About Alert Bay and Area

The Village of Alert Bay

Often referred to as “Home of the Orca,” the Village of Alert Bay is located on Cormorant Island at the top of Johnstone Strait.  Across the Strait is the resort community of Telegraph Cove.

The oldest community on northern Vancouver Island, Alert Bay was once a key trading post for First Nations people and merchant mariners. The island was named after a coastal cruiser, the H.M.S. Cormorant in 1846 and Alert Bay derived its name from the H.M.S. Alert, which was stationed on the northwest coast in 1858.

Today, Alert Bay has a population of about 1,200 comprised of the Village of Alert Bay, the ‘Namgis First Nation and Whe-la-la-u and Area Council. The island is accessible by a 30 minute ferry ride which departs six times as day from Port McNeill.

Industry began when two European entrepreneurs, S.A. Spencer and Wesley Huson, decided that Cormorant Island, was a good place to set up a salmon saltery. With the access to the large salmon runs up the Nimpkish River, the traditional home of the Namgis, Alert Bay developed into the largest commercial fishing town along the east coast of Vancouver Island. Today remnants of the old fishery and historic buildings from another era  still stand. The spring once dammed to supply water to the cannery has now created a unique marsh area, home to an abundance of birdlife and walking trails.

Alert Bay is also known as the home of the Orca and one can find whale watching tours departing from the docks daily from June to September. If you are lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, you might even see a pod of orcas as you walk along the ocean road. Also located on the island is a  grocery store, hardware, post office, bank, visitor centre, pharmacy and Library-Museum with photos and artifacts from the regions pioneers.

The most visited attraction in Alert Bay is the Umista Cultural Centre which houses the Native masks and artifacts of local First Nations People. Other attractions include the original Namgis Burial Grounds, which can viewed from the road. Here beautifully carved and colourful totem poles have been erected in memory those who have passed away. Not to be missed is the worlds’ largest totem pole next to the First Nations Big House just up from the U’mista Cultural Centre. In the summer time dance performances are put on for the general public by the T’sasala Cultural Group.

Today, Alert Bay has a population of about 1,200 comprised of the Village of Alert Bay, the ‘Namgis First Nation and Whe-la-la-u and Area Council. The island is accessible by a 30 minute ferry ride which departs six times as day from Port McNeill.

The area is rich in aboriginal history and is primarily populated by the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The U’mista Cultural Centre is an internationally-known facility that houses one of the finest collections of historical artifacts depicting the Potlatch Ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw. Ruins of native villages and culturally modified trees can be found on nearby islands.

The natural beauty of the island has not been altered by large developments or crowds. Travellers can sea kayak, rent a mountain bike, explore the Island’s hiking trails, and rarely see other tourists. Most beaches are accessible by foot. The world-renowned Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, a favoured rubbing beach for killer whales, is just 30 minutes away by boat. Alert Bay is an ideal place to unwind and enjoy a place that appears to have stood still for half a century.

While Alert Bay’s economy is still influenced by commercial fishing, it has gained a reputation as an “off the beaten path” tourism destination emphasizing First Nations culture, its natural environment and eco-tours. Educational institutions throughout the world regularly station researchers here to study First Nations culture and the pristine marine habitat, including Orcas.

Alert Bay Lodge is located two kilometers south of the BC Ferry Terminal at 549 Fir Street, an oceanside road adjacent to the ferry terminal.

Johnstone Strait

Located between the northeastern end of Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, this glacier-carved waterway of 87 kilometers stretches from Chatham Point to Hanson Island, with Vancouver Island on the south and the rugged mainland coast on the north. Intricate and remote island archipelagos, refuges bays and deep fjords characterize the area. Luxuriant forests ringed by snow-capped mountains create an inspiring backdrop for kayaking, bear viewing and whale watching.

The Robson Bight (Michael Biggs) Ecological Reserve lies 22 kilometers south of Alert Bay in Johnstone Strait. Pods of Orcas return here each summer to rub themselves on the barnacle-encrusted rocks, pebbles and gravel sea floor. Attracted by the annual salmon runs that begin in late June, these mammals are the top predator in Johnstone Strait. Orcas can sometimes be viewed from the balcony of Alert Bay Lodge.

Knight Inlet

Located about a two-hour boat ride south of Alert Bay, Knight Inlet is a fjord that juts 105 kilometers deep into the wilderness of the British Columbia mainland. As one of the largest fjords on the B.C. coast, Knight Inlet offers its visitors spectacular scenery amidst steep cliffs that fall away to the deep blues and greens of the glacial-fed water. Silence reigns here, broken only by the slap of the water against the shore and the thunder of nearby waterfalls, intermingled with the cries of seabirds.

This area is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia. Starting in late April the bears return to the estuary from hibernation and start the year off feeding on the sedges, succulents, grasses and barnacles that abound in the estuaries. This luxuriant spring growth provides the basic nutritional needs for the bears and draws them from the mountains down to the estuary. From mid August to late September, as the salmon return to the river, it is not uncommon for up to 50 bears to be seen within five miles along the shoreline. Grizzly bear watching excursions can be arranged at Alert Bay Lodge.

About Us

The Managers

Each season we hire couples from across the globe with hospitality backgrounds in front desk, meal preparation and serving, and housekeeping. The couples develop the menu, so each season reflects different international cuisine. These couples inject an energy and passion that delight our guests and underscore our commitment to customer service of the highest order. In 2022 we are pleased to welcome Pablo and Paula who will assume the helm of managers beginning May 1.

HI! WE’RE PAULA AND PABLO, AN INTERNATIONAL COUPLE who have lived, worked and eaten around the  world and are excited to bring our skills and energy to the Alert Bay Lodge.

 Just landed from London, UK, and having lived in six countries across three continents over the last 20 years, we are thrilled to be able to use our knowledge of travel and hospitality to welcome visitors to the beauty and tradition of Cormorant Island. Our curiosity and our love of food means we also bring with us an international, eclectic vision of what comfort food should be.  See you soon!

More about us:
Starting his working life as an oceanographer took Pablo to Namibia. He then moved to coffee trading, which has enabled him to build his expertise in fair trade and organic produce. Studying a Professional Cook Certification has given Pablo the push to put his skills to use preparing food for the Lodge guests. Check out his Instagram baldaio74 to see some of his delicious ideas. As Pablo was born on the Costa de Muerte of northern Spain, he’s very excited to again be able to look out of his windows at the sea.

Paula’s secondary career as a teacher and teacher trainer has enabled her to work in a range of countries and with very
diverse groups of people of all ages. She has a culinary Certificate in Pastry Arts from the the French Pastry School, which has helped her to feed her love of making pastries, cookies and other treats. Being at Alert Bay Lodge now brings Paula back to her British Columbian roots. She has missed the friendly folk and fantastic scenery of B.C. Her Instagram, can be found here at paula2632.

The Owners

A number of years ago (don’t ask how long ago but was before parenthood) we stayed at a very-hard-to-find beachfront near Santiago de Cuba. The place had four basic rooms and a spectacular view of the ocean – pretty much standard fare in Cuba. But what made this property exceptional was the service. We were not over-served by any stretch – the staff were just there when they needed to be, almost as if they had ESP. A few years later when we saw what is now Alert Bay Lodge for sale in 1999, we knew fortune had smiled on us.

This 3000 sq. ft. building was constructed by First Nations in 1961 as the United Church for the island. Since then the building has had a number of identities. Many renovations later, Alert Bay Lodge is now, we believe, fulfilling its ordained role as an ambassador with local character for people that come from far and wide to visit Alert Bay. We live in Victoria, BC, from where we run Midnight Sun Adventure Travel, a tour company specializing in adventure tours of western Canada.

Scott and Nina starting the Nootka Trail