The Building: Vancouver Island’s upward spiral

The Malahat SkyWalk is a tourist spectacle—in the best sense of the word.

Jacob Rutka
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Adventure junkies can hop on a felt mat and ride the SkyWalk’s stainless-steel slide from the eighth level to the ground in a zippy 14 seconds. Photos courtesy of Malahat SkyWalk

Twenty years ago, David Greenfield and Trevor Dunn, part of the team behind the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, B.C., saw a golden opportunity for a tourist attraction on Vancouver Island. The duo scoped out a wooded site just off a high-traffic corridor of the Trans-Canada Highway between Victoria and Nanaimo. The area functioned as little more than a turnaround point for logging trucks, but historically it had been a key trading and resting stopover for Indigenous groups en route to the United States. 

The SkyWalk structure may be a towering 10 floors high, but its inner pathway loops upward at a manageable five-degree incline.

Dunn and Greenfield’s dreams for the property went beyond a mere cash grab: they wanted a nature-focused draw with a view that was unattainable for most city folk. Finally, four years ago, they put forth a proposal to the Malahat First Nation, which held the rights to the land, to make their vision a reality. The $17-million Malahat SkyWalk, completed in July of 2021, stands tall along Vancouver Island’s Saanich Inlet, offering majestic 360-degree views of Finlayson Arm, the Gulf Islands and, on a clear day, even Washington state. 

The 10-storey marvel of engineering, designed by Whistler-based architect Brent Murdoch, features a corkscrew design that gradually leads visitors up a spiralling ramp to a panoramic lookout. The structure is made from steel base plates, glue-laminated Douglas fir columns—sourced from Kinsol Timber, six kilometres away—and threaded rods that the engineering firm Aspect used to cinch the tower together. 

Victoria-based artist Tanya Bub fashioned hundreds of pieces of driftwood into the menagerie of animal sculptures that watch over the SkyWalk site.

Upping the fun factor is the SkyWalk’s “adventure net,” an 84-square-metre rope net suspended over the building’s centre hub that visitors—or at least the ones without a crippling fear of heights—can walk across or simply sprawl out on after their journey to the SkyWalk’s peak. For those looking to race to the bottom, there’s an eight-storey slide.

The tower wouldn’t exist without the green light from the Malahat Nation, whose connection to the land is acknowledged throughout the site. Educational placards illustrate the nation’s traditional use of local plant life, and a historically accurate cedar canoe sits inside SkyWalk’s gift shop. The nation also receives a portion of ticket sales, and the SkyWalk has welcomed more than 250,000 visitors since its unveiling last year. The attraction remains open through all four seasons, even as the dreamy fogs of fall and lashings of winter snow roll in. It’s all visible from the top. 

This article appears in print in the December 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $8.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.