The traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe for whom the town of Ucluelet is named for extends from the southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula, northward to central Long Beach and inland towards Kennedy Lake. The town is located on the southern end of the peninsula, and the small Ucluelet tribal village of Itatsoo lies straight across the harbour from it. The Ucluelet tribe’s name means “the people from the safe harbour.”
Fur traders and other fortune-seekers plied Vancouver Island’s outer coast from the 1790s through the early 1800s. In 1858, Captain Peter Francis set up a trading post at Spring Cove, on the extreme southern tip of the Ucluth Peninsula. By 1861 (the same time that the first settlers were setting up their businesses in Port Alberni and Bamfield) the Sutton brothers had established a saw and shingle mill as well as a general store on the northeast side of the harbour. These and other tiny scattered settlements around the harbour, such as the community of Stapleby, located at the eastern end of the Willoughby Road, formed the roots of the village that came to be known as Ucluelet.
A notable pioneer was George Fraser, an English horticulturalist with a special interest in rhododendrons, who arrived in 1895. Fraser is still remembered today for the various hybrids that he developed and shipped around the world. His old homestead covered much of what is now the centre of town, and he is commemorated in Ucluelet with an annual festival in his honour and by a rhododendron garden beside the schools.
Settlers continued to trickle in to Ucluelet, then a remote outpost accessible only by sea, in the hopes of making their fortunes. The fur trade continued through the late 1800s, and in 1903 a whaling station was established nearby at Sechart. Around the turn of the century, gold was discovered in the black beach sands of Florencia Bay, and a small gold rush was sparked. From the turn of the century through the 1950s, fisherman flooded in, after pilchards, herring and salmon. Canneries opened and then closed as stocks depleted. Fisherman of Japanese descent formed a significant part of the community from the early 1920s until 1942, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, when all Canadians of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps inland.
In 1959, a rough road from Port Alberni to Ucluelet was completed. Finally, Ucluelet had a land connection to the rest of the world. Ucluelet continued to be a town surviving on its natural resources, mainly its logging industry, through to the 1980s and 1990s. In recent years, as logging has slowed, Ucluelet has looked up the road to its neighbour Tofino and turned towards tourism.
Today this village is home to about 2,000 people, and welcomes tourists from all over the world. Accommodation ranging from simple campgrounds to luxury hotels with spas awaits. Its dramatic location, on the tip of a wave-washed peninsula located between the entrance to Barkley Sound and world-famous Long Beach, and its town planning which is winning international awards, are making it an increasingly popular tourist destination
This article was written by Jacqueline Windh.