The moment you walk through the breezeway at the Malahat Skywalk entrance, a sign jumps out: “A feast for the senses.” It’s a big promise and the Skywalk more than delivers – I can honestly say I came away feeling like I’d enjoyed a banquet.
A common-ownership collaboration with the Malahat First Nations, various investors, and nature herself, the project brings together the natural beauty and outdoor experience of the West Coast in a way that I didn’t imagine it could. I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, awed, peaceful and hopeful.
A wing-shaped sculpture, The Thundering Prow, created by First Nations master carver John Marston, stands proudly near the entrance, incorporating Thunderbird, who lives on Yos Mountain, the salmon, and a canoe, all significant elements in the traditions and culture of the Malahat First Nation.
On the way in, I had the good fortune to meet nearby residents Rosie and Joe Metcalf. They’d been anticipating this day throughout the construction and were excited to finally see it all come together. The Malahat Skywalk’s first season ticket purchasers, for them, this West Coast showcase will be their new first stop with out-of-town guests.
Community and collaboration
The first stop upon visiting is the gathering place, a forest clearing that invites you into the cool green shade and celebrates both the Ancestral home of the Malahat Nation, and the land.
The immediate sense is one of welcome, community and collaboration. For thousands of years, this Malahat Nation’s lands were a traditional gathering and refuelling place for First Nations groups travelling north and south on the Island. Today you’re welcomed pause here and relax while awaiting your party or watching the kids play.
This where you might first begin to sense the heartbeat of the forest.
Moving along the pathway toward the Skywalk, keep your eyes peeled for several forest sculptures created by Tanya Bub, a local First Nations artist. Watch for Sasquatch (yes, really!), and other less mythical forest denizens such as the resident black bear and many deer.
Ravens and eagles
The ticketed portion of the Skywalk begins just past the post-and-beam gatehouse. The Douglas fir walkway stretches away, taking you up into the tree canopy as the industrial world begins to slip away. I’ve spent a lot of my life hiking and mountain biking through West Coast forests: this was a perspective that I had only imagined. This is the territory of the raven and the eagle.
The sights, scents and sounds of the forest are a balm for the soul and I feel tension begin to slip away. The wooden walkway underfoot is easy on the legs, and the uphill cant is unnoticeable. While usually a fast walker, my pace slowed to a stroll to take in the sights and sounds.
Interpretive signs and viewpoints with seating provided information about the abundant wildlife and the inter-connected mycelium network, the unseen network of life under the forest floor that’s the foundation for all above it – a metaphor for the collaboration that went into the project’s creation. Several spots invite you to rest or simply contemplate the serenity of the forest and peekaboo views whet the appetite for the coming feast.
Accessible for all
At a gradual five per cent grade, the 600-metre walkway is accessible for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers (just one extremely short section is slightly steeper), yet the elevation gain is 250 metres above sea level. (The tower itself is 32 metres tall, or 10 storeys).
Upon ascending the tower, I was struck by the openness of the artful construction: Both rustic and futuristic, it’s vaguely reminiscent of a medieval castle tower. The main columns are made with a new compressed wood, Glulam, combining a strength greater than steel with the beauty of natural wood. Echoing the colour of the arbutus trees growing abundantly nearby, the Skywalk blends with the landscape, despite its imposing size.
The very top of the tower is open, and it was like stepping into the sky: Breathtaking, including a spectacular vantage of Finlayson arm that I’ve only seen previously from a plane.
Interpretive signs showcase the unique ecosystem that is the Salish Sea and the history and stories of the First Nations people who’ve called this land home for countless generations. The signs were a combined effort between many groups to provide an accurate and informative picture.
Sparkling sea and endless sky
Below, the Salish Sea sparkles and birds wheel. The water is so clear that you can see to the bottom in some places. Mount Baker sits to the east, visible on a clear day, and the Olympic Mountains stand tall to the south.
After taking in the view, a few surprises were still to come.
First, you can “walk” in the sky. A huge rope net stretches over a portion of the floor, allowing those unfazed by heights the ability to look a full 10 storeys straight down– amazing!
Second, is the spiral slide running down the middle – just plain fun and offering a quick descent! To take in the view a bit longer, return back down the walkway to the café and patio below.
Throughout construction, environmental impact was key. Replenishing native species like Garry oak and removing invasives like Scotch broom will help restore the natural environment. Local companies, products and workers were all used whenever possible, and the pride in the almost-finished construction was evident during our visit ahead of the July 15, 2021grand opening.
Chatting with Nadia Petrossa, putting the final touches on the landscaping, I learned she had left a high-powered desk job in Dubai to become an Outdoor Host at the Malahat Skywalk. For her, there was no question about that decision. She, like others here, believes this unique experience brings the true spirit of the West Coast, its nature, its First Nations, and the hope that through collaboration and community there is a better future for the planet and all its people, together in one place.
To get there:
From Victoria, take Highway 1 north. To return to Victoria, turn right out of the entrance and head north to find the U-turn route, about 5km.
From the Nanaimo, take Highway 1 south, continue past the entrance (no left turn) about 10 km to the U-turn route to go north.
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