It was a wet, fresh, morning at the Malahat Skywalk, and dignitaries gathered under tents to escape the rain. They came on Oct. 26 to celebrate the opening of the Spirit Loop, an initiative to promote tourism in Langford, Sooke, Port Renfrew and Malahat.
By the end of the speeches, the sky had opened up, giving way to a stunning view over the Saanich Inlet.
The Spirit Loop is a project of Destination BC, in partnership with First Nations, local governments and tourism associations along the route.
In an interview with The Discourse, Malahat Nation CAO Josh Handysides said that the project is a great example of how local governments and businesses can support reconciliation.
“That’s what a project like this does. It’s working with the nation, on the nation’s terms, to help develop an economy, and help bring about a better socioeconomic condition for the nation,” he said.
The Malahat and T’Sou-ke nations were involved from the start, Handysides said, collaborating with the City of Langford to figure out a way to share the story of Langford and surrounding areas.
It’s encouraging to see increased partnership with First Nations on these sorts of initiatives, he said. Whether it be the stories told or the artwork sold, local nations must be involved to ensure it is done in the right way.
At the launch event, Langford Mayor Stew Young said that the initiative has brought about a new level of partnership between the city and its neighbours.
The Spirit Loop website points to things to do, places to eat and places to stay in the partner communities. The website suggests specific itineraries, depending on the length of the trip you wish to go on.
One of the major tourist destinations on the route, of course, is the Malahat Skywalk.
The attraction, opened by Malahat Nation in July 2021, perches on top of the Malahat. A spiral ramp takes visitors way up, for spectacular views over the land and ocean.
Featured throughout the Malahat Skywalk are Coast Salish stories.
“A lot of members are interested in finding ways to share the nation’s stories, and through projects like this, it’s a way for the nation to share their culture on their terms,” Handysides said.
It’s incredibly important to share their stories and culture with the public so that people understand the history of the people and land around them, he said. However, some stories are private to individual families, and not meant to be shared with the general public.
“The nation has to be the one driving how information is shared, and when it is shared. We’ve seen a lot of groups around us finding that balance.”
And the Skywalk is also a great fit for the nation in terms of economic development, he said.
Since the nation acquired the land, it has been working to restore it from its previous industrial use.
“Tourism is a good way for nations to build their economy, because in a lot of ways, tourism works with the land and the environment. And in our case, it’s helping us drive the preservation and restoration of the ecosystem.”