The Other Islands: Malcolm Island

Just a short ferry ride away from Port McNeill is Malcolm Island. Having never been here we did some research before arriving. It was built by Finnish settlers who wanted the community to be a utopia—a place where everything is perfect. While that didn’t quite work out as planned, there is certainly a strong sense of community, neighbours helping one another, and people working together for the greater good of the island. Also, with every Gulf Island comes two things: a laid-back island feel and a totally unique culture that is simultaneously both like and unlike the other Gulf Islands.

It’s a long winding drive up to Port McNeill!

With a population of around 500-600 people in the winter (and many more during the summer!) we asked a few locals to share with us a little about the island. Historically, it was a fishing economy. Now, the population is a good combination of original Malcolm Island born families PLUS people who arrived over the years PLUS summer home owners who have now moved in permanently.  Many chose to retire here as they found what they were looking for: a lovely relaxed place by the sea. Some of these retirees come from larger communities with experience in hosting larger events and tours, growing business, and a desire to explore their creative side.

The homes on the island are older and well maintained. It seems like the kind of place where materialism and flashy just don’t matter. People here decorate their homes with art they’ve created, cool driftwood pieces, and bright colors. The thrift store and recycling centre are busy places and people would rather up-cycle and repurpose than buy new. The summer is a totally different experience on the island we’re told, but Janet Etter, an industrial folk artist on the island, told us the fall and winter seasons are actually her favourite times of the year. The leaves fall off the trees and the scenery opens up and everything looks even more breathtaking than in the summer. Also, when you come in the colder season you can really get to know the community, partake in the events, and gain a deeper understanding of the culture on the island.

Founded in 1909 the Sointula Co-Op is a grocery store/Sointula shirt shop/general store and is a staple on the main street through town. It’s located directly across from the ferry terminal but it’s not open on Sundays & Mondays so make sure you get everything you need before then!

Sointula Hoody

We stayed at The OceanFront Hotel. The hotel is just as it’s named—directly on the ocean. The view COULD NOT be more spectacular. Our room had a kitchenette, fireplace, two beds and a balcony. The hotel is clean and cozy. There’s a gallery and a pub within the hotel as well. Waking up with an ocean view and settling in while the sun sets was just incredible. The hotel also has a communal kitchen where we made a spaghetti dinner which saved us some money. Restaurants are also closed on Sunday evenings, so plan ahead! Coho Joe’s is an amazing place to sit and warm up while enjoying breakfast or lunch. We had the most delicious omelettes there.

We stopped in for lunch at the Upper Crust Bakery. There was no set menu, but the owner said he was offering chicken soup and ham and cheese sandwiches. We also order a pizza to pick up for dinner on Saturday—it was amazing!

To prepare for the upcoming Winterfest (on November 16-17) and the first annual local artisan tour (happening in December), we visited several of the local studios and also squeezed in a few visits to the island parks as well! Look for more information on the Artisan Tour on the blog HERE.

We toured the wasabi farm at Malcolm Island Growers Ltd. A farm overlooking the ocean is a special place. And the wasabi – delicious! We learned how it’s grown, harvested, and freeze-dried, as well as more about the abundance of health benefits it has. Fresh and re-hydrated wasabi has a different taste every few minutes and can be made into many different dips, spreads, and dressings. And pickled wasabi petioles (the stem – it has the texture of celery) is a perfect garnish for a Caesar.

The island also has a museum celebrating its history of Finnish Settlers, fishing industry, and rich local history.  It has regular open hours through the summer season and is readily open by appointment from October to April.

If you take your car over, you’ll find the roads in good repair and easy driving conditions. Keep your eyes open for all the dinosaurs that you’ll find dinosaurs displayed along the roads!

A sweet little Community Market Garden Stand to buy local produce – just write your purchase on the list and drop your money in the slot.

The beaches around Malcolm Island are a beachcombers paradise! We found loads of beach glass and driftwood and we were totally memorized by all the different types of kelp and sea life. While we didn’t see any whales this trip, we did see a few seals and several species of birds. We also found a giant acorn barnacle – it was certainly one of the most interesting finds of the trip!

We were only on the island for two days and honestly, it wasn’t long enough! There’s a lot to experience here. Take your time but aim to see as much as you can! You’ll leave this island feeling both rejuvenated and your own renewed sense of calm.  We can let you in on a little secret about the towns around northern Vancouver Island: they’re all absolutely gorgeous!!

To check out more of our Van Isle adventures, click here

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