Ucluelet’s population lives ‘Life on the Edge’, and visitors get to experience it. It is the rugged edge of Vancouver Island, the beautiful coastline of British Columbia, the beckoning western edge of Canada.
Life on the Edge
Since early days, ‘Life on the Edge’ has been tied to both land and sea. This was true for the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations who have stories and legends about living in the Ucluelet area since the world began. (Archaeological evidence documents their presence as far back as 4,300 years.)
Being tied to the land and the sea was also a truth for the first European settlers in Ucluelet. And, the same ties bind today. Fishing, forestry, and mining were the main economic drivers in the past and, at least in the case of the first two, are still mainstays now. Today, tourism can be added to Ucluelet’s economic profile.
Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation
Ucluelet is a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation word meaning ’safe harbour’ or ’safe landing place.’ The local First Nations have always been influenced by their environment. The land and the sea gave them food and influenced their lifestyle and culture. From the sea they took salmon, cod, halibut, shellfish, sea lions, seals, and whales. From the forest they took plant and animal food as well as
cedar which was the material they used for most everything from wood for building homes and canoes to bark strips for weaving clothing. Nothing was wasted. One of the Nuu-chah-nulth’s primary teachings is ‘Hishuk ish is’awalk’ or ‘Everything is one.’
European explorers first set foot in the Ucluelet area in the late 1770s returning as traders to pursue maritime fur-trading, sealing, and whaling. Settlement didn’t start until the late 1800s. Among the first documented white settlers in Ucluelet were William and James Sutton in the late 1880s who operated a saw mill and general store.
The discovery of gold around 1900 at nearby Wreck Bay (also called Florencia Bay) brought more settlers to the area. But pursuing the gold commercially eventually proved impractical. Mining again figured prominently in Ucluelet’s economy in the early 1960s when iron concentrates were shipped to Japan and Ucluelet became the largest shipper of iron concentrates in British Columbia.
The turn of the 20th century also brought development of a fishing industry and with it more people settled in Ucluelet. The predominant species were salmon, halibut, cod, and herring. As a result of the increasing catch, canneries, fish buying stations, reduction plants, and processing facilities were added to the area’s infrastructure. Fishing really started to realize its potential after World War I. Japanese fishermen from Steveston settled in Ucluelet around 1920.
The introduction of their salmon trolling method also helped the fishing industry grow. Historically, and still today, commercial fishing in Ucluelet has its high and low cycles.
Forestry figures prominently in much of Ucluelet’s history and lifestyle, but logging really started to dominate in the 1950s. Logs have generally always been sent to mills and destinations away from the coast. For close to 40 years forestry provided families in Ucluelet with a reliable and relatively prosperous income.
Like fishing, however, forestry has its ups and downs; dependent on market conditions and dependent on environmental concerns. Today, tree farm license tenure holders in the Ucluelet area are adapting operations to meet the expectations of the 21st century.
The gradual establishment of road access to and from the Ucluelet area greatly influenced the community’s history. During World War II a road was built connecting Ucluelet and its sea plane base with Tofino (approximately 40 kilometres to the northwest). The road was built, principally to provide access to the military airport at the mid-way point at Long Beach. In 1959 the road to Port Alberni finally opened (Port Alberni is 100 kilometres to the east). Although the road opened in 1959, it was not paved until 1972; 13 years later.
With the road open, the influence of tourism started to impact Ucluelet, and tourism shows no sign of letting up. Close to one million people visit the West Coast each year. One of the main attractions is Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park (dedicated in 1971) where 20 kilometres of sandy beach and pounding surf
await. Sport fishing, whale watching , nature cruises, hiking, kayaking, beach combing, and eco-tourism opportunities abound in Ucluelet with a variety of accommodations, eating establishments, and stores for every need.
Ucluelet was incorporated as a village February 26, 1952 and officially became a district in 1997. The last census indicated the population in 2001 at 1,753. Article originally Compiled by: Lisa Stewart
Ucluelet is pronounced /You/clue/let/ and is a community on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.