Take a committed little community, dozens of volunteers, a weekend in May and thousands of pounds of the freshest, most delicious seafood to be found on the face of the earth, and you have the amazing Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Festival on Vancouver Island. After a couple of years of derailed plans to get to this event we finally made it – and what a great experience it was.
The Spot Prawn Festival has only been in existence for six years, but in that short time the organizing committee has managed to attract thousands of visitors to the picturesque waterfront village to showcase one of the area’s most prominent, sustainable and delectable products. The spot prawn is native to the cold, clear waters surrounding the Island and its unique sweetness and firm texture make it a spectacular addition to a huge variety of culinary creations . The majority of the catch takes place on the inside waters of Vancouver Island, so what better place to celebrate this scrumptious gastronomic treat than a quaint seaside settlement perched on the Island’s east coast?
We commenced our latest adventure in the Cowichan region by parking our vehicle at the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club (one of the oldest grass courts in the world, second only to Wimbledon) and hitching a ride on one of the shuttles, which dropped us right in the heart of the village. The ensuing three hours provided a cornucopia of delights and taste sensations.
We began our wander by taking in wares offered by a number of vendors, who had on offer everything from unique garden décor to gluten-free baking. We dawdled along the waterfront, enjoying the marine-oriented ambiance, took in one of the cooking demonstrations (featuring spot prawns, of course) and, happily, were fortunate enough to have one of the winning (free) tickets that afforded us the opportunity to taste the drool-inducing resulting final product. Purchased raffle tickets from the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre folks in hopes of winning a brand new 10-foot wooden lapstrake acorn dinghy, a work of art in itself. It is so beautiful, in fact, that I was prompted to comment if we do win it and it becomes the tender for my husband’s sailboat it is going to make the larger vessel look pretty shabby.
From there, on to the prawn boil for lunch – fresh-from-the-ocean, on-location- cooked spot prawns, a hunk of beautiful bread and flavourful fresh salad greens. For those who may not be so enamored with shellfish there are dozens of other meal options available at the many restaurants scattered along the waterfront.
Following lunch, more meandering, past a variety of musicians that had little kids dancing and gyrating. Then down a small slope to the Kids Zone, complete with face-painting, gold panning, bubble-blowing and a pirate accordionist. We ambled through many unique shops, tucked into every nook and cranny of the village, then headed back to find long line-ups as visitors waited patiently to purchase spot prawns to take home with them. The demand was so great that a boat had to be sent out to trap more and hurry them back to the village, where they were doled out to the waiting masses within an hour of coming out of the ocean. It doesn’t get any fresher than that and clearly, those who were waiting appreciated that fact.
We wrapped up our visit with a Butterfly pastry (oh my!) from True Grain Bread then ambled along to join the line-up for the shuttle back to the parking lot. It was a relaxed, casual day, surrounded by friendly folks and so much to see and do. Despite the thousands of visitors there was no sense of urgency, no bustle, no hurry, no crowding – just a great festival atmosphere engendered by the warmth and informality of a small community dedicated to the truly good things in life.