A Growing Love for the New: Skwachays Lodge
My mom has always been scared of airplanes so our family vacations consisted of road trips to spots filled with natural beauty. I loved it then, and I love it still, but, as a teenager, I ached to see more. I had never been out of the country and I wanted to see somewhere new.
One summer, in northern Idaho, I was well aware that we were just a hop, skip and a jump away from Canada. I knew it as the land of maple syrup and hockey, but I didn’t care. It was close, and it was somewhere new.
I convinced my mom to take my sister and I across the border, but that’s as far as we got. My parents were divorced and, although my mom had custody of my sister, I lived with my dad. They thought my mother was trying to kidnap me. Seriously.
After all the begging and pleading I did to venture to the Great White North, they kicked us out. I tried to explain that it was my idea, offered to call my dad. But they wouldn’t hear of it. I was given a microscopic Canadian flag pin—“Not even a postcard?” I asked the lady at the border—and we returned to Sandpoint.
That was 2006. More than a decade later, when my friend mentioned she’d always wanted to go to Canada, I was so in. In that 11-year span, I’d traveled to five other countries so our neighbors to the north didn’t hold as much magic anymore. But the allure of the outdoor adventures to be had in Vancouver definitely had its own appeal.
We crossed the border late at night via an Amtrak bus and arrived with no Canadian currency. We expected to hop into an Uber and zip to our hotel, the Skwachays Lodge in Gastown. But, instead, we found that Uber hasn’t reached Vancouver yet. (Seriously, how?) We found an ATM and a taxi and, finally, made it to the lodge.
A Room With a Story
Those looking for something different than a downtown luxury hotel chain will appreciate the uniqueness of the Skwachays Lodge. The top three floors house 18 boutique hotel rooms, each designed by a local Aboriginal artist. From the Northern Lights suite, designed by Jerry Whitehead and Nancy A. Lewis, to Richard Shorty’s King Salmon suite, the rooms are one-of-a-kind and span a variety of topics.
Shorty was also the artist that designed our room, the Feather suite. A binder left in the room detailed the importance of the feather in Aboriginal culture, revealing that it connects humans to the spirit world. Also symbolizing strength and freedom, the feather is often used in smudging or cleansing ceremonies.
Upon entering the room, we had to climb a set of stairs to reach the room from the sixth floor. The pivotal feather was painted freehand on the wall leading us up the staircase, featuring a human’s face to represent that connection between nature and the human spirit. Once at the top of the stairs, next to the television and a cushioned chair, we had our first view of the room.
The luxury bed, covered in plush hypoallergenic blankets, had a wooden backboard, also designed by Shorty. The paddle-shaped picture features the same red and black coloring as the feather, an element of West Coast formline art. Warm lighting and dark wood accents made the room even more welcoming. With all-natural products in the bathroom and fluffy robes to wrap up in after braving the cold wind outside, it was definitely a cozy spot.
More Than a Hotel
In addition to being a hotel for visiting guests, the Skwachays Lodge also serves as a residence for Aboriginal people. With 24 apartments operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, the first few floors of the building help fight homelessness. The concept is reminiscent of the longhouses that were built in the Vancouver area long ago.
But the impressive elements of this unique spot don’t end there. The hotel check-in desk on the first floor is situated within Skwachays Lodge’s on-site art gallery. Guests can view Aboriginal paintings and sculptures as well as cultural trinkets like art-centric greeting cards, jewelry, accessories and more. Down below, in the basement, underground workshops provide space for artists to complete their works on-site.
Also on the ground floor, you’ll find the Kayachtn Room, which serves as a gathering place for visitors. The comfortable room features a fireplace surrounded by seating as well as a communal table covered in Aboriginal designs. Artwork fills the walls over the bar seating along the wall next to the kitchen, where guests can find coffee and tea 24 hours a day.
In the mornings, the room also serves as the place to get a complimentary breakfast. The spread includes a variety of baked goods with numerous jams, fresh fruit, granola bars, juices and yogurt parfaits in small glass jars.
Higher up in the building, there is a rooftop sweat lodge as well as a smudge room that can be used for spiritual cleansing if pre-arranged with the hotel. Don’t forget to also ask about the waterfall—a little bit of nature you won’t find in most big-city hotels.
In addition to the beautiful and intricate hotel, which sometimes hosts cultural events as well, Skwachàys Lodge is situated in a unique area. It’s close to downtown and borders both Gastown and nearby Chinatown, whose gate can be seen from the lodge’s doors.
Within walking distance of the property, you’ll find a variety of places to visit, including an incredible bookstore, a one-of-a-kind hat shop and a currency exchange spot with great rates. But the neighboring streets are also filled with restaurants to dine at. Trek a few blocks away to the Lamplighter Public House for happy hour specials, live music, televised sports, trivia nights and beloved arcade games.
For those wanting something healthier than burgers and wings, opt for Caveman Café. Just across the street from the lodge, the eatery specializes in vegan, vegetarian and paleo cuisine. From salads to pizzas, burritos and lasagna, there is something for everyone, and it’s all customizable.