Oh, it has been a while.
I start a lot of posts like that, don’t I?
Welp, as with much of the state of the world, things are hectic, and so am I.
This summer has been a whirlwind and not over yet.
I have been around the province of what is now known as British Columbia for most of the season. I am fortunate that my job takes me to interesting places to work with communities taking steps to revitalise their languages.
This trip I am recounting, in the beginning of the summer, took me to Lax Kxeen also know as Prince Rupert. The early summer is a great time to visit the island with fishing opportunities and businesses open for tourist season.
As a fishing hub and departure/rest point for other trips farther north, Lax Kxeen is a popular destination for passersby and nature lovers alike. For me, it was one week up north doing database and audio-editing tutorials in front of a computer screen.
Lax Kxeen or Kaien Island
Located adjacent to the tip of Alaska and northern Haida Gwaii, Lax Kxeen is one of the gateways to the north in the province. It is traditionally the territory of the Ts’msyen (/sɪmʃiən/) who speak the Sm’algyax language, and their cultural presence is palpable.
As a general note, there are many Ts’mysen communities across this section of the northern coast and into Terrace like Kitsumkalum, Gitxaala, Gitga’at.
The beginning syllable git- translates to ‘people of’ with the following Sm’algyax relating to the location or a description of the people’s traditional territory in each community’s name.
Kxeen means ‘foam on the water’, so Lax Kxeen translates roughly to ‘island of foam on the water,’ which is a beautiful namesake to have.
I had the pleasure to come to Lax Kxeen to work with two groups and also attend a larger Ts’msyen gathering and networking event at the end of the week. And, in my short time, I learned to really love Lax Kxeen.
Much of my love comes from and goes toward the people I work with there and who I know love their home, but Lax Kxeen does have its own special charms …
There are multiple ways to get to Lax Kxeen, which makes it a major departure point for folks going to Alaska or to Haida Gwaii. Tourists are often transient in this sense, making their way to other locations. However, there is sport fishing and other interests in the region to keep people coming back.
Located on the water, BC Ferries is definitely an option for arriving and departing from Lax Kxeen. Starting from Port Hardy, you could theoretically take a ferry to the far north. However, this route is over a day of travel: 25-ish hours.
On these long haul ferries, you are able to book small cabins to rest peacefully and shower in privacy on the way. However, for larger families, they can be a bit cramped.
I’ve taken this ferry from Bella Bella to Port Hardy before. And, these trips are exhausting even on a relatively short 8-ish hours ride. I have colleagues who do this route to make it to Vancouver Island, and it is a trek.
For first-timers, BC Ferries might be an fun experience to try on your way to Lax Kxeen. However, factor in the long timespan to get to the island because when you are on the boat – there is no getting off.
It’s a boat.
Driving is another option to get to and from Lax Kxeen, which might be confusing. I mean, it’s an island, right?
It is, but there is a bridge. If you are in the north already and want to drive, you can take Highway 16 to the island. You can bring vehicles onto BC Ferries, so if you want to start a northern road trip in Prince Rupert and make your way down the Skeena River or to Smithers, you can too!
Would I personally drive to Prince Rupert or bring my car? I don’t think so.
I have limited experience on northern roads, but I know that trucks are sort of a staple. Winter driving is also a whole other ballgame. My dinky Mazda would not handle the terrain other than during select times of the year. I am a wee city driver and proud.
The last conventional option to get to Lax Kxeen is of course by plane.
Flying to Lax Kxeen is pretty manageable if coming from Vancouver (YVR). There is usually one plane a day around 1:30pm from the domestic terminal.
Return flights leave around 4:00pm from Digby Island or Prince Rupert airport (YPR). It is about a two hour flight each direction.
Plane to Ferry! What?
But, wait, there is another island? Oh, yes.
Yes, so, when flying into Prince Rupert, for tourists, the biggest shock is usually that you aren’t flying into Prince Rupert itself.
You land on a smaller, adjacent island called Digby Island.
You may be wondering how you get to Prince Rupert then.
Thankfully, there are shuttles that run like clockwork for departures and arrivals.
These white school buses will take you and the other passengers on a small ferry/barge that then takes you into Prince Rupert. All in all, it consumes maybe 45 minutes to an hour to get from the airport to the drop-off site, next to the Prestige Prince Rupert Hotel and vice versa.
Don’t worry about your checked baggage! It is also brought by the airport to the deposit site, so you can pick up your things once disembarked. But, it is sort of becomes a mob mentality situation with people scrambling, looking through the unloaded luggage in a small window-less room.
In your return, you will need to get to the drop-off/pick-up spot at around 12pm to make the ferry back to Digby Island to make your flight.
Where to Stay
This brings us to where to stay in Lax Kxeen after you arrive.
Conveniently located next to the airport drop-off, you can always try the Prestige Prince Rupert Hotel (118 6 St, Prince Rupert)!
A moderately priced hotel with complimentary, continental breakfast, the Prestige is one of the two bigger hotels in the city.
On my trip, my colleague and I stayed here and had a pleasant enough time. While the elevators could use a renovation, the service is impeccable with kind receptionists and easy conversation at the front desk.
I also received a $10 casino voucher at check-in, which definitely went to use.
The other hotel I would recommend is the Crest Hotel (222 1st Ave W, Prince Rupert). The Crest and Prestige tend to share business with each other, with what I am told, the Crest quickly becoming very, very popular.
One reason is that the Crest has an upscale restaurant and bar, which the Prestige does not possess …
And, the Crest is now owned by the Gitxaala Nation, a local Ts’msyen community, south of Lax Kxeen.
For this reason, I would highly recommend staying at the Crest Hotel, as your stay contributes directly to the Nation and its tourism efforts.
The interior of the Crest is a bit old fashioned and hunting lodgey, but I think that it is to cater to the clientele it brings in. Expect lots of older ‘sporties’ (Sport fishermen) at the Crest’s restaurant (Waterfront), which does not detract too much from the ambience. Although, it does make it much louder than expected for upscale dining.
The Waterfront restaurant does get busy, so it is best to book a reservation if you are interested to try it for the view and grub.
What to Do
As one can imagine, much of what to do in Lax Kxeen centres on its local cultures and landscape. I was working away when I was there. However, I got some good insights on things to do in the region.
Nature tours are a major draw for tourists here, and one of the biggest providers is Prince Rupert Adventure Tours (205 Cow Bay Rd, Prince Rupert). The company is easily identifiable by its bright yellow boats that depart from Cow Bay in town.
The company offers charters as well as grizzly bear and whale watching tours. The bear tours enter into the Khutzeymateen Park, which is a grizzly bear sanctuary. The name comes from the Sm’algyax for ‘valley at the head of the inlet’.
Museum of Northern British Columbia or Na Xbiisa Łagigyet
The Museum of Northern British Columbia (100 1st Ave W) is another draw for newcomers who want to gain more insights into the local coastal cultures of the region and adjacent territories. The museum shares the same building as the Gitxaala Nation administration located in Lax Kxeen.
However, the two entities are not directly affiliated.
The museum has various permanent exhibitions and temporary ones that represent the breadth and diversity of these northern territories. It also boasts an amply stocked gift shop, specialising in Indigenous designed and curated goodies and wares.
As one might expect, there are also many fishing charters for hire that depart from the docks here!
I would only ever really promote Indigenous fishing charters in the region. And, since I was not able to get on the water myself and get the scoop on the local options, I have few suggestions.
One place to start might be Haida Fishing, which is a Haida and Metlakatla (Ts’msyen) owned and operated business. It has an established reputation in Lax Kxeen.
Full disclosure: I have worked with the Manager of this charter; people wear many hats!
One of the mainstays for both locals and tourists is Chances Casino, which is conveniently located next to the Crest Hotel.
While I am not a slots fan, my colleague and I did go one evening to try our luck and join a posse of good friends who who were visiting and came up to Lax Kxeen from Klemtu.
I will not endorse or disapprove of gambling myself, but I had fun at least. That said, I lost my $10 casino voucher in like five minutes, but it was worth the experience.
I can say, from like a psychological standpoint, I can see how these machines really play with people’s neurons and brain’s pleasure receivers to make you continue to gamble. All the bright lights, sounds, changing images – my g-d!
Anyway, the Chances Casino exists in Lax Kxeen. Do with that information what you will.
Where to Eat
Now, if you know me, I am all about the food. What to do? What you do is eat.
So, while I was not able to go off and be taken onto the territory itself.
I was able to gorge and sample happily what Lax Kxeen has to offer when it comes to dining and refreshments.
Check out some of these local joints if you are in town for a good time and good meal!
Address: 2209 Seal Cove Rd, Prince Rupert
Located in a newly invested part of the city, Arabisk is a large-scale, high ceilinged new eatery that specialises in Arab and Mediterranean foods. It also boasts a wide array of cocktails and virgin cocktails too.
Their drink presentations are interesting and charming, and the food is not bad either. The spot serves large portions with what you would expect like shawarma plates, mezze appetizers, and even biryanis!
The division of Lax Kxeen where Arabisk resides had recent support from the government to beautify the space and make it more family-friendly. The landscaping around the restaurant is manicured, but there still is not too much outside the restaurant to enjoy other than an evening stroll.
You will need a set of wheels to get to the restaurant; it is not walkable from the main streets in town.
Address: 25 Cow Bay Rd, Prince Rupert
A charming café, Cowpuccino’s is a local coffeehouse close to 1st Avenue West. It is surrounded by other local establishments on Cow Bay Road, the touristy boardwalk area of town.
Cowpuccino’s serves as you would expect, cappuccinos, and other early morning delights. Its decor is kitschy, but that’s the point!
It has an unsurprisingly quirky reputation in town, but a positive one at that!
Address: 222 1st Ave W, Prince Rupert
As mentioned, the Crest Hotel also boasts a lovely dining establishment inside. It is popular with the ‘sporties’ and that is something you will see clearly when visiting Lax Kxeen.
Unfortunately, there is often a divide between the tourists and non-Indigenous populace and the Indigenous residents and where individuals frequent in these smaller cities.
The Crest’s restaurant is one of the places where you will likely find tourists as the main patrons, but locals do enjoy the view and meals on occasion. It was once known for its marinated black cod, but I do not know if the restaurant still has it on the menu.
Prepare for upscale pub food, fine dining options, and a wide selection of beers, wines, and other liquors.
Address: 117 George Hills Way, Prince Rupert
For less upscale pub grub, but still pretty good pub grub, I would recommend Breakers.
Also just off 1st Avenue West, Breakers is more of a sports bar on the water. With nice views and a casual interior, it is a nice joint to start an evening out at with its happy hour.
Service is usually pretty speedy, but it has a large floor size, so can get busy into the evening.
Address: 380 Bill Murray Dr, Prince Rupert
Wheelhouse Brewing is not a new business in Lax Kxeen, but this location is new.
Wheelhouse Brewing has been operating since the early 2000s. And, the owners recently moved into a new space to open a casual brewery by the water. Wheelhouse beers can be bought in the local liquor stores and at most restaurants as well on tap.
The beers steer on the darker and traditional side, but are pretty good after a long day’s work.
The crowd tends to be younger, newer couples to Lax Kxeen. So, expect a buzzier atmosphere and large groups, frequenting this quaint beer spot.
While there is food, the prices are pretty steep with a smaller selection that other places. In sum, beer is its mainstay.
Address: 7 Cow Bay Rd, Prince Rupert
Dolly’s Fish Market is a local favourite and also known to visitors as the place to get fresh seafood. With a small storefront and dining room, it caters to everyone with fish & chips, tacos, and chowders. Its quality is pretty good even for a seafood discerning audience and local populace.
I loved Dolly’s myself even after a pre-dinner happy hour nearby. Portion sizes are also massive, so be prepared to chow down.
As you can imagine, fish is fresh; fresh as can be. Indulge a bit and get that extra piece of halibut!
Address: 625 3 Ave W, Prince Rupert
Chinese food in Lax Kxeen is a speciality. And, I am not just saying this since I am such a fan of small town Chinese food.
It is western (of course), but who doesn’t like chicken balls, hoisin sticky ribs, and chow mein?
Stardust is a local favourite for Chinese food, and I was lucky enough to have it on a few occasions as part of catered meals for work.
Locals rave about the Chinese food in Lax Kxeen and how it is sauced just right, which that alone should be enough for you to go in and try some.
In these smaller joints, the vibe of the city is upfront and centre. Some businesses are institutions in Lax Kxeen and are part of the community with lore, relationships, and reputations that precede them. Stardust is one such place!
Address: 215 Cow Bay Rd, Prince Rupert
The last place I would recommend is a location that I actually was not able to try myself. However, it was recommended to me by a local and the partner of a colleague who lives in town who I would trust on these topics.
Owned and operated by Chef Dai Fukasaku, the sushi and traditional Japanese fare are Ocean Wise sustainable and unsuspecting gems on Cow Bay Road.
Fukasaku is renowned for its near Michelin-level cuisine and assortment of lunch specials! While I was not able to try any of its fine dishes this last trip to Lax Kxeen, I will be going there on my next stop up north to indulge in one of its reasonably priced tasting menus …
Whether it be for work, for fishing, or for the scenery, Lax Kxeen is a beautiful destination to experience at the right time of the year. While small, Lax Kxeen presents a welcoming environment to visit with a taste of the northern coast and a laidback atmosphere.
I look forward to my next trip to Lax Kxeen, and hopefully, I will be able to see and do more, especially on the water. There are sprinkling of islands around Lax Kxeen that are fishing spots and also home to local Nations that surround the central island city.
If I am lucky, I look forward to connecting with some colleagues I’ve only interacted with via Zoom in-community (instead of these folks schlepping to Lax Kxeen) and to maybe catching a few cod or two along the way to the villlage …
More posts coming on past summer excursions and trips! As we enter into autumn, I will have more time to hunker down and get blogging [fingers crossed]. Look out for more musings about the west coast of Vancouver Island and even maybe an international excursion coming soon to Latin America!