Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Hornby Island was the territory of the Pentlatch, a Coast Salish First Nations band. Being semi-nomadic, they used the island seasonally, gathering resources and fishing from its shores. In 1791, the Spanish named the island 'Isla de Lerena', but the British later renamed it 'Hornby Island', after Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby, who was at that time the Commander of the Pacific Station.
By 1850, there were practically no Pentlatch left due to sickness, slave raids, and the movement of people into their territory from the north. At the end of the 1860s, George Ford, one of the earliest recorded settlers, moved from his settlement in Comox to Hornby Island. Other settlers followed. By the turn of the century, Hornby Island had become a fairly prosperous farming community, although many who came to farm found the sale of logs from the clearing of land more profitable than the farming itself.
Hornby Island is located off the eastern shore of central Vancouver Island, east of Denman Island and opposite Buckley Bay, 20 km (12 mi) south of Courtenay and 86 km (53 mi) or one hour drive north of Nanaimo.
Ferry service is from Buckley Bay to Denman Island, then a drive across Denman Island to the Hornby Ferry Terminal and then ferry to Hornby Island. Water Taxi service is also available.
Tribune Bay on Hornby Island is close to paradise. Nicknamed "Little Hawaii", the white sandy beaches of Tribune Bay stretch endlessly to meet an aquamarine sea. Boasting close to 1 km (.5 mi) of fine white sand beach, the south-facing Tribune Bay is easily one of the most spectacular on the east side of Vancouver Island. Here, shallow waters meet near tropical temperatures during the summer and the bay is considered to be one of the warmest salt water swimming areas in BC. If you visit the park in the spring you'll be treated to a dazzling display of wildflowers cloaking the hillsides along the beach. In the summer, dark blue salal berries and edible red huckleberries provide colourful contrast to the white sand and unusual rock formations along the shoreline. A five-minute stroll for Tribune Bay will lead you to "downtown" Hornby Island, an eclectic community with a unique assortment of shops and services. You may also choose to go sightseeing along the bluffs at Helliwell Park, just around the corner from Tribune Bay.
Helliwell Provincial Park sits on a rocky headland forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. Located on St. John's Point on Hornby Island, the park was a gift to the people of British Columbia from John Helliwell. The stunning Helliwell bluffs guard the northern entrance to Tribune Bay. Spectacular views of marine life, the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountains can be had from any point along the bluffs. As you explore the park's meandering hiking and walking trails, you will find weather-beaten old-growth Douglas firs and gnarled Garry oaks, as well as flora and fauna which may seem more at home in a desert than in a Northwest rainforest. The best times to visit are in late April and early May, when colourful wildflowers carpet the hillside along the cliffs. A fairly new addition to Helliwell Park is Flora Islet, which sits off the end of St. John's Point. Flora Islet was designated as part of the park through the Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy and is one of only two locations in the world where divers can see the rare Six-gill shark. This primitive, deep-sea shark ascends from great depths to the relative shallows around Flora Islet, attracting scuba divers and marine biologists from around the world.
The waters around Hornby Island are full of a rich variety of marine life. In any season, you can encounter Giant Pacific octopus, wolf eels, harbour seals, large ling cod and rock fish, colourful anemones and nudibranchs. Hornby is also well known for its excellent 'big animal' dives. Sixgill sharks are probably the best-known reason to dive Hornby. Swimming beside a sixgill is an experience of a lifetime. During winter, Stellar's and California sea lions congregate near Hornby to feed on migrating herring. Their underwater acrobatics are a treat to watch. Good visibility and gentle currents make the Hornby Island area easy to dive. Drift dives, wall dives, deep dives, and sculpted sandstone reefs are all part of the underwater terrain.
Imagine the exhilaration of travelling atop the island's cliffs on your mountain bike. Then ride the Bench Trail with a 305 m (1,000 ft) ascent to get there. Trails criss-cross the island in all directions, and though the Bench Trail offers the best views, they are all worth exploring. From slick single-track to cliff-side trails with an ocean view, there are trails to suit every level of rider.
Hornby Island is an excellent place to experience ocean kayaking. Depending on the time of year, you will see eagles, seals, sea lions, whales, interesting intertidal life, and diverse bird species. The ocean air, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, the satisfaction of using your own power to move through the water; all contribute to a memorable experience. Hydrobiking is a combination of kayaking and biking, providing a unique and environmentally friendly way to explore the waters around Hornby Island.
Owing to the low elevation of most Gulf and Discovery Islands, walking routes and hiking trails are neither lengthy nor challenging. Some of the best trails are on Hornby Island and lead around Helliwell Provincial Park. A 5 km (3 mi) loop trail follows the Helliwell Bluffs that rise above the beach and lead through open fields and stands of magnificent old-growth Douglas fir. One of the best times to be here is in late April and early May, when wildflowers carpet the hillside above the beach.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia