Visitors flocked to Chemainus Sat., Dec. 1 in spite of heavy rain and wind for the seventh annual Chemainus Christmas Walking Tour.
Twenty-nine of the town’s businesses signed on for the event, offering snacks, refreshments and prizes to tour guests as they ventured door to door throughout Chemainus’s downtown.
Gunnell Borge, a co-owner of Sandpiper Garden and Glass, welcomed visitors to her shop with cups of hot chocolate before introducing them to a pair of special guests. Nick Jarvie, a volunteer with the Pacific Northwest Raptors (PNWR), was on hand with a Swainson’s hawk named Harry.
Borge helped organize Chemainus’s first Christmas Walking Tour seven years ago.
“It was a really, really cold winter,” Borge said. “So cold, they cancelled Light Up that year and Chemainus’s parade, too.”
As the early winter wore on, morale began to wilt among the town’s shop owners. While mulling over possible antidotes for the business community’s winter doldrums, Borge was reminded of how Chemainus is a “nice town to walk around.”
She rallied with the idea, joining ranks with the owners of Twisted Sisters Tearoom, Top Hat Antiques and Collectibles, and Flowering Tree Natural Spa to organize the first walking tour.
Borge said the one-day tour draws between 120 and 140 visitors to her shop every year, far more than she would receive on an average Saturday.
Borge invited visitors to craft Christmas-themed centrepieces in exchange for donations of non-perishable food items intended for the Chemainus Harvest House Food Bank. Guests were welcome to pose for photos with Harry and Jarvie, too.
Borge said she recently brought her grandson to the PNWR visitor centre for his first birthday. She was awestruck by the experience, and noted that “the birds seemed really well taken care of.”
As a result, she decided to invite the PNWR and one of their raptors into the shop as a novel attraction for visitors. Borge sponsored a pass to the PNWR’s visitor centre in Duncan as a door prize in return.
Sherry Williams had visited 25 of the 29 stops on the tour by 1:30 p.m. Williams said she planned to visit all but one of the walking tour destinations with her daughter Kristine and their friend Kearra McCormick, excluding the Best Western on account of how far it was from downtown.
They all looked forward to dropping in on the Twisted Sisters Tearoom, but Kristine and Kearra were unequivocal when it came to declaring Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Co. (HGCC) as their favourite stop of the day.
Kristine and Kearra weren’t the only tour members drawn in by HGCC’s selection of sweets. Ron Waller, an employee of HGCC, said they’d sold over 30 of their best-selling “mystery boxes” by 12:30 p.m. The popularity of their mystery boxes results from a combination of top quality candy mixed with the reasonable odds of finding either a $5 HGCC coin or a single Chemainus dollar hidden in any given box, explained Waller.
The shop, a vendor of rare sweets from around the world, was raffling off an 11-litre tub of sugar-free vanilla ice cream to tour guests.
It’s impossible to find a more Christmas-themed shop than Christmas in Chemainus.
Kathy Yeager, the shop’s owner, said she “imports candy and Christmas from around the world,” providing her customers with unique items they won’t find anywhere else.
In keeping with that tradition, Yeager was raffling off a unique hand-painted Christmas tree ornament — commissioned from a Russian artist — featuring Chemainus’s trademark mural.
Yeager said she relocated to her current location only three weeks prior to the walking tour, tripling the size of her shop in the process. That left plenty of room for the 100-plus visitors who’d passed through her doors Saturday morning to mill about and mingle with Santa when he dropped by to say hello shortly after 1 p.m.
Teresa Davies at Twisted Sisters Tearoom said the tour’s grand prize was awarded to Mary Dolan. Dolan, who actually won the grand prize last year as well, received a “romantic getaway in Chemainus” that included a night’s stay at the Best Western and a selection of products and gift certificates donated my participating merchants.
Tania Drean received the tour’s runner-up prize, including a pair of tickets to Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story at Chemainus Theatre and a gift basket.
A “family fun basket” was awarded to Stefanie Burgess as the tour’s third-place prize and Almena Dowling won the last of the tour’s prizes, a poinsettia donated by Sandpiper Garden and Glass planted in a ceramic vase donated by The Gallery at Chemainus Theatre.