Quiet Charm in Cumberland / for The Village / by Amanda Oliver

Vancouver Island, British Columbia is a traveler’s dream: lakes, rainforests, mountains, glaciers, ocean, and more. It amazes me to think about all of the geographical wonders on one island in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a reason they called it “Beautiful British Columbia”. For a girl who grew up in a large city near Lake Erie, never seeing the ocean until she was fourteen, it’s something of a paradise. 

It’s a wonder, then, that my favorite place on the island is a street. It’s even more surprising that it’s a very quiet street in a town with a population of just over 3,000. But, after seven collective months spent exploring Vancouver Island, Cumberland has won me over more than everything and everywhere else.

Maybe it’s the blueberry fritters and cronuts (a croissant-donut pastry) at Cumberland Village Bakery or the sweet owners at Tarbell’s Deli who always engage me in conversation when my boyfriend and I make the trek up north from our home in Nanaimo. It could also be the allure of Delphine Flower & Garden in its small, but bold blue house with sustainably grown seasonal flowers hanging from the sides and organic offerings lining the sidewalk just out front. Mostly, it’s the way Dunsmuir Avenue, the main street of the village, has seemingly everything in its three blocks – a trendy hair salon, a coffee shack, a café located in an old post office, a deli and a meat shop, an organic market, a pizza parlor, an independent book store, a chocolate shop, a theater, a liquor store, a hostel, a vintage clothing shop, and more. I’ve lived in Buffalo, Brooklyn, and DC, traveled across most of Eastern Europe, and there isn’t an area I can think of in those locations that contains so many options with the charm and friendliness of Cumberland. 

Step into the side streets and you’ll discover an oversized food truck in the form of a double-decker bus with offerings of British-style Fish and Chips. Wander another street up and over and take in a colorful wall by local graffiti artist Gillian Brooks.

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Waking in the village, after dinner at The Waverly Hotel and a night of rest at the Riding Fool Hostel, is a peace reminiscent of a favorite childhood vacation spot. For me, it reminds me of the small cottage my family and I rented once a week every summer in a small town in Western New York. There is a quiet and stillness to the streets before the first coffee shop opens and, even then, it’s neighbors greeting neighbors and residents opening up shop or heading to work for the day. A quiet bustling I have found only one or two other places in several years of world travels. 

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Another wonderful thing about Cumberland? You’re a few minutes drive from Comox Lake and surrounded by mountain biking trails. Mountain bikes can easily be rented from Dodge City Cycles, which is also on Dunsmuir. The wilderness and geography of Vancouver Island is not lost to the village streets, Cumberland is nestled inside of it all.

If you find yourself on Vancouver Island, and you really should, consider breaking away from the trendy and heavily populated Victoria to the Comox Valley. When you make the first turn down Dunsmuir into the heart of Cumberland and spot The Grind coffee shack on your left, you’ll start to understand this village’s allure...and you may never want to leave.

Originally published on The Village. All photos by Nicholas Kupiak.