Cormorant & Malcolm Islands

Ballena Blanca on the ferry to Cormorant Island.

June 20 – 23, 2022.

One of the cool things about being a nomad is meeting other nomads from all sorts of places. It is always fun to converge with them on the road. But sometimes our nomad friends have a permanent home base. And it can be extra fun to visit them in their own town.

This is what we did on our last stop on our trip to Vancouver Island. We met Doug and Tina in the fall of 2017 at Indiantown Marina in Florida when we all getting ready to go off adventuring on our sailboats. Now Doug and Tina have a great house in a small town called Sointula on Malcolm Island. Malcolm Island is a small island off the coast of the larger Vancouver Island. Doug and Tina spend their summers in Sointula. But when fall comes they go off to the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii, an island group off the coast of British Columbia just south of Alaska, where they serve as off-season caretakers of a lodge over the winter.

Because our friends live on an island we needed to take a BC Ferry to go see them. There is a passenger/vehicle ferry that leaves out of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island at regular intervals to not only Malcolm Island by nearby Cormorant Island. When I was checking out the schedule I started wondering if we could make our ferry trip a twofer and visit two islands for the price of one. And, I found out, yes we could!

The way the ferry works is that you only pay when you are leaving Vancouver Island. Trips back to the big island and between Malcolm and Cormorant Islands are free. Ferry trips between the two smaller islands are limited, though. One ferry travels from Malcolm to Cormorant in the morning and only one travels from Cormorant to Malcolm in the evening. We decided to take an early ferry to Cormorant, explore for the day, then take the evening ferry to Malcolm, and spend the night at a campground before meeting up and hanging with our friends for a few days at their house and then taking the ferry back to Vancouver Island. It worked perfectly. And we were so glad we took the time to visit Cormorant!

(All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions.)

Cormorant Island

Cormorant Island, the home of the ‘Namgis First Nation, is a small place with less than 1300 residents. Its main town and port is Alert Bay. The island is lovely and people were super friendly to us as we wandered around. In fact, one denizen stopped us just to inquire whether we were enjoying our visit. Art and wildlife abound.

One of the main attractions on the island is the U’mista Cultural Centre. This museum houses a collection of Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch ceremonial items that were confiscated by the Canadian Government when the ceremonies were banned from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. It is an amazing collection but unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to photograph any of it. But there were other displays in the museum that we were allowed to take pics of. There is modern-day First Nations art, traditional tapestries, and a section dedicated to First Nations children who were forced to leave their homes and culture and attend residential schools. Many children were abused at these schools and mortality rates for these children rivaled the rates of Canadians dying in World War II.

Another important First Nations site on the island is the ‘Nagmis Burial Ground. Totem poles carved with traditional figures are erected in this traditional cemetery to honor the dead. You will see some of the poles laying on the ground. This isn’t out of neglect. Some families feel that the fallen poles are a part of the natural cycle of life and decomposition. Others believe that the ancestor’s spirit has left once the pole falls.

Malcolm Island

So of course one of the cool things about having friends who live in really cool places is that they know the inside scoop on everything and where to find all the great off-the-beaten-path stuff. Doug and Tina were amazing hosts.

They took us all over the island. On the north side of the island, we saw where orcas come to rub their bellies on the rocky beach in Bere Point Regional Park. And we drove along the southern coast to Mitchell Bay stopping to look at all the surprising public art along the way.

We gave our friends a break as tour guides on our last full day and went out exploring on our own visiting the Sointula Museum and walking around the town.

And when we weren’t out playing tourist we got to relax on Doug and Tina’s deck overlooking the water back towards Port McNeill.

The Return Trip

Our time on Malcolm Island was limited because we had a ferry to catch going north on our slow journey to Alaska. The only problem we had with having friends who live on an island is that if you forget something at their house, it’s not easy to turn around and get it. I left some laundry in Doug and Tina’s dryer. I think my favorite hoodie was in that load so I stayed on the big island with the van and Greg bought a passenger ticket for the ferry back to Malcolm Island. Our friends met him at the dock in Sointula with our clean clothes. And Greg turned around and reboarded the same ferry back to Vancouver Island and we were on to our next stop on our way to Alaska.

Do you have friends that live in an interesting place? Have you ever been to Cormorant or Malcolm Islands? Do you have a favorite place for finding surprise public art? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment about anything this post has inspired you to think about!

6 thoughts on “Cormorant & Malcolm Islands

  1. More totem poles!

    Wow, Doug and Tiny live in an amazing place – the views from the house and the deck are spectacular. I’d love to do a caretaking job in Alaska one winter as well. Only once, though! 🙂

    And, yes, we have many friends in many spectacular places. Funny how you forgot your clean laundry and Greg went and picked it up by ferry. A negative about having friends in remote places, for sure!

    1. We saw totem poles almost everywhere we went in BC and Yukon. They seem to be proud of the First Nations there.

      The caretaking job sounds really cold to me but they love it – part of an adventurous spirit, I think.

  2. I’ve never heard of either of these islands, but they are both beautiful and full of fascinating history and picturesque scenery. That painting from the school door is haunting.

    Taking a whole additional ferry ride seems like a lot, but one does not leave a favorite sweatshirt behind! It was nice of your friend to bring the stuff to the dock.

    1. The painting from the school door is really striking and I’m so glad that they preserved it. And, yes, such interesting history that you would never know about a place unless you actually went there.

      I wore that sweatshirt in Alaska! And we were glad that our friends could meet us at the dock – if not we would have had to wait until the next ferry – a couple of hours, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.