POPULATION: 36,000 (2011)
MUST DO: Cruise Ship Spotting, Discovery Fishing Pier, Roderick Haig-Brown Festival
Known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Campbell River is famous for its salmon fishing, scenic natural beauty and wealth of Native Indian history.
Located on East Vancouver Island, Campbell River is at the southern doorway through the Inside Passage, the narrow body of water separating Vancouver Island from the Discovery Islands. The passage, where the warm waters of Georgia Strait meet cold northern waters, provides the perfect feeding grounds for chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon.
Native Indians first settled the area. For thousands of years they gathered along the shores of Campbell River, stocking up on the bounty offered by the sea and the cedar from the surrounding forests.
It was not until 1792, when Captain George Vancouver sailed up Georgia Strait, that Europeans discovered the area. Aboard Vancouver’s ship was Dr. Samuel Campbell, after whom the city was named. But it would be over 100 years – when Sir Richard Musgrave, a British journalist, wrote about the huge chinook salmon – before the world really knew about the area and its abundance of salmon.
Salmon fishing started Campbell River on the road to international fame as the Salmon Fishing Capital of the World, (Port Alberni may argue that claim), attracting the rich and famous and the everyday tourists. The amenities back then were basic, with tents along the shore the going accommodation.
While fishing has been the backbone of the tourism industry, the forest became the backbone of the economy. The huge cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, balsam and hemlock forests fed the sawmills, attracting more and more people to the region. The growth of the area has been quick, going from 2,000 people when the city was incorporated in 1947 to nearly 30,000 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1997.
All the while, the salmon continued to fuel the tourism industry, and a variety of accommodations were built, ranging from rustic cabins to luxurious lodges. The area also has a number of campgrounds, RV parks and bed and breakfasts.
When the bite is ‘off’, which is rare, visitors can hit the vibrant business sections, stopping in at the many stores that cater to the tourist crowd. When done shopping, you can wander to Discovery Pier, Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier. There, you can grab an ice cream cone, throw a line in the water and wait for a strike. If you’re all fished-out, just sit back and enjoy the cruise ships as they sail past Campbell River on their way to Alaska. Or stroll the waterfront Seawalk, which stretches along much of the shoreline. Keep an eye open for Big Rock, a huge boulder along the shore that, in Indian lore, was a bear turned to stone when his jump from the mainland to Vancouver Island fell just shy of land.
Had enough of the water? Then take a day to hike on any of the hundreds of trails that wander through the surrounding forests.
One of the more popular is the Campbell River Trail, a six-kilometer easy hike that follows the river to the John Hart generating station, crosses in front of the powerhouse, then meanders back along the river to the bridge. A little further west is Elk Falls Provincial Park. There, an easy hike takes you into a canyon and its 50-meter waterfall. Another popular trail is the nine-kilometer, two-hour moderate hike to Seymour Narrows, the site of the infamous Ripple Rock. In 1958, in the largest non-nuclear explosion ever, the rock, actually two jagged peaks lurking just under the surface of the water that claimed hundreds of ships, was blown up.
Since its first rustic days, Campbell River has grown and so has its outlook on tourism. With nature right at its doorstep, it has become the jumping off point for eco-tourism adventures. Killer whale and grizzly bear watching, bald eagles, sea lions, seals, seabirds, nature trails, and swimming down the Campbell River with huge salmon are just a few of the new attractions. Some of these trips come completely packaged, with flight, hotel room, meals and transportation to and from the airport.
Whatever your desire – fishing, nature tours or just a stroll along the ocean – you will be hooked on Campbell River.
If You Go To Campbell River…
BY ROAD: If you’re coming from the south end of Vancouver Island, there are two highways (Hwy. 19 and the Inland Island Hwy.) that will take you to Campbell River. Hwy. 19, also known as the Island Highway, is the scenic route, taking you through the many small towns that dot the east coast of Vancouver Island. While speeds are somewhat slow, the beauty of the coastal trip and the charming towns and villages make for a pleasant drive. Coming from Victoria, the drive on Hwy. 19 will take between four and five hours. If you’re looking for a faster trip, the Inland Island Highway can get you from Victoria to Campbell River in about 3.5 hours.
Travelers from the north will be on Hwy. 19, with a trip from Port Hardy taking about three hours.
BY AIR: Scheduled airline connections are out of Vancouver to the Campbell River Airport. Floatplane travel is to Tyee Spit, by the downtown area. Check with your travel agent or airline for schedules.