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No Sad Drapery Here—Kwa’lilas Hotel is a Stylish and Comfortable Place to Sleep

No Sad Drapery Here—Kwa’lilas Hotel is a Stylish and Comfortable Place to Sleep

Old dusty motels, sad inns with even sadder brown and orange drapery—these are the kinds of places (most often found in small towns)—that inspire people to stay home. This isn’t the case in Port Hardy though, thanks to the First Nations-owned and operated Kwa’lilas Hotel.

In 2014, the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations established the k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation to create local opportunities for their members. They wanted to build a hotel that would be a peaceful rest stop for travellers after a long day of exploring northern Vancouver Island. Enter Kwa’lilas. Its name, chosen by the town’s elders, means “bed” or “a place to sleep.” 

Built by the k’awat’si Construction company, the building is mostly cedar, and the exterior is designed to resemble a big house, which traditionally would house multiple families under the same roof. For the interior, a selection committee, made up of the Nations’ Elders, enlisted the town’s young artists to create everything from decorative headboards and textiles in the rooms to wood carvings and artwork in the restaurant. Each piece tells a story about the history and traditions of their people, dating back 12,000 years. That’s especially evident in the large copper plate mural in the lobby, which depicts their people’s history, legends, and prominent figures in the community—it’s a powerful visual story.

Photo: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada
Photo: Kwa’lilas Hotel
Photo: Kwa’lilas Hotel

The rooms in the hotel aren’t massive or stately, but mod fixtures, cozy lighting, walk-in showers and big soaker tubs are a touch of luxury, especially after a long day adventuring on the North Island. Ha’me is the popular in-house restaurant, (ha’me means “food” in Gwa’sala) and is one of the few places on Vancouver Island where you can taste a First Nations- and west coast-inspired menu. The restaurant makes their own elk sausages with sun-dried blueberries—an integral part of their heaping smoked game platter. Traditional smoked local salmon and coastal crab find their way into the Blunden Harbour Rolls (Blunden Harbour is the original home of the Gwa’sala people before the Canadian government forcibly relocated them to Port Hardy in 1964). Another favourite dish is the k’utala (salmon) platter that shows off salmon in different ways:  house smoked, candied and as cold lox with a lemon dill aioli. 

The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw know Port Hardy’s draw is its remote and rugged scenery. The wildlife here is big (think whales, orcas, black bears) and the opportunity for diving and sport fishing is unparalleled—all of which has contributed to making Port Hardy the northernmost hub for eco-tour adventurers looking to get a real slice of B.C.’s wild coast. Through k’awat’si Tours, a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw company that provides cultural experiences and locally guided eco-tour adventures on the North Island, visitors can discover activities that enhance knowledge of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw culture and heritage. Some of the options include wildlife viewing, trips to remote beaches, or learning how to weave cedar.

Throughout the hotel, restaurant, and k’awat’si Tours, traditional language and spelling is used where possible. In recent history, First Nations people weren’t permitted to speak and write their own languages—as a result, fewer and fewer people speak them every day—and in reclaiming their language and their past, they also take control of their future.  

Kwalias Hotel
9040 Granville St, Port Hardy

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