Vancouver Hidden Gem Alert: Discovering Westham Island — Part I

Photo credit: Gord McKenna | Flickr

Photo credit: Gord McKenna | Flickr

It’s a tiny island a short drive from Vancouver with its own world-class bird sanctuary, farm stands and acres of pumpkin patches, and waterfront bike trails you’ll likely have all to yourself.

And pretty much no one has heard of it.

Westham Island is roughly a 45-minute drive south of downtown Vancouver, past Richmond and just next door to the small agricultural community of Ladner. I checked out the island recently on a sunny fall day.

A narrow tributary of the Fraser River separates Westham Island from the mainland.  To get across, you have to navigate a creaky, one-lane wooden bridge that’s been patched here and there with plywood.  Sometimes the bridge rotates to allow passing boats to get by and you might find a half-dozen cars lined up and waiting to get across.

Photo credit: Gord McKenna | Flickr

Photo credit: Gord McKenna | Flickr

On the other side, the highways and strip malls and hustle-bustle of the Vancouver suburbs give way to flat farmland stretching away on either side of a country road.  All kinds of berries, leafy greens and potatoes are grown in the rich soil here, but the cash crop this time of year is pumpkins.

I managed to find a parking spot along the road next to Westham Island Herb Farm, which was crawling with eager pumpkin pickers.  A lineup of scarecrows pointed the way to the patch out back, which was studded with bright orange squashes in all shapes and sizes.  The going price was $.35 a pound.  Alternately – if you had serious pumpkin needs – you could opt to pay $55 to fill up a wheelbarrow with all the gourds you could carry.

After browsing the pumpkins, meeting a pair of donkeys and a shaggy cow at the petting zoo and checking out the organic kale in the general store, I got back in the car and continued on down Westham Island Road.  The road, which is pretty much the only one on the island, dead-ends a mile or so later at another highlight: the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post on Oct. 18.  

Anyone else a fan of Westham Island? Let us know below. 

For more updates on hidden gems in Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.  


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4 Responses to Vancouver Hidden Gem Alert: Discovering Westham Island — Part I

  1. Cycling is also fantastic in this area. Try cycling from Westham Island io Ladner, and along the Milennium Trail beside the South Arm of the Fraser River Ride under Hwy 99, and view golfers, kayakers, private boaters, rowers, canoeists and park areas along the way. This is an amazing area to enjoy year round.

    • Jean W.

      I look forward to my first late spring/early summer visit to Emma Lea Farms to obtain berries, potatoes, beans (with fewer pesticides than regular store purchased items) and to eat ice cream cones while sitting out in the warm sunshine. Westham Island Herb Farm is gorgeous in the fall especially–worth a trip to see the pumpkins and other fall produce. Friendly people & their Day at the Farm is a must see. A visit to the Island’s apiary (run by Gail and Don Cameron) a great place to buy honey and beeswax candles (think Christmas). We are so lucky to have this gem in our midst.

  2. Linda Edwards

    I agree, this is a wonderful place to visit. In the summer I always buy my berries from the various farms, where you can pick-your-own or buy them ready picked. At Emma Lea’s you can get a fantastic milkshake made with ice cream and fresh strawberries – not to be missed! I also buy honey and fresh vegetables there throughout the year. Another treat is the Westham Island Winery which offers many types of fruit wines and has lovely gifts to browse while you sample the wines. All my visitors from Europe love Westham Island and wish they had something similar close to them!

  3. Brigette Robbiard

    As a Native Indian Canadian raised in Northern Alberta I remember my Grandmother taking us on berry picking adventures through the bush. We would find wild strawberries, blue berries ans saskatoons, yum. As an adult close to 20 years ago I drove to Westham Island to go berry picking, we picked raberries, blueberries and strawberries in abundance. I would go back to Vancouver and spend hours making both cooked and frozen jams and freeze heaps to make margaritas. I have lived in the tropics of Australia for 16 years and I am looking forward to visiting Westham Island this July when I visit Vancouver. I will pick what’s in season and be so greatful for the experience once again.