Malcolm Island is a place where Orca’s rub up against the smooth pebbled beach, and where humans go to create lasting memories.
Situated off the northeast shore of Vancouver Island, you will find this hidden gem. While relatively small in size (24 km long and 3 km wide at its narrowest point) and with a population of only 684 (2016), Malcolm Island offers much to its visitors. You will find breathtaking scenery, great outdoor experiences, ample wildlife viewing opportunities, and fascinating history.
The historic village of Sointula is the hub and seaport of Malcolm Island.
This charming seaside town was founded in the early 1900s by Finnish immigrants with a vision to build the perfect community. The name Sointula, in fact, means a place of harmony.
At its height, the community saw approximately 2,000 settlers whose only wish was to build a better life away from the drudgery of work in the coal mines on nearby Vancouver Island.
While the utopian vision died off within a decade, after visiting Malcolm Island it’s easy to see that these visionaries chose the perfect location for their piece of paradise.
Finnish culture still exists today. In fact, the language is still found in much of the signage within the community, and can also be heard while wandering around the picturesque village.
The Co-Op Store in the downtown area of Sointula was founded in 1909 and is BC’s longest-running cooperative general store. The same downtown area also holds a resource centre, gas station, post office, bakery, and the Oceanfront Hotel.
If you stop at the bakery (which is an absolute must!), make sure to try the delicious Finnish Pulla bread.
Venturing around Malcolm Island you will find colourfully painted houses with tidy fenced-in gardens, an interactive museum, a working forge, a cemetery giving you a further glimpse into the rich history of the area, a hardware store, and, of course, the harbour.
While at the harbour, don’t miss the historic anchor, and make sure to take a moment to read the “Lost at Sea” memorial.
Kaleva Road, which runs alongside the beach, is a popular spot to watch for cruise ships. This is where southbound ships pass through the narrow waters of Broughton Strait and make a narrow turn between Dickensen Point and Haddington Island. It’s truly a sight to see!
While travelling along Kaleva Road look out across the water and enjoy the beautiful views of Vancouver Island and Cormorant Island (Alert Bay).
In the summer months, there is also a great possibility to glimpse a few of the many marine mammals that frequent the area.
Other Areas of Interest
Located in an old school and shared with the public library, the Sointula Museum holds a vast collection of very interesting items. You will find hundreds of photos, books, fishing and logging tools, and antiques of everyday household goods originally used by the first immigrants to the Island.
The museum is staffed by local volunteers who have spent countless hours over many years researching and displaying the detailed history and many artefacts left by the people who gave Sointula its name.
For a small community, the museum is quite large, comprising of three large classroom-sized rooms. Many items in the museum can be touched, which is quite unique. Of special importance is the area which houses the archives of the Island, including personal stories from families who once lived there.
Hours of Operation
During the busy summer season, the museum is open 7 days a week.
If you wish to visit at any other time of year and find the museum closed, please phone the number shown on the posters outside the entrance, and someone will gladly help you out.
Admission is by donation.
Dunroven Farm & Forge
This is your chance to sample living history! Every guest of this cozy bed and breakfast is given the chance to learn the basic steps of blacksmithing. Not only do you get to make a gift to take home, but you also earn a diploma.
Dunroven is located in Mitchell Bay, which is on the eastern end of the island.
Bere Point Regional Park
Located 6 km from Sointula on the island’s north shore lies the only public campground on Malcolm Island. Situated on a beautiful beach, this park offers 29 campsites, each nestled in the trees and just off the beach.
There are picnic facilities for day use, as well as outhouses, firewood, and a boat launch. But please note, there is no potable running water, sewer or electrical service available here.
Bere Point is also the start and entrance to Beautiful Bay Trail (see “hikes” below for details), and the closest access point to the orca rubbing beach.
Due to its prime beachside location, Bere Point is a very popular campsite during the summer. Reservations are highly recommended, especially if you are wishing to stay on a long weekend. Reservations can be made by calling the Regional District Office at 250-956-3301.
Campsite fee: $16 – $20 per night (depending on site)
Reservation fee: $6 plus the first nights stay
What to do while visiting Malcolm Island
Wildlife is plentiful on Malcolm Island. From the shore, you have a good chance of spotting porpoises, seals, otters, Orcas, Humpback Whales, bald eagles, and many species of seabirds. On land, you may see deer and mink.
Leave your car at the ferry terminal in Port McNeill and tour Malcolm Island by bicycle. Bikes can be borrowed free of charge at the Sointula Resource Centre (found on 1st Street, right across from the ferry terminal).
You will see many cyclists enjoying the ride along Kaleva Road, which follows the island’s southern shoreline and winds its way past weathered cottages and rural farms.
Beautiful Bay Trail
This well-maintained trail begins at Bere Point Regional Park and is approximately 10 km’s round trip.
The terrain is fairly flat, and there are plenty of beautiful views when you come out of the thick forest and salal hedges.
Near the start of the trail, you will find a viewing platform perched above a pebbled beach. This is where the Orca come to rub their backs along the shoreline.
We weren’t lucky enough to witness this phenomenon while there, but we enjoyed the beautiful view, none the less.
Eagles, dolphins and humpback whales also frequent the area.
Mateoja Heritage Trail
This 6 km trail begins on Third Street. There is a variety of terrain, including handmade steps, extensive boardwalks, and perfectly positioned logs built up with asphalt shingles nailed together to create pathways. You will meander through marshland, forest, and a century-old forest fire site while passing by the grounds of an early 1900’s homestead.
Follow the cute handmade signs that direct you to “Little Lake”, “Big Lake”, and “Melvin’s Bog”, as well as a few other stops.
While at Little Lake, sit on the lakeside deck and enjoy the peace and beauty of your surrounding. This area is an amazing spot to bird watch. In the summer months, Big Lake becomes a local hot spot for swimming. While you are there, make sure to look for the remains of an old water well, along with a few other interesting sights.
Kaleva Road Walkway
This 3 km long interpretive nature walk takes you along the seaside to Mitchell Bay Road. There are viewing platforms and benches along the way, as well as picnic tables to sit at to enjoy the stunning views.
If you have some extra time, on the return trip take the route through the centre of the island past Big Lake. Continue on to Pulteney Point on the far end of the island and take a further 10-minute walk to the manned lighthouse.
The trailhead for Kaleva Road Walkway starts at Dickenson Point.
Malcolm Island is situated right on the main migratory route of the Pacific Salmon. That, along with calm waters, makes for some of the best salmon sport fishing in the world.
- From late May through to August, you will find migratory Chinooks
- Sockeye, from June to August
- Pinks, in July and August
- Coho, in mid-July
- Chum, from late August through to October
- Northern Coho, in September
- Winter Chinook can be found all the way until the end of December
Halibut fishing is also popular in the area and is done from April to September.
The calm tranquil waters surrounding Malcolm Island provide a fabulous area to kayak. It is also situated in close proximity to the beautiful Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, a wilderness marine area consisting of dozens of undeveloped and largely undiscovered small islands and islets.
Where to Stay
If the Island’s unique charm gets to you and you wish to stay longer, there are a number of options for you.
- The Oceanfront Hotel is ideally located in Sointula and offers private decks with stunning views.
- There are also a number of bed and breakfasts, cottages, and guesthouses scattered throughout Sointula and Mitchell Bay. Please head to the website of Vancouver Island North for a full listing.
- For those wishing to camp, Sointula has a private campground called Harmony Shores. And, as mentioned above, there are campsites at Bere Point.
Malcolm Island is linked by a 25-minute ferry ride from the Port McNeill harbour.
Starting in Campbell River you will take the scenic drive up the North Island Highway towards Port McNeill. The drive should take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. Unless you plan on stopping along the way!
The Ferry service runs 7 days a week between Port McNeill, Sointula, and Alert Bay.
It’s a bit of a convoluted schedule, so make sure you check the BC Ferries’ website for updates before you go.
Something of importance to note:
If you wish to check out Alert Bay while you’re in the area (which I highly recommend), you won’t need to buy another passage. Just tell one of the attendants that you wish to make the Alert Bay loop and they will give you a special pass.
Map of Malcolm Island
I will leave you with a map of Malcolm Island, courtesy of the Sointula Resource Centre Society.
Have you been to this beautiful remote island? Tell me about your experience in the comment section below.
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I loved my time there back in 2005, my only visit. Stayed at the Bere Road Inn (?) which were more like private apartments with full kitchens. Did a lot of walking about, photography, visited the cooperative market, heard the tales of the Finnish settlers who were more philosophers and writers than folks who could construct a community, the Anglican church on the main road toward the cemetery. The whole place felt so free, I would love to retire there someday but as an American, I doubt it is possible without a rather astounding stack of cash. The place is all about Peace, just lovely.
Yes, it really is such a great place. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
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Malcolm Island is one of my favorite destinations on the North Island…..wandering the beaches, watching for marine wildlife and a trip to the bakery and pub all fill in the agenda. I have some wonderful treasurers and memories of my visits there.
Thank you for sharing that with us, Lana!
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