Canada’s first aboriginal arts hotel opened in 2014. Part luxury hotel and part social enterprise, Skwachays Lodge ticks all the right boxes. On the luxe side: high thread count sheets, Hypnos beds (the same as the British royal family sleep on), spacious rooms, and abundant on-theme extras including Spirit Bear coffee (the company works with the Tsimshian Nation) and aboriginal-owned Earth Mother Essentials toiletries. The social enterprise part: all profits from the hotel and its gallery, which doubles as the check-in and lobby, go into subsidizing 24 live-work art studios on the first two floors of the lodge. Each room is unique, decorated with custom-made reclaimed wood furniture and designed as a partnership between local Vancouver artists and First Nations artists, including Corrine Hunt (a member of the Raven Gwa’wina clan from Ts’akis, who codesigned the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympics medals). Many of the artists who created the rooms live on-site. BC First Nations themes of eagles, ravens, bears, whales, and the sun and the moon all feature strongly in the design.
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Just a 10-minute walk from the Waterfront Station (which connects to the airport) or around the same distance from the cruise ship terminal, the hotel stands with a soaring 40-foot story pole rising from its century-old brick facade at the Chinese-themed Millennium Gates. Certainly this is the more "gritty" part of Gastown–Chinatown, but it’s a neighborhood on the rise and perfectly visitor-friendly. Dive into one of the best diners around—another business with a social conscience—at Save on Meats, which serves diner classics and also has a variety of programs in place to help residents of the DTES (Downtown East Side). Check out Canadian design talent at LYNNsteven Boutique, where visitors can browse fashion pieces, accessories, and lingerie.
Need to Know
Rooms: 16 rooms, 2 suites; from $135. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: The Kayachtn (pronounced ky-ah-chin) welcome room currently serves a grab-and-go breakfast, but menu additions will soon include a First Nations–inspired menu of treats such as bannock bread and bison eggs Benedict. In the evening, canapés such as in-house smoked salmon on bannock crackers and pulled bison sliders are served with BC craft beer and wine. Spa and gym details: Neither are available on-site, but arrangements can be made to accommodate guests nearby.
Who’s it for: Guests who want to learn more about aboriginal culture and who are seeking an authentic experience; socially responsible travelers; cruise ship passengers who enjoy the closeness to the terminal as well as the Gastown–Chinatown tourist areas. Our favorite rooms: The King Salmon room has a balcony and patio, which is the resting point for the 40-foot story pole. The room also has a backlit wall with a design of salmon swimming through a stream. The Canadiana suite has great views of the North Shore Mountains and wallpaper designed by artist Clifford Fred, who lives in the building. For art lovers: Guests enter the hotel through the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery. Ask to take a tour, or if there are any artists on-site who can show their work.