The Klahoose Wilderness Resort’s first full season

According to Tourism Manager Chris Tait, the Klahoose Wilderness Resort’s first full season was a much greater success than they expected. 

Qathen Xwegus Management Corporation (QXMC) , the Klahoose First Nation’s Economic Development Corporation, purchased the former Homfray Lodge in 2020.

Chris Tait: “We did open in 2021 but with the pandemic, obviously, we only had a very shortened season. 2022 was our first full season. We were open from May to October, and we had more visitors than we forecasted.”

“People were very interested  in what we are doing. Whether they’re from New York, California, from British Columbia, local here, or Toronto, or London, England: the number one reason that people came was because we’re a hundred percent Indigenous owned. We are owned by the Klahoose First Nation, and we offer an Indigenous experience for visitors. That’s what people were looking for.” 

Image credit: Paddleboarding at the resort: Photo by Kevin McLeod
QXMC owns Gorge Harbour Marina, on Cortes Island, and the Klahoose Wilderness Resort, in Homfray Channel – Adapted from Google Maps by Roy L Hales

“It’s something that’s certainly, I don’t want to say trending, but people are looking for authentic and local business as an Indigenous tourism in British Columbia and Canada.  Especially coming out of the pandemic to go to  a remote location, have an immersive experience and visit with local people.” 

Cortes Currents: What would a typical package be?  

Chris Tait: Transportation: “We will pick them up by boat, or they’re going to fly in by seaplane.”  

“They are essentially three or four nights stays, so people come for that duration. They’re all inclusive:  all of their accommodation, all of their meals, and all the activities.”

“We’re going to go bear viewing in the springtime up to Toba Inlet and look for black bears and grizzly bears feeding onshore, and watch the waterfalls. When they’re back at the resort, they’re going to be able to enjoy activities like kayaking, hiking and paddle boarding, or even ocean swimming.” 

The welcome song – Photo courtesy Photo courtesy Indigenous Tourism BC
One of the rooms in the lodge – courtesy Klahoose Wilderness Resort
The resort at night – Photo by Ben Powless

“The most unique part is the Indigenous part that they’ll be able to experience and that happens at the resort. We’ll be sitting with one of the Klahoose First Nation cultural interpreters, and doing cedar weaving. We do a traditional welcome song. All the staff will be there with a song and a drum and have a proper traditional welcome to the territory, to the Klahoose Wilderness Resort.  It sets the tone, but during the whole stay, they’re going to have storytelling, songs,  drumming and a connection with the people that call this place home.”

“People want to come for the Indigenous culture, but  they’re also coming for the wildlife, the whales, the humpback whales and the bears.” 

“There’s been over 400 humpback whales documented in the Salish Sea now. Five or six years ago there were some humpback whales. 10 years ago there wasn’t a lot. This region has become a hotspot for whale watching. They can come and do that at Klahoose Wilderness Resort  over that three or four day stay.” 

“We see transient orcas quite often in the area. They’re hunting seals and things.”

Humpback Whale – Photo courtesy Larrisa Rand
Photo courtesy Cried Ben Powless 
Orca – Photo by Larrisa Rand

“A lot of people haven’t seen bears in the wild and they want to come and see that. I think the spring black bear and grizzly bear viewing is something really special.”

“Besides the spring bear viewing, when the bears are eating onshore, the grizzly bear viewing that we offer happens when the salmon run starts. It usually starts around mid-August. This past year we had a heat wave,  really low water conditions, so the salmon run didn’t start until September. Then it went until mid or even late October.” 

“We started Bear Tours on our regular date, I think it was August 23 this year. The bear viewing is still good, we see one or two bears. Then from  the first week or second week of September, we were starting to see 2, 3, or 4 bears.”

“Toba inlet is a massive valley. The bears don’t feed on salmon in the main Toba River, it’s very silty. They tend to go on the smaller rivers. We had lots of moms and cubs.”

Grizzly sow and cub at Toba Inlet – Photo by Rick Graham.
View from a bear tower – Photo courtesy Indigenous BC.
Grizzly bear fishing – Photo by Chase Teron

“This is just a theory. My thought is  the river used to have lots of male bears. They’re usually dominant and will have the best fishing areas. This year we had a lot of moms and cubs, and I think that’s because of our bear tours.”

“They’ve been operating since about 2017 in the Toba Valley.  The mom and cubs tend to use the bear towers and the presence of people to help get some of those good fishing areas. I think it took four or five years for the moms and cubs to start finding the bear towers and finding that it was a safe place for them to fish. They just had to put up with a few  bear viewing visitors.  We try to have as little impact on the bears when we’re viewing as possible, but of course they know we’re there.  One positive thing, and it’s been documented up and down the coast, is that the moms and cubs can feel really safe near us.”

“We tend to see lots of bears, not as much as in the bigger rivers, but really close up because the bears are right in front of our viewing towers, or just going about their daily lives.”

“We would like to see some more scientific research in the Toba Valley, in partnership of course with the Klahoose First Nation and maybe other nations to our north, to find out what’s happening.” 

“We’ll see how next year goes, but the bear viewing’s been excellent for the five years that I’ve been involved with it.”

Pictographs – Photo by Ben Powless
On board the Klahoose water taxi – Photo courtesy Indigenous Tourism BC

Cortes Currents: Do you have any other successes or challenges you want to talk about? 

Chris Tait: “This is not specifically our challenge, but a challenge everywhere in tourism and the hospitality industry is attracting staff and getting staff members to come. Especially for us, we’re an off the grid resort, so those staff members need to be away from their family while they’re working with us.”

“It was challenging finding those staff, but overall it was successful.Ninety percent of our staff were Indigenous and mostly Klahoose and Tla’amin Nation.  That was a success. Whether it was a culture interpretation  and the actual Indigenous activities we offered guests, or serving in the dining room in the evenings, or  housekeeping; whether it was skipper or bear tour guides: we were able to find those good staff.”

“We want to attract more people to come work at the resort and work in tourism because it’s just going to continue to grow. There’s  lots of jobs and there’s lots of careers too. There are seasonal jobs, but also career jobs that as we grow the business we want to support all those people with training.”  

Welcome – Photo by Chase Teron
Learning how to weave – Photo by Darren Hull 
Pulling up spot prawns at Klahoose Wilderness Resort – courtesy Destination Canada

“Next year we’re planning on doing much more with naturalist guide training, with whale watching training, just  add on to what they already have,  but that was a challenge  for staff members, especially positions like chefs.  Chefs are even harder to come by, to pull them out of positions where they can just drive home at the end of the evening. We give them really nice staff accommodations. They get all their meals included, there’s nowhere to spend their money. So it’s a really beautiful place to live, but it’s also challenging living away from your family and friends for a lot of people.”

“I’m very happy that worked for us last year, such an awesome team.  You could read our reviews on TripAdvisor or Google or something, but it was really  that connection with the staff  people go home with and have amazing memories about.” 

“I mentioned the welcome song. Well, they also have a song when they depart and there was definitely tears in a lot of those guest’s eyes when  they were leaving at the end of their stay.” 

Cortes Currents: What’s coming next? 

Chris Tait: “Lots of investment is going into the resort. We’re renovating all of our rooms. It’s all  new furniture and new bedding, and just making the rooms extra comfortable. They’re already really comfortable. We’re renovating our kitchen, so we’ll be able to  elevate the culinary at the resort. We have a new sauna that’s being built on a deck. The cedar was milled on site and we’re going to have a nice cedar sauna sitting right on our deck.”

The new clean energy hydro system – Klahoose Wilderness Resort
Another view of the clean energy hydro system
Pipe carrying water away – courtesy Klahoose Wilderness Resort

“Lots of additional things are happening with the resort. The biggest success, we just turned our clean energy system on. So we had a Indigenous grant from the Government of British Columbia that partially paid for a new hydro system. It’s a clean energy system that powers the entire resort through a little creek beside the resort. It’s a Pelton wheel  and a battery backup that allows us to turn a diesel generator off, and it just helps reduce carbon.  They say it’s maybe 38 tons of carbon that we will reduce a year.”  

“The goal of the resort is to be as sustainable as possible. We’re already off the grid, so we need to generate our own power and collect our own water, but the new clean energy system is pretty amazing.  It’s just a small little dam tucked back in the rainforest behind the resort, so that’s exciting.” 

“On the marketing side, we also have just been designated ‘Authentic Indigenous’ with Indigenous Tourism British Columbia, and with Indigenous Tourism Canada.”

“It just helps consumers, tour companies, somebody sitting in Germany, the United States or even locally to know that we’re an authentic business, that we offer authentic Indigenous experiences, we hire Indigenous staff.  That sort of designation just puts us at a level with some of  the top places in British Columbia and Canada.  Canada’s really leading the way at promoting itself as one of the top places  to have an authentic Indigenous experience. British Columbia is of course right at the top of that as well. We just were in the top 23 places to go by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine and that included a few Indigenous businesses here in the province, including Klahoose Wilderness Resort. These are the top places in the world to go.”

On the deck – courtesy Klahoose Wilderness Resort
Photo courtesy Indigenous Tourism BC
Eagle in flight – Photo by Larrisa Rand

“We’ll just keep improving on what we’ve been doing. The next step is to really start involving the Klahoose First Nation with more activities. The goal is to add more cultural activities to what we’re already doing, whether that be forging in the forest, or looking at the Indigenous plants that we have right outside at the resort.”  

The Klahoose Wilderness Resort is looking to reopen on May 11 for the 2023 season.

Links of interest:

Top image credit: Taking a photo from one of the bear towers – Photo by Chase Teron

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