Getting to Know BC's Mid-Coast

June-July 1996

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.


Travellers on BC Ferries long established Inside Passage route have used the words "incredible, breath taking, unbelievable" to describe the narrow ocean channels, the mountains that fall into the sea, and the sense of excitement that waits for you as the ship rounds each bend in British Columbia's remarkable coastline.

Loosely defined, the mid-coast of British Columbia is the area bounded by Vancouver Island (to the south), Swindle Island (to the north) and the Bella Coola valley (to the east). Although there are a number of communities, fishing lodges and camps as well as logging operators in the area, it is one of most sparsely populated and inaccessible areas of the province and almost entirely dependent on the sea for transportation. The region is remarkable for its scenic splendor and numerous navigable inlets. The major communities in the region are Namu, Waglisla (Bella Bella), Klemtu, and Ocean Falls.


Namu, an Indian word meaning "place of high winds" is located 73 nautical miles north of Port Hardy, at the confluence of Burke Channel and Fitz Hugh Sound. Opened by BC Packers as a fish processing plant and cannery in 1893, has operated continuously until the plant was shut down a few years ago and the town was abandoned.

Plans are currently underway to restore this historic town to its original state and re-open the fish plant. Once complete, it is anticipated that the fish plant will employ approximately 100 workers. Built almost entirely on boardwalks above the water, this compact town sports a number of old fishing bunkhouses, a general store (which will have debit card facilities to withdraw money), post office, recreational center and a liquor distribution outlet. There are also plans to add a cafe, public phones and a laundromat.

Namu should be fully restored by the end of the summer, with a full range of marine fuels and a small marine ways. Excellent fishing and paddling can be had in Namu Lake which is a 10-minute hike east along a well defined trail. The town has limited emergency services, which will consist of a volunteer fire department and a small infirmary.


These adjacent communities are located approximately 100 miles north of Port Hardy. Bella Bella, or Waglisla as the town is sometimes known, was formerly the only point accessible to kayakers in the central coast. Now, with the introduction of BC Ferries' Discovery Coast Passage, kayakers will get frequent access to both Bella Bella and neighbouring Shearwater.

Formerly the site of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort McLoughlin during the 1830's, the town, home of the Heiltsuk Native Band, is now the largest community in the central coast. The original Bella Bella settlement was located on neighbouring Denny Island until the inception of Fort McLoughlin. Since that time the island has been the site of a now long abandoned BC Packers fish plant which was built in 1919. The current townsite was developed as an antisubmarine bomber reconnaissance unit in 1941 until it was disbanded in 1944. At the end of the war the facilities were developed into a full-service marina and fishing resort.

Similar in size to Namu, the current community has about 100 full time residents. Shearwater Marine has a 42-room hotel as well a grocery and hardware store and post office. Recently completed, the community now has a large new pub and restaurant located in front of Shearwater Marine. Site of the largest marine ways in the Central Coast, Shearwater is also the base of search and rescue in the Central Coast. Local businesses on the island provide everything from camping to rustic Bed and Breakfast accommodation to fully guided fishing charters. Additionally there is a kayak outfitter who provides fully guided tours around Denny Island and surrounds. Full banking facilites and marine fuel are available in Bella Bella. There is regular watertaxi service between the two communities.


Located on Swindle Island in Finlayson Channel, approximately 136 miles north of Port Hardy, Klemtu is home of the Kitasoo Native Band. Originally the site supported summer camps where the Xais-Xais and Kitasoo peoples came to fish and hunt. Klemtu derives its name from Tsimshian language for 'hidden passage', an apt description given the shelter provided by neighbouring Cone Island.

With the advent of coastal steamer service in the 1870s a permanent settlement emerged, trading furs, meat and wood with Fort McLoughlin (now Bella Bella). In 1925 Todd & Sons constructed the China Hat Cannery in Klemtu and began processing fish. Today the cannery and an associated experimental aquaculture farm are owned and operated by the band, which is the major employer in the village.

The current community of approximately 200 people is situated almost entirely along the waterfront with a long boardwalk along the shore. Most commercial activities in the town center around the public Transport Canada wharf. The town has a well equipped general store which has a wide variety of foods and hardware items. Adjacent to the store is a cafe and a post office. There is also a modern fuel facility which provides a full range of marine and auto fuels as well as propane. Those with debit cards can withdraw money at the band store and fuel station. The town also has a community health clinic for those needing basic first aid service. It is worth noting that Klemtu is a "dry" community and as such no liquor is available.


Situated at the head of Cousins Inlet, 108 miles Northwest of Port Hardy and 55 miles East of Bella Coola, Ocean Falls was once the largest community in the Central Coast. Strategically located in a protected deep water harbour with a nearby plentiful supply of fresh water nearby, a paper mill was built in Ocean Falls at the turn of the century. The town reached its zenith in the 1950s but began to wane thereafter as more modern and efficient mills were developed elsewhere in the province. Eventually the mill was closed in 1973.

Currently there are about 150 full time residents in Ocean Falls and the neighbouring Martin Valley. Most Government services transferred to Bella Coola and Bella Bella after the closing of the mill, however, the town still has a public wharf and marine ways and a general store. With one general store currently in operation and a second to be opened shortly, Ocean Falls will have a wide range of hardware and grocery supplies for the public. "The Shack" provides hearty home cooked meals in a floating cafe. There are a couple of Bed and Breakfast operators in town as well as a fishing charter operation. Local artisans have a small store in town where they sell a variety of locally handmade gifts and souvenirs. Unfortunately there are no banking services or fuel facilities in Ocean Falls so people coming here need to make appropriate arrangements. There is a first aid clinic at the Ocean Falls Court House.


Finn Bay is at the gateway to world-famous Rivers Inlet, but this is a passenger (and kayak) only stop. (At press time no further details on this stop were available).

See page 7 of the June/July '96 issue of WaveLength for a BC Ferry Coupon entitling the bearer to FREE PASSAGE of a canoe or kayak on any Discovery Passage ferry trip!