Bamfield History

History: Bamfield Marine Science Centre & The West Coast Trail

Bamfield may be small compared to most places along the west coast, but it is rich in interesting history. The popularity of this little boardwalk community is rising, but where it all began will never be forgotten and will always be celebrated by locals and visitors alike. Nestled in on the Barkley Sound, Bamfield was originally populated by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth and was an outpost for fur trading and fishing. In the late 1800’s European settlers founded a small community and formed the first established government, with William Eddy Banfield as the first government agent. It is said that there was a mix-up in the original name, replacing the “n” in Banfield with an “m” either from a mix-up in postal or due to the locals having trouble with the pronunciation.

The tiny village put itself on the map by installing a worldwide undersea telegraph cable station in 1902. The cable spanned an astonishing 4000 miles and passed through many countries underwater, all the way through to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. The cable station has since closed and the site was purchased in 1969 by the Bamfiled Marine Science Centre after the National Research Council asked five western Canadian universities to partake in the marine biology station. Among these universities were UVIC, UBC, SFU, the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta. In 1971, after the universities joined the Western Canadian Universities Marine Biological Society, development began to turn the site into a research station. This was great for the small community as it quickly became the largest employer at the time and continues to be to this day. The Bamfield Marine Station is also a core memory to so many Port Alberni local children who had the exciting opportunity to visit the centre on a class field trip.

The West Coast Trail is a world-known backpacking trail and comes with a purpose and history dating back over a century. The 75km hike was originally named the Dominion Lifesaving Trail and runs along ancient paddling routes originally used for trade and travel by the First Nations. The federal government constructed the trail in 1908 as a way for rescuers to reach sailors shipwrecked in what is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” This name comes from the dozens, if not more, of shipwrecks along the coastline due to the reefs and breakers posing dangers for the ships. In the early 1900s, cabins were built along the trail, each equipped with a telegraph with instructions in several languages, blankets and other small survival items and directions for navigating the course. In 1973, the West Coast Trail became part of the Pacific Rim National Park and has been receiving continuous upgrades since. Today’s trail is open from May 1 until September 30 for those ready for the 6-day backpacking experience.

The roots of Bamfield run deep in the land and waters of the Pacific Coast and will always be shared and treasured by those who have the opportunity to visit or live in the tiny hamlet. The Bamfield Historical Society is a great organization geared towards all this history about the community; memberships and information can be found on their website

Written By: Stephanie Wakelin