From First Nations culture to marine ecology, utopian settlements to logging, fishing and mining, Vancouver Island North boasts a surprisingly diverse range of cultural treasure boxes packed with colorful displays and exhibits.
• Go back to the source at the Port Hardy Museum and Archives, which houses artifacts from a local archeological dig at Bear Cove – the oldest known site of human habitation on Vancouver Island (circa 5850 BCE). Exhibits change regularly while shining thematic lights on First Nations history, the Hudson’s Bay Company and European settlement.
• The U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay is rated far and wide as one of Canada’s finest museums with its unparalleled collection of potlatch regalia. Modeled after a big house, it is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. The gift shop features superb jewelry, carvings, textiles and more.
• Forestry has been the North Island’s leading commercial activity since European settlers arrived in the 1860s. Based in a sturdy log house, the Port McNeill Heritage Museum traces local history with archival photos, exhibits and vintage logging equipment.
• An easy walk from the ferry landing, the Sointula Museum is home to artifacts, archival records and displays related to the colourful history of Malcolm Island. A primary focus is on the Finnish immigrants who arrived here in the 1880s to launch a short-lived utopian commune.
• Boaters heading northwest across the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound are advised to linger in Echo Bay and visit Bill Proctor’s Museum and Gift Shop. The author and life-long area resident has collected fascinating memorabilia from the logging, fishing and trapping eras.
• Telegraph Cove’s family friendly Whale Interpretive Centre is dedicated to raising public awareness about the fragile ecosystem and migratory inhabitants of the Johnstone Strait. Highlights include interactive displays, a kid’s corner, educational films and the skeletal remains of whales, otters, dolphins and other regional wildlife.
• The Port Alice Heritage Centre above the fire hall offers a look at the town’s intriguing history. It’s also the site of the Visitor Information Centre and a gift shop that sells locally made art, crafts, fashion items, greeting cards, honey and jams.