Union Bay, British Columbia Canada

Discover Union Bay, British Columbia: A Rich Blend of History and Natural Beauty

Nestled on the east coast of central Vancouver Island, Union Bay, British Columbia, is a charming community in the Comox Valley. Located approximately 93 kilometres north of Nanaimo and 14 kilometres south of Courtenay, Union Bay offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty.

Union Bay, British Columbia: A Glimpse into First Nations History

Before the 1780s smallpox epidemic, the area was home to over 3,000 Pentlatch people living in more than 90 large villages and small settlements. The Lekwiltok (Euclataws) from an unaffected northern region attacked the K'ómoks, driving them south. However, the 1862 smallpox epidemic equally ravaged the Lekwiltok.

The 1946 Vancouver Island earthquake unearthed wooden posts in the sand and mud 15 kilometres north of Union Bay, evidencing a former Pentlatch presence. Excavations in 2019–2020 for a residential estate at the mouth of Hart Creek unearthed a number of Pentlatch human remains. Today, the K'ómoks First Nation comprises descendants of both the Pentlatch and K'ómoks peoples.

Union Bay, British Columbia: A Journey through its Railway History

The discovery of coal deposits in today's Cumberland area led to the construction of a railway line to a wharf at today's Royston. However, when Robert Dunsmuir acquired the operation in 1887 and formed the Union Colliery Co., the track surveyors were redirected to Union Bay. The deep-water bay was better suited than Royston's shallow harbour.

The railway line, completed in 1889, included a long howe truss across the Trent River. In 1914, the railhead for the northward extension of the E&N Railway reached Union Bay. Union Bay was a flag stop when Via Rail on Vancouver Island ceased in 2011.

Union Bay, British Columbia: The Tale of its Former Wharves

Opened in 1889, the wharves in Union Bay were the largest constructed in BC. The principal wharf could load four colliers simultaneously, while the other handled general freight and coal if required. The wharves played a significant role during the two world wars, supplying fuel for allied freighters. The final freighter was the M.S. Hikawa Maru in 1951, but coal barges continued calling during that decade.

Union Bay, British Columbia: Remnants of its Coal Infrastructure

In 1896, the colliery erected a "Luhrig" coal washer and completed 100 beehive coke ovens. The coal gas byproduct powered boilers operating in the locality, which included a brickyard. All the structures were demolished between 1966–1968.

Union Bay, British Columbia: Echoes of its Former Hotels & Retail

Union Bay was known for its hotels and retail establishments. George Howe, who built the Nelson Hotel in 1893, erected a store on the beach in 1886. The community was initially named Union Wharf, but by 1893, Union Bay was used interchangeably, before gaining predominance.

Union Bay, British Columbia: The Story of Henry Wagner

Henry Wagner, known as the "Flying Dutchman", was a notorious criminal who robbed coastal communities. In March 1913, while Wagner was burglarizing a general store, a gunfight ensued with local police officers, resulting in one officer's death. Wagner was apprehended and sentenced to be hanged that August.

Union Bay, British Columbia: A Walk Down Heritage Row

Heritage Row in Union Bay features the elementary school (1915), church (1906), post office (1913), and gaolhouse (1901). The Union Bay Historical Society now operates the post office, and the former gaolhouse is a gift shop/museum. The Union Bay United Church still holds Sunday services.

Union Bay, British Columbia: The Later Settlement and Future Developments

In 1953, the Union Bay Water Association bought the village water system from the Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir). The community hall was moved to its present location in 1962. Today, Union Bay is a popular retirement community with a thriving aquaculture sector.

In 2020, Union Bay Estates broke ground on a new subdivision to house at least 7,000 people, with a proposed marina, hotels, and commercial district. The development of a marina is problematic due to the risk of releasing toxic heavy metals, buried during the coal port era, into the marine ecosystem of the Baynes Sound area. The government includes the Union Bay coal hills among the priority contaminated sites in BC. In 2020, governance of Union Bay was assumed by the Comox Valley Regional District.