Get outta town: Denman Island

Words by Mary Ruth Harris
Photos by Mike Van Santvoord

My journey to Denman begins on their new cable ferry, and while that part is surely different than the journey in 1791 of Spain’s Santa Saturnina, the arrival into serenity is likely a shared experience. And, while the Pentlatch and Sliammon peoples would have met the Spaniards’ vessels, I was greeted by one of the islanders.

The Denman village’s enchanting quirkiness adds to the sense of serenity and at no time do you feel hurried, or the need to check your online status. In fact, leave your phone at home. Take a camera, pen and notepad, as you will surely be inspired to jot down some prose. No need for a vehicle. A bike would be a marvellous mode of transportation to meander the roadways, or you can walk—hitchhikers are welcome.

My day away began a few kilometres down the road from the village, at the Free Store in the old school house, along with the Islands Trust, Recycling Centre, Denman Island Spinners & Weavers, and Denman Conservancy. The community spirit, devotion, and love for their surroundings is evident in every conversation and transports you to a simpler time. This wonderful hub is directly across from Central Park. In 2006, Denman Conservancy purchased 147 acres of trees, trails, wetlands, and by way of a community gift, a hectare belongs to the Denman Island Memorial Society for their Natural Burial Cemetery.

As you journey a few kilometres farther down the road, you will find yourself at Fillongley Provincial Park, one of Denman’s three provincial parks. The view stops you in your tracks. Planning a stay here takes much forethought, as there are only ten campsites. Meander down a path that winds through Douglas firs and cedars, roots warmed by ferns and flowers, you’ll suddenly find yourself in an open meadow that provides a window of wonder in every direction: flowering trees, a unique berry tree, glimpses of ocean through moss covered branches, and the sound of song. Hidden in their forest home, bird’s songs follow as you explore the island. Your spirit feels lighter, as the magic of their music lifts one’s load.

The ocean views are not the only aquatic ones to be found, as Denman is home to five lakes, two of which you can explore with a hike: Chickadee Lake, found in Denman Island Park, and Graham Lake, beside the Lindsay Dickson Nature Reserve. As you wander out on the dock that’s built and maintained by the community, it’s as if you’ve wandered into an exquisite painting, one that causes pause and consideration of the beauty. It’s unclear where the trees end and the water begins. While absorbing this serene scene, you’re again aware of the magical melody that hovers around you. All this combines to create reflection of the moment, the day’s journey, and of life’s curious road that led you to this place at this time.

When the will to leave wins and you hike back through the emerald shaded canopy, the craving for warm, sweet tea and cookies can be overwhelming. If you’ve come prepared with picnic blanket and treats in your daypack, the view can be what you wish: water, trees, or lush ground cover.

Encouraged by my hunger, my journey landed me at the Denman Guesthouse Bistro and Hostel, where discovery of the most amazing hot apple cider to ever pass my lips was rival to any discovery that day. Made from their backyard apples combined with a homemade spice mixture you’re enveloped in warmth and delight. The eclectic décor reminds you that you are in a society unto itself, and one that’s happy about it. This endearing attitude could, and should, be the island’s mantra.

Strolling from the Guesthouse into the village is to walk back in time to the days of general stores, corner churches, craft and art centres. Be sure to pop by the Denman Island Hardware Emporium, which includes its own café, something you can experience only on Denman.

As I head to the ferry down the hill, I find myself wanting to stay.