A Trip to Bamfield
by Joshua Heller, Tofino
Tofino and even Ucluelet may well be the headlining acts of the west coast, but there is a lesser known supporting act in the tiny village of Bamfield. South of Ucluelet, through the Broken Group Islands and Barkley Sound, lies a charming community, ideal for anyone looking to escape the big city of Tofino.
The Ferry for Bamfield leaves from Ucluelet and takes a meandering and fascinating route through a chain of islands with a history as unique and important as any in bc. The whales, sealions, eagles and bears, whilst always a thrill to see and undeniably majestic, are not what makes this particular journey unique. First mate Given Popowich is more than willing to impart his knowledge of the local area to Ferry Passengers willing to learn about the history of the place.
Just prior to the 1700s this area was the most densely populated in North America. A tragic tsunami wiped out half of the people, bringing the numbers down to 7000. Evidence has been found of people living on the Broken Group Islands up to 5000 years ago and it is one of the most important archeological areas for that time period. Whilst this archeological treasure isn't visible from the boat, there is a certain thrill to traversing waters that seep with history.
Bamfield is a literally a town of two halves. Separated by an inlet right down the middle, which effectively serves as a high street. The east side of town is the only part accessible by road. It is here the Ferry is likely to drop passengers off, with an exploration of the west side possible by a brief water taxi ride. From the dock, a short walk up a steep hill leads to the Marine Science Centre. This is one of the main cogs in the machine of Bamfield. It employs a significant proportion of Bamfield's population and attracts visitors as well as researchers. There are a number of tanks containing sea life from the local area. The Touch Tank provides entertainment for the young and discomfort for the squeamish. Scientists here are happy to answer questions and pick out the elusive, swifter creatures. The centre is by no means a full-blown aquarium but does provide an interesting look at local fauna, particularly for those with little previous knowledge of it.
It is from the Marine Science Centre that a walking tour leaves every weekday at 11am. The tour goes through the building and the surrounding area, exploring the history of Bamfield. It tells of the building of the telegraph station and the laying of cable all the way to Australia. Whilst it gives a good history of the village, the Marine Science Centre and the unique Abalone farm, it should be noted that the tour is an hour long and very detailed. Kids under 10 will probably tolerate but resent it, under 6s will definitely tire of it and resent you.
It is the west side of the Island that gives Bamfield its individual charm. The lack of road access completely cuts it off. There are a couple of roads there though, with vehicles having been brought in on barges. The cars there extol a certain melancholy, knowing this will be there final resting place. The genuinely empty Brady's beach is only a short walk, and further hiking trails lead to the Cape Beale lighthouse and even more deserted beaches.
Bamfield looks out across the idyllic waters of Barkley Sound. It is here that kayaking trips can be made with very little passing traffic.
The water conditions through Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands are usually much less extreme than those on other parts of the west coast and less experienced kayakers will find it easier going.
The few boats that do pass by are likely to be sport fishermen, with Bamfield, like Tofino, being a base for some of the best sport fishing on the west coast.
Walking around Bamfield gives a sense of its genuine small town character. Not only are few people seen but also when locals do see each other it is guaranteed they will know each other. Perhaps when people hear of Tofino, this is what they imagine. Told of a sleepy fishing village on the west coast many visitors to Tuff City are surprised by the tourists outnumbering locals ten to one. A trip to Bamfield may be what they are looking for. An isolated and tiny community that is quiet and deserted in the middle of the day in the height of summer. Yet construction in Bamfield is increasing by the day as more and more people experience its charm.
to be explored, perhaps before it's too late.
Passenger Ferry service from Ucluelet to Bamfield is provided by Seaway Express. Call 1-877-726-7002 for more information.
Josh Heller works at Tony's Pizza. He lives in London but spends his summers in Tofino whenever he can.