The tiny village of Alert Bay is not one of those places that instantly springs to mind when considering where to take a vacation. It is pretty isolated – a 35-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill which in its’ own right is remote – 352 km. (220 miles) north of Nanaimo, 463 km. (289 miles) from Victoria. Nor does Alert Bay tout itself, particularly, as a tourist destination. There is a calm, understated appeal about the place that will prove happy for those who appreciate peace and quiet, a smaller island environment and, primarily, outdoor-oriented activities. Don’t expect classy restaurants, spas or any other high-end vacation accoutrements – they ain’t there, and it is highly unlikely that they ever will be.
Alert Bay’s history dates back thousands of years as the traditional home of the ‘Namgis First Nation. The village’s waterfront location on Cormorant Island also made it an important trading centre. Named after a ship stationed in the area in 1860, the development of Alert Bay continued to roll along with the construction of a small fish saltery, cannery and sawmill.
The Alert Bay of today is a laid-back community of less than 600, where First Nations and the non-native population live in harmony. For a small place there seems to always be something going on – a look at the various noticeboards around the village yields up the impression of a community rich in cultural, social and sporting activity.
One of the things that really appealed to us about Alert Bay was the fact that foot and bicycle traffic seemed to be almost as common as that of the vehicular type. The waterfront marine heritage district has been spruced up and features an attractive boardwalk with eye-catching light standards, pretty floral displays and a variety of other amenities. Virtually all of the commercial activity is centred on the waterfront, and a leisurely walk quickly reveals the community’s casual character.
We stayed in a rustic self-contained waterfront suite called On The Beach that was just a stone’s throw from everything we needed. Accommodations are many and varied in Alert Bay, and much is quite easily found on the internet.
One of the really striking things about this community is the fact that the First Nations heritage is so obviously respected and honoured. The area is rich in native cultural history and Alert Bay serves as home to the longest-running First Nations cultural centre anywhere in the country. Now in to its 32nd year of operation, the U’mista Cultural Centre is well-known for its striking displays of hundreds of historical artifacts relating to the native background of the area. Native tradition is alive and well in Alert Bay – a credit to the ‘Namgis people.
The community is also very obviously proud of the 16 kilometre (10 mile) network of trails that snakes its way around Cormorant Island. There is an intriguing ecological park accessed by a trail network, and Minke whales have been seen from the island’s shorelines as well. If you strike out on your own it is more than likely that you will encounter some of the loveliest beaches ever. There will no doubt be some visitors relieved to learn that there are no bears, cougars or wolves on the island, so no matter how remote your wanderings may get you will be in little, if any, danger.
If you are staying in self-catering accommodation you can either take your groceries with you or purchase them at the very well-stocked and reasonably-priced grocery store in Alert Bay. Dining-out options are limited, but there is reasonably good food to be found if you ask around.
We loved Alert Bay for its great friendliness, its serene beauty and its unpretentious ways – a perfect setting for a relaxing, quiet, contemplative get-away – well worth the trouble of getting there!
Further information on Alert Bay can be found at:
GPS co-ordinates are:
N 50 35.159 W 126 55.778