Every year I spend a week on Hornby Island, BC, and it’s become one of my favourite places to holiday. A gulf island situated on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Hornby is a hidden gem, literally. To get there you must first get to Nanaimo, BC, then drive an hour up island, take a short ferry ride to Denman Island, drive across that island to another ferry terminal, and then take another ferry that finally docks on Hornby. So from Vancouver, BC, it takes the better part of a day to get there. Once arrived, however, you’re thankful you made the trip.
Peaceful, isolated, but settled enough that you can live comfortably, Hornby appeals to anyone needing a respite from the city. Sparsely populated at 1000 year-round residents (give or take a few), the population only surges in high season, when vacationers descend for weeks of rest and relaxation. Most visitors rent cottages, camp, stay in bed & breakfasts or book in at Sea Breeze Lodge. And there’s no need for wilderness camping—amenities like phone, internet access, an ATM, post office, food, booze and flush toilets (!) are all readily available.
Climate and Wildlife Hornby Island enjoys a microclimate—it’s drier than the rest of the West Coast, and that means less rain and more sunshine. Gorgeous sandstone formations dominate the shore like natural sculptures. Not only is the beachcombing excellent, wildlife is everywhere—orcas, pacific white-sided dolphins, sea lions, sixgill sharks, eagles, deer—you’re truly in an island wilderness.
Activities During the summer, Hornby offers great swimming and sunbathing at Tribune Bay Provincial Park, known for its white sand beaches and warm water. If you’re feeling more active, you can rent kayaks or go mountain biking on the many trails that crisscross the island. Then there’s the Community Hall, which shows movies once a week and hosts musical performances throughout the year. Music is especially celebrated in August at the Hornby Festival. Summertime also brings the farmers’ market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. There, along with island-grown produce, you’ll find crafts, pottery, art, food trucks, massages, clothing and jewellery for sale.
Hiking There are wonderful options for hiking. Helliwell Provincial Park is a day-use park with a five-kilometre walk around meadows, bluffs and old-growth forest. Walking the circuit takes only 45 minutes and between the sea lions, arbutus trees, garry oaks and soaring eagles, the hike is always eventful. Mount Geoffrey Escarpment Park also has hiking and biking trails that go up and down the mountain through serene, thick forest.
There is shopping! The Co op store and adjoining Ringside Market are where you buy groceries, wine and spirits, books, artisanal crafts, clothes and a million other things. You can also mail a postcard, have a meal at a cafe or fill your gas tank. The Co-op is the place where the local community and visitors gather while buying the necessities of life. From marshmallows to liquor to rubber boots to gourmet cheeses, you’re covered.
Ford’s Cove At the south end of the island is Ford’s Cove, the community dock and marina. Here vacationers can rent boats, scuba dive (Hornby is renowned for the clarity of the water), rent movies, pick up art supplies, shop for pottery, walk on the beach or order amazing fish and chips at the nearby restaurant.
A creative place Many visual artists, musicians and potters have settled on Hornby. Maybe it’s the quiet, the isolation, the closeness to nature—whatever the reason, the island has become a renowned place for art.My favourite time to visit Hornby is in the low season. During the winter there are no tourists and the place is peaceful, beautiful and very quiet. It’s a time to light a fire, read a book, think—you have no choice but to take a break. I’m looking forward to my next visit so that I can stand on a slab of sandstone as the waves crash around me, look out at the ocean and breathe in the fresh air, before heading back to life in the city.