A whistle-stop at William Duncan’s farm in the 1880s, Duncan is now the civic centre of the Cowichan Valley. Since 1985, Duncan has transformed itself into the City of Totems – a unique urban forest with distinctive hand-carved cedar poles from local native artisans on public display in parks and downtown streets.
Duncan is the traditional home of the Coast Salish First Nations. In summer you can watch the creation of the famous Cowichan sweaters as they are hand-knitted in one piece, their unique patterns reflecting the knitter’s family design (some even spin their own wool).
Duncan is named after William Chalmers Duncan of Sarnia, Ontario. He arrived in Victoria in May 1862, and was one of the party of a hundred settlers that Governor Douglas took to Cowichan Bay in August that year. After joining several gold rushes, Duncan settled close to the present city of Duncan. He married in 1876, and his son Kenneth became the first mayor of Duncan. The City of Duncan was incorporated in 1912.
Duncan’s cityscape is a fine example of an old tradition infused with contemporary relevance and life. Duncan is the commercial centre of the Cowichan Valley region, serving over 80,000 people. This vibrant community features all modern amenities and services while retaining its historic charm.
Location: Duncan is located in the Cowichan Valley of southern Vancouver Island, 36 miles (60 km) north of Victoria.
Totem Poles: There are nearly eighty totem poles in Duncan, both downtown and along a half-kilometre section of the Trans-Canada Highway. There are 41 totems on the self-guided tour – follow the yellow foot prints on the sidewalk. In summer, take advantage of free guided tours provided by the Cowichan Valley Volunteer Society. Let knowledgeable guides recount the rich history and fascinating legends of the Northwest Coast natives. Tours depart from the caboose adjacent to the train station on Canada Avenue. For a brief description of the totems and each artist, refer to “Duncan-City of Totems Walking Tour Guide”. Orientation information is available at the Duncan Visitor lnfo Centre, the Quw’ utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre, the Cowichan and Chemainus Valley Ecomuseum, Duncan City Hall, or the Caboose Centre at the Duncan Railway Station.
The BC Forest Discovery Centre portrays the history of British Columbia’s forest industry through indoor and outdoor exhibits. Board the steam locomotive that travels through a lush forest, see one of the first pre fabricated school houses, and ride a trestle out over Somenos Lake. This unforgettable train ride is a great experience for the young and the young at heart.
Maori Totem Pole: Beside City Hall is an unusual totem carved by a Maori craftsman – in return, a local carving was presented to Duncan’s sister city of Kaikohe, New Zealand.
Take a self-guided tour of the Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery. The hatchery stocks approximately 150 lakes and streams on Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands, including urban lakes, remote access lakes, and coastal streams and rivers. Species reared at the facility include steelhead, rainbow, and cutthroat trout. The Freshwater Eco-Centre adjacent to the hatchery receives approximately 20,000 visitors a year to its 30 displays depicting wild fish conservation, fisheries habitat protection and management practices. Unlike other hatcheries in North America, BC’s restocking program depends on eggs taken from wild fish. The hatchery is located near McAdam Park at 1080 Wharncliffe Road, 1 km east of the Trans Canada Highway 1.
The Cowichan Valley Museum is filled with permanent exhibits that illustrate the history of the cowichan Valley, from First Nations to European settlement. Housed inside the 1912 heritage Duncan Train Station on canada Avenue, the museum features pioneer artifacts, displays and photographs. Take a walk through time with exhibits depicting the vibrant history of pioneer life including the Alderlea General Store and early medical equipment used in the King’s Daughters’ Hospital.
Visit the superb Quw’utsun’ Cultural & Conference Centre – exhibits, traditional foods, storytelling, and Cowichan artists and elders at work. Their mission is to share and to build the pride of First Peoples through education, art, and traditional weaving, beading, spinning as well as providing entertainment for guests and first nations people by reflecting the past and striving in the present to enhance the future of our Native cultures.
Somenos Marsh is a rich and diverse wetland complex located immediately north of the City of Duncan. Somenos Marsh nature sanctuary is a crucial winter habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds, and is an area of exceptional bird, fish and other wildlife and ecosystems. Species commonly sighted around the water include Canada geese, mallards, wigeons, wood ducks and black-headed grosbeaks. Watch for owls in the woods around the marsh and listen for songbirds – including marsh wrens and warblers – in the wet meadows nearby. Ospreys, northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and merlins use the marsh as a feeding ground.
On display at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan is the World’s Largest Hockey Stick & Puck. Built from wooden beams reinforced with steel, the stick measures 205 feet and weighs a considerable 61,000 pounds (28,118 kgs).
Heritage Buildings: Seasonal tours offer views of heritage homes, spectacular gardens, and the studios of local artisans.
Cowichan Valley Wineries: Taste the best of the Cowichan Valley with a tour of award winning wineries.
Map of Wineries in the Cowichan Valley
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday morning, follow the signs downtown to the home of the Duncan Farmer’s Market and City Square, typically packed with vendors selling everything from locally grown produce to handmade crafts and other unique offerings.
No trip to Duncan would be complete without a visit to the famed Duncan Garage Showroom and the Cowichan Theatre. The Garage is renowned for its vibrant music scene, featuring local and international talent. The Cowichan Theatre, meanwhile, offers an array of superb entertainment.
On the banks of the Koksilah River in the Cowichan Valley is a tiny refuge called Bright Angel Park. Trails wind through the forest and cross a suspension bridge high above the river. Huge, old Red Cedar and Douglas-fir lean over the river and, at Easter time, fawn lilies nod among the trees. Bright Angel lies within the Coastal Douglas-fir ecological zone where, in the lee of the Vancouver Island Mountains, summers are warm and dry and winters mild and wet.
Cowichan River Provincial Park is a 750-hectare area stretching almost 20 kilometres, from the village of Lake Cowichan to Glenora, just south of Duncan. This spectacular Provincial Park protects significant stretches of the Cowichan River, known as a first class recreational corridor. The park is internationally recognized for its wild salmon and steelhead trout, and for the historic Cowichan River footpath that winds through dense Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock forest.
River Tubing: Tube along the Cowichan River – bring your tubes and sunscreen for a leisurely trip along the historic Cowichan River. Several put-in-take-out places let you determine the length of your float – up to all day!
Canoeing & Kayaking: Discover nature’s treasures by sea kayak – come eye to eye with an array of fascinating marine life. Relax your mind and soul on a leisurely tour over emerald waters among seals, cormorants and kingfishers. For those wishing to immerse themselves in the power and majestic beauty of the West Coast, guides will lead on a multi-day excursion.
Canoeing & Kayaking around Vancouver Island.
Fishing: Opportunities abound for sport fishing in the area. Anglers can fish along the Cowichan River, one of the most consistent fishing rivers on Vancouver Island. A fishing/hiking path stretches 31 kilometres (19 miles) along the riverbank, providing good access. Fishing the Cowichan River is legendary, with Brown trout, rainbow, and steelhead trout, as well as vigorous salmon runs. Chinook, coho, and steelhead that school in Cowichan Bay enter the Cowichan River to spawn in November and December. There’s also a steelhead run in March.
The Pacific Marine Circle Tour is an excellent way to explore the historic West Coast of Vancouver Island. The wilderness route traces the coastline from Victoria through Sooke and Port Renfrew, continuing onto the Cowichan Valley and looping back down the Trans-Canada Highway via Duncan to Victoria.
Duncan is a colorful quilt that is a reflection of a wonderfully diverse community. Within a few minutes scenic drive from Duncan are several unique communities. West of Duncan on Highway 18, you’ll find the inviting waters of Cowichan Lake and the quiet shoreline communities of Lake Cowichan, Honeymoon Bay, Mesachie Lake and Youbou.
Circle Tours: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, and the Sunshine Coast. The coastal tours involve exciting road and ferry trips on BC Ferries, and scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Check out the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, and other Circle Tours in British Columbia.