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Explore Parksville Qualicum Beach and our surrounding Vancouver Island communities with ease, thanks to accessible options provided by area attractions, restaurants, shops and more. Follow along below with Michelle Stilwell, a local multi-gold medal Paralympic athlete as she shares more about her experience with accessibility in the destination.
If you have an appreciation for exceptionally beautiful and unique hand blown glass, then the Robert Held Art Glass Gallery should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Parksville. The gallery, located in a repurposed Quonset hut on the corner of East Island Highway (19A) and Martindale Rd, showcases works of glass art by Robert Held and his team of glass blowers. The mainly accessible building, which is on a large, hard-packed gravel lot that is shared with a few other businesses, has accessible parking. Inside the gallery there are works of glass displayed throughout the shop as well as hanging from the ceiling. The shop is somewhat wheelchair accessible with some narrow ramps that can connect you so that you’re able to see the glass works up close, but be cautious and take great care as manoeuvring around the small space can be tricky. Seeing the glass blowers practising their craft in the back of the shop from a safe distance is also interesting. For most of the areas in the gallery space, I was able to make it work with my compact scooter but others using larger mobility devices might find it tight. There is a ramped accessible washroom, and staff are very welcoming and friendly. There are two friendly and much loved shop dogs, who are happy to receive their fair share of love, but don’t worry, they’re very well behaved.
Along the Oceanside Route at Qualicum Beach is a paved pathway, accessible for folks who use mobility devices, with stunning views of the sandy beach, across to the Coast Mountains. The pathway stretches from one end of the beach to the other, and there are benches for chilling out situated at regular intervals. To help soak up the atmosphere, picnic tables and grassy lawns are scattered along the route, just up from the pathway. Restaurants, a concession stand, and some beachfront accommodation add to the holiday atmosphere. In the summertime, both the beach and the pathway are very popular places for strolling, dog walking and people watching. A wheelchair accessible washroom building with a change room is available for donning your swim gear.
There is plenty of angled parking, including accessible spaces along the way.
The Qualicum Beach Museum houses a lovingly curated collection of fossils and historical artifacts on 587 Beach Road. The grounds of the museum are a combination of small buildings, with a brick paving stone path leading to the main building, gravel areas, and two statues amongst gardens. This small museum has displays and exhibits that are beautifully organized so that the information isn’t overwhelming.
The main floor of the museum is devoted to a well-developed and fascinating paleontology exhibit, comprised largely of local fossil collector and esteemed expert Graham Beard’s generous donation. There is plenty of room to maneuver about the space for mobility device users. A barrier free bathroom with universal height toilet, grab bars, a baby change table and accessible sink is also on this floor.
To get up to the second floor there is a large staircase of approximately twenty stairs. For those unable to use the stairs there’s an electric chair lift. The content upstairs is devoted to the history of the area, starting with the local First Nations, and later pioneers, farmers, fishermen and forestry workers. There are objects, photos and local historical documents of interest pertaining to the Qualicum area. Staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly.
Q Burger in Qualicum Beach is a wheelchair accessible restaurant that serves up award-winning, chef-inspired burgers by super friendly staff that’s definitely worth checking out! Located in a small but level, industrial-modern space, with an urban, west coast vibe, there’s ample room to comfortably maneuver inside. Tables and chairs are moveable, and easily accommodate mobility devices. The accessible bathroom has a universal height toilet and grab bars.
The most popular burger on the menu is the Q-Boom! and it’s one of the best burgers on the island, I mean the planet, without a doubt. What sets it apart, among other things, is the fried asiago cheese and wait for it… Millionaire Bacon! Yes, I said that! Can you say customer favourite? It’s quite simply perfection, and you’ll just have to try it. While you’re in the mood for treating yourself, you really should try the Q Crafted Hard Lemonade, one of the most refreshing and delicious drinks this side of the Salish Sea.
For parking there are various small lots scattered close by but during summer months, this little town gets extremely busy. Plan accordingly!
Located next to the Parksville Information Center at 1245 East Island Highway, the Parksville Museum is a lovely collection of eight heritage buildings, as well as the main museum building containing an array of artifacts, photographs and archival materials from the local area.
There is an old schoolhouse from the early 1900’s, and the original Fire Hall from the 1940’s, complete with a Ford Pumper fire truck, which is in mint condition. The beautiful church with original stained glass windows was built over a hundred years ago, and is still a popular spot for weddings and memorial services. The old blacksmith forge is one of the many exhibits that reminds us of the early days when strong and sturdy folks would have been settling this exceptionally beautiful part of the island.
The museum, grounds, and most of the historical buildings are largely wheelchair accessible with ramps, so getting around is relatively easy. The level property, on which the old buildings are arranged in a circular fashion, has a large, attractively landscaped open space in the centre, with neatly mowed lawns, and a small area for performers, musicians and special events. Making your way around is like taking a gentle step back in time when life seemed more relaxed. In fact, there are benches and picnic tables scattered around the property perfect for enjoying the nostalgic atmosphere. Bathrooms are also wheelchair accessible.
It’s clear to see that the Parksville Museum is lovingly operated and maintained by a very dedicated group of staff and volunteers. Be sure to stop in and check out this interesting attraction for all ages. The heritage buildings are closed over the winter months but the grounds are open all year round.
I’ve heard many visitors to Parksville say that the town’s Community Beach Park is one of the best on the island for strolling, sunbathing, swimming and playing, whatever that looks like for you. I happen to agree because no matter what age you are, the park is well set up with an amazing playground including a summertime splash park, a large skateboard park, beach volleyball courts, a beautiful wheelchair accessible boardwalk with benches for relaxing, tennis courts, ballfields and a community curling centre. Best of all is the spectacular sandy beach which stretches way out at low tide, and is the picture of perfection on a glorious, hot summer day.
Throughout the park there are shady, grassy areas and picnic tables for making the most of your time. Public restrooms and change rooms, which are wheelchair accessible, are located near the boardwalk, and are clean and frequently maintained. The concession stand is a very busy place on warm days, which is to be expected. There are several dedicated accessible parking spots.
The North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is a wildlife rehabilitation centre, open for viewing to the public for educational purposes, and is almost entirely wheelchair and scooter-friendly. Different types of birds, such as eagles, hawks, ravens and owls, most of them orphaned or rehabilitating from injuries, are viewable in various enclosures. When we were visiting, a beautiful, slightly snoozy black bear was being fed berries and peanut butter through her cage by a knowledgeable and friendly volunteer. The “Museum of Nature”, showcasing the animals of Vancouver Island, is near the entrance, and sets the stage for your experience. The entre offers visitors of all ages the opportunity to wander around the neatly kept grounds and buildings at their own pace. The property is a combination of hard packed earth, gravel and short grass, garden areas, and nature trails. There are some ramps and small ledges to negotiate, but nothing my scooter could not manage. Interactive kiosks and learning centres are positioned throughout the park. Washrooms are clean and accessible, and there are picnic tables, as well as benches, dotted here and there. Staff, clearly passionate about their work, are knowledgeable and engaging, which makes the entire experience an entertaining and enjoyable one. An accessible gift shop loaded with interesting west coast animal-themed merchandise is definitely worth checking out. Some folks say that this Wildlife Recovery Centre is the best-kept secret on the whole island.
A gravel parking lot on the property next to the Wildlife Centre has designated accessible spots at the entrance. Parking is free.
Located in a historic old building that was once the Parksville School, the McMillan Arts Centre, fondly called the MAC, is a welcoming space to see art exhibitions, take an array of art classes and attend workshops. There are also classes for improving digital literacy and how to make digital art. Community events are regularly held in the centre such as BC Culture Days, artist talks and free meditation classes.
What is so wonderful about the MAC is that it’s a wheelchair accessible space with a very sturdy and safe ramp to enter. Once inside there is plenty of room to move about, aside from one narrow room, which not all folks using mobility devices would be able to comfortably access. Fortunately, for me with my compact mobility scooter, it was fine but I can see how others in large powerchairs could find it tight. In the gallery there is a large accessible washroom with a universal height toilet and grab bars. The sink is also designed with clearance for folks who use a wheelchair. The parking lot off of McMillan Street has a designated accessible spot but most of the paint is worn off the sign.
On the way to Port Alberni, on Highway 4 just past Cameron Lake, Cathedral Grove, also known as MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most iconic places to see on Vancouver Island. The accessible pathways throughout the park leads through the rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas Fir ecosystem, with sunlight filtering through 800 year old trees, dangling mosses, and lichens on a moisture-saturated fern-laden forest floor. All who visit use the pathways through the forest, which are generally barrier-free and comprised of wooden boardwalks and hard packed gravel trails. There is wooden fencing along the path and information signs are placed at varying heights.
The busy highway cuts the park in half so in order to see both equally magnificent sides, you must dash across the road. For wheelchair and scooter users “dashing” anywhere is daunting, but there are regular breaks in traffic that make it possible, particularly at quieter times of the year. No matter when you go, practice caution. There are accessible pit toilets located on both sides of the highway. Parking is along both sides of the highway, but there are no designated accessible spots.
Many who visit Cathedral Grove liken the experience to an almost spiritual event, such is the raw beauty of the place.
One of Parksville’s premier places to stay, Bayside Oceanfront Resort is located right on one of the iconic beaches the town is famous for. The Bayside, which was originally built years ago, has been steadily undergoing significant renovations since they recently became part of the Ascend Hotel Collection. They provide some accessible accommodation for folks with disabilities, as well as the barrier-free Bayside Restaurant and Lounge, which serves up delicious food in a sophisticated and upscale atmosphere.
As you enter the light and spacious lobby, you are greeted by the friendly staff. There are wheelchair accessible washrooms located down a nearby hall, as well as an accessible business centre. The Bayside Restaurant, which is just beyond the lobby, is worth mentioning again as the panoramic view of the expansive sandy beach is beyond beautiful - perfect for that romantic dinner for two, or a cocktail in the lounge. A chef-inspired menu with abundant choices including local seafood, pasta dishes, salads and more will tempt your taste buds, and the nearby accessible patio is one of the town’s most desirable places to be in the summer. There is a gravel path that leads along the front of the hotel, which likely would work for folks with mobility devices.
If you use a wheelchair or scooter, you’ll need to use the curb cut from the west end of the hotel to make your way along an elevated sidewalk to the entrance. At the time of the writing of this guide, we were not able to visit the accessible hotel suites, so unfortunately cannot provide details.
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