For a late spring getaway, try Canada

Published on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 by By Tara Nelson

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Harrison Hot Springs Resort is located on Harrison Lake, just 34 miles northeast of the Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing near the town of Agassiz, B.C.

The history of the public bathhouse traces back to ancient Rome and the Indus Valley civilization (in what is now known as Pakistan), where a need for public cleanliness brought people together in large, heated pools. As time progressed, the public bath morphed into indoor basins with showers and steps for lounging, cleansing sands, aromatic oils, steam rooms and saunas. And, as so often in history, necessities lend themselves to tradition, and public bathing became a ritual and a way of socializing.

While most people can easily turn on a faucet and draw a bath of heated water in the privacy of their own home, there is still something alluring about the public bathhouse or sauna. From the Native American sweat lodges to the Turkish bathhouses and Finnish saunas, public bathing still holds a significant cultural draw. But most of all, it’s just a great way to warm up when the temperature outside drops.

Situated in British Columbia’s coastal Lillooet Range, about 60 miles from Vancouver and less than 30 miles from the U.S. border, near the town of Agassiz is home to one of B.C.’s best kept secrets – Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

Since the resort’s first beginnings in the late 1800s, it has been a destination for Canadians as well as Americans who want reprieve from the Northwest’s cool climate.

The resort

Harrison Hot Springs Resort hotel has 337 guest rooms, cottages, and suites with a variety of views and rates. All rooms come with access to the mineral spring and swimming pools.

Historically, the area is known as the start of one of the earliest routes to the gold fields, the Douglas Trail, and was founded by settlers who were on their way there. The resort is also a living piece of history in lower mainland B.C., stretching back to the late 1880s. The first building, built in 1885, was called The Saint Alice Hotel, and consisted of a wood frame structure. During that time, rooms were available for 50 cents a night above the hot springs pool, and guests would often rent them just to breathe in the vapors for their supposed health benefits.

In 1920, the Saint Alice Hotel burned down, and it was replaced with what is now the main hotel, which includes the building with the hotel’s main lobby. In the 1930s, during WWII, the resort was used by the Canadian Department of National Defense as a hospital for women who served overseas in the war. In 1947, it reverted back to the owners – then a conglomerate of businesses – to operate it as a resort.

Resort spokesperson Ian Maw, however, said the “golden era” of the hotel was during the 1950s when Segram’s Distillers bought the property and expanded the facility.

The resort has hosted everyone from Clark Gable during the 1930s to Robin Williams and Liam Neeson and Mark Wahlberg in more recent years.

Delaware North Companies bought the facility in August of 2002 and has since spent more than $18 million in renovations, including the hotel’s east and west towers, the west wing, and beach-front areas.

The pools

Today, Harrison Hot Springs has dozens of outdoor adventure possibilities from organic farm tours to sturgeon fishing (during the fall season), year-round wildlife tours by boat, kayaking and hiking. Most of your time, however, will probably be spent simply relaxing in one of the five natural mineral hot pools that are piped in from the nearby springs.

The resort has five pools and temperatures to choose from: A large hat-shaped Pavilion building houses the hottest mineral pool (104 F) and an eight-foot deep (85 F) indoor lap pool. Outside, there’s a (91 F) 4,000-square foot family pool, a 1,000-square foot adult pool (91 F) and a lap pool (85 F).

Other activities

After a long soak in the mineral springs, we took a self-guided local farm tour featuring the organic Canadian Hazelnut farm. Here you can sample delicious and unusual treats such as fresh hazelnut and chocolate spreads, spicy hazelnut candy brittle, hazelnut pesto, hazelnut veggie burgers as well as chocolate covered and roasted nuts in a variety of flavors. Canadian Hazelnut is located at 6682 Lougheed (#7) Highway and can be reached by calling 604/796-2136.

We also stopped at The Farm House, a small artisan dairy farm located in B.C.’s eastern Fraser Valley. Farm House’s head cheese-maker, Debra Amrein-Boyes, is one of only 12 individuals in western Canada and U.S. who was inducted into the “Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon” (the French Cheese Guild), which recognizes those who protect and continue the tradition of cheese making around the world.

Be sure to try their peppercorn goat goudas, St. George and a naturally ripened, hand-ladled brie (it is rumored that these cheeses were requested for a cheese platter by White House staff). You may want to stock up – because they are only licensed to sell provincially, Farm House does not ship their raw cheeses to the United States. And according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations, crossing the border with a trunk-load of Canadian cheese is still OK.

The Farm House is located at 5634 McCallum Road in Agassiz and can be reached by calling 604/796-8741.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa is located just 34 miles from the Sumas border crossing.

For more information, call 604/796-2244 or visit