Alert Bay has a long history as a centre of First Nations (Aboriginal) culture. It is in traditional Kwakwaka'wakw territory. More than half of the present residents are First Nations, from 'Namgis First Nation and other nations. More than half the island is reserve land.
A decaying building glowered from a small hill to the north of town for many decades, before being demolished in 2015. It was St Michael's School, the primary residential school for the region. It is a physical reminder of the program of cultural eradication practiced by Canada for many decades, causing trauma and anguish for generations of First Nations people. Confronting the legacy of residential schools has been a major part of reconciliation between Canada and First Nations in the first decades of the 21st century.
Several Alert Bay attractions draw from the First Nations cultural history. Others draw from the scenic beauty and the water life.
- 1 Alert Bay Infocentre, 116 Fir St, ☏ . Tourist information, including a guide to the village's 30+ totem poles, a map of hiking trails, and information on other attractions. The helpful "Your Guide to Historic Alert Bay" 12-page brochure has a good walking map.
There are no bridges to this island, but there is ferry service to Sointula (Malcolm Island) and Port McNeill (Vancouver Island). The nearest airport with scheduled commercial service is at Port Hardy. If you have access to a boat or an aircraft, there are other options.
- 2 BC Ferries service to Alert Bay (At Fir and Front Streets). 6:40AM–10:35PM. About six sailings per day. The ferry cycles from Alert Bay to Sointula to Port McNeill and back. The ferry dock is prominent on the Alert Bay waterfront, next to the marina. $12 adult, $6 children, $28 passenger cars..
- 3 Alert Bay Airport (CYAL), 164(~) Alder Road, ☏ . This unattended airport has a single 2900-ft runway, 09/27, suitable for light aircraft. The easy walk into the village for sightseeing and lunch makes this a great day trip destination for pilots from the Vancouver region. No landing fee.
The village is small enough to be walkable. The island is also walkable, but given the hilly topography, a car or bike comes in handy.
- 1 Big House, Wood St at 1st St. A modern take on a traditional First Nations longhouse, this building is used for potlatch ceremonies. This is a 1999 rebuild of a 1996 original, which was lost to fire. The "World's Tallest Totem Pole" is nearby.
- 2 U'mista Cultural Society, #1 Front Street, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Jul-Aug: daily 9AM-5PM; Sep-May: Tu-Sa 9AM-5PM; May-Jun: M-Sa 9AM-5PM. This museum preserves and exhibits artifacts of Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture. A highlight of the collection are potlatch artifacts, confiscated by Canada in the 1920s in an attempt to stamp out potlatch culture, and returned to this museum decades later. $10 adults, $9 seniors and students, $7 children.
- 1 Alert Bay Ecological Park nature trails (North along Hemlock Road until it becomes Gatu Road, then east between #26 and #27 Gatu.). A marsh was created when a 19th-century cannery operation dammed a stream. Now the area is a bird haven. Three trails, each 10 minutes or so walk, loop around the area. Get a map from the visitors centre.
- 1 Pass'n Thyme Restaurant, 4 Maple Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The upper-floor dining room has a commanding view of the harbour, and serves unpretentious food.
- 1 Pass'n Thyme Inn, 4 Maple Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Three rooms in various sizes, from 2 to 4 people.
- 2 Alert Bay Cabins, 390 Poplar Road, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 14 cabins, each sleeping up to 4 people. Pilots take note: the cabins are a few meters walk from the east end of CYAL runway 09; you can park your plane in the grass and easily walk to the cabins. $135–175/night.
- Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island proper, to the northwest.