How we started, where we're been, how we got here.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks was established in 2001 by Clarke and Nancy Gourlay. After a career in humanitarian aid and development, the Gourlays, including their three young sons, moved to Vancouver Island to be close to family and explore their dream of making Swiss-style artisan cheese. They started off on a rented farm, with a handful of cows, making cheese in a renovated school-portable. With a growing team of staff and key involvement from Nancy’s parents Ray & Judy Haynes, they were able to purchase 88-acre Morningstar Farm in French Creek, the scenic region between Parksville and Qualicum beach, and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks found its permanent home.
Right from the start the vision was to welcome the public onto the farm for "excellent agricultural tastes, products, and experiences." With the extended family and a terrific team of staff, they gradually built on the various components and aspects of the business and today the farm is open seven days a week and visitors can meet the mixed herd of 45 dairy cows, watch the live stream of the robotic milker (voluntary milking system), and interact with the calves and a variety of animals including sheep, goats, lamas, and rabbits. The cheese plant has an outside deck for watching the cheesemaking through the windows. In the farmgate store, guests can find a wide range of artisan cheeses along with specialty local foods, gifts, décor, baked goods, and an espresso bar featuring Canada’s freshest lattes!
In late 2017 Little Qualicum Cheeseworks opened Canada's first milk-on-tap dispenser where visitors can bring a reusable jug or purchase a glass or plastic bottle from the store, and fill up on fresh, whole, non-homogenized milk right from the farm.
In the Fall of 2018 Clarke was elected as the Director for Area G in the Regional District of Nanaimo. He focused most of his attention on his role in public office while also co-managing the business with Nancy and eldest-son, Raymond. On June 29, 2019 Clarke Gourlay died in a mountaineering accident in Strathcona Park. His immense vision and passion were largely to be credited for the success of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and his loss left a significant hole in the business.
In early 2021, Nancy made the decision to retire, and the family began the process of selling the farm and cheeseworks. In the summer of 2021 the new owners, Albert Gorter and Chelsea Enns, moved on-site and began training with the Gourlay family.
Albert Gorter grew up on a 600-acre dairy farm near Otterburne, Manitoba. He studied animal science at Lakeland College and worked in other agricultural areas before returning to his family farm where he and his partner Chelsea Enns took over management. Along with a passion for excellence in dairy farming, Albert and Chelsea developed a strong interest in the processing side of the dairy industry and even established their own yogurt brand which they operated for a year. When the time came to pursue the next stage of their vision, they made the decision to bring their experience, energy and passion to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Morningstar Farm on Vancouver Island. Albert is now the farm manager and Chelsea oversees the cheesemaking and tourism operations. Their little ones, Rory & Willa, are enjoying island life along with farm dog, Emma.
Now, having just celebrated 20 years in business, the past and present owners as well as all the employees of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks are immensely thankful for the visitors, local supporters, customers, advocates, and fellow dairy farmers across British Columbia – all of whom represent an amazing community.
Over the years of change and growth, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks continues to be a family business and remains committed and passionate about quality local food, sustainable agriculture, animal welfare, and providing a fun, educational, and delicious experience to all visitors of the farm and customers of their cheese across British Columbia.