Located in the Comox Valley south of Courtenay, and once Canada’s smallest and westernmost city, Cumberland was a bustling coal mining community from 1888, with workers streaming in from Europe, China and Japan.
Cumberland was founded in 1888 by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. The original settlement was named Union after the Union Coal Company. In 1898, the post office address of Union was changed to Cumberland, as many of the town miners were from the famous English coal-mining district of Cumberland in England.
Cumberland remained an active coal mining town until 1966, enduring devasting mine explosions and bitter labour disputes. Cumberland had become an important centre for local trade and commerce, with distinct ethnic settlements having been established. As the coal industry declined, the local population decreased, until Cumberland began to reclaim its history and transform a quiet village into a dynamic tourist centre.
For those who’ve seen Victoria’s Craigdarroch Castle where coal baron Robert Dunsmuir lived, come see where the coal miners worked. In Cumberland, you’ll find heritage buildings and the remains of what once was one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. Whether your interest is in history, culture, recreation or beautiful scenery, Cumberland has something for everyone.
Location: Cumberland is located south of Courtenay in the Comox Valley. Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. Approaching from the north, Highway 19 links the Comox Valley and Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island. The Comox Valley is a two-and-a-half hour drive north from Victoria, or a 75-minutes drive from the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point near Nanaimo.
BC Ferries operates a route between Comox and Powell River on the British Columbia mainland. The Comox Valley Regional Airport is served by three major airlines, with 12 daily flights between Vancouver and Comox and direct flights from Calgary. Small aircraft and floatplanes land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay. Daily coach lines connect all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland, and local bus service is also available in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.
View maps of the area
Cumberland was once home to the fifth largest Chinese settlement in British Columbia, where two 400-seat theatres hosted touring Chinese singers and acrobats. It is said that the former Chinatown was modelled after the village of Canton in China, hometown of most of the Chinese miners. Today, the old Chinatown site is a tranquil marsh, home to osprey, harlequin ducks, hooded mergansers and other waterfowl.
Heritage Architecture: Stroll along Cumberland’s streets where the architecture reflects the local pride in the town’s history.
Visit the fascinating Cumberland Museum, nestled in the foothills of the Beaufort Mountains. Heritage tours take visitors back in time… highlights include a walk-through replica of a coal mine, the story of labour leader/organizer Ginger Goodwin, a slide presentation of historic Chinatown, a computerized database of local family history, and guided tours of the village.
On Cumberland Road east of the village are the Japanese Cemetery, the Chinese Cemetery, and the burial site of Ginger Goodwin, a popular labour leader whose slaying in 1918 lead to anger in the community and riots in Vancouver when returned servicemen attacked the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council office during a half-day general strike called in Vancouver on the day of Goodwin’s funeral in Cumberland.
Miner’s Memorial Day in late June commemorates the lives of the nearly 300 miners who lost their lives working in the coal mine.
Surrounded by mountains and fed by a glacier, glorious Comox Lake, has good freshwater fishing for trout and char year-round. Boaters must beware of the strong winds that rise in the afternoon on the large, dammed lake west of Cumberland on Comox Lake Road. You’ll find a boat launch at the west end of Comox Lake Road.
Camping: The remote Willemar Lake and Forbush Lake, on the Puntledge River to the south of the southern tip of Comox Lake, offer great canoeing and wilderness camping in two camping places. Follow the Comox Lake Main logging road past the south end of Comox Lake to the foot of Willemar Lake. The Puntledge River Trail begins at the trailhead at the western end of Forbush Lake, hiking through the magnificent old-growth forest of the Upper Puntledge. After about 2 km there is a delightful rest spot at a waterfall, beyond which a rougher trail leads to Puntledge Lake.
The Cumberland Community Forest Society is seeking to preserve the Cumberland forest, a 56-hectare area of second-growth forest that forms a scenic backdrop to Cumberland. Funds are being raised by the community to purchase the land from an American timber company. Located southwest of Cumberland between Comox Lake Road and Perseverance Creek, this forest of Douglas Fir, hemlock and red cedar is a jewel for the community of Cumberland, used for mushroom picking, walking, hiking and mountain biking. Naturalists visit for the tranquility, the songbirds, sword ferns, salal and Saskatoon berry bushes that line the trails through the forest.
Mt. Washington Ski Resort: Cumberland is a good base for skiing at Mt. Washington Ski Resort, located 19 miles (31 km) west of Hwy 19. Mount Washington (elevation 5,216 feet/1590 m) has long been known for having good snow conditions from early in winter to well past Easter, despite the fact that the top of the mountain isn’t as high as the peaks of Blackcomb or Whistler Mountains. The snow here is often deeper than anywhere else in British Columbia, and occasionally anywhere else in the world! In 1995, Mount Washington had more snow than any other ski resort in the world. This accounts, in part, for Mount Washington being the second-busiest winter recreation destination in British Columbia, behind Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mount Washington also provides excellent hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in summer, or you can simply make the 40-minute trip to Mount Washington to ride the chair lift and enjoy the wonderful views of the surrounding area.
Strathcona Provincial Park: No visit to the central island is complete without a visit to Strathcona Provincial Park, a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Mountain Peaks dominate the park, some eternally mantled with snow, while lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. Created in 1911, Strathcona is the oldest provincial park in BC and the largest on Vancouver Island. Fabulous hiking trails include the Della Falls trail to the highest waterfall in Canada, and dozens of trails to the many pretty alpine lakes that dot the Forbidden Plateau area, providing good fly fishing for rainbow trout during summer.
Enjoy year-round recreation on Forbidden Plateau in Strathcona Provincial Park, once a hideaway for native refugees who mysteriously disappeared in its mountainous terrain. Winter provides extensive cross-country tracks for intermediate and experienced skiers. Summer brings great hiking and camping, and superb flyfishing for trout in the small alpine lakes during the spring and fall.
Hiking: Hike or bike along the many wooded trails in the area. With Cumberland being so close to Strathcona Park, there is no shortage of hiking possibilities in the area. Boston Ridge Trail is a good 13-km circle day hike up and over Boston Ridge and up to Mount Becher north of Comox Lake, with some marvellous views.
Mountain Biking: The Comox Valley is blessed with a plethora of multiuse and mountainbiking trails. Many of the trails revolve around the Puntledge River and Comox Lake. A network of nine moderate-to-difficult trails near Courtenay, known collectively as the Comox Lake-Puntledge River Trails, starts at the dam on Comox Lake. Most of the trails here are hard-core singletrack, so if you find yourself chewing dirt, you can’t say we didn’t warn you.
The parking lot is on the west side of the dam at the mouth of Comox Lake. Trails begin just west of the dam. Ride west on this gravel road and take the first road (B21) north. About 15 minutes uphill is a trail that leads off to the right. This is called Puntledge Plunge, and you’ll figure out why in the first few seconds of a near-vertical descent. More moderate trails are available for all levels of riders.
Mountain bikers who like their ascents easy, and their descents long and sweet, can’t get it any easier or sweeter than catching the Blue chairlift at Mt. Washington Ski Resort and riding down. The mountain biking season here generally begins by July 1 and extends through August. Mount Washington is 5,216 feet (1590 m) above sea level. At the end of the day you can take a long time making your descent back into the Comox Valley.
Golf: Par Excellence! Golf at Crown Isle Golf Club, or your choice of 5 other year-round golf courses and 3 seasonal courses in the Courtenay area. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.