Bamfield is populated by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people, who occupied large villages in the Broken Group and Deer Group Islands and at Execution Rock, Cape Beale and Grappler Inlet. Prior to contact with Europeans, the native population of Barkley Sound is estimated to have been between 3000 and 5000. Village sites, middens, fish traps, culturally modified trees, lookouts and fallen longhouses remain as part of the rich cultural heritage. Europeans founded a small fishing community here sometime in the late 1800s.
Bamfield was named after the first government agent of the area, Edder Banfield. In 1902, the Bamfield Cable station was constructed as the western terminus of a worldwide undersea cable called by some the All Red Line, as it passed only through countries and territories controlled by the British Empire, which were coloured red on the map. The cable initially went to Fanning Island, a tiny coral atoll in the mid-Pacific, and from there continued to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. A second building, made of concrete was built on the site in 1926 to replace the old wood structure. This building, designated a historic site in 1930, is now used by the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. In 1953 the cables were extended up the Alberni Inlet to Port Alberni and the station closed on June 20, 1959.
Commercial fishing was based in Bamfield until the mid 1980s, but today it is home to several sport fishing lodges. Bamfield is also the northern end of the West Coast Trail, a world-famous hiking trail built in 1907 along the west coast of Vancouver Island to help survivors of the area's many shipwrecks find their way back to civilization. The trail runs 77 km (48 mi) along extremely rugged terrain.
Today Bamfield is primarily a tourist destination, either for the West Coast Trail, ocean kayaking or sport fishing.
Bamfield is located in the heart of the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island, 89 km (56 mi) southwest of Port Alberni and 123 km (77 mi) northwest of Lake Cowichan. Bamfield is reached from either of two directions, both of which require several hours of driving on gravel logging roads. You can drive to Bamfield on paved highway via Highway 4 from the east as far as Port Alberni, and thereafter on well-maintained gravel roads south of Port Alberni to Bamfield; or along the route west of Lake Cowichan via Nitinat Lake. The M.V. Lady Rose also provides passenger ferry service from Port Alberni to Bamfield three times a week with additional sailings in the summer months.
For over 35 years, the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre has provided world-class facilities to a community of world-class research biologists, ecologists and oceanographers. It supports diverse coastal and marine research of the highest calibre and is recognized as among the very best research and training facilities in the world. It also hosts a series of hands-on public programs, as well as summer day trips that focus on birds, mammals and rainforests. Situated within the traditional territory of the Huu ay aht First Nation in Barkley Sound, and adjacent the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre offers unparalleled access to a wide array of environments - including unique coastal, marine and rainforest habitats and exceptional species diversity.
More than 100 rocky islands and islets make up the archipelago of the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound. These pristine islands can only be reached by boat and are popular with experienced ocean kayakers. The rich and abundant marine life, as well as the many old shipwrecks, makes this area a top spot for diving. Guided tours for kayaking, diving, and boating are recommended in these waters. Boats and guides can be booked in Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet.
Bamfield overlooks a picturesque inlet and has a boardwalk that connects houses, stores, adventure resorts and marine suppliers. Take a pleasant stroll along the Boardwalk and watch the boat traffic on the waterway. A water taxi provides transportation across the inlet.
The lighthouse was built in 1874 and is 51 meters above sea level. The present tower was built in 1958 and marks the entrance to Barkley Sound. The lighthouse is best known for its proximity to the West Coast Trail which is the theoretical route survivors of shipwrecks would take to get to the nearby community of Bamfield.
The magnificent Pacific Rim National Park is the only national park on Vancouver Island, providing protection for substantial rain forests and an amazing marine environment on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The full force of the mighty Pacific Ocean mercilessly pounds the constantly changing shores of this rugged coastline. The territory now occupied by the park has a significant history, having been inhabited by the Nuu-chah-nulth people for thousands of years. A rich natural heritage evolved as Vancouver Island became isolated from the mainland, retaining a great diversity of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish species. This unique park encompasses a total area of 49,962 hectares of land and ocean, including 130 km (80 mi) of coastline in three separate geographic units - Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail. Each unit is accessed via different routes and provides visitors with different activities and services including, outstanding beach hiking, trails, nature programs, guided hikes, diving spots, kayaking and more.
Barkley Sound offers more tyees (salmon) than anywhere on the west coast. As well halibut and cod promise thrilling catches. The Broken Group Islands and Bamfield Harbour also offer good angling for salmon, rockfish, and halibut. The Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound provide year-round fishing. Salmon school in the inlet before ascending to the spawning grounds. Large runs of sockeye from the Stamp/Somass River system and Henderson Lake, and chinook from the Robertson Creek Hatchery, swim past Bamfield on their way to Alberni Inlet rivers. The Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island is a long, narrow flute that leads 40 km (25 mi) inland to Port Alberni from the open ocean of Barkley Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
Grey whales, Humpback and Killer whales migrate the coastal waters, and porpoises, seals, sea lions, and elephant seals are viewed along the coastline.
The northern terminus of the world-famous West Coast Trail is located at Pachena Bay, 3 kilometres (2 miles) south of Bamfield. The trail is a 7 to 10-day adventure trek that draws hikers from around the world. The challenging journey is often begun from Port Renfrew to the south in order to clear the steepest sections first. However, for those who wish to sample a smaller section of the trail, you can hike from Pachena Bay to the Nitinat Narrows and back in three days. Several other great hiking trails lead to incredible beaches in the Bamfield area. Enjoy the short walk to Brady's Beach or hike farther to Cape Beale Lighthouse or to Keeha and Tapaltos beaches. Venture with care and you'll come away with wonderful memories of your time spent by the shoreline, where many creatures live in splendid harmony with the ocean's deep rhythms.
Barkley Sound is one of the most diverse dive sites in Canada. It has been called "The Graveyard of the Pacific" and the area's history tells us of numerous sunken ships and vessels. The ruins of many of these ships are still there to be explored including the Vanlene, a ship carrying a load of new cars that sunk in 1972. Broken Group Islands Unit of Pacific Rim National Reserve offers a maze of islands, islets, and reefs. Home to a diverse population of fish and plants, these dive sites offer an interesting and colourful experience. Swim among salmon, brightly coloured rockfish, giant octopus, squid, wolf eels, lingcod, sea anenomes and a wide variety of invertebrates. You might even catch a glimpse of a seix gilled shark. Sites vary from relatively easy to challenging.
Bamfield is renowned as a bird watching area, with a wide variety of birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, and herons, and the endangered marbled murrelet.
Storm watching near Bamfield in winter allows visitors to experience the raw power of the mighty Pacific Ocean, as the huge waves pound the shores of the rugged west coast.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia