One of British Columbia’s most interesting craft breweries is Townsite Brewing, located in Powell River, a small city (pop. ~13,000) on the Upper Sunshine Coast with a unique history that is undergoing a bit of a cultural renaissance.
Powell River’s original Townsite neighbourhood was built by the Powell River Paper Company between 1910 and 1930 as family housing for its employees following a utopian planning philosophy called the Garden City Movement. This collection of about 400 homes built in the Arts and Crafts style was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1995. The city has expanded considerably beyond Townsite over the years. Today, the downtown area is about five minutes south along the coast, with Willingdon Beach Park separating it from the mill and its omnipresent odour of industry.
In recent years, however, Townsite has been undergoing a revitalization fuelled by an influx of urban ex-pats escaping the inflated real estate prices of Vancouver or Victoria, which is also helping to revitalize its long dormant commercial district. A major part of that commercial resurgence has been Townsite Brewing, which just celebrated its second birthday with a parade including goats pulling a cart carrying a keg of beer, an annual tradition since the brewery opened in 2012. Located in the Federal Building, an architectural treasure with beautiful art deco brickwork built in 1929 to house the post office and other federal agencies, the brewery sells its products up and down the Sunshine Coast, throughout Greater Vancouver, and on Vancouver Island.
Townsite Brewing has a strong local connection with its core group of employees – except for its brewmaster, Cédric Dauchot, who is the only Belgian-born-and-trained brewmaster working in Canada outside of Québec. Cédric and his wife, Chloe Smith, who is also a brewer herself and works as the Brewery Manager, moved to Powell River from her hometown of Saskatoon where they had been trying to set up their own brewpub. Virtually upon arrival, they fell in love with the neighbourhood’s eclectic community where everyone seems to be involved in some creative project or another.
The brewery’s regular beer line-up includes Zunga Golden Blonde Ale, Tinhat IPA, Pow Town Porter and Suncoast Pale Ale, along with seasonal releases such as Westview Wheat, Blackberry FestivAle, and Time Warp Wet-Hopped Pale Ale. Dauchot’s best beers, naturally, are his Belgian-style recipes: 7800 Saison (named for the distance between his hometown in Belgium and Powell River), Charleston Triple, and Shiny Penny Belgian IPA.
Just half a block up the hill from the brewery, the Hub 101 Cafe, Bar & Bistro serves up great food, beer and live music on a nightly basis. Across the street is the Patricia Theatre, Canada’s oldest continually operating cinema dating back to 1915, which fundraised successfully to make the transition to digital projection last year.
If history is your thing, drop by Henderson House, home of the Townsite Historical Society, which is open to visitors Tuesday-Friday from noon-4pm. Throughout July and August, the Society runs historical walking tours on Wednesdays at 2pm and Saturdays at 10am. Tours are available by appointment during other months or pick up a map for self-guided tours at Henderson House. Finish off at Townsite Brewing for some well-deserved samples, and then pick out a bottle or two or fill a growler with your favourite style.
There are plenty of outdoor activities in the Powell River area, too. My pre-schooler spent hours combing through the sand and rocks at Willingdon Beach, and we also enjoyed an easy hike up to the top of Valentine Mountain, which offered some great views. Nearby Powell Lake has floating cabins that can be rented for a perfect family summer holiday. Kayaking and diving are excellent in the area, and many sailboats stop here before heading up to Desolation Sound to the north.
For more active vacationers, there is a weeklong canoe route through a circle of lakes surrounding the town. Or you can hike the Sunshine Coast Trail, which stretches the entire length of the Upper Coast. Divided into five sections, the 180 kilometre (111 mile) trail includes walk-in campsites, picnic tables, outhouses, benches, shelters, and even swimming wharfs. It was completed between 1992-2001 by several local volunteers.
Stay overnight in Townsite at the Old Courthouse Inn or in their Banker’s Loft suite in the converted Credit Union building next door, which is ideal for longer stays (bankersloft.ca). Visit Discover Powell River for more information and options.