The town of Port McNeill was established in 1936, and was named after William McNeill, a Boston-born explorer for the Hudson's Bay Company. It was the first town to be incorporated under the new Canadian Constitution on February 18, 1966.
Port McNeill is the gateway to the Broughton Archipelago and is the centre for outdoor recreation and eco-tourism.
Port McNeill is located on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, 195 km (120 mi) North of Campbell River and 43 km (27 mi) south of Port Hardy. The top half of 280-mile-long Vancouver Island is served by a maze of logging roads and Highway 19 (north Island Highway), which links Campbell River with Port McNeill and Port Hardy, the southern terminus of BC Ferries' Inside Passage and Discovery Coast routes.
In Port McNeill are shops, galleries, a museum housed in a beautiful log building, a full-service marina, and harbour. A stroll along the scenic seawall brings you to the start of the Schoolhouse Creek Trail and a protected fish habitat. There is a 1938 steam donkey, once used in logging operations, and the world's largest burl, weighing 24-tons and estimated at more than 525 years old. Nearby, is the 3.5 hectare Shephard's Garden which showcases perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees, as well as a forest trail to the Nimpkish River.
Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park, located south of Port McNeill offers a rugged wilderness experience in a remote setting at the south end of Nimpkish Lake. The park protects old-growth coastal western hemlock forests in the Tlakwa Creek watershed, which features high ecological and wildlife values. Opportunities for nature appreciation, backcountry skiing, mountaineering and wilderness camping exist at this park, which is home to black-tailed deer and a variety of other wildlife.
Broughton Archipelago Provincial Marine Park, BC's largest marine park, consists of a wonderful collection of dozens of undeveloped islands and islets situated at the mouth of Knight Inlet on the west side of Queen Charlotte Strait near the north end of Vancouver Island. Established in 1992, Broughton Archipelago Provincial Marine Park offers excellent boating, kayaking and wildlife viewing opportunities. A multitude of islands provides park visitors sheltered waters and anchorages with a backdrop of the magnificent coastal mountains to the east and the waters of Queen Charlotte Strait to the west. These islands have been utilized by First Nation peoples for generations and there is ample evidence of their extensive use of the area. Kayakers and boaters can easily discover white midden beaches, culturally modified trees, clam "terraces" and even a petroglyph while exploring the park.
The Port McNeill Boat Harbour is open year-round for both commercial and pleasure boaters. It is centrally located for all services and has become a major re-supply point for travelers up and down the coast of British Columbia.
Cape Scott Provincial Park is a truly magnificent area of rugged coastal wilderness that is located at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, 43 km ( 27 mi) northwest of Port Hardy. Established in 1973 and named after the site of a lighthouse that has guided mariners since 1960, Cape Scott is characterized by more than 115 km (70 mi) of scenic ocean frontage, including 30 km (19 mi) of spectacular remote beaches. The park stretches from Shushartie Bay in the east, then westward around Cape Scott and south to San Josef Bay. Rocky promontories, salt marshes and jagged headlands punctuate the fine-textured, white-sand beaches. The most impressive of these beaches, Nels Bight, stretches more than 2,400 m (2,600 yds) long and 210 m (690 ft) wide at low tide, and is one of the Park's most popular camping destinations. Other significant beaches include San Josef Bay, Guise Bay, Experiment Bight, Lowrie Bay and Nissen Bight. Visitors can choose between a day hike or a backpacking excursion to explore the sandy beaches, rainforests and lowland bogs and muskeg of this wilderness park. Anyone contemplating a visit to Cape Scott Provincial Park should be prepared for such adverse weather conditions as high winds and heavy rain, which are common at all times of the year.
Seals, porpoises, and bald eagles are abundant while sailing these beautiful waters. You may even encounter whales while enjoying the breathtaking scenery and tranquility this area has to offer. Nearby Nimpkish Lake, the biggest and most beautiful watershed, is rated as world-class for windsurfing, but unpredictable weather, especially high winds, makes it a lake to be respected by canoeists. Wind surfing is also enjoyed in the ocean bordering Port McNeill.
Kayaking is the best way to explore the crevices and crannies of the Vancouver Island coastline, especially in shallow waters and near shoals. For the more experienced paddler, you can rent kayaks and plan your own self-guided adventure into the ancient archipelagos.
Ocean canoeing is a pastime that requires a healthy respect for the power and unforgiving nature of the sea. Navigation charts, accurate tide guides and tables are essential if you are planning a saltwater trip or into tidal rivers. Dozens of lakes are accessible to canoes on the North Island. Bonanza, Benson, Alice, Georgie, O'Conner, Keough, Misty, Three Isle, Beaver, and Victoria are all local and easy to drive to and are all rated as safe and protected well from wind and currents.
Spring salmon (Chinook, King and Tyee) can weigh in at over 30 lb. and Halibut over 100 lb. are common. Fishing from the shore is also popular around Ledge Point, on the Lady Ellen beach side, or at Bere Point on the Northwest tip of Malcolm Island where you can catch the Pink Salmon by casting off at the water's edge. There are also many freshwater fishing holes. Fly-fishing is particularly good in the streams made accessible by logging roads. Lake trout include cutthroat trout, rainbow and steelhead. Port McNeill has many professional guides with years of experience in BC waters, with boats available for fishing, diving and sightseeing charters.
The area has some of the most exciting caving adventures in the world. Due to the unique geography of Vancouver Island, and its location within a series of Karst systems, the region is ripe for exploring. Cavers can discover both surface and underground geological formations such as, stalactites and stalagmites, sink holes, disappearing and reappearing rivers and, of course, caves. Some caves in the area cater to the inexperienced, including Little Huson Cave Regional Park. For the more experienced spelunker only, there are the Artlish River Caves, Eternal Fountain and Devil's Bath. Information and guides are available.
Hiking, beachcombing, and storm-watching will fill your days while you're here. There are trails and beaches weaving through every inch of the North Island. You may not see another soul as you wander along the shores and under the windswept canopies of the forests.
If you're a powder buff, Port McNeill also boasts the second highest ski face on the Island. Mount Cain has a vertical drop of 450 metres, and claims to have some of the best powder runs in all of the province. You will also find groomed cross country ski trails at the base of Mount Cain, and alpine hiking is popular in the summer months when blueberries grow wild in abundance. During ski season a shuttle bus from Port McNeill takes skiers back and forth from the community.
Divers visiting the North Island will soon discover why the Pacific Northwest is rated as one of the best diving locations in the world. Temperate waters along with some of the strongest tidal influences have provided this area with its unique marine life. There are superb shore dives on the North Island, but to experience the full beauty of inner space northern style, one must get out with a charter boat and an experienced dive master.
Killer whales, the great orcas, travel in pods of up to twenty or more, and are easily identified by their large black dorsal fins and unique white markings near their mouths and on their bellies. See them in their natural environment, watch them breach the surface, suspended in a mid-air dance, or sharing passage with the towering fins of the gentle whales. Commercial whale watching has become part of the economic base here on the North Island and protecting these wondrous mammals - and their main food, salmon - has become of utmost importance to residents.
Charter a boat, or a plane, and explore a wilderness area consisting of a maze of several small islands, numerous islets and adjacent foreshore. Evidence of early native settlement of these islands can be found in the petroglyphs carved onto a rock wall on Berry Island, close to an area known traditionally as the Chief's Bathtub. Local legend recounts how the First Nations people heated the basin with hot rocks and used the 'bathtub' for ceremonial purposes. Incredible day trips are also available to great spots in Port McNeill, Port Hardy and Quatsino narrows. These three distinct areas each have their own special flavour to add to your vacation.
Town of Port McNeill
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia