Homalco Wildlife Tours benefits existing tourism operators in the region, while providing guide training and employment opportunities for the Nation.
Indigenous tourism and eco-tourism have been identified as some of the fastest growing sectors of the BC tourism economy. To create an attractive tourist destination experience in the Orford River Valley, the Homalco Nation wanted to expand on its successful upgrades to the Taggares-Homalco Salmon Hatchery. Grizzly and Black Bears visit the hatchery to feed on salmon in the spawning pools of the Orford River Estuary and provide a unique opportunity for visitors to see the bears in their natural habitat.
To develop Homalco Wildlife Tours, additional infrastructure and facility upgrades were needed to create a safe and enjoyable visitor experience. The site was properly mapped and engineered to respect the habitat. Ten large carved signs, representing Coast Salish animal depictions and language, were created to mark the roadway, in addition to a large welcome sign at the dock and entrance to the compound. The riverbank was reinforced and the road rebuilt. Two additional observation towers were erected to provide wildlife viewing in the early part of the season. The hatchery compound was fenced to protect both staff and salmon stocks. A double-wide trailer was transported to the site and renovated to create a safe and welcoming staging area and ian nterpretive centre with interactive wilderness displays teaching about bears and their environment.
Infrastructure development for Homalco Wildlife Tours, completed in 2015, increased tourism, bringing sustainable employment opportunities to the community and raising the profile of North Vancouver Island as a desirable destination for world-class wilderness experiences. Development of the world class site for Grizzly Bear Tours has led to many private sector partnerships, training partnerships with high-end eco-lodges, service agreements with eco-operators and other hospitality sector businesses. In the 2 years following completion of the project, business increased by 2000 visitors. This has had an invaluable employment impact for band members, in addition to the numerous spin-off benefits for neighbouring eco-lodges and regional eco-operators. The Homalco Band has since put in place additional services to its operations, including whale-watching tours, in response to the increased demand.