Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail

Oyster Jim Martin - the dreamer, and the dream

Oyster Jim Martin – the dreamer, and the dream

One man’s dream. One magical internationally-renowned legacy. That best sums up Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail – a spectacular network of easily accessible walking trails  that stretches for a total of 10 kilometres (6.25 miles)  along the awe-inspiring headlands of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast.  There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe this beautiful-beyond-words trail. And there probably aren’t enough words in the English language to thank Oyster Jim Martin, the affable, low-key fellow who came up with the idea way back in 1980 and finally is seeing his dream come to fruition after more than 35 years.

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of Oyster Jim and the Wild Pacific Trail evolved because Jim enjoyed fishing and hiking along the rough coastal headlands near the small fishing village of Ucluelet. He conceived of a walking trail that would allow folks of all ages, abilities and financial status to enjoy the sublime beauty of the wild coastline. His initial efforts to interest the community fell on deaf ears – fishing and logging were the mainstays of the local economy early on and there was little, if any, interest in developing the trail.

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Things began going sideways with the traditional employment tracks in the late 1980s however, and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out of both sources of income for many local families.  Oyster Jim, with his quiet persistence, convinced the community that a trail that offered stunning vistas might help boost tourism.



It all sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact the maneuvering that it took to acquire the co-operation of developers, First Nations, private property owners, federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments and logging companies is almost as mind-boggling as the finished product.  Oyster Jim credits Charles S. Smith, former director of real estate for the now extinct MacMillan Bloedel  forestry company, with much of the success of acquiring access to the headlands, but it is clear that without Oyster Jim’s perseverance nothing would have happened.

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The first leg of the trail, a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) loop, wends its way through old growth rainforest, along craggy promontories,  out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse and back to a well-marked parking lot.  The loop trail opened in 1999 and has been a popular destination for locals and travelers alike.  We got our first taste of it at sunset during a brief summer stopover and were so entranced that we made immediate plans to return, to see more and take in the stunning sweeping vistas, the wildlife, the forest – the enchantment of a truly wild, unspoiled and inspiring place.

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

The Lighthouse Loop is an easy walk, and pretty much anyone should be able to manage it with ease.  There is even wheelchair access at the lighthouse; anyone in a wheelchair with a strong companion would probably be able to enjoy the entire loop with little trouble.

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Further along the peninsula there is an additional 7 1/2 kilometres (4.6 miles) of trail that straggles along the coastline, providing more spectacular scenery looking out to the vast Pacific Ocean. Various sections of the trail are divided up with names such as Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs, Artist Loops, and Big Beach and Brown’s Beach.  There is also an interpretive trail at Terrace Beach, very close to the lighthouse loop.

Depending on where you decide to start and finish your exploration (there are several access points) you will find picnic tables, a children’s interpretive area, viewing decks, beaches, surge channels, pounding surf – well, the list of delights is endless and always varied depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit. You can certainly rest assured that you will never be bored, and you will never see the same thing twice – the varied moods of the ocean and the bordering bluffs and forests guarantee that.

There is excellent signage at the access points

There is excellent signage at the access points

One of the best features of the trail is the fact that it allows visitors to marvel at the massive gray whales (upwards of 20,000 of them) that migrate through the area between March and May each year. There is plenty of other wildlife as well, including bald eagles, sea otters, occasional bear, deer, cougar and wolf.

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

While some visitors may feel a little nervous about the possibility of encounters with larger predators, Oyster Jim offers a succinct answer to their concerns: “If you act like bait, you get treated like bait.” There are tips on dealing with wildlife in the trail brochure, which is available at the access points to the various sections of the trail.

Virtually all of the trail is well-marked and very well maintained – Oyster Jim spends 48 days a year on the maintenance aspect alone. The actual meticulous building of the trail, viewing platforms, bridges and other features seems to take up most of the rest of his time, but despite the long slog to make his vision a reality he still exudes a quiet enthusiasm for all it offers.

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff - not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff – not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

Along the trails visitors will find benches (many of them in memory of Ucluelet pioneers), interpretive signs, brochures, donation boxes, maps, distance markers and bags for doggy excrement.  The entire trail system is so well planned, laid-out and maintained that one is left marveling at the minds and hearts that have created it all. Donations from all quarters help to support the trail, and a dedicated 12-member volunteer board of directors steers the affairs of the non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society.

I have only one warning about the Wild Pacific Trail – if you expect to complete hiking the various sections in the suggested times on the brochures, forget it. We took more than twice as long on a couple of sections  – not because of any difficulty with the trail, but because at every turn there was another breathtaking view that meant we paused, took hundreds of photos and reveled in the moment (which often stretched to several minutes). I am sure that Oyster Jim and his dedicated team will be pleased to hear that – it is what this wonderful trail is all about.

Further information on the Wild Pacific Trail can be obtained by going to the excellent website (be sure to watch the 22 minute video there) at:


GPS co-ordinates for the first leg of the trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, are:

Lat. 48.92369104633025  Long. -125.54015174761571

N 48 55.421  W 125 32.409



Salt Spring Island’s Ruckle Provincial Park

Water view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Strategically placed benches offer visitors an opportunity to sit and watch the world go by

There is a little bit of everything to be found at Ruckle Provincial Park, located on the southern tip of Salt Spring Island – history, waterfront, wildlife, woodland trails.  When we visited back in early autumn we figured on spending about an hour there; in the end we were entranced enough to be there well over two hours.  It could easily have been a lot longer if the weather and darkness hadn’t been closing in on us.

Victorian home at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

One of several homes at the old farm site

Ruckle Provincial Park sprawls over 1307 acres (529 hectares), looking out to Swanson Channel. Tumbling through Garry Oak meadows, forest, farm land and along rocky headlands, the park offers an abundance of peaceful activities that will banish your everyday cares and draw you in to the majesty and beauty of the southern Gulf Islands.

The road in to the park wends its way past a stunning Victorian home – one of the later houses built on the farm by the Ruckle family.  It was that house, along with a collection of other ancient farm buildings, that made it clear that this wasn’t just any old provincial park.  This was different, on so many levels.

Split rail fence, heritage apple trees and deer at Ruckle Heritage Farm, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Vintage split rail fencing and heritage apple trees add to the bucolic ambiance of the farm area

Homesteaded in 1872 by Irish emigrant Henry Ruckle, the farm evolved in to a huge operation featuring livestock, field crops and a massive fruit orchard. Six hundred apple and pear trees and 40 nut trees were planted, many of which continue to produce their heritage fruit to this day.

Ruckle Heritage Farm at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Livestock still grazes peacefully at the farm

The 200 acre farm is the oldest continually operating farm in British Columbia. Overseen by the original family, the farm serves as home to a flock of sheep, Highland cattle, chickens and turkeys.  There is still an enormous market garden that keeps the farm stand stocked throughout the growing season.

Waterfront view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

There are 4 1/2 miles of waterfront to be explored

We spent a considerable amount of time wandering amongst the accessible heritage farm buildings and abandoned houses on the property, taking in the information boards that provide historical notes of interest about the farm area of the park. Imagining what life must have been like in the late 1800s in this loveliest of places wasn’t difficult.

Waterfront picnic site at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Scenic picnic sites

We left the rustic buildings and bucolic ambiance and headed up the road, further in to the park and the ‘wilds’. Time constraints allowed us only a short hike to Beaver Point, but the variations in terrain and water views were enough to keep us entranced.  Beautiful vistas, picnic areas and benches to rest and take in the sweeping water panoramas and parade of marine traffic occupied a solid hour. We hiked back under the forest canopy, through the campsites and returned to our vehicle totally relaxed, the cares of the moment banished.

Waterfront bench at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Many pretty viewpoints offer a bench to sit and rest

Next time (and there will be a next time) we visit Salt Spring we will put aside an entire day to explore more of Ruckle Provincial Park – the large network of trails is simply too enticing to pass up. There is almost 4 ½ miles (7 km) of shoreline to explore as well as the inland trails that skirt the farm. For the time being though, memories of our initial exploration of this most unique spot will have to suffice.

Stairs on Beaver Point Trail at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Depending on which trail you choose, you might run into a bit of mildly strenuous hiking….

Dogs are welcome at the park but because of the livestock and farming activity, must be kept on leash and are only allowed in certain areas. Portions of the park – the trails leading from the main parking lot to the waterside picnic areas – are wheelchair accessible.

            Further information on Ruckle Provincial Park and the working Ruckle Heritage Farm can be found at the websites:



wheelchair-lRuckle Provincial Park is located 6.25 miles (10 km) from Fulford, at the southern tip of Salt Spring Island.  Follow Beaver Point Road to the end to access the heritage farm area, camping and parking.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.771741  Long. -123.381824

N 48 46.304  W 123 22.909


Port Alberni’s Stamp River Provincial Park

 Stamp River near Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The timeless – and very beautiful – Stamp River

It had been more than 40 years since I last visited Stamp River Provincial Park in the beautiful Alberni Valley, and I have to admit that I headed over there recently with some trepidation.  Back in the 1970s the place was wild and essentially undeveloped, 327 hectares (800 acres) tucked in at the far north end of Beaver Creek Road.  Few folks visited – it was little more than a local hidden gem then.  Would it, like so many other natural treasures, have changed for the worse through ‘enhancement’?  It turns out I needn’t have worried.

Black bear on the Stamp River, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s not unusual to see black bears along the river

We were delighted to find that although things have changed at Stamp Falls, the developments have been minor and truly wonderful. The 23 unserviced campsites are private and nicely scattered through the forest. The two kilometers (1.2 miles) of walking trails are better groomed and more accessible for many visitors.

Picnic tables at Stamp River Provincial Park, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Picnic tables for a riverside meal…

The four picnic tables perched along the riverside offer a lovely spot for a sit-down and an informal al fresco meal. The well-conceived interpretive signs are a great educational addition to the park.

Beach along Stamp River, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…or a quiet bit of beach for relaxation and reflection

There is even a television screen serviced by an underwater camera that allows visitors to see the salmon working their way up the fish ladders that were installed at the falls back in the 1950s.

Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Park visitors gather on the bluff above the falls to watch the journey of the salmon…

Happily, the timeless unadorned natural world of the area has remained the same, too.  The Stamp River continues to run clean and clear, a wide, mesmerizing swath of blues, greens and white foam.  Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe falls continue to tumble through a nine metre (30 feet) gorge and every autumn, as they have for untold eons, the cohoe, sockeye, Chinook and steelhead make their way up the river and battle through the falls (or the fish ladders) to answer the instinctive call to return to the spawning grounds on the upper reaches of the river and at Great Central Lake.Migrating salmon at Stamp River Falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Black bears appear on a regular basis in hopes of securing a meal – one ambled along the other side of the river and down below the falls during our recent visit, much to the delight of everyone who was perched on the bluff above the falls expecting to see only the courageous journey of the fish.

Interpretive sign at Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interpretive signs introduce visitors to the natural rhythms of the river

While there are certainly more visitors to the park than in the past it is still a bit of a hidden treasure – during the couple of hours we lingered there we probably saw no more than 30 people, of all ages.  Youngsters gamboled along the pathways and sat, mesmerized, watching the leaping fish. Senior citizens, parents, dogs (on leash only, due to the bear situation) all enjoyed the perfect Indian Summer afternoon. Travellers and locals leaned over fences to watch the water swirl and eddy its way along, lingered at the excellent interpretive signs that explained the natural ecology of the area, paused to chat.


Walking trail at Stamp River Provincial Park, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Trails are wide and well-groomed – a perfect spot for a family walk

The fish runs will continue into December, so anyone keen to experience this natural phenomena still has plenty of time to get to the falls.  Even if you are visiting at other times of the year, there is plenty to see and enjoy at this lovely park – the world is still as it should be at Stamp River Provincial Park.   It is so worth the 14 kilometre (8 ½ mile) drive from Port Alberni, any time of year.

            More information about Stamp River Provincial Park can be found at:


 The park is located near the end of Beaver Creek Road, which branches off Highway 4 just out of Port Alberni, on the way to the west coast.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34386052916214  Long.  -124.91905185215

 N 49 20.632 W 124 55.143


Ladysmith’s Wild Poppy Bistro

Duck Salad Bowl at Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Duck Ponzu Salad Bowl

Who knew? Who knew that a tiny town of 8,500 perched on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island could be home to an upscale bistro – gluten and peanut-free, no less! Well, the good residents of Ladysmith know, and that’s obvious the minute you step through the door of the Wild Poppy Bistro. You wait for tables, even at 1:30 on a weekday afternoon, and you wait a bit for your food. But all of that, we discovered recently, is more than worth it.

Wild Poppy isn’t large, by any stretch of the imagination – seating tops out at accommodation for a couple of dozen. There are large artistic renditions of poppies on the walls, bare wood floors, bare wooden tables. In other words, there is absolutely nothing over-the-top fancy about the place. The food follows the same mantra. There is nothing high-end on the menu, but plenty of innovation, plenty of local-and-fresh, plenty of gluten-free and plenty of really tempting stuff.

By the time we arrived the daily quiche was sold out, so we took up our menus again and pondered the numerous mouth-watering options. One of the many salad offerings? A cup of house-made soup? Veggie enchiladas? Or maybe the pulled pork grilled cheese?

Yesteryear Farms Sausage Plate at Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Yesteryear Farms Sausage Plate

Ultimately, I settled on the duck ponzu salad bowl and my husband opted for the Yesteryear Farms sausage plate.

It took 35 minutes from the time we entered the Wild Poppy until our meals hit the table so, a warning – don’t go through that door if you are starving and need to eat right now. Plan ahead to allow the kitchen to work its magic – it will be worth the trouble.

The duck ponzu salad bowl arrived in the form of a colourful, artistic heap of duck confit, edamame, ramen noodles, shaved fennel, Savoy cabbage and snap peas, finished with a ponzu sesame vinaigrette. My mouth is watering at the thought of it – the flavour and texture combinations were masterful, and the vinaigrette was a perfect complement to the ingredients.

Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Inside the Wild Poppy – packed, bright and busy!

My husband’s sausage plate featured two flavourful, tender, plump sausages with a perfect blend of seasonings. The sausages were accompanied by a substantial chunk of aged cheddar cheese, rhubarb chutney, a gluten-free roll and house and potato salads (the latter of which he said he hadn’t enjoyed anything as good in a very long time).

Of course, we couldn’t pass up all the goodies in the display case, located right next to the till. So, a decent gluten-free ginger cookie for himself and a really lovely not-too-sweet butter tart in an excellent gluten-free pastry for me.

In addition to all the goodness on the food end of things, it was nice to see that the Wild Poppy also features locally-roasted Peaks coffee, tea from the nearby Westholme Tea Farm and botanically-brewed sodas from Fentiman’s.

We learned during our foray in to the Wild Poppy that the bistro has just celebrated its four-year anniversary. In a world where restaurants appear and fail with regularity, it’s no small wonder that the Wild Poppy continues to survive and thrive. Great food, friendly service, upbeat vibe. Now, if they had just offered a refill on our coffee….

Wild Poppy Bistro doesn’t have a website, but it can be found on Facebook at:


Price rating: $-$$

The Wild Poppy Bistro is located at 541 First Avenue, Ladysmith

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.993942 Long.: -123.817997

48° 59′ 38.1912” N 123° 49′ 4.7892” W


Fanny Bay Conservation Area


Fanny Bay conservation Area, Vancouver Island, british columbia, Canada

It’s not very obvious and you have to go in search of it, but the Fanny Bay Conservation Area is worth the trouble. Located 23 km (14 miles) south of the city of Courtenay on the Island’s east coast, the 160 hectare (395 acres) conservation area offers a wide variety of habitats, an easy, level walk and beautiful views of water, mountains and big sky.

We explored this pretty spot when the wild roses were in bloom, so there was an extra bonus of their heady fragrance all along the 1.6 km (1 mile) pathway.

The Fanny Bay Conservation Area is bordered by Highway 19A (the Old Island Highway), the pretty community of Ships Point and Fanny Bay’s infamous Wacky Woods. The area is home to more than 140 species of birds, which vary throughout the year depending on the season. Deer, elk, river otter, beaver, mink and muskrat also inhabit the region.

Fanny Bay Conservation Area, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe conservation area encompasses a mix of wildlife habitats that include a sheltered bay, mud flats, intertidal and fresh water marshes, grassland, forest and woodland swamp. There is a viewing platform along the pathway that opens up wider vistas of the surroundings.

Information kiosk at Fanny Bay conservation Area, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThis walk is a great spot to take youngsters for a good leg stretch and an exploration of the wildlife that lives in the Fanny Bay Conservation Area – even the shortest little legs should be able to traverse the wide, flat pathway, and the youngest of the young will no doubt take great delight in discovering the wildlife secrets there.. It’s a great spot, too, if you are looking to enjoy a peaceful al fresco lunch – it seems to be little-known and thus offers much in the way of tranquility.

Wacky Woods at Fanny Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the Wacky Woods art installations – a reflection of George Sawchuk’s sense of humour

You might also find yourself wandering through George Sawchuk’s Wacky Woods – a crumbling but intriguing outdoor art installation that will have you wondering at the mind of the man who created it. The Wacky Woods actually infringe on part of the forest component of the Fanny Bay Conservation Area, so they are pretty easy to find and explore, and they certainly add to the interest of a walk there..

Observation platform at Fanny Bay Conservation Area, Fanny Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The observation platform

There are a couple of easy access points to the Fanny Bay Conservation Area. You can head north on Highway 19A (The Old Island Highway) past the Fanny Bay Community Hall and about 50 feet north of Jacob Road you will see a yellow gate across a trail on the east side of the highway.  The trail leads along the Fanny Bay waterfront and there are several branches off  to the right to access the Wacky Woods.  Or, turn on to Ships Point Road (at the Fanny Bay Community Centre), follow Ships Point Road to Little Way, turn left on Little Way and then left on Bates Drive.  The
Wacky Woods trailhead (which is unmarked) will be at the end of Bates on the right hand side.  This is probably the safest access if you don’t want to have to cross the highway, and there is easy parking there.  It also puts you immediately into the magic of the Wacky Woods rather than having to hike along the waterfront trail.

GPS co-ordinates for the Wacky Woods access point are:

Lat.: 49.494506 Long.: -124.813274

49° 29′ 40.2216” N 124° 48′ 47.7864” W


Sointula – still a place of harmony – offers a warm welcome

Looking towards Sointula from Rough Bay

Looking towards Sointula from Rough Bay

How can anyone fail to love a place where little girls can set up a lemonade stand in the middle of ‘town’, unaccompanied by adult supervision, whiling away their summer days and maybe making a little bit of pocket money?  How can anyone fail to admire a settlement that still honours the pioneers that founded it more than a century ago?  And really, is it possible to not appreciate the sweeping beaches, mountain views, gorgeous trails, the history, in that place? Those are only a few of the things that entranced us during a visit to Malcolm Island and Sointula, the tiny, isolated 600-soul village that is its heart.

Quadra Queen ferry on the way to Sointula, British Columbia

The Quadra Queen services Sointula and Malcolm Island from Port McNeill

Sointula was founded as a socialist Utopian community in 1901 by Finnish immigrants fleeing the brutal and dangerous life of coal miners on Vancouver Island. The Finns settled on Malcolm Island with nothing in the way of job prospects – there was absolutely no industry there – but with the vision of developing a creative and harmonious life.

Ultimately the dream died but many of the Finns, noted for their perseverance and work ethic, remained in Sointula (which in Finnish means ‘place of harmony’).  They carved out lives in the fishing and logging industries, raised families, built homes and farms.

One of the many beautiful sweeping beaches to be found on Malcolm Island

One of the many beautiful sweeping beaches to be found on Malcolm Island

One of the most endearing things about Sointula is that it continues to honour that heritage.  Finnish is still spoken periodically in the community, some signage and publicity literature includes Finnish translation as well, and there is an excellent museum that illuminates the legacy and hardships of the past.

Lemonade stand at Sointula, Malcolm Island, British ColumbiaAlthough the Utopian ideal didn’t survive there is still a lovely sense of community  on Malcolm Island.  And for those who think that remote communities may be lacking in things to do, think again.

Gillnet rugs were designed by a Sointula resident in the 1950s and are still unique only to the community. This display can be found in the excellent museum

Gillnet rugs were designed by a Sointula resident in the 1950s and are still unique only to the community. This display can be found in the excellent museum

In addition to visiting the museum – which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers – there are some charming galleries and restaurants to enjoy in Sointula.  The Upper Crust Bakery became our favourite spot for a light lunch and delectable goodies, and the Burger Barn proved to be purveyors of some of the best burgers we have ever consumed.

Bere Point Regional Park is a lovely stretch of forest and waterfront.  If you are lucky, you might see orca whales rubbing on the beaches in that area.  We spent a couple of hours hiking the Beautiful Bay Trail that skirts the shoreline – not what anyone would call a groomed trail but most certainly manageable for anyone who is reasonably fit and wearing a good pair of walking shoes. There are other well-documented trails on the island as well – unfortunately time limitations prevented us from exploring all of them.  That’s fine with us though – it gives us an excuse to return some day.

The beautifully maintained cemetery is the final resting place for many of Malcolm Island's pioneers - a history lesson in itself

The beautifully maintained cemetery is the final resting place for many of Malcolm Island’s pioneers – a history lesson in itself

It’s also worth taking the time to explore the beautifully-located cemetery, which is a history lesson in itself. Many of the original pioneers are buried there, overlooking the ocean.  It is rather poignant in many ways – there are headstones marking the deaths of everything from hardy pioneers to a mother and four children who died in a disastrous fire that swept through the communal sleeping quarters of the original settlement.

Sunset at Mitchell Bay, Sointula, Malcolm Island, British Columbia

Sunset at Mitchell Bay, near Sointula on Malcolm Island

There are sailing charters available out of Sointula, regular organized public events and, of course, there is the delicious opportunity to simply kick back, relax and revel in the spectacular scenery and the peace and quiet of the place.

Malcolm Island is progressive in a good kind of way

Malcolm Island is progressive in a good kind of way

The Sointula Resource Centre is the ‘go to’ organization for information on the community and on Malcolm Island in general.  Their website can be accessed at:


Malcolm Island is located a 25-minute ferry ride across from Port McNeill.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 50.62716178796512  Long. -127.01726400000001

N 50 37.630  W 127 01.036



Ucluelet’s Jiggers Fish and Chips

Fish and chips at Jiggers, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Some of the best fish and chips on the Island

Somehow it seems sacrilege that many of Vancouver Island’s seaside communities aren’t able to offer up a great order of fish and chips. Fake frozen French fries and soggy fish batter take the pleasure out of this simplest of dishes and, unfortunately, they are frequently found where you would least expect them – waterfront eateries. To date, one of our best finds for fish and chips has been in Ucluelet at Jiggers.

Jiggers isn’t on the waterfront and it’s ‘just’ a food truck, but being smack in the middle of a fishing village has obviously influenced the quality of the meals on offer. We all opted for fish and chips during our visit, but there are other offerings on the chalkboard menu for those who aren’t crazy about fish.

Picnic tables and food truck at Jiggers Fish and Chips, Uclulet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Al fresco dining…..

The food truck is set up in the parking lot of a vacant building on Ucluelet’s main drag. Jiggers customers have access to the building for wet weather dining, but on the fine day that we visited diners were scattered among the picnic tables in front of the food truck. We arrived fairly early for dinner – 5-ish – and were happy that we had. Line-ups started shortly after our order went in and wait times for food, of course, increased exponentially.

We had our dinner in front of us within 15 minutes. We requested the three piece fish and chips ($27) instead of three one-piece orders (at $15 each), bit the bullet for extra tartar sauce ($1.75 per container) and sat down to enjoy our meal.

Jiggers Fish and Chips, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island,k British ColumbiaThe fish, with light and crisp batter, was very fresh and flavourful and the chips – hand-cut, of course – were perfectly cooked. The fries were crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. Accompanied by excellent cole slaw and mouthwatering house-made tartar sauce, the meal made for the best fish and chips we have enjoyed in a very long time. And, despite three hearty appetites, there was plenty of food in that $27 deal.

Please note that Jiggers takes cash only if you decide to dine there. And truly, you should eat there if you are in the area – our meal was proof positive that Jiggers’ great reputation is well-deserved.

Jiggers doesn’t have a website, but is on Facebook under Jiggers Fish and Chips

Price rating: $-$$

Jiggers is located at 1385 Peninsula Road, Ucluelet

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.938794 Long. -125.542902

48° 56′ 19.6584” N 125° 32′ 34.4472” W

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Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The old centre (left) and the Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries (right)

It’s kind of hard to believe that there could be anything magical at all contained in the great concrete behemoth that greets visitors as they arrive by boat in the tiny settlement of Bamfield. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is, without a doubt, one of the least attractive buildings in the entire remote settlement perched on the west coast of the Island. On the inside, however, BMSC is full of beauty, intrigue and history.

Visitors at research lab at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

Tours visit the research labs

The centre is sited at the entrance to Bamfield Inlet and ultimately replaced (very sadly) an original building designed by renowned architect Francis Rattenbury, who created such notable landmarks as the B.C. legislative buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria.  Rattenbury’s grandiose structure perched on the hilltop looking out to Barkley Sound and provided a fine base for employees of the Pacific Cable Board cable station, the eastern terminus of a 4,000 kilometre undersea trans-Pacific telegraph cable. Dining rooms, an extensive library, music and billiards were all available – it certainly must have seemed like extravagant luxury in the wilds of the Pacific coast in 1902!

Francis Rattenbury building at Bamfield

The original building on the site, befitting of the spectacular location, was designed by renowned architect Francis Rattenbury

            The concrete building that currently houses the marine station was built in 1926 to accommodate offices for employees of a second submarine cable. When the Rattenbury place fell into disrepair it was demolished and the concrete structure became the dominant feature at the entrance to the inlet.  The cable station was shut down in 1959 and for a decade the building that had housed it sat unused until the concept of a marine sciences centre was floated for the location. Now it serves as a research and public education hub supported by no less than five western universities – an admirable collaboration that has brought world-class work to one of the most isolated settlements in the country.

Touch tanks at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The touch tanks are a great hit with visitors young and old

We were fortunate enough to be able to participate in a 1 ½ hour tour of the centre during a trip to Bamfield. About three dozen visitors of all ages gathered at the centre on a sunny afternoon and were greeted by Kelly Clement, our engaging tour guide.

            Kelly launched the tour by telling us a little bit about the community of Bamfield, after which we moved inside to the main entrance foyer.  It is pretty much the most attractive part of the building, finished in wood and featuring aquariums displaying sea creatures native to the area.  The rest of the place is strictly utilitarian, housing labs, classrooms and offices.  But by traversing all three levels of the centre we came to appreciate so much of the importance of what goes on at BMSC. Kelly told us about the endangered abalone – a species I recall consuming with gusto way back in the 1970s, but now in serious decline due to over-fishing. We learned that star fish can re-grow legs, and we had the opportunity to speak with a researcher who was studying pipe fish. There were touch tanks that absolutely entranced visitors, young and old. And down the final steep flight of stairs to what Kelly calls the ‘creepy’ basement – low ceilings and all – we found yet more research projects in progress.

Sea anenome at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe final stop on the tour was a classroom setting that featured real skeletons of salvaged sea creatures, the largest of which was a baby whale – I don’t think an adult one could have been fitted in to the available space.

Main entrance at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Main entrance to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

Truly, taking the tour was an afternoon well-spent. Learning about the marine life and environment that help to make Bamfield and the west coast the very special places that they are was not only enlightening, but fun. In addition to the research the station runs a great variety of special programs for students, school groups and the general public.  I think we may have to return!

            And, as an aside: as if to compensate for the less-than-enchanting edifice of the main concrete building, the 2004 addition of the extremely beautiful glass-fronted, scallop-shaped  Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries has helped immensely in redeeming the site on the aesthetic front.  It also houses labs and offices as well as a stunning auditorium – and, of course, an aquarium.

Marine mammal skeletons

Skeletons of various marine animals instill an appreciation of scale and size

Further information on the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and its extensive program offerings can be found at the website:


            The centre is located at 100 Pachena Road in East Bamfield

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.83528900115949  Long. -125.13547897338867

N 48 50.117  W 125 08.129

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Big Qualicum Regional Trail

Pool at Big Qualicum River Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A fisherman’s delight – one of the pools along the Big Qualicum

There isn’t anything much better on a warm Summer afternoon than exploring new-to-us territory, so we recently set out to the Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery and the many miles of trails that snake along both sides of this lovely spot. By the end of our 1 1/2 hour excursion I found myself wondering why it had taken so long for us to check out this marvellous spot.

Rapids on the Big Qualicum River

Rapids along the Big Qualicum River

The Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery proper is dedicated to increasing populations of Pacific Salmon. It is the first of the modern enhancement programs in British Columbia, and serves as the hub for the Rosewall and Little Qualicum facilities. Tours are available for those so inclined, but our goal was to explore the hiking opportunities that abound in the area.

Stump and root of upended old-growth tree at Big Qualicum River, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

This is the upended root of an old-growth tree that obviously toppled many years ago – there were two large trees growing from it, reaching for the light

It took us a little bit to track down the start of what is known as the Big Qualicum Regional Trail which, essentially, is a 10 kilometre (6 1/4 mile) unused gravel access road that leads almost all the way to the Horne Lake Caves. We discovered a sign leading to the trail to the far right of the spacious parking lot and set off, wondering what the afternoon would bring.

Trail sign on Big Qualicum Regional Trail

Once you actually find the head of the Big Qualicum Regional Trail signage is pretty good

A few minutes out in the sun and dust of the gravel road convinced us to follow the signs for the cooler and shadier Cutthroat Trail, which meanders alongside the river, past small rapids and quiet pools. We paused frequently to admire our surroundings, and eventually came upon a rustic bridge composed of a single long, sturdy log (with, thankfully, rope strung along its length to aid balance and navigation).

Log bridge over Big Qualicum River, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Two views of the rustic and perfectly serviceable log bridge

Log bridge over Big Qualicum River, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaAcross the bridge we headed along the Steelhead Trail, through shady forest, up and down several sets of well-constructed stairs and along the river bank. The serenity and beauty of this trail is all-encompassing – a lovely retreat. We eventually found our way back to the parking lot after following the trail as it abutted a chain link fence. The pathway isn’t quite as well marked at this stage, a point worth noting. The noise from an excavator working on a hatchery project also indicated that we were getting close to reaching our vehicle.

Wooden stairwell at Big Qualicum Regional Trail, Qualicum Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Good shoes and good knees required for the multiple stairwells

We hiked a total of 5.75 kilometres (3.6 miles) in just over 1 1/2 hours, taking our time to enjoy our surroundings and the quiet beauty of the river and the spawning channels (which, incidentally, are much more ‘natural’ than the set-up at the Little Qualicum Hatchery). This is not a difficult walk, but good shoes (and good knees to traverse the stairwells) are recommended.

Further information on the Big Qualicum Regional Trail can be found at:


The Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery is located in the Qualicum Bay area.

From the Inland Island Hwy (19), take the Horne Lake exit (75). Follow Horne Lake Road until you pass the railroad tracks and take the next left (continuing onto Horne Lake Road). On your immediate left (you will see a Big Qualicum Hatchery sign), turn onto the gravel road (River Road). Follow that down to the hatchery parking lot.

From the Island Hwy (19A), take the exit on Horne Lake Road. Take the first right onto a gravel road (River Road) and continue until you reach the hatchery parking lot.

GPS Co-ordinates for the Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery are:

Lat. : 49.393766 Long.: -124.616646

  49° 23′ 37.5576” N124° 36′ 59.9256” W


Rob’s Lighthouse Eatery in Cowichan Bay

Fish and chips at Rob's Lighthouse Eatery, Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaEating outdoors is a rite of summer for us, whether we are at home or on the road. It is one of the great pleasures of the season, especially when a dining experience turns up a happy new find like Rob’s Lighthouse Eatery, located on the main drag in Cowichan Bay.

We have traipsed ‘through’ this place countless times during our visits to the pretty seaside village – the community walkway cuts between the the Rob’s Lighthouse Eatery food dispensary and its covered outdoor eating area. We finally stopped long enough to sample the fare during a trip back from Victoria. We were in search of lunch, and the menu at this place certainly didn’t disappoint.

Covered patio at Rob's Lighthouse Eatery, cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, British columbia

The covered patio offeres protection from the elements and great people watching

The culinary offerings included breakfast plates, paninis, hamburgers, wraps, salads, seafood – and a kids menu. We both had a hankering for fish and chips on this particular day, so broke our standing rule of each ordering something different with the intent of reporting more variety in the blog posts. Judging by what arrived at the tables of others dining at Rob’s fish and chips are a perennial favourite. One table ordered wraps that they deemed delicious and very filling (no surprise, judging by the size of them).

We ordered at the window and settled in to a corner table under cover that allowed us to enjoy the various lighthouse-themed items that adorn Rob’s. There are several tables beyond the covered area as well, and a pretty water fountain featuring – you guessed it – lighthouses.

Lighthouse water feature at Rob's Lighthouse Eatery, Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The water feature next to the patio includes, of course, lighthouses

Lunch arrived within a reasonable amount of time. A large, lightly-battered piece of flavourful cod arrived atop some of the best hand-cut fries I have had the pleasure of consuming. The fish batter was light and crispy, and the chips were crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Clearly, Rob’s has mastered the art of the perfect French fry! The meal was accompanied by a generous scoop of really good cole slaw finished with a light dill dressing – a nice change from the usual pre-made stuff that often arrives with a plate of fish and chips. Even the tartar sauce was special.

Having now sampled Rob’s fish and chips I am keen to return and try some of their other menu items. The prawns look especially appealing.

sign for Rob's Lighthouse Eatery, Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaSo, a nice meal diversion if you are traipsing around Cowichan Bay and looking for a generous, freshly-prepared meal served with good sides and great cheer. Our lunch was large enough, in fact, that it became our dinner, and I didn’t have to cook that night. Another advantage to eating at this charming little place!

Further information about Rob’s Lighthouse Eatery can be found on their Facebook page.

Price rating: $

The eatery is located at 1751 Cowichan Bay Road, Cowichan Bay.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.740540 Long.: -123.621133

 48° 44′ 25.944” N 123° 37′ 16.0788” W