Maple Ridge is one of the cities in the lower mainland that is a hidden gem.
Most people zip by on the Lougheed Highway and then the Haney Bypass, avoiding the town centre and never actually seeing the heart of the city. And this hiddenness is, in the words of a friend I made this weekend, what has saved it from poorly planned development and overpopulation.
Tucked away between the Golden Ears Mountains that rise quickly up on its north side and the Fraser River on its south, and with the Alouette River and Kanaka Creek flowing through, Maple Ridge is a community characterized by a diversity of landscapes: waterways, farmlands, mountainous terrain, deciduous groves, and broad meadows. Even the names of its breweries reflect its grounding in nature – Silver Valley, Maple Meadows, and Ridge. One of its top restaurants is named for the chameleon, a creature able to hide in plain sight. The beauty, diversity, and charm of Maple Ridge aren’t on display on a billboard for cars rushing past on the Lougheed, but if they take a moment to turn either towards the mountains or towards the river, they’ll encounter a welcoming city that has been there all along. You just need to take the time to look.
I begin my trip with auspicious sunny weather (something that, unfortunately, did not stay with me for the weekend). I don’t live that far away – I’m just in South Surrey – but it’s a separate universe when it comes to lower mainland geography. I’ll be staying for a couple of nights rather than making the long trek home every day because I want to get the full Maple Ridge experience. As I drive over the Golden Ears Bridge, admiring the sharply-cut mountain ridges in the distance and the broad river below, I recall the last time I spent more than an hour in Maple Ridge. My husband and I stayed for several days near Kanaka Creek for our honeymoon, hiking and horseback riding. It’s always been one of my favourite memories, and now I get to go back to this place for a couple of days rather than just driving through it.
My hotel’s check-in time isn’t until 2:00 PM and it’s only noon, so I stop for a quick lunch. Gratia Bakery and Café at the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and 222 seems like a good choice, judging from the people lining up alongside the displays of pastries and cookies. The lunchtime crowd includes young couples, parents with babies, folks on their work break, and friends out for a catch-up visit. There is a long wooden table running the length of the room, beside the bookshelves attached to the red brick walls and the antique coffee press on display, and I manage to find a spot for myself there.
Mightily resisting the tempting pastries, I order a roast chicken sandwich on asiago cheese bread. I also need caffeine. I’m about to order my regular coffee choice – an Americano, three quarters full, with a tiny bit of milk – when I see they have something called pour-over coffee. I realize it’s actually like the filter-pour coffee I’ve tried while camping, but I’ve never had it in a restaurant with quality coffee beans – and I’m up for anything when it comes to coffee. There’s a bit of a wait because the staff are rushed off their feet, but when my food and coffee arrive they do not disappoint. Not a drop of milk is needed for my coffee — it is light, slightly fruity, and smooth, without any acrid bitterness. The sandwich is tasty and filling, with freshly made bread and melty cheese inside. By the time I’m finished, however, I still haven’t stopped looking at the desserts. I finally give in to temptation and purchase a large peanut butter chocolate chip cookie and a small box of five macarons. They sit in my purse like a little rainbow, and I know my kids will love them.
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There’s still time before check-in, so I drive a few minutes north, up towards the spot where the Alouette River curves down and around Maple Ridge’s farmlands. It’s here, in farm country, that I find the Golden Ears Cheesecrafters farm shop. The beautiful building, which looks like an old-fashioned farmhouse, stands alone on an expanse of grassy fields. I wander inside, where a cozy shop and café offer food, drink, and more. I notice Summerland Sweets (products from my own hometown) on display near their cheese counter, where patrons can select from a range of cheeses made on site. Behind the counter is a window that allows curious viewers to watch the cheese- and butter-makers at their work.
Today two women are working with a mountain of lumpy butter, scooping it into moulds with little metal tools and pressing it down until they pop it out in a neatly-edged golden rectangle of butter. A man in the back is scrubbing down a large machine that looks a bit scary, but which I’m assuming isn’t designed for nefarious purposes. One of the employees explains to me that this machine is a cheese press and that the cheese wheels waiting on a nearby cart will go into there and be pressed down. She goes on to tell me that Golden Ears Cheesecrafters makes most of its products locally. The two sisters who run it obtain their dairy from the Jersey cows owned by their uncle, whose property is the farm next door. This truly is local cheese! I pick up some smoked Gouda, Havarti, and two little pots of preserves (“Figs & Walnut Wine” and “Rhubarb & Vanilla”) to take home for a wine and cheese night.
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After checking into my room in the cute little Best Western Maple Ridge on Lougheed Highway, I pop in my headphones, grab my bag, and commence the 25-minute walk to Silver Valley Brewing. Once I’m off the Lougheed, the walk is quite relaxing. I see some smaller neighbourhoods and I notice that these are very established – they’ve been here a long time. Maple Ridge is actually the fifth oldest municipality to be incorporated in the lower mainland, a fact that surprised me when I first heard about it. But in these small suburbs and neighbourhoods, as well as in the heritage district, I see a community comfortable with its long history.
Silver Valley Brewing is in the heart of the town centre, close to Memorial Peace Park. The “GLOW” Christmas light display in the park has just opened, and the town centre’s streets are now festively decorated and lighted up. I wander into the brewery at the same time as my friend Kristy Isaak, who is meeting me there. Kristy is the head brewer at North Paw Brew Co. in Port Coquitlam and a graduate of Kwantlen’s brewing school. I’ve helped her on a few brew days (“helped” = she graciously answered all my questions and let me do some things that wouldn’t wreck her brew). I also worked with her on brewing and naming North Paw’s 2021 Women’s Day beer, Freya’s Gift, and she is the person I always turn to with my homebrewing questions.
Kristy knows Kevin Fulton, the head brewer at Silver Valley, and after we get our beers he joins us outside on the makeshift street patio. While I savour my flight (a range of winter-style beers), I avidly listen to them chat about the beer industry and brewing, and occasionally ask a question of my own. Kevin tells me that he first fell in love with beer while designing tap handles for breweries, and in 2017 he and his wife Brandi (mostly her, he’ll tell you) created a business plan to launch a brewery. I am surprised to hear that he only began homebrewing after he opened a brewery. He explains that his love for English-style dark beers really shaped the beginnings of Silver Valley and that these are the beers he still loves drinking and brewing. He brings a taster of his English Strong Ale from the tank out for us to try, and it is beautiful – malty and sweet with just enough of an edge. His own favourite, and a popular customer choice as well, is the Lion ESB.
As an ESB fan myself, I am disappointed to hear that it isn’t currently on tap but pleased that some cans are available. (I buy one to take home and it is currently in my fridge, awaiting the right moment). My disappointment is further assuaged by the fantastic range of beers that are available on tap. Standouts for me are the Parabola Dark Cherry Sour, the Oat IPA, and the Super Massive Black Hole Bourbon Coffee Stout. I overhear a gentleman on the other end of the patio (hard to forget, with a striking shock of shoulder-length white hair) praising this stout, and I inwardly agree. In addition to the expected coffee and chocolate notes, there is also a very slight sweetness underneath that Kristy identified as similar to cherry cola. The combination of flavours is complex and enticing.
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By the time Kristy heads home, it’s getting dark and the “GLOW” Christmas lights display in Memorial Peace Park is now fully visible. Even though it’s not snowing yet (we are all cursing BC’s rain at the moment), “GLOW” gets me feeling very festive. The Glow tunnel, the ball, the trees, and the bandstand are all covered in lights, brightening up the otherwise dark area. High school students are laughing as they pack up their instruments in the bandstand, and young children are spinning and running through the Glow tunnel, cackling with glee. Some food carts are set up, offering hot snacks on a chilly evening.
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I hold off on the snacks because I’m on my way down the road towards the Fraser River to meet a couple of friends at the Billy Miner Alehouse. The “Billy,” as I hear some locals call it, is housed in a riverfront heritage building that was formerly a Bank of Montreal. I go in past the “No Miners Allowed” sign and am greeted by a space that is a combination of old and new. There are scuffed dark wood tables, wooden and brick walls, antiques on display by a “Gold Dust Bought” sign, vintage ads, and framed newspaper articles from decades ago. However, there are also TV screens with lotto numbers and blinking neon lights. Everywhere I see newspaper stories about trains and multiple images of a man who bears a striking resemblance to the actor Sam Elliott. I learn that this is Billy Miner, the pub’s namesake, an American bandit who robbed a train passing through Maple Ridge in 1904. As I’m waiting for my friends, I chat with my server and with the couple sitting at a nearby table, and I learn that this place is a regular spot for locals as well as for tourists. I enjoy a delicious Jet Boat Race Double IPA by Smugglers Trail Caskworks until my friends arrive.
When Jeff and Anthea get here, we all agree that pizza is the way to go – and it’s recommended by our server as well. If a kitchen has a wood-fire oven, I’m always game to try their pizza. Like its beer, the Billy’s “Noble Pig” meat-lovers pizza lives up to my expectations (and the leftovers will serve me well for the next couple days). Nevertheless, I’m also intrigued by the huge bowls of poutine served to the friendly couple across from me. It’s on my list to try next time. Yellow Dog’s Floral and Fauna IPA is a lovely complement to the pizza and the company.
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Exploring historical Maple Ridge
I wake up to the sound of rain.
It’s something to be expected in British Columbia in November, but particularly unwelcome now when our province has recently suffered so much rain damage. Even though my breakfast destination is only a 25-minute walk away, I don’t feel like arriving soaked, so I opt for taking my car.
Jimmy’s Lunch Box is a cozy little diner that looks out on the less-traversed town-centre segment of the Lougheed highway – the spots where it doesn’t really seem like a “highway” at all, more like Main Street USA. The servers – and I learn that one of them is the owner – are welcoming and friendly as they seat me in a little corner booth. With red and black booths, wooden tables, and strings of local business cards hung on the mirrors and walls by patrons, the restaurant feels comfortable and casual. The rain is pouring down outside and no pedestrians are venturing out, so I’m happy to be in my warm little booth while drinking my first cup of tea of the day.
I order a simple but satisfying breakfast: two perfectly poached eggs, bacon, sausage, and roasted potatoes, along with tea and then coffee. The service is prompt, friendly, and unintrusive, and from what I overhear at the tables around me, Jimmy’s easily accommodates diners’ individual preferences and knows their regulars. The food is high quality, the service is great, and the prices are very reasonable. This is a place I’ll keep in mind if I return here with my husband and kids.
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The rain hasn’t let up yet but I won’t let it stop me. I drive down towards the riverfront, where the Maple Ridge Museum – located in a charming 100-year-old house – looks out over the Fraser. I’m told that Craig Speirs, a longtime resident of Maple Ridge, history buff, and five-term City Councillor, will be waiting for me. As I park, a truck pulls up beside me and the white-haired gentleman who was sitting near me at Silver Valley, enjoying the coffee bourbon stout, steps out. Craig is warm and friendly and knows something about every era of Maple Ridge’s history. During our time in the small museum, which only has the space to display less than one percent of its holdings, Craig shares with me not only the rosy parts of Maple Ridge’s history, but its shadows as well: the fact that of over 300 Japanese families who helped found the city, only seven returned after the World War II internment camps, or how the Indigenous peoples of the region are only recently beginning to recover the local land that belonged to them. Craig is a passionate advocate of racial and environmental justice in his community, and I love hearing about what is being done to preserve waterways and support the Katzie and Kwantlen communities in the area.
After we wander through the museum, we head downstairs to admire the model railway diorama constructed by the Dewdney-Alouette Railway Society. The detail in the diorama is stunning, and I love the cozy space – it feels like we are in a little railway station. I manage to pick out the building that is now the Billy, as well as the museum itself. Craig finishes our tour by taking me through part of the Fraser River Heritage Walk, past Haney House and its ancient orchard with its gnarled trees. However, the rain defeats us and we head back to our vehicles, promising to stay in touch.
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I drive over to Big Feast Bistro, which ends up being packed over the lunch hour. Rather than waiting outside for a table, I go for the faster option: ordering my lunch to go. During my brief wait, I meander through Maple Market across the street, an Asian produce market that boasts colourful rows of fresh fruits and vegetables. The big box grocery stores in the lower mainland have been fairly sparse lately due to supply chain issues after our floods, but Maple Market is well supplied.
I take my lunch from Big Feast back to my hotel room to enjoy while relaxing with a TV show. I’ve chosen the “Grown-Up Grilled Cheese,” a guilty treat that is always worth indulging in. This version of the childhood classic includes double cream brie, aged parmesan, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar on sourdough, accompanied by the Big Feast house salad. If you’re like me, you’re skeptical of house salads; too often they are a handful of mixed greens and not much else. However, the Big Feast house salad is impressive: mountains of vegetables, cranberries, and a lovely balsamic garlic dressing on the side. Salad-lovers should take note.
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After a quiet, relaxing soak in the hotel’s hot tub, I get changed and head over to Ridge Brewing for another beer adventure. Ridge is located in a warehouse-type space, but, using the items they have at hand (like stacks of kegs), they manage to create a warm and intimate atmosphere in their tasting room. As I settle in with my flight of winter beers (the “Up on the Roof” full-bodied doppelbock is my favourite, tied closely with their Dark Science Orange Stout), I listen to the conversations happening at the tables around me.
On my right, Brando, the employee who poured my flight, is sitting with two men who are drinking pints of beer and chatting. On my left, a middle-aged couple and an elderly man are enjoying their beer. I hear that the elderly man is 95 years old and, according to his son, “Beer’s been a certainty his whole life!” The two tables get to talking, and the couple share that the husband’s family has deep roots in the Maple Ridge area, while his wife was born in Transylvania. Naturally, the talk turns to Dracula and Vlad the Impaler. As a college professor who has taught Bram Stoker’s Dracula many times, and whose colleagues have tried the horrendous grenadine-flavoured “blood beer” served in the supposed Dracula castle in Romania, I join the conversation as well. I’m not a great practitioner of small talk, as anyone who knows me will tell you, but I love rushing headfirst into oddball topics.
The owner/head brewer Steve Guo eventually arrives and is greeted by the two men, who jest about whether he’s working hard enough. “We help him make beer and we help him drink it!” is their refrain. The table of three is joking about needing some Christmas music on, so Steve plays “Feliz Navidad” on the speakers and gets Brando to help him put on the Christmas lights. The room is now a warm, festive nook rather than a corner of a warehouse. As Steve begins some cleaning and testing with his tanks in the back, I go to chat with him.
When he first became a silent partner in Ridge, Steve probably didn’t expect to be full owner in 2017 and then both owner and head brewer this year. COVID has not been friendly to many breweries, Ridge included. Regrettably, financial pressure forced them to lay off their main brewer, putting all the brewing responsibilities on Steve’s shoulders. However, Steve has a positive attitude; he brushes off the idea that he must be an incredibly hard worker, and instead simply says he’s always trying to improve the beer he puts out. He doesn’t have a favourite – he likes all style profiles. Each beer is too unique to choose just one.
I finish my visit with tasters of a lovely low-ABV Ordinary Bitter (malty and sweet, with a licorice edge) and a refreshing, dry Northwest IPA. As I’m enjoying the final sips, Craig comes in and orders the doppelbock before he realizes I’m there. I wave him over to my table. It’s the second time in two days that Craig and I have managed to accidentally be at the same brewery at the same time. He is here waiting for his wife to finish some errands, so we continue our conversation from earlier. He also rushes out to his car and brings back a gift bag which he hands to me with a smile. Inside is a bottle of Silver Valley Brewing’s The Pleasure and the Greed Barleywine – one of ten bottles he recently bought because he’s such a fan of it. I’m a lover of barleywine as well, and I’m touched that he is gifting one of these to me as a Maple Ridge souvenir. I promise to save it for a special evening.
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My husband Rich is on his way to join me at my next stop, which is Maple Meadows Brewing, but I’m scrambling to adjust our dinner arrangements when I realize the restaurant we had planned on is completely booked for a special event. After a few hits and misses, I try a restaurant recommended by Craig and Dianne: Chameleon, a farm-to-table restaurant in the town centre and just across the street from Silver Valley. Thankfully, after a quick conversation about my situation, the accommodating host at Chameleon offers to reserve us a spot at the bar for dinner (an area that is usually first come, first served). I accept gratefully, and Rich and I head over to Maple Meadows.
Maple Meadows Brewing is just around the corner from Ridge, tucked into a row of shops. The front tasting room area is tiny, with several tables by the window and then a few stools at the bar, but it doesn’t feel cramped. The sunny colour of the walls and the quirky décor give the space a welcoming, cheerful vibe, as do the people there. The woman pouring pints (she introduces herself as Timeya) and the people sitting at the front bar are laughing together, and I realize the two friends of Steve Guo are here. They smile and wave at me as Rich and I order our flights. One of them reaches into the off-sales fridge and cracks a can open. Timeya laughs and says that’s his favourite beer but it’s not on tap. It feels a bit like the “Cheers” pub, on a smaller scale and with better beer.
I ask Timeya if the owner is here, but unfortunately, he’s not. Owner and brewer Carlo Baruccio started Maple Meadows in 2015 after many years of homebrewing in Mexico. His success with Maple Meadows led to success elsewhere, and in 2020 he helped open La Cerveceria Astilleros, a Mexican-themed craft brewery, in North Vancouver. I know that the craft beer industry has traditionally been dominated by white guys with beards (I’m there with one myself – my husband belongs in that category), but I notice with interest that two of the three head brewers of Maple Ridge’s craft breweries aren’t part of that statistic. It is encouraging to see more diversity within the industry here.
My flight is more winter-focused – Nitro Honey Brown, Whiskey Dark Ale, Pumpkin Spice Ale, and a West Coast Ale – while Rich’s is summer-themed, with a range of fruit ales. The pumpkin spice is lovely, with lots of nutmeg and cloves, although I wish for some more body and maltiness in the whiskey dark ale. It has a sour edge that strikes me as reminiscent of a Flemish-style Oud Bruin, but I was expecting (maybe erroneously) something closer to a Belgian-style dark ale or even a dark German beer.
The real winners for me at Maple Meadows are the fruit ales, a surprise since I’m not generally a great fan of fruit beers. However, the Guava Ale is delicious, smooth, and full-bodied – definitely my favourite. It’s rainy and cold outside, but with this ale, I feel like it’s summertime.
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It’s now time to head over to dinner at Chameleon. We are welcomed by the host and seated at the bar as promised, a spot that feels wonderfully open – we can watch cocktails being made on one side while also getting glimpses of what’s happening in the kitchen. The two staff members working the bar are professional, friendly, and helpful, and we joke with them throughout our meal.
I don’t drink many cocktails, but I’ll never turn down an Old Fashioned. The one recommended to me is made with bergamot-laced rum, and although skeptical, I decide to take a chance. It ends up being worth it. The glass is smoked with palo santo wood, which produces a very sweet and savoury aroma, and the bergamot rum is mixed with alvear sherry. Orange and walnut garnish the drink. The flavour is musky but not overly smoky, and the bergamot and sherry notes keep it from becoming too “earthy” (Rich’s word). It’s an incredible cocktail.
Rich and I each order an appetizer – fried chicken and waffle for me, smoked salmon and albacore tuna for him. It’s my first time trying fried chicken with waffles, which is a common dish elsewhere but has always seemed strange to me. However, I think I’ve been converted! The crisp chicken combined with the sweet, chewy waffles is to die for. Rich enthuses over his appie as well, which is probably much healthier than mine but just as tasty.
Our mains – an amazing duck leg dish and dry-aged beef tenderloin – come with a flight of Okanagan wines for me and lower mainland beers for Rich. The beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender and pairs excellently with the wine. The woman we’ve been chatting with behind the bar even offers me a tasting glass of another wine they’ve just opened – the 2018 Bordertown Cab Franc from the Okanagan Valley. It is full-bodied and spicy, a lovely treat to add to my meal. The chef comes out to talk with us about the locally-sourced ingredients and explains how some of the dishes are put together.
Dessert is a deconstructed lemon tart that Rich loves, and a decadent slice of chocolate ganache with cherry compote. I cannot eat or drink anything else – not really because I overate, but because there are so many flavours and textures in our meal that any more would be overwhelming. Chameleon was an unplanned but fortuitous choice for tonight. I’ve rarely had such excellent service and food. Rich and I stop by Craig and Dianne’s house for a brief evening visit, during which we get to see Dianne’s art room and Craig’s library, and I go to bed with a full stomach and ambitions to try more farm-to-table restaurants.
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Exploring views of the Fraser River
After a restful sleep, I make some coffee and have my cookie from Gratia as an early snack (coffee with a good cookie is the best way to start a day off).
I realize that my plan to visit the Maple Ridge Art Gallery will need adjustment since it seems that the Gallery isn’t open on Sundays. I can always improvise. I decided first to have breakfast across the street at Home Restaurant, which has quick service, friendly staff, and good food. I enjoy an omelette, hash browns, toast, and coffee. The servings are large, so I don’t quite manage to finish my whole meal (perhaps last night’s feast is still keeping me full).
I had hoped for a cessation in the rain, but I’m not so lucky. Doesn’t matter! I head back down to the riverfront, to check out the Port Haney Wharf across the street from the Billy Miner Alehouse. The Fraser River looks haunted this morning – fog and clouds floating over it, dark woods on the other side. I can imagine that this would be a beautiful lookout on a sunny day.
I didn’t manage to finish the Heritage Walk with Craig yesterday, so I am determined to do so now, rain be damned. I find the pedestrian underpass beside the Billy and make my way through it and then up the street to Haney House. I wander through the garden and the ancient orchard before continuing on the path past the house and down towards the neighbouring suburb. The path eventually takes me back to the museum, where I see something I didn’t before: an old train caboose standing behind the building. I imagine that it is sometimes open for display, but right now it looks like it is closed off. I walk around it, feeling very tiny beside its bulk. This whole area, Craig told me the previous day, was used as a brickworks and a logging yard, with the brickworks master living in what is now the museum. It makes sense – there’s a river and a railway right here, so if you want to export heavy, cumbersome goods like bricks and logs, why not make them right beside these transportation hubs? This is how Maple Ridge used to make its money.
I head back to my car, somewhat damp but also invigorated by my foggy walk by the river and through the heritage path. It’s time to head home after my lower mainland “staycation” in Maple Ridge. This is a city I would never have thought to explore, but it truly is a hidden treasure, and one whose food, drink, and history are certainly worth your time. I look forward to my next visit here, whether it’s for beer, cheese, a hike, or a paddle. Cheers to Maple Ridge!
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Located approximately 45 kilometres east of Vancouver, Maple Ridge offers a blend of authentic rural events and activities coupled with urban amenities. Maple Ridge is nestled between the Fraser River and the iconic Golden Ears Mountains, just a few minutes away from Golden Ears Provincial Park, Alouette Lake, Kanaka Creek Regional Park and the UBC Research Forest.
Explore the local historic and heritage sites and uncover a deep-rooted past, or celebrate with the locals at one of the many festivals and events that happen year-round.
Whether your visit is a day trip from the surrounding communities or a longer stay, Maple Ridge is an amazing place to visit anytime of the year.