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One in Ten People In this Area Are Small Business Owners. Here Is Why It's Become a Magnet for Entrepreneurs. Small business owners looking to escape the hustle of big urban areas are drawn to the laid-back shores of Vancouver Island.

By Jonathan Small

Key Takeaways

  • One in 10 British Columbians are entrepreneurs.
  • Many flock to Greater Victoria to open up shop.
  • From gin distilleries to floating spas, these are some businesses worth visiting.
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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Victoria, BC, is only a 15-minute plane ride from bustling Vancouver, but it feels like you've entered another universe. With its beautiful gardens, fashionable shops, and mom-and-pop restaurants, the city offers visitors a chilled-out blend of old-world charm and modern-day comforts.

This is a place where you can have afternoon tea at the 110-year-old Fairmont Empress Hotel and then escape for hydrotherapy at an outdoor spa in the harbor.

Perhaps this is why Greater Victoria has become a go-to spot for entrepreneurs drawn to the Canadian city for its community spirit, quality of life, mild climate (it rains less here than Seattle), and economic opportunities.

"Victoria has long been home to small business owners," says Jason MacIsaac, co-owner of Sheringham, a local spirit brand and distillery. "It's always seemed to embrace creativity and the encouragement of growth."

According to government statistics, small businesses account for 98% of all businesses in British Columbia. That means 1 in 10 British Columbians are entrepreneurs of some kind in a province with 5.2 million people.

Visitors to the area are the beneficiaries of all this entrepreneurial ingenuity, enjoying quality products and services unique to the area.

Next time you find yourself in the area, here are some independently-owned businesses to check out.

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse

Photo by Alexia Foster

This 10-acre farm grows over 50 varieties of certified organic heritage apples used to make delicious ciders with names like RumRunner (which tastes like rum) and Bramble Bubbly (which tastes like a spiked fruit bowl).

Since buying the property in 2002, Sea Cider founder Kristen Needham has worn every hat in the business, from tree pruner and apple picker to yeast whisperer and lab technician. After five years of preparation, she sold cider to her first customer in 2007.

"I continue to be fascinated by the alchemy of crafting cider and am grateful for the collegiality of the cider industry," says Needham. "I love that my job allows me to build community through cider."

Visitors to the Ciderhouse can sample a flight of ciders while feasting on an Artisan lunch plate filled with local ingredients. Complimentary tours of the orchard and cider-making process are also offered.

For more information, visit

Inn at Laurel Point

This locally owned hotel is situated on a peninsula in the middle of Victoria's iconic Inner Harbour. It was founded in 1957 by entrepreneur Paul Artsen as Paul's Motor Inn—a hot spot for the Rat Pack when they were passing through town. Paul married his bookkeeper, Artie, and together, they developed the property to become the Inn at Laurel Point. After Paul died in 1997, Artie ran the business until she was 94.

With 200 water-view rooms, guests are guaranteed a panoramic glimpse at the harbor, brimming with whale-watching boats and seaplanes.

The hotel recently opened the Aura, which blends Japanese and European flavors with fresh, local ingredients from Vancouver Island.

For more information, visit

Ithaka Greek Restaurant

When he was a kid, Dimitri Adamopoulos remembers watching his mother, Maria, wait tables at a local Greek restaurant called Millos. The chef would give him free soup after marching band practice. Later, he would work as a busboy, learning the ins and outs of restaurant work.

Now, Adamopoulos owns the restaurant where Millos once stood. He renamed it Ithaka, and his mom still works there, making dishes with recipes passed on through generations. The trumpet he used to play hangs on the wall as a tribute.

"Everything has come full circle," he says.

With its Greek murals, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, and festive atmosphere, Ithaka is one of those rare, truly authentic family-owned establishments that, unfortunately, have become a dying breed.

Order the Greek platter, and don't forget to top it off with "Mama" Maria's baklava.

For more information, visit

Sheringham Distillery

Sheringham caught international attention when their upstart spirit Seaside Gin won Best Contemporary Gin at the World Gin Awards. The gin is crafted by Victoria locals Jason and Alayne MacIsaac. Jason, a long-time chef at Michelin-star restaurants, had the idea for the gin while walking along the west coast shores.

"I wanted it to have a sense of place, a sense of Vancouver Island," he says.

He and his wife, Alayne, a marketing executive, turned their garage into a distillery and began experimenting with different botanicals. A few years later, they opened Sheringham Distillery, which produces over 10 spirits, including gin varieties, vodka, and liqueurs.

Visitors to the distillery get a complimentary tasting of their current and seasonal spirits, and a tour of the facility. 'We give a rundown on how our unique spirits are crafted from start to finish, without giving away some trade secrets, of course," Jason says.

For more information, visit

HAVN Saunas

Located on a floating barge in downtown Victoria, HAVN Saunas is like no other spa you've ever visited. Founder Nick Van Buren has retrofitted the old iron monstrosity into a sleek and modern, hot-and-cold therapy wellness retreat.

Visitors step onto the boat, slip into a bathing suit and bathrobe, and are treated to relaxing outdoor saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunges while sipping tea and overlooking the harbor.

Van Buren and partner Emily Deslaurier first had the idea of creating a spa on water after building a sauna on their sailboat, Steam Mystic. They supersized their concept onto a barge, which houses three saunas, two hot tubs, two cold pools, and a no-cell-phones-allowed café to chill.

"We're inspired by the saunas in Oslo, Norway, that seem like more community centers than spas, where sauna culture is seen as a social activity as well as a meditative one," Van Buren said in an interview.

For more information, visit

Jonathan Small

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Founder, Write About Now Media

Jonathan Small is an award-winning author, journalist, producer, and podcast host. For 25 years, he has worked as a sought-after storyteller for top media companies such as The New York Times, Hearst, Entrepreneur, and Condé Nast. He has held executive roles at Glamour, Fitness, and Entrepreneur and regularly contributes to The New York Times, TV Guide, Cosmo, Details, Maxim, and Good Housekeeping. He is the former “Jake” advice columnist for Glamour magazine and the “Guy Guru” at Cosmo.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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