MV Frances Barkley offers a cruise of a different kind

The Frances Barkely offers a delightfully casual cruise down the Alberni Inlet

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.           

Pulling in to Kildonan

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’s cargo includes a myriad of items – including sofas

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.

Float homes are commonly seen on the trip down the inlet

             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!            

Heading for her final cargo drop in Bamfield

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:

            GPS co-ordinates are: Lat. 49.235352054886995 Long. -124.81453657150268

                                                   N 49 14.121 W 124 48.872



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.

This entry was posted in ATTRACTIONS, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to MV Frances Barkley offers a cruise of a different kind

  1. Dee Pauletig says:

    Hello there,

    My name is Dee Pauletig. My friends Ann and Danielle and I are hiking the West Coast Trail in late August 2014. We would like to know how we can reserve 3 spaces on the Francis Barkley for August 26th…a one way trip. Kindly pop me an email with the details.

    Looking forward to the experience!!


    Dee, Ann & Dani :0)

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Hello! Please click on the link at the bottom of the story on our website, which is how you found us, and that will take you direct to Lady Rose Marine Services, the company that operates the Frances Barkley. You can make reservations through the Lady Rose website. I will also copy your comment to the owner of Lady Rose Marine. Thank you for your contact – hope you enjoy the West Coast Trail, and I know you will love the trip on the Frances Barkley. If you can, try to arrange to stay around Bamfield for a couple of days to explore – lovely little community, especially the west side. There are stories about it on our website as well. Cheers,
      Shirley Culpin

  2. Rae Brammer-Wilson says:

    4 of us are coming to Vancouver Island this August and are ready to book a boat trip to Bamfield. My question is what is the difference between the Bamfield trip on Sunday and the Bamfield trip on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday?
    Thank you

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Rae, the Sunday trips go through the Broken Group Islands on the way to Bamfield, with a stop at Sechart Lodge. The trips during the rest of the week go straight to Bamfield. You will see a lot more on the Sunday trip – the Broken Islands are spectacular. Enjoy your travels – Bamfield is beautiful and very special, and the Frances Barkley is absolutely the best way to get there.

  3. Sheila Porter says:

    We were a group of 6, after doing the West Coast Trail, we got to ride on the Frances Barkley back to Port Alberni, I cant tell you how much we all enjoyed it. after the exhausting hike, and all of us from high stress jobs, I cant think of anything nicer than that lovely couple of hours staff were amazing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *