Branching north from the eastern portion of Vancouver Harbour to the Indian River estuary is a nine-nautical mile ocean fjord known as Indian Arm. Revealed when the last ice age receded 10,000 years ago, it is blessed with mainly protected and placid waters and some of the most thrilling scenery on the BC coast. A cruise to the community of Deep Cove on the western shore of Indian Arm is actually quicker by boat than during rush-hour traffic, including time for the Second Narrows railway bridge to be lifted!
Indian arm is a favourite with kayakers, canoeists and boaters with runabouts who can easily beach their craft and visit the picnic spots, waterfalls, beaches, diving reefs, hiking trails and campsites. Local and visiting boaters often forget that this fun retreat is literally in Vancouver’s backyard; when time is of the essence, a wonderful weekend can be spent exploring the charm and splendour of the fjord and its marine parks using the protected summer anchorage in Bedwell Bay, or the moorage facilities in Deep Cove as a convenient base. En route, the monumental Buntzen Power Station (still operational), is a surviving example of classic early-1900s industrial design visible from almost anywhere along the southern portion of the arm.
Established in 1996, Indian Arm Provincial Park covers over 9,500 hectares (23,500 acres) and protects the arm’s entire shoreline, which includes major old growth forests, watersheds, alpine lakes, water falls and abundant marine and wild life. The park is co-managed with the area’s original inhabitants, the Tsleil Waututh First Nation. Significant artefacts over 3,000 years old have been excavated in a number of the village sites and a variety of fascinating pictographs are scattered along the arm and up the Indian River. Included in the park are a number of private waterfront cottages and yacht club outstations whose boundaries should be respected; Burrard Yacht Club can be found near Clementine Creek, Deep Cove Yacht Club is north of Granite Falls and the notorious Wigwam Inn at the head of the inlet is now home to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. A commanding sight after a journey through wilderness, the inn was built in 1910 as a luxury summer resort for the rich and famous. After the Second World War, it became a gambling casino and was raided and shut down in 1962. The building was unused until the RVYC purchased and renovated it, retaining its original colonial charm and grandeur.
Located at the tip of Indian Arm and named for the Cates family who founded a landmark tugboat company in North Vancouver, Cates Park float provides boaters with an enjoyable and convenient stopping-off point before Deep Cove. The park’s 23 hectares (58 acres) include Roche Point Lighthouse and 6 km (4 miles) of waterfront trails that meander past sandy beaches and through a mixed forest of Douglas fir and big-leaf maple. A walk named for the notorious British expatriate writer Malcolm Lowry takes you to a plaque noting the location of the squatter shack where he completed his most celebrated novel, Under the Volcano (1947). Park amenities include playgrounds, picnic lawns and tables, tennis courts, a concession stand and a swimming beach. A cedar totem pole and a 15 meter (50-ft) war canoe hand carved by Chief Henry Peter George are also displayed in the grounds.
When it’s time for the kids to run off excess energy or the skipper and crew need to stretch boat-weary legs, Belcarra Park float in Belcarra Bay offers a convenient lunch or day stop with a sandy beach, picnic area and sea kayak tours and rentals. Once a major winter village of the Tsleil Waututh First Nation, who came here to harvest the abundant sea life, the park’s 9 km (5.5 miles) of shoreline include a large midden that yielded several important archaeological finds when excavated. Hiking trails curve north along steep terrain to Jug Island Beach with views of Indian Arm and the North Shore mountains (2 hours return). An easy 40-minute walk follows a gentle wooded trail to the muddy tidal flats of Bedwell Bay. The southern route hugs the shore’s rocky coastline to Admiralty and Burns points, with beautiful vistas up Burrard Inlet (2 hours and 2.5 hours return). Certain trails are shared by hikers, horseback riders and cyclists, and are shown on the detailed park map, available from the information shelter; pets must be leashed and kept to designated areas. Just up from the public float is a low-water shell beach shaded by tall trees and strewn with twisted driftwood.
Deep Cove’s earliest residents were the Tsleil Waututh First Nation whose modern-day chief, Dan George, became a successful actor in his sixties and was nominated for an Academy Award for his part in the movie “Little Big Man.” Deep Cove then became the site of a granite quarry and also provided access for lumber to be sent downstream to Dollar’s Mill in Cates Park. In the 1930s it became a fashionable summer getaway for boat parties of day trippers from Vancouver.
Today, fronted by lovely Panorama Park, the cove is as welcoming and friendly as ever. The park includes kids’ playgrounds, an inviting sandy beach that’s great for swimming, lush green lawns ideal for picnicking, and meandering paths and walkways that lead past the yacht club and public wharf to the ever-active Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak Centre.
A choice of restaurants, cafés, bistros, markets and ice-cream parlours line the main street, Gallant Avenue. Deep Cove Pizza, “a delicious landmark for 27 years,” offers “the quintessential European pizza experience.” Honey Doughnuts and Goodies, the local meeting place, is famed for its all-day breakfasts and yummy honey-glazed doughnuts. It also offers a kids’ menu and mouth-watering freshly baked potato bread. Chefi’s serves excellent “pasta to go” and casual fine dining indoors or on their relaxed street patio, where you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of “downtown” Deep Cove.
Indulging in gourmet ice cream is a popular pastime in “the cove,” with Orca’s Favourite serving up the most tempting flavours. Deep Cove Market and Grill stocks a selection of fresh produce, and the Panorama Market sells ice and basic groceries.
Dollarton Shopping Centre, a short bus ride from Deep Cove, houses a variety of shops including a large Supervalu and a B.C. Liquor Store. Park Gate Shopping Centre is a little closer and includes a Safeway store. The historic raven public house, a popular local pub, is a 15-minute walk from the public dock and also runs a cold beer and wine store. Deep Cove Cultural Centre houses a 130-seat theatre and the Seymour Art Gallery, which offers excellent, ever-changing exhibits. The eastern end of the Baden-Powell Trail begins at Deep Cove (off Panorama Drive) and continues west along the north shore to Horseshoe Bay.
With terrific views to the north, Bedwell Bay is the best-protected summer anchorage in Indian Arm. Surrounded by the extensive Belcarra Regional Park with its multitude of hiking trails and a sandy beach in Belcarra Bay, this peaceful spot (on weekdays) is a local favourite and can be well used on summer weekends. All the trails, including the loop around Sasamat Lake and Woodhaven Swamp, can be accessed from the eastern shore at the head of the bay, where a small path connects to the park trail. The northern portion of Bedwell Bay is home to the Vancouver Water Skiing Club and on summer weekends can become a popular rendezvous spot.
Within Indian Arm Provincial Park are five small marine parks, including Racoon and Twin islands, with Big and Little Twin being joined by a small shell-and-rock beach at low water. These undeveloped islets have steep, rocky shorelines and forested uplands and are popular picnic and camping spots. The waters around Twin Islands are a favourite with divers and a hike to the light at the northern tip of Big Twin Island is well worth the effort for the splendid view up Indian Arm to snow-capped Mount Felix. Twin Islands has a dinghy dock, picnic tables and fire rings. Although Racoon Island has no facilities, a site on its south side is great for swimming and scuba diving.
Peaceful Granite Falls Marine Park is home to the arm’s largest waterfall, where during the spring melt, ice-cold water shoots horizontally over the sheer rock face. The park’s small-boat dock is used by day trippers and there are a few cleared camping sites in the southern nook for kayakers and overnight campers; the temporary anchorage off the sandy delta is a lovely spot to picnic and explore by dingy. In favourable weather conditions we anchor Dreamspeaker north of the float. The park is filled with birdsong and our chosen deep-water, stern-to anchorage comes with a view of snow capped mountains, and serenity.