No rain…no rainbows. Ucluelet is an all-season charmer

 

Much of Ucluelet's history is linked to the maritime industry

Much of Ucluelet’s history is linked to the maritime industry

It has been more than 45 years since I made my first trip to the stunning west coast of Vancouver Island, in the days when you got there by traversing heart-plummeting logging roads and switchbacks high above Kennedy Lake. At that time Tofino was a tiny settlement of 400; the working fishing village of Ucluelet, at the other end of the coastline that is home to the world-famous Long Beach, clocked in at just over 1,000 residents.

The Wild Pacific Trail is a major draw for locals and visitors alike

The Wild Pacific Trail is a major draw for locals and visitors alike

A new paved road, the establishment of Pacific Rim National Park and some masterful marketing in the area have changed a lot of things on the coast. Tofino now has about 2,000 year-round residents, Ucluelet has about 1,600. During the height of the tourist season Tofino sees as many as 22,000 people a day.  Ucluelet, I am happy to report, is a lot less commercialized, a lot less crowded and a lot more peaceful.

There are California sea lions everywhere - including on the docks

There are California sea lions everywhere – including on the docks

We re-discovered Ucluelet during a brief visit last summer – there was just enough time to whet our appetites for more, to make us want to explore this village that has remained essentially true to its original nature.  So, on a recent slashing-rain February day we headed west to spend more time in this ‘safe harbour’ and, ultimately, to be totally charmed by pretty much everyone and everything there.

The aquarium is backdropped by Whiskey Landing Lodge, one of the small-but -excellent hostelries in Ucluelet

The aquarium is backdropped by Whiskey Landing Lodge, one of the small-but -excellent hostelries in Ucluelet

What we loved most about Ucluelet is its total lack of pretention – this is a community that takes great pride in its working roots, even though to some extent those roots have in recent years trailed off in new directions. Slumps in the fishing and logging industries, once the mainstay of household incomes in Ucluelet, have necessitated some considerable inventiveness and an acknowledgement that tourism can be a good thing. But the folks in the village remain what I like to call ‘real’ people – they are friendly and very helpful, more than happy to share information about the village and its history. Smaller establishments are mostly the order of the day there, whether it be dining, accommodation or adventuring.  There is a still a human feel and scale to things in Ucluelet.

Quirky shops (and quirky sights, like this old fishing vessel in permanent drydock) are not unusual

Quirky shops (and quirky sights, like this old fishing vessel in permanent drydock) are not unusual

Other than the fact that we loved the ambiance of the village we found plenty to keep us busy, even during the rainy winter season. You can take a tour of the harbour on a delightful 65-year-old retired Coast Guard vessel, hike the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Wild Pacific Trail, browse galleries and quirky stores, go beach combing, dine on everything from gourmet hot dogs to great barbeque to fresh albacore tuna, chill out or warm up at the myriad  small coffee shops and bistros, go storm watching. There is also an engaging First Nations presence and influence in Ucluelet that is reflected in everything from some of the architecture to galleries and shops.

History is honoured with commemorative plaques - this one for the general store built in 1901 and still in use

History is honoured with commemorative plaques – this one for the general store built in 1908 and still in use

There seems to be wildlife at every turn – we encountered a wolf (at a safe distance), California sea lions, harbour seals, bald eagles and a huge variety of sea birds. Come the Spring the sight of migrating whales is not uncommon.

We missed a visit to the small but highly-regarded aquarium, which is closed during the winter months but re-opens in March.  And once finer weather arrives opportunities for new adventures ranging from whale watching to kayaking to sport fishing abound. There is the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March, Ukee (the local abbreviation for Ucluelet) Days in July and a profusion of other events to intrigue and delight.

Commercial fishing continues to support some of the local economy, but sport fishing is also very popular and generates tourism dollars

Commercial fishing continues to support some of the local economy, but sport fishing is also very popular and generates tourism dollars

Yes, Ucluelet has changed since my first foray there so many years ago, but the village and its people have managed to retain the essence, beauty and sensibilities of a genuine real place, where you can go to adventure to your heart’s content or just kick back, relax and savour the natural world. In the coming weeks we will be writing in more detail about some of our recent adventures there. Because we are always searching for new things to share with our readers we seldom return to a place, even if it is one of our favourites. We know in our hearts, however, that Ucluelet will draw us back – it’s just that kind of community, with so much to experience.

Further information on Ucluelet can be found at the website:

http://ucluelet.ca/

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.946763473886804   Long. -125.56546757372553

N 48 56.806  W 125 33.928

 

Shirley

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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3 Responses to No rain…no rainbows. Ucluelet is an all-season charmer

  1. Brent H. says:

    Shirley, I just moved to the area with my family and I’m now working at the Water’s Edge in Ucluelet and could not agree more! You have captured our special charm. Next time you come up please send me an email and we’d love to have you stay at our peaceful suites on the harbour. Think you’ll love our accommodations. Again really well written. Cheers Brent.

  2. Patricia Garland says:

    Well done! Having lived in Ukee for many years, I appreciate your journalism! Thanks!

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