Northern B.C.: It’s Closer Than You Think

Sail the iconic Inside Passage between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert for a true Northern B.C. experience

Credit: Cathrine Tse

Discover B.C.’s northern paradise

Don’t think of Northern British Columbia as B.C.’s backyard – this is our province’s front yard, complete with wild, wonderful, heartbreaking and inspiring stories at every stop. Everything that’s quintessentially B.C. – First Nations, forestry, fishing, the pioneering spirit – is intensely represented here, along with no shortage of spectacular scenery and unending hospitality.

A quick one-hour flight from YVR will land you in Port Hardy, the very top of Vancouver Island and the gateway to Northern B.C. Stop here for your getaway and you won’t be disappointed. But continue on and you’ll be amazed.

If you think that the farther north you go, the more remote and rugged it is, you’re both right and wrong. The wildlife is abundant in Telegraph Cove and you’re likely to spot eagles while hiking or sea otters while kayaking. Farther north, grizzly bear sightings become increasingly common as are stories about humpback whales demonstrating marvelous feats of synchronised bubbling (really).

But don’t equate wildlife with a wild life. While roughing it is always a popular option here if that’s your mission, things are actually rather civilised and comfortable in B.C.’s north. There’s plenty of camping, outhouses and hiking for days, but there are plenty of creature comforts if you’d prefer, including dining experiences, craft beer and even boardwalk yoga.

Read on for details on where to go, what to see and what to eat in Northern BC, and visit Super Natural British Columbia for more ideas.

Credit: Catherine Tse

Telegraph Cove Resorts

Telegraph Cove is a tiny, charming one-resort town 45-minutes south of Port Hardy. It has a permanent year-round population of around 20 people, but during tourist season this corner of Vancouver Island is bustling.

And there’s really only one place to stay in town – Telegraph Cove Resorts, which has cabins, campground and moorage sprawling leisurely along the waterfront, connected by the original boardwalk (one of the last remaining on the island). Popular with outdoor enthusiasts, weekenders and those on a digital detox (there’s no wifi, television or telephones in suites, though you can purchase an Internet pass from the on-site Whale Interpretive Centre), there’s really very little reason to wander too far once you settle in. They even offer outdoor yoga classes during the summer ($10) at the end of the boardwalk, in case you need to hasten that detox.

The resort has a couple of eateries so you’ll never go hungry for too long. The Killer Whale Cafe and The Old Saltery Pub offer sit-down fare that specialise in generous portions of comfort foods (must try: seafood chowder at the café) as well as the Seahorse Cafe at the other end of the boardwalk, which provides an impressively robust menu of takeaway items.

And if you’re lucky enough to be staying over on a Saturday or holiday, you’ll find owner, Gordie Graham, cooking up a delicious salmon barbeque for guests. Keep an eye out for his dog, Sally.

Telegraph Cove, BC, 250.928.3131

Credit: Catherine Tse

Coastal Culture with Sea Wolf Adventures

As gateway to the north, Telegraph Cove gives you easy access to communities and cultures often overlooked in “the south.” Plan for a day with Sea Wolf Adventures, an aboriginal tourism and water taxi business that can lead you on a guided cultural tour through Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago to places like Gilford Island, Alert Bay and Kingcome Inlet.

Owner Mike Willie grew up in a remote village in the Great Bear Rainforest and is intimately immersed with this region. His knowledge of the area and its history, land and language are vital if you want to make a deeper connection with what you’re seeing: White shell beaches, faint etches along the cliffs, bark-peeled trees. All pretty at first glance, but listen to Mike then take a second look. Those beaches are middens, evidence of First Nations settlements from hundreds of years ago; those etches are pictographs left by his ancestors thousands of years ago; and those variegated cedars are culturally modified trees, mottled by the selective removal of bark for medicine or basketry and done so without harming the tree itself.

The most surprisingly uplifting visit comes at Alert Bay, a place better known these days for its dark association with Canada’s past role in the cultural decimation of First Nations people. The U’mista Cultural Society is actually adjacent to the site of former St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, demolished only earlier this year. Here, Mike and his cousin, K’odi Nelson lead guests through the centre, describing the customs, challenges and triumphs of the local Kwakwaka’wakw people. It’s emotionally overwhelming to be invited to come this close to artifacts and stories from people who have been repeatedly subjected to grave systemic disrespect at best, cultural genocide at worst.

And yet the cultural centre is a welcoming, gracious space that aims to share, not blame. Stories of unimaginable grief are ensconced here amongst signifiers of support and hope. Official apologies are enlarged and occupy an entire wall and on a more intimate scale, personal anonymous message are scrawled on pieces of paper and tucked into gaps in between old, precious photos depicting daily life during happier times when families were thriving and intact – an homage to the past but also a beacon for the future.

The Iconic Inside Passage

Sailing through B.C.’s spectacular Inside Passage is bucket-list worthy. During the spring and summer, this is a daytime sailing (it’s overnight from autumn to spring), giving you 16 hours of stunning scenery as the ferry winds its way through fjords past charming coastal communities between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert.

The northern route ferries are large, modern and extremely comfortable, complete with staterooms for ultimate privacy; a private lounge with reserved, reclining seats for some privacy; and comfy general seating areas where, after 16 hours, you’re likely to be tip-toeing amongst sprawling bodies to get about. But generally, there’s plenty to do onboard to make those 16 hours go by surprisingly quickly.

Wildlife enthusiasts will set up their tripods, cameras and binoculars for hours keeping an eye out for eagles, whales, dolphins and seals. The less dedicated can simply wait for announcements alerting passengers of wildlife sightings and other points of interest.

Look at the shoreline and you’ll see icons from B.C.’s history drift past: Swanson Bay (1909), the first sulfite pulp mill on the coast; Boat Bluff (1907), the prettiest lighthouse on the Inside Passage marking entry into Tolmie Channel; Bella Bella (1897), a prosperous fishing and logging community and one of the largest First Nations communities on the coast; Namu (1893), site of a former fishing cannery and the oldest settlement on the coast; and Butedale (1918), a fishing, mining and logging area and one of the few remaining cannery villages on the coast.

Daytime sailings are 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. during the spring and summer. Adult tickets are $202, one-way. Staterooms include two berths, a standard bathroom with shower, wardrobe and small desk, starting at $90. (Prices current as of publication.)

Credit: Doug Davis

Wildlife and Wanderlust in Prince Rupert

If you don’t already care about fishing when you first get to Prince Rupert, you will by the time you leave the North Pacific Cannery (NPC). Well over a hundred years old (est 1888), this cannery village was the backbone to the region’s thriving fishing industry, which ran 24 hours a day when it was busy, a mere 12 hours on slow days. The original buildings, boardwalk and machinery can all be seen, best done with an interpretive guide (ask for Seamus), who’ll bring the history alive with incredible stories about the people who kept the cannery running during more prosperous times.

Hoping to draw in new visitors, the NPC is sprucing up its weathered bones with a variety of restoration projects and offering a growing menu of amenities including a soon-to-be B&B for those who want to stay in this beautiful locale. There’s already an on-site café, The Mess House, that serves baked goods and lunch during summer months.

Prince Rupert is also home to the famous Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, 44,300 hectares of protected wildlife areas. It’s accessible only through the river estuary and only with permitted operators like Prince Rupert Adventure Tours, which bring guests surprisingly close to bears. Their boat is specially designed to maneuver deftly and quietly in shallow waters so when a bear is sighted from afar, the boat goes into stealth mode and sidles up close to shore where bears are often seen in the spring eating Linkbean grass (a high protein grass that keeps bears sustained until the salmon run begins).

While tour guides are reluctant to absolutely guarantee grizzly bear sightings, their obvious familiarization with them clearly indicate these bears have been observed many, many times over the season and years (we saw six bears on our tour). But being a wildlife sanctuary, you’re likely to also spot plenty of eagles and even Humpback whales. And if you’re extremely lucky, you may even witness the whales performing a bubble net feeding, an intelligent, synchronised hunting technique where a group of whales form a circle and essentially blow bubbles in a shrinking circle to force thousands of tiny fish towards the surface where they are gulped down efficiently by the whales.

Credit: Fukasaku

Prince Rupert is no place for epicurean philistines – home of some outstanding food and drink, your palate will not be disappointed

Fukasaku restaurant is all about B.C.. From the menu to the furniture, Chef Owner Dai Fukasaku has thoughtfully created a culinary space that reflects many of the philosophies near and dear to Prince Rupert. The seafood is all 100 per cent sustainable B.C., Ocean Wise-certified; the furniture is handmade with B.C. cedar using joinery technique (not a single nail to be found); 75 per cent of the non-seafood items on the menu are locally harvested including real wasabi; their drinks list includes a true Canadian sake, from Artisan Sake Maker from Granville Island that uses 100 per cent B.C.-grown rice. Fukasaku is an incredible place, both in terms of food and concept, feeding the soul as much as the body.

737 2 Ave W, Prince Rupert, BC, 250.627.7874

Credit: Crest Hotel

Waterfront Restaurant

Waterfront Restaurant in the Crest Hotel is worthy of a destination meal if you’re not already staying at this charming family-run hotel. An incredible offering of seafood is to be expected (and delivers), but what’s unexpected is the impressive selection of elevated, contemporary dishes, many of which are vegetarian.

From the cauliflower hash at breakfast to an organic energy rice bowl that would make Vancouver’s The Naam proud, the Waterfront Restaurant doesn’t just coast on its spectacular views to draw diners in. The food here is almost as good as the scenery (almost, because nothing can really complete with eagles soaring above you as you dine al fresco above Prince Rupert Harbour).

222 1 Ave W, Prince Rupert, BC, 250.624.6771

Wheelhouse Brewing Company

Wheelhouse Brewing Company, in true pioneer spirit, was started up by three guys, who all had other daytime jobs, but pursued a passion project – a very tasty, microbrewed one. And a couple of years later, Wheelhouse is a local success story, reaching fans well outside Prince Rupert and Northern B.C. Their charming tasting room is open one day (Two days? Call ahead.) a week and can accommodate large group tastings.

Whenever possible, Wheelhouse uses locally harvested ingredients, including the spruce tips used in their particularly delicious and limited edition (and now sold out) Scurvy Dog Pale Ale. Other beer in their permanent lineup include their Flagship Pale Ale, Gillnetter Golden Ale and Blacksmith Brown Ale all available in bottles, growlers, samples and sleeves.

217 1 Ave E, Prince Rupert, BC, 250.624.2739