BC Seafood Festival returns to the Comox Valley with a celebration of coastal life

The 13th annual event is a deep dive into all things oceanic—and beyond

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      The BC Seafood Festival kicked off in lively West Coast style in the Comox Valley this past weekend, western Canada’s largest seafood celebration marking its 13th year.

      With its signature weekend taking place this Saturday and Sunday (June 15 and 16), the 10-day event stands apart from other food fests in that it goes beyond the glory of all things edible.

      It educates and enlightens people about the local seafood and fishing industry, marine life, and the ocean itself through more than 85 events. But more than activities, it encourages people to hang out in the harbour, connect with the people behind local products, and experience life by the sea in new ways.

      It’s really a celebration of coastal community.  

      Comox Harbour.
      Gail Johnson.

      Events take place in and around Courtenay and Comox, about an hourlong drive north of Nanaimo on a divided highway that slices through the deep green Comox Valley, midway on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The region produces more than half of British Columbia’s shellfish and the most oysters in Canada.

      A visit to fest also gives people the chance to explore a section of the Island that may be less familiar to Vancouverites who are used to crossing the Straight of Georgia to head straight for Victoria or Tofino.

      With more than 400 producers in the lush region, the Comox Valley Farmers Market is a great way to get a taste of several of them all in one place—wild-harvested foods; eggs and specialty meats; baked treats; abundant freshly picked produce; craft beer, wine, and spirits, and tons more.

      Fisherman's Wharf at Comox Harbour.
      Gail Johnson.

      The weekend of June 8 and 9 saw the launch of the festival’s Dock Days, with sailboat and outrigger canoe races, Big Animal Encounter Whale Watching Tours, Comox Valley Cycle Tours, expeditions with Island Pursuit Sport Fishing Charters, guided walks of Fisherman’s’ Wharf by the Comox Valley Harbour Authority (including a close look at commercial-fishing vessels, gear, and the costs—financial and human—and being a commercial fisherman), and more.

      Comox Valley Harbour and Marina hosted the BC Seafood Festival's inaugural Dock Days event on June 8 and 9.
      Gail Johnson.

      Some forthcoming highlights include the Fanny Bay Oyster Shucking Competition, Best Caesar in Town competition, Junior Chef Challenge, and BC Seafood Festival Chef Challenge sponsored by FortisBC and Garland Canada.

      New for 2019 is a hands-on cooking class with Guinness Book of World Records holder Shucker Paddy, who will cover the Big 5 Species and merroir: what terroir is to wine, merroir is to oysters. Bivalves are, naturally, impacted by the water is lives in, the food it feeds on, the mineral content of the ocean floor, temperature, season, currents, tides, and other factors. Participants will get to roll up their sleeves to shuck while learning how to buy, handle, and serve them.

      The view from Blackfin Pub, near Comox Harbour.
      Gail Johnson.

      Terroir Meets Merroir is a four-course long-table dinner amid grapevines at the family-run 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery.

      The serene 24-acre winery (Comox Valley’s largest) right near the Salish Sea with glacier till soil is about to get its biodynamic certification, meaning natural growing, with geese and chickens to eat pests and weeds; it’s reached gold status with Canada’s Sustainable Tourism.

      Brenda Hetman-Craig runs 40 Knots Winery and Estate Vineyard, one of the closest wineries to the ocean in the world, with her husband, Layne Robert Craig.
      Gail Johnson.

      The winery has a 1.5-kilometre kid-friendly interpretive trail along which you can sip its award-winning Pinot Gris right next to the very same grapes. The winery also offers picnic baskets filled with baguette, pickled grapes, Natural Pastures Cheese (which uses 40 Knots lees to bathe the cheese), and salami (made with 40 Knots wine); you can sit on a shady patio or borrow a blanket and plop down on soft, grassy patch by the vines.

      You can have a picnic at 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery.
      Gail Johnson.

      With June being BC Seafood Month, several restaurants in the area (and throughout the province) are offering special dishes or creating unique menus for the festival.

      A standout dining destination is Locals Restaurant, run by executive chef Ronald St. Pierre, (who’s from a small town near Montreal and whose first job was at Relais & Château Resort Les Trois Tillieuls) and his wife, Tricia.

      Facing the Courtenay River, Locals Restaurant takes pride in serving "food from the heart of the Island".
      Gail Johnson.

      Locals is situated in a restored Arts and Crafts heritage building known simply as the Old House. Built in 1938 by Geoff Kirk, who ran an oil business from the dock of his property fronting the Courtenay River, it’s a charmingly eclectic two-storey cottage with wood-shingle siding and roof, exposed interior timber frame, and detailed brickwork, all surrounded by old crooked oak trees and weeping willows. (On either side of the eye-catching structure is one of two West Coast-style buildings that make up the Old House Hotel and Spa, an all-suite resort with outdoor pool and hot tub.)

      Chef St. Pierre makes everything from scratch—even the soy sauce that comes with a hand-peeled Shrimp and Crab Stack with Eatmore Sprouts greens. Its proudly local menu features the names of all the restaurant’s suppliers, like Island Bison, Bates Beach Farm, and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks.

      Locals Restaurant's Pacific Rim Bouillabaise comes with a side of roasted local vegetables and housemade aioli.
      Gail Johnson.

      Locals is offering a special three-course prix-fixe meal in celebration of BC Seafood Month.

      See here for more information about the BC Seafood Festival.