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Taking the plunge: Vancouver Island’s new Nordic Spa fulfils a family tradition

Billed as the “first Nordic spa built on Vancouver Island,” Ritual Nordic Spa is designed to be a “modern, urban, coed, sauna-focused” destination.

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Marci Hotsenpiller’s introduction to Finnish sauna culture came courtesy of her grandmother.

“My grandma was Finnish, so I grew up always doing sauna at her cottage,” she recalls with a smile.

Hotsenpiller’s grandmother immigrated to Canada alongside her sister in the early 1900s. They settled in Toronto, taking jobs as housekeepers in the Rosedale neighbourhood. They forged a life for themselves there, Hotsenpiller explains. But, something was missing.

After the sisters, and a few of their friends, had saved up enough money, they purchased a property north of the city.

“And the first thing they built there was the sauna,” Hotsenpiller says.

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Sauna — pronounced “sow-na” — culture in Nordic countries is believed to date to 2000 BC. An important part of community and individual health, saunas were a hub of daily life. They remain a popular element of wellness worldwide.

Hotsenpiller’s personal experience with sauna culture was furthered as her family pursued a ski-racing passion that took them overseas.

“The spas or the ‘Baden-Baden’ and bathes in the mountain town of the Alps, they were very different from here. They would always have the plunge pools as a central feature, with almost clinically freezing plunge temperatures. They never had any hot tubs. And there was always an element of fresh air, where you would sit out and enjoy the fresh air in your bathing suit,” she explains.

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Back in Canada, Hotsenpiller searched for that same type of experience. When she couldn’t find it where she lived, she became an “ocean cold plunger.”

“I admit, I was always looking for the sauna after,” the former Vancouverite and current Victoria resident says with a laugh. She would drive from the beach to a local recreation centre in order to hop in the sauna to heat-up.

Several North American cities including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco feature options for “urban, sauna house-style spas.” A thermal wellness spa offering private circuits exists in Vancouver in the form of the popular destination Circle Wellness. But there was nothing of its kind in Victoria.

“I kept waiting for one of the bigger destination Nordic spas to build on the Island,” she says.

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In the spirit of her grandmother, Hotsenpiller was open to the idea of creating a spa of her own, but she was unsure about how to proceed. A destination Nordic spa typically requires several acres of land, which come at a premium in the area as provincial housing prices continue to soar.

A layover in Montreal ended up providing the inspiration that Hotsenpiller needed to make her dream a reality.

Marci Hotsenpiller, founder and CEO of Ritual Nordic Spa.
Marci Hotsenpiller, founder and CEO of Ritual Nordic Spa. Photo by Ritual Nordic Spa

After visiting the urban destination of Scandinave Spa in Old Montreal, a sister location to the popular spa in Whistler, Hotsenpiller was inspired by the idea that a similar compact Nordic spa could exist in Victoria.

“I looked at many, many locations until I found this,” Hotsenpiller says of the spot at 101-989 Johnson St. in the Harris Green neighbourhood.

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Billed as the “first Nordic spa built on Vancouver Island,” Ritual Nordic Spa is designed to be a “modern, urban, coed, sauna-focused” destination.

The spa features an indoor cold plunge pool set at 9 C, four saunas including traditional Finnish and infrared saunas, a steam room, a warm Himalayan salt lounge, Nordic showers and an outdoor patio for relaxation. The spa offers massage treatments, along with two private suites for visitors who prefer to do a circuit on their own.

Hotsenpiller says the overarching idea of the spa and its design was to be “delightfully unpretentious.”

“No matter gender, age, mobility levels. I really wanted to make it feel welcoming,” she says.

Another main ambition was affordability, she says. The mid-week starting price for a two-hour sauna circuit is $59. There’s a Plunge Club, according to Hotsenpiller, that sees weekly visits priced at $47 per plunge.

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“In Finland, there really is this belief that sauna should be available to everyone,” she says. “It’s such a part of the culture, and in that, there’s a great saying that loosely translates to, ‘Everyone looks the same in a towel’. And, it’s like everyone is equal in the sauna.”

Inside Ritual Nordic Spa in Victoria.
Inside Ritual Nordic Spa in Victoria. Photo by Ritual Nordic Spa

In addition to its hot/cold/relax circuit, Ritual boasts a unique café-bar area, which features small bits and beverages including Kombucha and local craft beer.

“In sauna culture, the social moment afterward is part of the experience too,” Hotsenpiller explains of the offering. “A cold drink and a salty snack really goes hand-in-hand. It’s a freedom time, it’s a chatting with others time. In Finnish culture, it is a drinking time.

“I knew I wanted to offer a place where people could just chill and have a drink. Or, on the weekend, wait for a friend while having a coffee and a croissant. And then go in. That was important.”

As for what her grandmother would think about the new spa, Hotsenpiller is confident she would be quite pleased with the continuation of a ritual that she held so dear.

“She would be so happy,” Hotsenpiller said, her eyes brimming with tears. “She loved bringing friends and neighbours and visitors into her sauna. Creating that space for them.

“So, she would be thrilled.”

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The Vancouver Sun was a guest at Ritual Nordic Spa. The brand neither reviewed nor approved this article.

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