One of the neatest experiences to be had on Vancouver Island has been on offer out of Port Alberni for more than half a century, thanks to Lady Rose Marine Services and the company’s venerable packet freighters the MV Lady Rose and the MV Frances Barkley. The two small freighters have plied the waters of the Alberni Inlet, Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands since 1960, hauling freight and passengers to remote settlements and villages.
The much-loved Lady Rose was retired recently and is destined to become a restaurant in Tofino, but the Frances Barkley continues to serve residents of tiny places such as Kildonan, Bamfield and Ucluelet. I am happy to report that little has changed on the trip since my first adventure on the Lady Rose in 1971; the pace continues to be delightfully slow, the stops varied, the company interesting. The length of the journey is dictated by the number of freight drops to be made on the way down the inlet and the final destination, but when we traveled to Bamfield recently we left promptly at 8 a.m and arrived back at the dock in Port Alberni at 5 p.m., just as outlined on the schedule. We had just over an hour to disembark in Bamfield and explore its delightful fishing village ambiance. The boardwalk wended its way along the waterfront, as did we, while the Frances Barkley journeyed on to drop cargo across the serene inlet that divides the community.
The Frances Barkley has a most affable crew that is happy to answer questions and suggest points of interest if they aren’t busy. There is a galley on the ship that offers a respectable, reasonably-priced menu of hot and cold dishes throughout the day, or you can pack your own lunch and enjoy it en route.
Aside from the pleasure of watching the Frances Barkley’s deft crew unload all manner of cargo – everything from a sofa to mail and newspapers to building supplies – there is magnificent scenery to enjoy throughout the trip. Seating is available either indoors or out on the deck, the better to view the wildlife that abounds. We saw black bears and bald eagles on our journey, and it isn’t unusual to see whales and other forms of sea life along the way. The tiny settlement of Bamfield was entrancing enough to convince us to return this year for its Music By The Sea festival, and to further explore its nooks and crannies.
During the summer the Frances Barkley services different areas on alternate days, covering Bamfield and the west coast fishing village of Ucluelet, as well as the scattering of 100 islands and rocks known as The Broken Group, a very popular destination for kayakers, canoers, campers and those just seeking a little peace and quiet.
This is a truly great trip, bringing back the slower pace that so many of us have forgotten (or never known…). It’s certainly worth taking an extra day or two to spend in and around the Alberni Valley. If you decide to go, be sure to dress in layers. It can be cool on the water in the morning, but generally warms up nicely as the day progresses. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your camera and binoculars!
Lady Rose Marine Services is located at 5425 Argyle Street
Phone: (250) 723-8313
Reservations advisable during the summer months; call toll free April – September: 1-800-663-7192
Further information on schedules and fares is available at: www.ladyrosemarine.com
GPS co-ordinates are: Lat. 49.235352054886995 Long. -124.81453657150268
N 49 14.121 W 124 48.872