The centre of Duncan, B.C. — a Vancouver Island comm­unity — always comes as a pleasant surprise for visitors, says Georgina Montgomery, author of a new book on the island’s Cowichan region.

Downtown Duncan is nothing like what motorists see along the Trans-Canada Highway which runs through the city — a series of strip malls, gas stations, car dealerships and fast-food outlets.

Instead, just a few blocks west of the highway lies the city centre — “a near-perfect example of the small-is-beautiful principle at work,” Montgomery writes in The Cowichan (Harbour Publishing).

“People arriving here for the first time from the highway, whether by error or impulse, often react as though they’ve just stumbled into the Lost City of Ubar,” she says in the book.

Duncan is known as the City of Totems for its outdoor collection of 80 totem poles. Among them is the world’s largest diameter totem, measuring almost two metres across at the base. The city’s other big claim to fame is the world’s largest hockey stick, which is 62.5 metres long.

Montgomery suggests visitors spend a day in Duncan seeing the totems, touring the Quw’utsun’ Cultural Centre and the Cowichan Valley Museum, and checking out the shops, galleries and restaurants.

The Trans-Canada also runs through Ladysmith, B.C., but that town has managed to avoid the type of commercial development that has plagued Duncan, Montgomery says.

Its hillside setting, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, “serves up a fortune in water views.”
The Cowichan, a 3,730-square-kilometre region near the southern end of the island, has a growing reputation as an outdoor playground, with activities ranging from scuba diving and sailing to golf, cycling, swimming, hiking and whitewater kayaking.

In the south Cowichan, Montgomery suggests walking or cycling along the Trans Canada Trail to see the Kinsol Trestle near Shawnigan Lake. It’s the largest remaining wooden railway trestle in the British Commonwealth.