This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.
The story of Spirit Bear Lodge is both culturally enriching and inspiring. From its humble beginnings as a small, one-room, red-roofed lodge floating on the dock of Klemtu to a beautiful 12-room spacious lodge providing guests with fully catered breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as wilderness and cultural excursions that are truly breathtaking. Spirit Bear Lodge welcomes guests from around the world typically looking to catch a glimpse of the world-famous spirit bear but what they find is much more than bear sightings. The experience can be best described by a recent guest review: “I came for the wilderness, but I found the culture.”
Recently the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) staff, including myself, had a team retreat at Spirit Bear Lodge where the fresh air, comfy beds, and luxury accommodation made for an excellent team bonding experience. The wilderness, wildlife and culture all came together to create a trip of a lifetime, not to mention the outstanding service of the staff and guides. Along with most of the ITAC staff, I had never been to Spirit Bear Lodge before, despite working with them for a number of years. I knew Spirit Bear Lodge was a world-class experience, but I didn’t really know how good it was until I arrived. I felt immediately welcomed, almost hypnotized by the surrounding environment and scenery and completely relaxed after a long day of excursions, which made for an excellent night’s sleep.
Daily excursions at Spirit Bear Lodge include chances to see many different kinds of wildlife, not to mention the pristine wilderness and beautiful West Coast of British Columbia. Wildlife viewings include everything from humpback whales bubble fishing directly in front of the lodge to pods of orcas swimming through the channels to countless eagles soaring overhead to the jaw-dropping spirit bears fishing out of the river.
But Spirit Bear Lodge offers much more than wilderness and wildlife excursions. Daily tours also visit the beautiful Kitasoo/Xai’xias Bighouse where visitors can hear local stories and legends passed down through generations. Daily excursions also visit cultural sites where secret underground potlaches used to take place when the important cultural tradition was banned in Canada. Members from nearby Nations used to wait for big storms, to ensure that they weren’t followed by Indian Agents, then canoe the rough stormy waters to practice the important cultural tradition. Evidence of these potlaches can still be seen today.
What is particularly inspiring about the success of Spirit Bear Lodge is its strong focus on ecotourism, sustainability, and conservation as well as its significant impact on the local Kitasoo/Xai’xias First Nation. This is much more than just a success story of a lodge. The lodge is owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation and contributes to an 89% employment rate within the community and is heavily involved in environmental, conservation and cultural stewardship programs. Spirit Bear Lodge is a shining example of how an authentic Indigenous tourism experience can be successful in one of the most remote destinations in Canada.
Spirit Bear Lodge – Whale Sighting from Indigenous Tourism Canada on Vimeo.