The tiny oceanside community of Fanny Bay is situated on Baynes Sound, the sheltered narrow strait separating Vancouver Island and Denman Island. The tranquil setting of Fanny Bay overlooks the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands, with the Coastal Mountains of the British Columbia mainland as the backdrop.
None of the numerous explanations for the origin of the name Fanny Bay – comical, romantic, local or historical – can be regarded without a measure of skepticism.
Fanny Bay first appeared in the 1864 edition of the Vancouver Island Pilot, based on surveys by Captain G.H. Richards of the Royal Navy, but exactly who Fanny was remains a mystery.
Modern visitors are likely to be found with white plastic pails, surveying the silty shores in search of the oysters for which Fanny Bay is so well known.
Fanny Bay is on the northern boundary of Lighthouse Country, a stretch of Highway 19A that runs along the oceanside from Qualicum Bay to Fanny Bay.
Location: Fanny Bay is located on Baynes Sound on the east coast of Vancouver Island, an hour north of Nanaimo.
The Brico, a vessel once responsible for laying cable along the B.C. coast, was dragged ashore near Fanny Bay and operated as a restaurant for a period of time. After serving as a popular landmark and restaurant for so many years, the vessel was dismantled and carted off to the scrap yard in 2008. All that remains are the photographs and fond memories of the roadside Brico.
Oysters: Fanny Bay is home to the world-famous Fanny Bay Oysters, growers, processors and exporters of farm-raised Pacific oysters and Manila clams. Their processing plant provides pre-arranged tours of their facility, and will answer some of your questions, like “Where do baby oysters come from?”, “Do you ever find any pearls?”, or “Is it true that oysters are an aphrodisiac?”.
Dining on Oysters: Piles of oyster shells are everywhere on the beach – head for any local eatery to savour a true gourmet treat! Fanny Bay oysters are famous – try some.
Sea Lions: Watch for sea lions basking in the sun on log booms in the vicinity of the Brico Restaurant.
The Fanny Bay Conservation Unit provides access to the diverse bird life found at Fanny Bay and the surrounding habitat. The sanctuary includes forests and upland areas, marine waters and mudflats providing a wide range of wildlife habitat. The bay and estuary are visited by harbour seals, and moms with pups are easily viewed during late summer and early fall. From Highway 19 near Fanny Bay take Ships Point Road, then left onto Tozer Road to the parking at the end of the road, from where a trail provides access between the marsh area and the tidal mud flats. Farther along the trail you enter the forest.
Drop in at the landmark Fanny Bay Inn, known on the island as the FBI. This is a real roadhouse, with local clientele, a fine fireplace, the obligatory collection of tankards, a dart board, and hearty pub fare. A low-key, convenient stop on the trek north from Parksville.
BC Ferries operates a vehicle and passenger scheduled ferry service from Buckley Bay Ferry Terminal, 4 km north of Fanny Bay, to the offshore Denman Island. Travellers wishing to visit Hornby Island must first take the ferry to Denman Island and cross the island to Gravelly Bay. A second ferry to Hornby Island makes the short crossing between Gravelly Bay on Denman and Shingle Spit on Hornby Island. You will want to spend at least a day on the lovely Denman and Hornby Islands, touring artists’ studios, swimming on a sandy beach, hiking the bluffs and trails, scuba diving or just plain relaxing.
Fishing: This world-renown fishing area is ideal for both the novice or expert looking to land that trophy Tyee (King Coho). Deep Bay to the south of Fanny Bay launches boats for the rich coho and chinook salmon grounds along the coastline and offshore islands and rocks. You’ll also find good windsurfing in the protected waters of Deep Bay, nicely sheltered by Mapleguard Point.
Golf: Golf courses in the area include the Crown Isle Golf Club in Courtenay, and the Comox Golf Course, a challenging nine-hole course in the heart of downtown Comox. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
South of Fanny Bay the roadside Rosewall Creek Provincial Park is a small 63-hectare park straddling both sides of Highway (19A) between the south end of Mud Bay and Deep Bay. Rosewall Creek is an important winter habitat area for waterfowl and shorebirds. The park uplands are heavily wooded with second growth forests of Douglas-fir, grand fir, and western red cedar. Western hemlock and sitka spruce are also common. In more open sites, in the understory and along creek beds, big-leaf maple, red alder, salmonberry, wild rose, snowberry, and skunk-cabbage are found. The park is wheel chair accessible and provides a picnic area and walking trails and the opportunity for anglers to try riverbank casting at the entrance to Qualicum Bay.
Adjacent to Rosewall Creek is Mud Bay, a shallow tidal bay with extensive mudflats exposed at low tides – important winter habitat areas for waterfowl and shorebirds. At its south end the bay deepens slightly and broadens into a tidal lagoon, part of the Baynes Sound wetlands complex. Rosewall creek meanders along the eastern side of the bay and empties into the sound over a broad delta of silt deposited primarily during peak winter run-offs. Baynes Sound is used extensively by Western Grebe, Common Loon, Trumpeter Swan, Brant, Mallards, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and mergansers are common. Bald Eagles congregate in large numbers at the mouth of salmon streams during winter. A colony of Brewer’s Blackbird have been known to nest on a gravel bar in Rosewall Creek.
Mountain Biking: On the ferry ride from Denman Island over to Hornby Island, you can’t help but notice the spectacular cliffs that drop almost to the ferry landing. Imagine the exhilaration of travelling atop those cliffs on your mountain bike. Then ride the Bench Trail, which is atop the cliffs, and feel your knees go wobbly, and not just from the 1,000-foot (305-m) ascent to get there. Trails crisscross the island in all directions, and though the Bench Trail offers the best views, they are all worth exploring, especially the No Horses Trail, a half-pipe-like trail that follows an old riverbed.
Denman Island is home to 3 provincial parks. Located off the northwest tip of Denman Island, is Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park, a cluster of tiny, wooded islands. At the centre of Sandy Island (or Tree Island on some maps) a mighty stand of Douglas fir shelters 8 rustic campsites. Sandy Island is located so close to the north end of Denman Island that at low tide you can wade to the 33-hectare park from the tip of Longbeak Point.
The campground at Fillongley Provincial Park is located in a forested setting on the east side of Denman, about 2.5 miles (4 km) from the ferry dock to Buckley Bay. Although the campsites are tightly packed together with only concrete dividers to separate them, the sand and pebble beach that fronts the park is spacious and provides ample opportunity for exploring and, in season, hunting for shellfish for dinner.
A forested trail leads through Boyle Point Provincial Park at the south end of East Road on Denman Island. Although not a lengthy walk, this 1-mile (1.6 km across) excursion will give your legs a good workout, and you will be rewarded at the end of the trail with views of Hornby Island and the strategically located lighthouse on Chrome Island just offshore. Cliffs precipitously drop off below the lookout at trail’s end.
Hornby Island: Every island is invested with magic. Those who visit Hornby Island have really bought into the dream, as it takes two ferries to reach. Once there, head for the picnic grounds at Tribune Bay Provincial Park or Helliwell Provincial Park. The latter sits on a headland forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. If you arrive here in spring you’ll be treated to a dazzling wildflower display. The rewards of visiting later in summer are the huckleberries and dark blue salal berries that cloak the hillside above the beach. Tribune Bay boasts eroded hoodoo formations and a sandy beach that vies with any in the Gulf Islands as the most ideal place to frolic and swim. Owing to the low elevation of most Gulf and Discovery Islands, walking routes are neither lengthy nor challenging. Some of the best trails are on Hornby Island and lead around Helliwell Provincial Park. A 3-mile (5-km) loop trail follows the bluffs that rise above the beach and lead through open fields and stands of magnificent old-growth Douglas fir. One of the best times to be here is in late April and early May, when wildflowers carpet the hillside above the beach.
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.