Museums for Everyone in British Columbia

Unravel the rich history of the central B.C. coast by learning more at these museums.

One of the enjoyable aspects of cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest is seeing and learning about the area’s art, culture and history. Nowhere is this truer than the north Vancouver Island area on the central coast of British Columbia.

No doubt about it, the area is oozing with culture, history and pride. It bursts from shop windows, restaurants and community celebrations. But a wonderful way to learn about the region is by visiting its small museums. In some cases, the museums are a chapter in the region’s history. They are an inexpensive and enjoyable approach to discover some of the rich West Coast history.

These are just a few of the most interesting museums, beginning from the south and moving to the north. To make the list, the venues had to be close to moorage and of interest to boaters. Check out each museum’s website to plan a visit that the whole crew will enjoy.

Telegraph Cove 144THE WHALE INTERPRETIVE CENTRE
Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island
Website: KillerWhaleCentre.org
Open May – September, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $5; children, $3

Housed in a 1928 freight shed, The Whale Interpretive Centre opened 15 years ago with the goal to increase public awareness about the area’s marine mammals and the threats facing their populations. It’s operated by the nonprofit Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretive Centre Society and houses one of the best collections of marine mammal skeletons in British Columbia. The objective of the center is to provide information to the public for increased awareness of the biology, habitat needs and threats to killer whales, fin whales, humpback whales and sea otters as well as other local marine mammals. Visitors are able to handle the bones as interpreters work and participate in the articulation; younger crewmembers will enjoy the Kids Corner and its activities and view marine education videos and presentations — all while the skeleton of a giant fin whale, the second largest animal species ever to live, is suspended overhead.

Nearest Marina: Telegraph Cove Marina & RV Park
Website: TelegraphCove.ca
Monitors: VHF 66A
Limited moorage for boats greater than 30 feet.
Reservations required.

Alert Bay 039U’MISTA CULTURAL CENTER
Alert Bay, Cormorant Island
Website: Umista.ca
Open: July 1 to Labor Day: 7 days a week 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Winter: Tues. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $10; seniors and students, $9

Established more than 35 years ago, the U’mista Cultural Center houses one of the finest collection of elaborately carved masks depicting the potlach ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The center offers other exhibits of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. A gift shop carries locally produced jewelry, carvings and silk screen prints.

The potlatch was banned in Canada between 1885 and 1951. The masks and other ceremonial objects were confiscated after an illegal potlatch in 1921. After the ban was lifted, the Kwakwaka’wakw people fought for decades for the return of their sacred regalia that had ended up in museums and private collections around the world. Most of the regalia has been returned and is on display, and it’s known as “The Potlatch Collection.”

The word u’mista meant the action of being returned home after someone was taken captive. When the ransom was paid or if they were rescued, and the captive returned home, they were said to have u’mista.

Nearest Marina: Alert Bay Boat Harbour
Website: AlertBay.ca
Monitors: VHF 66A

BILLY PROCTOR’S MUSEUM
Echo Bay, Gilford Island
Website: PierresBay.com/things-to-do/ billys-museum
Open: Summer: 7 days a week, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission by donations

Billy Proctor’s museum is located south of Echo Bay on Gilford Island. Billy has lived his entire life in the Broughtons and has worked in the fishing and logging industries and is an avid collector. A museum visit is a walk through Broughton Islands history and the many different cultures and industries that have inhabited the area islands and mainland during the past 6,000 years. The collection includes fishing gear, Japanese glass fishing floats, First Nations tools, old photos, colorful old bottles, logging and trapping paraphernalia, and a blacksmith shop. Once you start looking around, you’ll find tons of little gems in Proctor’s collection. There is also a logger’s shack filled with logging tools and personal belongings from an era of hard times and hard work. Proctor singlehandedly built the one-room cabin from a single cedar tree, splitting and milling each piece of lumber by hand. A small gift shop sells local art and books. All donations to the museum go to area salmon enhancement.

Nearest Marina: Pierre’s Echo Bay Lodge & Marina
Website: PierresBay.com
Monitors: VHF 66A
Reservations recommended.

Echo Bay 032PORT MCNEILL AND DISTRICT MUSEUM
Port McNeill, Vancouver Island
Summer Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week
(250) 956-9898

Sixteen years ago, the Port McNeill and District Museum was completed as a result of the huge effort made by many volunteers and generous donations by forestry companies and individuals. Preserving Port McNeill and the surrounding area’s history remains the museum’s ongoing agenda. The attractive log structure includes a forest collection from the Sayward and Pin Museum. The archival vault houses collections of documents and photographs from the Pioneer Timber Co. and the Hudson’s Bay Co.

Nearest Marinas: North Island Marina
Website: PortMcneill.com
Monitors: VHF 66A
Reservations recommended.

Port McNeill Harbour
Website: PortMcNeillHarbour.ca
Monitors: VHF 66A
Reservations suggested during the summer.

SOINTULA MUSEUM
Sointula, Malcolm Island
Website: SointulaMuseum.ca
Open: Summer: daily 12 – 4 p.m.; Winter by appointment
Admission by donation.

Founded in 1972 by six resident women, this quaint community museum offers visitors a unique experience. The start of the collection was originally housed in basements and attics until space at the Malcolm Island Superior School was made available. The collection includes logging and fishing artifacts, and translations of Aika (newspaper of the island’s original Finnish community), which includes 100 years of photos documenting the history of Sointula and its transformation from Finnish commune to the quiet, eclectic community of today.

Nearest Marina: Malcolm Island Lions Harbour Authority
Website: SointulaHarbour.com
Monitors: VHF 66A

PORT HARDY HERITAGE SOCIETY MUSEUM
Port Hardy, Vancouver Island
Website: PortHardyMuseum.com
Open year round.
Admission by donation.

The museum was established in 1982 and is administered by the Port Hardy Heritage Society. On exhibit are 8,000-year-old aboriginal artifacts, early settlers’ effects, natural history materials, and local industrial equipment. Newspapers, maps, school records, photographs, personal histories and institutional records are preserved in the archives. Aboriginal art and jewelry, local crafts, postcards and souvenirs are available in the Museum Gift Shop.

Nearest Marinas: Quarterdeck Inn & Marina Resort
Website: QuarterdeckResort.net
Monitors: VHF 66A
Reservations recommended.

Port Hardy Harbour Authority
Website: PortHardy.ca
Monitors: VHF 66A

Be forewarned: It’s easy to spend hours viewing the exhibits. Take your time on your next visit to the area, and enjoy some of the region’s history and culture. The experiences will provide a memory that will last a lifetime and provide an even greater appreciation of the people of the central B.C. coast.

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