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Prince Rupert Overview
The port city of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, is actually on an island at the mouth of the Skeena River, just 40 miles south of the Alaska border and 65 miles south of Ketchikan. Its name was decided in a nationwide contest at the time of its incorporation in 1910, but plans for the city to rival the Port of Vancouver, some 550 miles south, have never been realized.
Arriving into port by ship is breathtaking, as you skirt hundreds of islands and make your way through narrow, mist-shrouded passageways to this town of 16,000 residents. And, because of its moderate climate and mists, it is not unusual to see several rainbows a day, including double and triple rainbows that span the entire horizon.
The natural landscape provides most of the draw for this locale, but it also has a history as one of the oldest continuously occupied regions in the world, with a First Nations culture that dates back over 10,000 years. In fact, the area surrounding Prince Rupert was at one time one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico. The Tsimshian Nation's sites and archeological artifacts are available to visitors touring here, and there is a museum dedicated to the First Nations peoples.
If it's wildlife you seek, Prince Rupert is a dream location, home to Canada's only Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, the highest concentration of humpbacked whales in North America, white Kermode bears and soaring eagles. Your visit will leave you with a greater appreciation for the interaction between man and the natural world.
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Any of the carvings or original jewelry created by the local First Nations artisans in the area, most especially an item carved from argillite, a slate-like stone indigenous to the Prince Rupert and Queen Charlotte Islands regions which -- by law -- can only be carved by the people of the Haida nation.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships arrive at the new Northland Terminal in downtown Prince Rupert. There is a small customs and immigration center and an adjacent visitor's center. Many of the tours that require boats leave from the Atlin Terminal just adjacent to the cruise ship dock as well.
There are several coffee shops and cafes in the district around the cruise dock, and Cow Bay, an area of cute shops painted in black and white cow spots, is just a 10-minute walk away. The visitor's center has an array of guidebooks and tourist information. The walk up the hill to the downtown area takes approximately 10 minutes. Grocery and sundry stores are open seven days a week.
Those who choose to wander around Prince Rupert itself can do so on foot. There are several car rental agencies not far from the dock, and tour buses are available on the pier apron for those taking pre-arranged tours. There is also a municipal bus system which you can take for rides around the city. Those looking for a realtively cheap and versatile mode of transportation during the summer months can rent a scooter at the lot adjacent to the dock. Bicycle rentals are available from nearby Farwest Sports (212 Third Ave. W., 250-624-2568).
Cow Bay got its moniker as a result of dairy cattle brought to the region in 1906. At that time there were no docks built, so the cows had to swim ashore. What had been Cameron Cove became known as Cow Bay as a result, and this waterfront area is now a fun shopping district with historic buildings and unique architecture. Many of the shops and restaurants are built on pilings right on the water.
The Museum of Northern British Columbia (100 1st Avenue West, www.museumofnorthernbc.com) features several exhibits that celebrate the area and the Haida, Tsimishian, Tlingit and Nisga'a cultures.
The First Nations Carving Shed (1-800-667-1994), located just a block from the Museum of Northern British Columbia, features artists and carvers of the region. Watch as they create everything from sculpture and totems to jewelry, working with silver, copper, cedarwood and gold; you can purchase items from these individual artists as well.
Been There, Done That
Whale Watching Tours are a major draw here because the Prince Rupert area is home to the largest concentration of humpbacked whales in North America. But that's not all you'll see on these tours. If you visit earlier in the season (May to July), it's likely that your excursions will find several pods of orcas, and at any time you are likely to see eagles, dolphins, sea lions and other marine life in close proximity. Information on several different tours can be found at www.cruisetoprincerupert.com.
The North Pacific Historic Fishing Village (1889 Skeena Drive, Port Edward, www.district.portedward.bc.ca), located 12 miles south of Prince Rupert, is a true "company town." That company is the oldest-standing salmon cannery in British Columbia, which illustrates life in the region for fishermen and the industry they created. There is also an artist colony with resident artists, a restaurant, a cafe, daily performances and guided tours.
Go kayaking or canoeing around Venn Island (Seashore Charters, 800-667-4393, www.seashorecharters.com). Led by First Nation guides, these three-hour excursions take visitors around Venn Island in either two-person kayaks or traditional 12-person ocean canoes, and include a traditional Tsimshian snack in the village of Metlakatla. Minimum age is 10.
For an elegant outing, the Waterfront Restaurant in the Crest Hotel (222 West 1st Ave, 1-800-663-8150, www.cresthotel.bc.ca/waterfront.html) offers British Columbia cuisine on the waterfront.
Cow Bay Cafe (205 Cow Bay Rd., 250-627-1212) serves lunch and dinner in a casual waterfront location. The menu changes twice daily with a focus on international cuisine, including excellent seafood and vegetarian entrees (with delicious desserts). Dinner reservations recommended.
Cowpuccino's Coffee House (25 Cow Bay Road, 250-624-6090) is known for its homemade soups and sandwiches plus coffees, ice cream and muffins, all made on the premises.
If you've had it with cruise-ship cuisine and want something different, try the Vietnamese offerings at Herbie's Family Restaurant (679 2nd Ave. W., 250-624-3965). And if you are there early enough, try the $2.99 (CAD) breakfast special, which equates to about $2 USD.
Smiles Seafood Cafe (113 Cow Bay Road, 250-624-3072) started out as a taxi stand and became a restaurant in 1934 -- and it still serves great seafood at reasonable prices ... with a smile.
New in 2008 is a Thshimshian Traditional Canoe Quest and Rainforest Hike expedition; you travel in a 31 ft. native-design canoe.
Accessible by water (or plane) only, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary (250-798-2277, www.palmerville.bc.ca or 800-201-8377, http://www.westcoastlaunch.com) is the only grizzly bear sanctuary in Canada, and provides a unique opportunity to get "up close and personal" with the bears (you must go out with a guide). Most tours access the grizzly area via a 27-mile floatplane ride.
Pike Island Cultural Tour: This 3 1/2-hour tour includes visits to ancient Tsimshian villages that date back 1800 years, an overview of the First Nations culture and a walking tour of the rainforest.
Salmon Ocean Fishing: Navigate the waters of Dixon Entrance and Chatham Sound to try to land "the big one": a chinook, coho or king salmon, which can be cleaned, packed, and sent to your home. Five hours.
Staying in Touch
Java-dot-Cup (516 3rd Ave. W., 250-622- 2822): Extremely reasonably priced (under $2 CAD for half an hour of high-speed), this pleasant cafe has coffee, breakfast, pastries, sandwiches and an outdoor deck.
For More Information
Call 1-800-667-1994, or visit www.tourismprincerupert.com
For information on activities, visit www.cruisetoprincerupert.com
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