The oldest community in northern Vancouver Island, BC, is the little fishing village of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, and the sea around is home to large pods of Orcas, or killer whales. Alert Bay is a key destination for people seeking a great whale watching adventure.Close by are Knight Inlet and Kingcome Inlet on the mainland, which are also popular whale-watching destinations.
Alert Bay was home to the Namgis First Nations for thousands of years and was an important trading centre for the early residents. It is now know for housing some of the best First Nations’ historical artifacts, paintings, photographs, and totem poles. In Alert Bay, you can combine your whale-watching excursion with a cultural and historical experience that you will remember for years.
A Whale Watching Hotspot
Exceptionally large pods of Orcas visit Alert Bay and the surrounding area on a regular basis. Over 200 of these magnificent sea mammals reside full time in this area from June to October, and are visible even from the land, although the best views will come during a whale-watching excursion when you are right out there on the water.
Because of the large gatherings of killer whales in the area, Dr. Paul Spong, a world-renowned whale researcher, developed the Orca Lab on neighboring Hanson Island. With the regular sightings of Orcas in this area, a growing number of expeditions and eco-tours are now available here.
Other Attractions in Alert Bay
Aside from the opportunity to experience some great whale watching, kayaking, eco-touring, biking, and hiking, you can delve into the island’s rich cultural heritage of natives and non-natives:
- Step back in time as you visit the historic sites in Alert Bay. The Library-Museum showcases Kwakwaka’wakw artifacts and a collection of historic photographs, and don’t miss the Old Power House and St. George’s Chapel.
- Drive by the Namgis Burial Grounds, an ancient native cemetery, and see the carved memorial totem poles on their original site, still untouched.The burial grounds are not open to the public, but you can see the totem poles from the road, and The Info Centre has a brochure that supplies details.
- View the wonderful carved cedar masks of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation when you visit the U’mista Cultural Centre. The centre was designed to link the past, present, and future of the Kwakwaka’wakw, and you will find a wonderful display of Northwest Coast art and cultural items.
- The town is famous for having the world’s tallest totem pole, measuring 173 feet and carved by six Kwakwaka’wakw artists. Unlike the usual totem poles that are carved for specific families, the 14 figures on this totem represent several tribes of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation.
- Be sure and see the Alert Bay Big House, built in 1963, and modeled on the traditional home of the Kwakwaka’wakw. It is used primarily for pot latches, or ceremonial feasts. The original Big House burned down in 1997 but was rebuilt and reopened in 1999.
- The T’sasala Cultural Group performs in the community’s Big House every summer season, and also performs for visiting cruise ships and special events. The songs and dances have been pre-approved by the Elders and they believe them to be unchanged since given to the original tribe by the Creator.
- The beautiful Christ Church has an amazing window that portrays 100 years of the island’s history. The church was prefabricated in England and shipped to the island.
Stay for Awhile
You can choose from a variety of accommodations in Alert Bay, and will be welcomed at one of the inns, hotels, cabins, campgrounds, or bed and breakfasts.If you are interested in unique arts and crafts, you’ll enjoy checking out Alert Bay’s studios, galleries, and little shops.
The village offers a full array of services such as ATMs, gift shops, pharmacy, liquor store, laundry, gym and a full-service salon, all within walking distance of the ferry.Various restaurants are also conveniently situated in the downtown area.
If you travel to Alert Bay by boat, you can find safe moorage as well as shower and laundry facilities at the government wharf and breakwater located near the marine fuel docks.
To find transportation options for traveling to various whale-watching hotspots, check out our Vancouver Island travel page.
Republished under Creative Commons License from West Coast Aquatic Safaris, an acclaimed Bear Watching, Whale Watching, Hot Springs Cove Tour Co & Marine Charter Co in Tofino, BC on the famed west coast of Vancouver Island. Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.