Our primary intent in visiting Alert Bay was to visit the First Nations cultural center. The ferry ride over from Port McNeil was short and uneventful. Coming off the ferry into the village of Alert Bay it was easy to see this is not a real tourist mecca. The small business section, a few short blocks, was clean and tidy. There was a definite government presence with RCMP station and wharf for fish and game boats etc. We had picked up a well designed, detsiled map of the island before boarding the ferry and used it to navigate the island. We wanted to see the Big House and it's totem pole - largest in the world. We got to the site of the Big House thinking it might be open as for a look - it was buttoned up tight. The very very tall totem pole was nearby and we gawked at it while being watched by 20 or more huge Canadian ravens... ( spirits of the local deceased? )
We followed a dirt road out of the village which unknowingly lead to the burial grounds of the local indigenous peoples... it was amazing to see gravesites with totems, flowers etc.. We later found the island's campground and picked a site to camp for the evening. Although it was uneventful night in the Sprinter, little did we know that dense smoke and bad air was creeping in from the numerous fires burning throughout the island and beyond.... later hearing some of it was even from Siberia! We had our usual berry, yogurt and granola breakfast and decided to explore the rest of the island. As we explored the old and broken piers down shore from the ferry terminal we spotted the U'Mista ( yup... like You Missed it !) Cultural Center. It appeared to be quite new in construction and upon entering the building and visiting with the receptionists found out it held many, many ancient artifacts of the local first nations peoples. We spent almost two hours in the building drinking up the history, art work of the masks and ceremonial dress of the culture. We both agreed that this museum / cultural center was one of the best we have ever visited. It was humbling to learn of the atrocities against these peoples and particularly their children as the white man worked to convert them to the Angelo ways. Echoed what the US government worked so hard to do here in the US when the west was being settled.
I'd highly recommend visiting Alert Bay and particularly the cultural center if you are ever on the north end of Van Island.