POPULATION: 2500 (2011)
MUST DO: Explore the many limestone cave formations; Visit the U’Mista Cultural Centre
Small-town hospitality is what you’ll find in Port McNeill, a community of 2,500 on North Vancouver Island.
Named for Capt. William McNeill, the skipper of the Hudson Bay’s trading vessel, the Beaver, the village offers tourists everything needed for exploring the region, including the wild and rugged Nimpkish Valley and its endless miles of logging roads. (Caution must be used as many of the roads are active.)
The ruggedness of the area offers some great wilderness camping, including Bonanza and Maynard lakes. The Keogh Main logging road takes you to Maynard Lake and a wealth of rivers and hiking trails. If you want to go underground, check out the cave system about 40-kilometers west of the village. Organized tours can be arranged.
Port McNeill is also the jumping off point for visitors to the historic villages of Alert Bay and Sointula.
Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island, a burial ground for the Namgis People, was first settled by Europeans in 1870 when a small salt fishery operation was established. Accessed by ferry out of Port McNeill, Alert Bay is a thriving village of 1,300 famed for its native heritage. This heritage can be seen in the U’mista Cultural Centre, which has one of the finest collections of west coast native artifacts in the world.
For the outdoor enthusiast, Alert Bay offers killer whales right off the harbor, the Gator Gardens boardwalk and its interesting tidal waters and salmon fishing right in the harbor. The island has a number of bed and breakfasts and small hotels.
Sointula, on Malcolm Island, was founded by Finnish settlers at the turn of the century. A 25-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill, Sointula has a number of art and craft shops and a museum.
IF YOU GO
BY ROAD: From Port Hardy, take Hwy. 19 (the Island Highway) south. Port McNeill is 44 kilometers, less than a half hour, away. From the south, take the Inland Island Highway north from Nanaimo. Connect to the Island Highway at Mud Bay; continue north through Campbell River. The 350-kilometer trip takes six to seven hours.
BY AIR: Scheduled airline connections are out of Vancouver to Port Hardy airport. Floatplane travel is also available. Check with your travel agent or airline for schedules.