Adventures on land and at sea in Alert Bay – Peace Arch News


This story originally appeared in the winter edition of Indulge magazine, a biannual publication published by Peace Arch News.

“From the 1950s to the 1970s, Alert Bay was the unofficial capital of northern inshore fishing (and good times).”

So begins the text of a sign posted at the ferry terminal, welcoming visitors to the village of 500 on Cormorant Island, the terminus of a 45-minute journey from Port McNeil.

During its two decades of prime, Alert Bay’s nightlife was so wild, the panel continues, that at one point in the 1960s, the local taxi company could not meet the demand for service. on the weekends, “so they bought a party bus to go from bar to bar all night long.

Workers arrived every Friday and Saturday to spend the proceeds of a week of hard work in the booming fishing, mining and logging industries, “losing thousands of dollars in a single night. in the bars “.

But it wasn’t just the boisterous parties that drew them to town: “Thousands of men and their families flocked to Alert Bay every week for supplies, recreation and entertainment.

The main street of the city, meanwhile, “was full of shops and services, many government offices, a bowling alley, a Chinatown, four churches, two shipyards and two theaters.”

During the 1960s, the village was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having “the most cars per kilometer of road” due to its 132 private cars, 10 taxis and an ambulance – all traveling 6.4 kilometers from asphalt road.

Supported by the bounty of the Pacific Ocean, nearly 1,000 fishing boats have been registered in the area, according to the same panel, which features a black-and-white aerial photo of a crowded harbor.

Half a century later, it’s a much quieter scene that greets visitors as they board or disembark the BC Ferries ship which serves both Cormorant Island and the nearby Finnish colony of Sointula on Malcolm Island. .

Yet it is a striking sight.

Brightly colored buildings and native public art make for an attractive stroll along the town’s main street, which also doubles as the waterfront.

The abundant works of art – murals and woodcarvings – reflect the island’s rich history as the traditional home of the Namgis First Nation in the territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Several wooden structures built along the shore each bear a sculpture of one of the Namgis ancestors of each namima – or clan – and a plaque explaining its meaning.

For those wishing to delve into the region’s rich indigenous history, the U’mista Cultural Center offers exhibitions and tours, as well as traditional dance performances on Saturdays in July and August.

These days, other than a well-stocked pharmacy and general store, where the price of merchandise reflects the village’s relative isolation, Alert Bay does not offer many shopping options. But the Pacific coastal community remains the perfect destination for anyone looking to spend some time in nature, offering outdoor activities both on land and at sea.

Alert Bay is the self-proclaimed “home of the killer whale” and a local business is offering visitors the opportunity to travel to Queen Charlotte Sound, looking for evidence to back up this bold claim.

Seasmoke whale watching tours depart from the government wharf three times a day during the summer and daily at noon during shoulder season.

Among the species that tourists can hope to spy on are Bigg’s Killer Whales, also known as visiting orcas. These oceanic top predators share the water with, among others, groups of resident killer whales and migrating humpback whales, as well as sea lions and sometimes otters.

For those who prefer to stay on dry land, Alert Bay Ecological Park features a network of forest trails that meander along the island’s spine. Protruding roots and muddy sections mean it’s important to watch your steps, even if you appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.

In some places the trail narrows into a green tunnel, but the payoff is a walk that provides a safe and scenic passage through a large area of ​​swamp, with benches to appreciate the almost mystical moss-covered landscape.

For easy beach access, there are plenty of places to park along the island’s waterfront road.

When you run out of shore to wade through and shops to browse, it’s easy to take a day trip to nearby Malcolm Island.

Simply let the BC Ferries attendant know your plans when you board and you can return to Port McNeil, then turn around and board the ferry back to Sointula at no cost. When it’s time to go, do the same in reverse.

Fifty years ago, Alert Bay was such a wild party town it needed a dedicated designated driver.

Today it is an ideal destination for a relaxing getaway for anyone looking to spend a few quiet days enjoying British Columbia’s unspoiled coastline and exploring the rich history of the First Nations.

To learn more, visit

If you go: Port McNeil is located 195 km north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Once there, board a BC Ferries vessel for one of the many daily crossings that depart between 7:25 PM and 9:30 PM. Some crossings are closed to passenger vehicles on a weekly basis to accommodate freight. dangerous. Be sure to check the schedule when planning your trip.

Accommodation options on Cormorant Island include guesthouses, rustic lodge, boutique hotel, campground, and cabins with water views.

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