sechelt aerial
Credit: Regan Hately - Sunshine Coast Tourism

It's an easy enough mistake to make.

After all, you can only get here by ferry or floatplane, so it makes sense that it should be an island. Besides, like any good island, it has an artsy feel.

Everywhere you go there are coffee shops stuffed with writerly-looking people scribbling and tapping at laptops. There are tiny cafes with live music and artists' studio signs seem to be at the end of every driveway. The air is rich with the tang of salt air and seaweed from beaches hidden at the end of forested trails.

But, in spite of all these island-like signs, the Sunshine Coast is, in fact, very much a part of the mainland of British Columbia.

The Sea-to-Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler is the main coastal highway. But the other 'road' is the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale. This ferry-supported highway is necessary to connect a part of the coast that, with so many inlets and mountains, has defied any idea of regular road building. This is where the coastline takes a sharp turn to the left as it heads east, away from the rest of the country.

cafe on the sunshine coast bc(c) Colleen Friesen

Which is why it's easy to think you've landed on an island crammed full of artists and writers, all of whom appear to fuel up on endless options for cappuccinos and excellent baking. Just stop in Gibsons at Wheatberries Bakery or grab a bag of award-winning craft coffee from Beachcomber Coffee, then follow the smell of roasting beans up the highway to Wilson Creek. Let it lead you to Strait Coffee.

In Sechelt, you can visit the Basted Baker and find out how the owners drove across Canada looking for the perfect spot to start their business. In Halfmoon Bay, you can switch from coffee to chocolate when you stop in at the General Store to buy Christopher Norman chocolate made by the former New Yorker. Once you make it to Powell River, head straight over to Base Camp Coffee, or further in to the Historic Townsite for a sip of espresso at 32 Lakes Cafe.

You'll soon understand the Coastal obsession with quality coffee and the need for a funky space to hang out and create.


art studioKelly Funk | (c) Sunshine Coast Tourism

Here's another clue; pay attention to all those extra little buildings in everyone's garden.

When I first moved here, a local explained to me that no one on the Coast has hobbies. And no one calls an outbuilding a shed.

Rather, we are pursuing our art and we have studios.

Residents will tell you that the Coast is home to more artists per capita than any other Canadian region. This, of course, is one of those things that cannot be substantiated.

But, in this post-truth world...isn't it enough that it feels true?

Roberts Creek Mandala Artwork ArtRoberts Creek. Kelly Funk | (c) Sunshine Coast Tourism

Still, there are certainly lots of clues that support the statement.

One of them is halfway between Gibsons and Sechelt, in the tiny village of Roberts Creek. Otherwise known as the Gumboot Nation, this area had a big counter-culture kick-start with the 60s arrival of Vietnam draft dodgers. The resultant communes, along with the arrival of other hippies, added to the energizing creative feel of the Coast.

The Coast's median age is higher than the national average and it seems a large number of those retirees settled here to pursue their art.

And last, especially if you stay away from the waterfront, houses can still fall into the affordable category. This results in even more creatives being able to call the Coast home.

Sunshine Coast Art CrawlArtist studio along the Sunshine Coast Art Crawl (c) Colleen Friesen

The Sunshine Coast Art Crawl is proof of those pursuits. In 2016, there were 130 Art Crawl venues from Langdale to Earls Cove. This annual three-day October event requires stamina and plenty of the aforementioned coffee. Whether it's Day of the Dead style statues made from rescued kitchen equipment or incredible abstracts using concrete and acrylics, the variety of mediums is inspired and accomplished.

Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written ArtsSunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. Kelly Funk | (c) Sunshine Coast Tourism

In late August, writers and readers converge on Sechelt for the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. 2017 heralds the 35th anniversary of this always-sold-out festival. It is, as their website claims, a chance to, "...come away with a renewed faith in the creativity and intelligence of our species."

Perhaps that then is the appeal of the Sunshine Coast. It is not just the island feel that comes from the calls of wheeling gulls, the high-pitched chatter of eagles and the rush of the waves on those stone-filled shores. It is an ineffable-something-else that goes beyond the mossy woods and the endless opportunities for kayaking, hiking and mountain-biking.

Sunshine Coast Music FestivalSunshine Coast Music Festival. Tristan Bellmane | (c) Sunshine Coast Tourism

Maybe the true siren call of the Coast is simply that here, on this island-like stretch of coastline, it somehow feels more possible to have renewed faith in the creativity and intelligence of ourselves and our species.

And, in this era of post-truth views, who doesn't want some of that?


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