Everything floats in Sullivan Bay, including the homes and the planes.
The concept of a floating mobile community was once unique to British Columbia’s coast. Skiffs and motorboats functioned as transportation. With the stroke of a tugboat engine, the whole affair could vanish and reappear somewhere entirely of someone’s choosing. Once common on the coast, they have now all but disappeared, but a few still exist. Sullivan Bay Marina Resort is one of them.
This relaxed and picturesque floating village is on the north side of North Broughton Island, in Sutlej Channel, 280 miles north of Vancouver. Full of character, the village got its start in 1945 when Myrtle and Bruce Collinson moved their logging camp from Kinnaird Island to the protected waters of Sullivan Bay and established a seaplane harbor, a fish camp, a store and a post office to serve mission boats, loggers, fishermen and intrepid cruisers. Until the mid-1950s it was the busiest floatplane base on the B.C. coast.
The Collinsons sold out in 1957; in 1971 Pat and Lynn Finnerty purchased the facility and converted it into a marina and grew the float-home community. A few years ago, the marina was sold to a group of Sullivan Bay floating home owners. Today Sullivan Bay Marine Resort is being managed by the friendly and energetic Debbie (Deb) Holt.
Floatplanes still arrive frequently, but the community’s focus has shifted to boaters drawn by the slow pace and grand scenery — oh, and by more than 4,000 feet of moorage on wide, stable docks; 15-, 30-, 50- and 100-amp power; gasoline, diesel and propane. Visitors also find a licensed liquor agency, a post office, a restaurant, limited Wi-Fi, a recycling center, an exercise room, showers, laundry, a library/book exchange, commercial floatplane service and an aptly named grassy Poop Deck on a separate float for pets that need to relieve themselves. There’s even the Sullivan Bay Brig, should anyone in the crew get unruly.
A small but well-stocked general store offers bread, meat, and dried and tin products. Stock includes produce and dairy that is flown or barged in weekly. As a result, prices are a bit higher.
But it’s the warmth and quirkiness of the village that brings people back. Some even have trouble leaving this wonderland and stay through the summer, if not longer.
Don’t look for a place to hike; this is a 100 percent water-based community. Everything is on floats. To stretch their legs, visiting boaters walk the 1.3 miles of docks and check out the boats and float homes.
Sullivan Bay is an extensive network of connected docks with a mix of old buildings and modern upscale homes in a residential neighborhood. Each dock is named, like streets in a city, and quaint street signs are situated at each intersection. The home styles range from coastal traditional to Seattle-inspired modern. One has a helicopter pad on its roof. Some residents have a floatplane tied at the backdoor and/or a boat moored at the front door. Regardless of the design, none seems out of place, but they all are in sharp contrast with the lush, green surrounding wilderness.
From time to time, a bear can be seen foraging the shoreline. Such was the case on one of our visits when a female black bear and her cub made an appearance on the shore behind the neighborhood of float homes; they turned over rocks in search of something to eat.
The old town hall is now a cozy restaurant that offers family-style dinner specials on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The Friday night prime rib is our favorite, with large cuts of perfectly prepared meat.
The walls are lined with photographs and mementos from Sullivan Bay’s past. Several images feature the work of coastal legend Jim Spilsbury, whose pioneering efforts in two fields reduced up-coast isolation and earned him the Order of British Columbia, the province’s highest honor. Starting in the 1920s, Spilsbury built, installed and fixed radios throughout the coast. In a land without wires, coastal settlements until then could communicate only by boat; radio was revolutionary.
Spilsbury also founded Queen Charlotte Airlines (QCA), which became the third largest in Canada from the mid-1940s to the late ’50s. The assortment of different planes flown in by QCA are featured in restaurant.
The marina also has a dock that serves as the community’s international airport, to serve chartered flights scheduled to and from Seattle, Vancouver, Campbell River and Port Hardy. This makes Sullivan Bay a perfect location for fly-in guests to join you for a portion of your cruise. The marina team will boat-sit any vessel, in case an owner needs to hop on a plane and fly home and tend to business.
There is always something to do while visiting Sullivan Bay. The salmon and bottom fishing, crabbing and prawning can be quite good, and the marina crew is always willing to point out on the chart where to try your luck. But don’t be surprised if they suggest fishing off the dock for halibut. It’s not uncommon for guest to catch dinner from the dock.
An annual three-day fishing derby is held the first weekend of August. Cash prizes are awarded for the largest salmon, largest halibut and a hidden weight for any species.
Even though it’s in Canada, Sullivan Bay throws a heck of a July 4 party. The celebration includes a parade along the docks during which some guests get into costume and make as much noise as possible. After the morning parade, everyone relaxes for a couple of hours and rests up for a kids fishing derby that’s followed by blindfold dinghy races. The evening’s festivities include a barbecue dinner, a live band and dancing on the dock. Moorage sells out well in advance of July 4, so reservations are a must.
For the golfer, and even the non-golfer, there are evening hole-in-one and closest-to-the-pin competitions at the one-hole Sullivan Bay Golf Course. The green is a small satellite dish covered with Astroturf and anchored off the end of a dock that serves as the tee. This prestigious course is rated as a single par-1 hole whose small floating green is 90 to 140 yards away, depending on the tides and current. Golf clubs and balls are provided, and anyone who hits a hole-in-one receives a free night’s moorage, while the daily closest-to-the-pin winner receives fresh-baked pastries the following morning.
Happy hour is an important activity in the Broughtons. Every marina has its own take on what it is. Each evening at 5 p.m. the marina crew at Sullivan Bay hosts happy hour at the covered town square. Everyone is asked to bring an appetizer to share and a favorite beverage. It’s a great way to meet new neighbors, trade boating stories and lie about the day’s fishing.
Phone: (604) 484 9193
VHF Channel 66A