Spirit Bear Lodge: Community Based Tourism, Unforgettable Adventures
In a pristine cove on Swindle Island, in the coastal fjords of British Columbia, lies the small community of Klemtu, BC. Surrounded by the magnificent Great Bear Rainforest, this place feels otherworldly – it’s breathtakingly beautiful, peacefully remote, and undeniably connected to its natural surroundings.
Spirit Bear Lodge offers the opportunity to not only experience Klemtu and the Great Bear Rainforest but to connect to the local community, culture, and people. Founded in 2001 as a response to the collapse of the fishing and forestry industries, it attracts visitors from around the world and is a successful model for conservation-based eco-tourism. It’s Indigenous-owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, and offers unmatched opportunities to experience local wildlife – including grizzly bears, black bears, whales, porpoises, sea lions, wolves, eagles – and the rare and beautiful Spirit Bear.
Yervana local Michelle Brown has worked at Spirit Bear Lodge since 2013. Originally from North Vancouver, she began her career in tourism on Grouse Mountain as a teenager and continues to work in the industry because she loves connecting with people, cultures, and different ways of life. She, “feels very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing community of people in one of the most beautiful places in the world.” We caught up with Michelle to learn more about Spirit Bear Lodge, and the Great Bear Rainforest.
Can you talk about the relationship between Kitasoo/ Xai’xais culture, community and Spirit Bear Lodge?
Our Vision at Spirit Bear Lodge is, ‘Connect. Respect. Protect.’ This applies to the environment, the culture, the people and wildlife. Our mission or goal is to create emotional connections between people, nature and wildlife that leads to transformative change and advance social, cultural, environmental and economic revitalization for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation.
What are some of the ways in which Spirit Bear Lodge has created a sustainable tourism operation?
Spirit Bear Lodge is committed to making purchases that are beneficial to the local economy and continue to reduce waste. We purchase from BC first and have made the decision to drastically minimize our single-use plastics. Some of our efforts include:
Composting, Recycling and Waste Reduction
In the season we have our guests and staff separate all food scraps to be composted, this reduces the waste at the local landfill. We do not provide single-use water bottles or beverages to our guests and encourage all guests to bring their own reusable water bottle for the trip. All of our guests and staff use metal lunch tins that we provide to pack their lunches. Guests are provided with reusable hot beverage cups on our boats for their daily trips into the territory. We are in the process of transferring our bath products to refillable dispensers to eliminate the single-use jars. The bath products are all made on BC’s coast with thoughtful, environmentally conscious ingredients.
It is difficult to deal with waste and recycled products in a remote community therefore we provide BC wine and beer on tap rather than having to deal with wine bottles and beer cans. We work with the Klemtu public works department to deal with cardboard and recyclables. We are very cautious of our garbage disposal as we do not want to attract bears and wolves.
We have cut down on our fuel usage in our boats by limiting our arrival and departure days to two days per week. This drastically reduces our boat travel time and fuel consumption. In addition, the community of Klemtu is powered by an updated hydroelectric system.
Reduced consumption-based purchasing
We have recently phased out our gift shop to discourage consumption-based purchasing. We encourage guests to fill up on memories and support local organizations working very hard to protect all aspects of the Great Bear Rainforest instead of taking home a souvenir.
Due to the closure of Spirit Bear Lodge in 2020 we took the chance to participate in a very meaningful coastal cleanup project sponsored by the Government of BC.. Moving forward there are plans to commit time each season to ensuring our coast is getting cleaned up and taken care of.
We have also introduced a conservation fee to our programs. When guests purchase an experience with Spirit Bear Lodge they are contributing $200 per guest towards conservation efforts in the Great Bear Rainforest. The approximate $50 000 will move straight through Spirit Bear Lodge to organizations such as Spirit Bear Research, Coastal Guardian Watchmen, and Raincoast Conservation.
With every decision we make at Spirit Bear Lodge we consider first the needs of the community and impacts of our actions on residents and the natural environment. It is important that we ensure our business practices are progressive, innovative and most importantly sustainable.
Spirit Bear Lodge is a recognized best-practice model for Indigenous community-based tourism in Canada – what about it makes it work so well?
It is really special that the lodge is located right in the remote Indigenous community of Klemtu, on the doorfront of some of the most spectacular wilderness left on the planet. The people who work at the lodge also live in the community; their families and ancestors have called the Kitasoo/Xai’xais territory home for thousands of years and each person has their own story to tell that is connected to the area. We often have intergenerational family members working alongside one another; mother/daughters, grandfathers/grandsons. The teaching, learning and sharing is happening more than just to the guests, it is happening among our staff as well and it’s really special.
If someone wants to travel and practice tourism in a responsible way, what would you encourage them to do?
Ask lots of questions. Seek out more local/small businesses. Find out who is the owner of the businesses. Staying longer in one place and reducing your transportation footprint are some ways in which people can travel in a responsible way.
I think most recently I have noticed that people crave meaningful travel. A desire to have an experience but also learn and grow. One of our most fundamental needs as humans is the need for connection and not just to people but to nature. Since the pandemic there is more desire for wide open spaces, nature, relaxation and more meaningful experiences that allow us to connect.”
What makes the Great Bear Rainforest so special? What types of wildlife can you experience?
There’s a magic that occurs at Spirit Bear Lodge when visitors connect with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais, the lands and waters of the traditional territory, and the magnificent wildlife that call it home. Our multi-day adventures build an understanding, respect, and connection to the heart of The Great Bear Rainforest and a culture that has roots as deep as the trees. This is more than just a vacation, it is a journey that will intertwine you with this special place, its story and its people who continue to protect it for future generations. It is where a wild land meets a wild ocean. Some wildlife guests might experience are eagles, seals, sea lions, wolves, orca and humpback whales, sea otters, porpoises, and of course BEARS! Black Bears, Grizzly Bears and the elusive Spirit Bear.
What’s your favourite part of each Spirit Bear Lodge Adventure?
I love seeing the Great Bear Rainforest through our guests’ eyes. It reminds me of the first time I came to the lodge in 2013 and was blown away by the beauty of the land and the culture and generosity of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people. It’s why after 9 years I still love my job! It’s also pretty spectacular to watch a bear (if you’re lucky a Spirit Bear) emerge from the thick green forest and pluck a fat salmon out of the river for lunch.
If you’re looking for a life changing experience in the Great Bear Rainforest, you can stay at Spirit Bear Lodge for a three night package, four night package, or seven night package with several room options. Packages include return airfare from Vancouver, all transportation, all meals and snacks, BC wine, and wildlife and cultural tours. To learn more about the Spirit Bear, Spirit Bear Lodge, and the local community, watch this video, and book your Adventure below!
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