Cumberland’s heritage walking tours take visitors back to a different – but not necessarily gentler – time

Beautifully preserved in heritage style, this home was built in 1895 and is known locally as The Painted Lady – it is a prime example of the passion Cumberland residents have for their historical roots.

The village  of Cumberland is clearly not a rich place in the monetary sense. Some of its roads are in less than stellar condition, and there is a bit of a time-worn (but nonetheless appealing) look about the commercial core.  But the former coal-mining community is rich in something much more important – its history – and in the commitment to honour and preserve it. We discovered just how much Cumberland and her residents revere the village’s past when we decided to do the five self-guided heritage walking tours outlined in brochures distributed by the Cumberland Museum (which in itself is a treasure trove of information and revelation) and the local visitor centre.

Brass plaques like this one can be seen throughout the village, documenting in perpetuity the history of some of the old homes and businesses

            We combined the walks, as some of them criss-cross, and ultimately spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of  three hours wandering the village streets learning about the area’s old homes, businesses and neighbourhoods. It would be easy to spend an entire day doing this tour if you began with a visit to the museum and if you stopped to read every interpretive sign posted throughout the village, or you can choose to do just one or two of them, at an average of 30 – 45 minutes each You can even partake of a restaurant meal in one of the historic old buildings, pubs or hotels.           

This tiny cabin on Bridal Alley is typical of the accommodation occupied by Cumberland’s bachelors and newlyweds between the 1890s and the 1940s

Cumberland’s beginnings date way back to the late 1800s, when coal mining and logging were the mainstay industries. The black gold in the ground spawned several underground mines that drew employees from China, Japan, the United States and Europe. We have already documented the final resting places of many of the Oriental miners in an article about the Japanese and Chinese cemeteries. Learning about how and where they lived prior to arriving at the remote burial grounds was an even more engaging experience.

Many of the heritage buildings in the business core are still in use, and can be enjoyed from the inside as well as the outside. This is the pub of the Waverley Hotel, built in 1894


            We discovered that while the brochures certainly offered much information there were other structures along our route that had not been included in the printed versions of the walking tours. We were delighted to find small engraved brass plaques in front of many homes that outlined their history, including former tenants and owners. So, a ‘heads up’ here – by all means follow the prescribed routes, but keep your eyes peeled for other treasures along the way that may not be documented in print. We found that it is generally pretty easy to spot the genuine ‘oldies’ during our tramp around the village, although some newer homes built in heritage style caught us out on occasion.           

The old post office, built in 1907, now a character-filled cafe.

The disparity in the grandeur and style of the homes in the various parts of the village indicates that there most certainly was a class hierarchy. However even the humblest houses built for rental purposes (there were a few private individuals who were obviously the forerunners of today’s ‘developers’) seem to have endured – many of them for more than a century. Dozens of them have been maintained in the traditional style, providing a delight to the eye and fodder for the brain. We often found ourselves wondering about the kind of lives the residents and business owners led, and the brochures added so much to that experience.           

Exquisite attention to detail and superb craftsmanship can be found in many of the old buildings along the heritage walk routes

The final leg of our journey was along Dunsmuir – then and now the main business district in the village. There are a number of extremely well-done interpretive signs (and more brass plaques!) explaining the history and use of many of the buildings. Most of the structures along Dunsmuir can be appreciated from the inside as well – meals and entertainment are still available at the historic hotels and new businesses inhabit many of the intriguing old edifices, bringing new life and vitality to the village.           

Another of the charming historical homes to be seen on the walking tour

Truly, Cumberland’s heritage walking tours make for a few hours well spent. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and take a camera. What worked very well for us was to have one person taking photos while the other read aloud the history of each stop.

The Ilo Ilo Theatre (meaning ‘place of variety’ in Japanese) hosted opera, movies, stage performances and dances after opening in 1914. It served as home to the Cumberland Dance Band and the Cumberland Symphony Orchestra

            As a starting point we recommend the Cumberland Museum and Archives, where you can pick up the aforementioned brochures.  It is located at the corner of First Street and Dunsmuir Avenue.  Further information on the museum hours and offerings can be obtained at


GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.618884857141325  Long. -125.03168821334839

N 49 37.133 W 125 01.901




About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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