Vancouver Island

Port Hardy’s Perfect Pit Stops

There’s plenty to see and do in Northern Vancouver Island’s busiest hub

by John Lee

Credit: Array Web + Creative

It’s 9 a.m. on Market Street in Port Hardy, and an eye-watering ocean breeze seems to be funnelling every pedestrian in one direction: Cafe Guido. A favourite gathering place in this historic ferry-dock town on Vancouver Island’s northeastern tip, Guido’s is a daily ritual for many locals.

“We’ve always been a reflection of the community,” says owner Davida Hudson, adding that regulars frequently order a particular fresh-from-the-oven treat with their java. “We’re famous for our scones—especially the raspberry lemon and savoury ham and cheddar flavours. We make them from scratch every day.”

Davida Hudson’s Book Nook / Credit: Kimberley Kufaas Photography

While Hudson also sells books, crafts and clothing in three additional shops adjacent to her café, she still manages to find time to get out and enjoy the area she calls home. And around Port Hardy, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Port Hardy Welcome Sign / Credit: Port Hardy Tourism

Northern Vancouver Island’s main hub, Port Hardy (population: 3,643) isn’t just the take-off point for ferry journeys through BC’s Inside Passage, it is also an ideal base for exploring some of the island’s most captivating spots. Tiny Telegraph Cove—a picturesque boardwalk village with preserved historic buildings—is just 45 minutes down-island, while rugged Cape Scott Provincial Park, two hours west, serves up a gorgeous swath of forested trails and hidden-gem sandy coves.

Photo Caption: Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre / Credit: Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre

Closer to town (just five minutes away, in fact), the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre is a must-see, especially if you have kids in tow. The family-friendly aquatic life exhibits include interactive displays that explain salmon habitat and share information on some of the challenges to salmon survival.

Port Hardy’s downtown has plenty of must-stops as well. On Market Street, the inviting Carrot Park houses handsome totem poles (the region is traditional Kwakiutl First Nations territory and the district is home to the Quatsino and Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations bands). A short walk down the street, the small Port Hardy Museum & Archives delves deeper into the area’s natural history with fossil displays. It also explores the area’s cultural past, with exhibits showing early aboriginal artifacts as well as items from Port Hardy’s once-thriving, pioneer-era fishing industry.

While the golden age of the area’s fishing trade is long gone, there is one seafood operator in Port Hardy that is still flourishing. A five-minute uphill drive from Market Street, Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish has been producing delectable smoked-seafood treats for two decades. Many of the company’s products are now sold in stores across Canada, but the processing plant’s on-site shop in town still offers the best selection. A popular pit stop for locals and visitors, it stocks items like juicy Sockeye Candy and Wild Salmon Pepperoni—ideal for long drives or ferry journeys.

One of Port Hardy’s Local Murals / Credit: Port Hardy Tourism

Back downtown, take some time to browse the low-rise stores and camera-ready murals (many of Port Hardy’s buildings are adorned with these colourful, locally created paintings), then mingle with locals at the town’s two enduring hangouts: North Island Lanes—an immaculate, retro-cool bowling alley that feels like you’ve time-travelled back to the 1970s—and, just across the street, Sporty Bar & Grill.

With its art-lined walls, dark-wood tables and comfort food menu, Sporty Bar & Grill (known by Port Hardiers as Sporty’s) has the same gathering-place appeal as Guido’s. “We’re busy all summer, especially during the main ferry season,” says general manager Alfons Bauer, adding that while fish tacos and apple strudel are favourite dishes here, he personally loves the kitchen’s cedar-glazed wild sockeye salmon.

And while Bauer like to keep busy on days off with area hiking, kayaking and fishing pursuits, he says it’s still hard to beat a particular lazy-day activity that locals and visitors to Port Hardy frequently share. “It’s great to just have a cold Vancouver Island beer on our sunny patio and watch the world go by.”

Coming Summer 2018

Journey to the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest with BC Ferries.
Starting June 19, 2018, choose from 5 direct sailings a week from Port Hardy – Bella Coola.

For more information visit bcferries.com