Kwa’lilas Hotel, the first-Aboriginal-owned hotel to offer stay and play cultural experiences on the north end of Vancouver Island, has opened after a year-long renovation from the ground up of the former Port Hardy Inn.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation, who fully own and operate the hotel, officially unveiled the transformation that represents a legacy for the community and a unique opportunity to showcase their culture and history through artwork, food and eco-tours experienced by guests. The opening was celebrated through traditional blessings, dances, songs and food.
“This is an emotional day for our community, the realization of a vision we had to proudly share all of who we are and where we come from as a people. Kwa’lilas Hotel is inspired by our traditional Big House, the centre of our community. Our roof features a smoke hole that vents steam as a signal to visitors that they are welcome to stay, rest and rejuvenate, at any time,” said Paddy Walkus, Chief of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation. “The project has lit a fire of excitement amongst our community as we realize today what is possible when we stay true to our ways and celebrate our origins.”
About Kwa’lilas Hotel
The 85-room property offers high-end amenities and services for visitors and residents of Vancouver Island’s north end. “Kwa’lilas” is a traditional word meaning “a place to sleep.” The hotel was named by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw elders in hopes that travelers and guests would find peaceful rest in the hotel after a day of exploration in the north island.
The hotel has meeting space to accommodate groups of up to 150 people. On the f&b side it has Ha‘me’ (food) Restaurant and Na’xid’ (drink) pub featuring Aboriginal-inspired west coast cuisine.
In addition, a curated selection of authentic local Aboriginal art can be found throughout the hotel. Visitors may also participate in a selection of eco-adventure tours and cultural experiences available through k’awat’si Tours, a venture of kawat’si Economic Development Corporation that is based out of the city of Port Hardy on the northern tip of the island.
Economic and Cultural Impact
Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood agrees the hotel will be a catalyst. “The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw transformed an aging hotel into a beautiful and vibrant new landmark in Port Hardy. As the North Island continues to build credibility as a preferred tourist destination, Kwa’lilas Hotel will be a key driving force to reviving tourism by providing luxurious accommodations and creating meaningful and lasting aboriginal cultural experiences that will help draw visitors to our region. We are thrilled that the community has been able to realize such an amazing vision.”
Through k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, the economic catalyst of the Nations, the property underwent a complete transformation. The renovation project was led by the community-owned k’awat’si Construction company which allowed membership to work on the project from the beginning and be part of the renaissance of the North Island.
In addition, to successfully achieve the goal of fully immersing guests in an unforgettable aboriginal experience, a significant emphasis was placed on decorating the property with authentic local Aboriginal art created by local artists, under the direction of Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw elders and Shain Jackson of Spirit Works Ltd., to celebrate Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw traditions and stories. Interior décor and support was provided by Vancouver’s Inside Design to bring all of the elements together.
“It was important for the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation not only to work on a project that celebrates their history and culture, but also to understand that a project of this magnitude will create a legacy that will be a part of the rejuvenation of the north island— attracting new visitors, businesses and services to the region,” said Conrad Browne, CEO of k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation.
“From the moment we started the renovation process, to running a sold-out hotel, managing a restaurant, a showcase of artists’ work and eco-adventure tours today, we have created 50 local jobs that help members support their families and stay in the community. We are proud to have over 60 per cent of our employees from Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation and adjacent First Nations communities. To everyone who supported this project along the way – our lenders, designers, engineers, construction team, artists and many many others, we are grateful and could not have undertaken this without your support. Our commitment is that we will continue to grow this business and ensure we infuse the region with the benefits.”