse the shop to
sample flavoured hazelnuts and purchase a diverse range of hazelnut products including flour, oil, ice cream, and roasted or chocolate-covered hazelnuts. With the flat topography of the valley, it’s easy terrain for cycling — the seventh annual Cycle Tour Agassiz will be held on July 27. Part of Slow Food Vancouver Cycle Tours, you can start and finish your self-guided tour any time between 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and explore the many farms that are open for this day only. A shopping shuttle service will collect your purchases from the farms and deliver them back to the registration area for pick up to allow you a leisurely tour without having to haul an extra load. An excellent family activity, the tour supports the Slow Food movement and Fraser Valley farmers. The Tulips of the Valley festival takes place for two weeks at the end of each April, subject to Mother Nature’s schedule. Here you can tiptoe by (sorry, not in) the tulips — some 30 acres of assorted colours and varieties. Vibrant red, yellow, pink and purple tulips span the land, offering a sharp contrast against the mountain backdrop. Freshly cut and potted tulips can be purchased as well as goods from other local producers. Dress for the weather, rubber boots may be a good choice. More importantly, be sure to bring your camera. tulipsofthevalley.com tourismharrison.com