Rolling orchards and warm rock-strewn beaches abound on Mayne Island, a rustic 21-square-kilometre island in the southern Gulf Islands chain of British Columbia. This friendly island midway between the lower mainland of BC and Vancouver Island is small enough for a day trip, but pretty enough for a lifetime.
In 1794, Captain George Vancouver camped on Georgina Point, where his crew left a coin and a knife found over a century later by early settlers. Captain George Richards of the Royal Navy surveyed the area aboard his vessel HMS Plumper in 1857, naming the island after his lieutenant, Richard Charles Mayne.
During the Cariboo and Fraser River Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, Vancouver Island miners gathered on Mayne Island before rowing across Georgia Strait to the mainland of BC in search of their fortunes. The earliest homesteaders registered land claims in the Miners Bay area in 1859.
These days, Miners Bay, the island’s commercial centre, and nearby Active Pass still throb with a steady stream of marine traffic, a bustling contrast to the island’s quiet interior byways. Village Bay, with its BC Ferries terminal, has several late 1800s to 1930s buildings to intrigue the history buff. Active pass is named after the American survey ship USS Active, the first steam vessel to navigate the pass.
The natural beauty of Mayne Island offers picturesque seascapes, pastoral farmlands and rich west coast forest. Drop by the lighthouse, watch the frantic activity as fishermen wait till the last minute to get out of the ferry’s way in Active Pass, or stroll up to the top of Mayne’s mountain for a view of the Strait of Georgia – and you’ll begin to discover what Mayne is all about.
The temperate climate ensures that Mayne Island is a year-round destination. If you want to stay overnight on the island, there are many bed and breakfasts, as well as a private campground at Seal Beach on Miners Bay. There are no provincial parks on Mayne Island.
Location: Mayne Island is located in the Southern Gulf Islands, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. BC Ferries operates a vehicle and passenger scheduled ferry service from Tsawwassen on the mainland and Swartz Bay (Sidney) on Vancouver Island. Vehicle reservations are recommended between the mainland and Mayne Island, but are not available between Swartz Bay and the Southern Gulf Islands, nor for inter-island travel.
Helen Point Peninsula contains the oldest recorded human settlement remains in the Southern Gulf Islands. Archaeological excavations provide evidence of three distinct occupations of the site in pre-historic times, punctuated by periods of abandonment, with the earliest probable occupation estimated at 5,000 years ago. Located on the northwest corner of Mayne Island, on Active Pass, today the peninsula is the Helen Point Reserve of the Tsartlip band of Saanich First Nations.
Mayne Island Museum is housed in the old jail built in 1896, known as the Plumper Pass Lockup. Located on Fernhill Road in Miners Bay, the museum displays island treasures that include a number of artifacts from the oldest wreck in the Gulf Islands.
Japanese Garden adjacent to Dinner Bay Community Park combines history with the beauty of nature in a serene setting. This garden area includes a pond, bridges, waterfall, hidden garden, lovingly created torii gates, and an authentic replication of a Japanese charcoal kiln. The garden was developed to commemorate the Japanese families who settled on Mayne Island from 1900 to 1942.
The Kadonaga family was the first to arrive, settling at Horton Bay in 1900. They came from Agarimichi, Japan, and other families, many of them their relatives, arrived from the same village in the Prefecture of Tottori in the years that followed. They established a strong sense of fellowship with the other island residents and were welcomed into the community. At Dinner Bay, the Adachi family had their farm and orchard, with a herring saltery in the bay. With the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, they were forced to leave in 1942.
Active Pass Light Station, also known as Georgina Point Light Station, is a familiar landmark for ferry travellers between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The light’s first keeper was Henry “Scotty” Georgeson who lit up for the first time in June 1885. Within two months he wrote to his superior requesting a fog horn. A bell was later installed, followed by a fog horn. Scotty’s son, George, later became his assistant. Today, Georgina Point Heritage Park and Lighthouse is popular with visitors looking to picnic, bask in the sun, or watch the seals hauled out on rocks on the eastern side of the point.
The Centennial Well, located on Horton Bay Road just past Fernhill Road, is a monument built in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial celebration.
The Anglican Church of St. Mary Magdalene, overlooking Active Pass on Georgina Point Road, was built in 1897 and has been in constant use for church services since then, except for a period during the Second World War. The Lych Gate on Georgina Point Road was erected by the Royal Canadian Legion and dedicated in 1952. The church was founded by Canon Paddon, who came to British Columbia from England in 1896. He was sent to Mayne Island, where he commenced church services in the local school and at Robson’s Hotel.
Arts and Crafts: Like most of the BC Gulf Islands, Mayne Island is home to a variety of talented artists. Galleries, shops and studios specialize in paintings, pottery, glass blowing, fabric art, dried flowers, home preserves, jewellery and carvings.
Fall Fair: The Agricultural Hall on Mayne Island hosts the oldest Fall Fair in the BC Gulf Islands, with the first fair hosted in 1925. Held on a Saturday in mid August, the fair includes a farmers’ market, a parade on Fernhill Road, activities at the Museum (Jail), wheat grinding, music and entertainment, and ongoing activities for children.
Beaches abound on Mayne Island. Sample the sand at Bennett Bay, Dinner Bay, Campbell Bay, Piggott Bay and Oyster Bay. Some of the beaches are pebbled, and most have rocky weather-carved sandstone shoreline or outcrops to explore. Note the tilted geological layers created around forty million years ago when shifting tectonic plates thrust Mayne Island out of the sea.
Public beach access is provided at Conconi Reef Park (Navy Channel Road), Miners Bay Park (end of Naylor Road), Village Bay (Dalton Drive or Mariner’s Way), Georgina Point Park (end of Georgina Point Road), Kadonga Beach (Beechwood Drive), Anson Road (100m from Horton Bay Road), and Neil Road Seaview on Georgina Point Road.
Campbell Bay: A beautiful sand-and-pebble beach is located on Mayne Island’s east side at Campbell Bay. The trail leading down to the beach is not well marked, but isn’t difficult to locate. Follow Georgina Point Road east of Miners Bay to its junction with Waugh Road. Head south on Waugh, and as the road rounds Campbell Bay, watch for a shady trail that runs down the embankment to the ocean below. An overhanging forest shades the beach, providing a cool place to relax out of the sun. Big pieces of driftwood sit mired in the sand, ready to prop you up to enjoy the view as you look due east across the strait towards Vancouver.
Miners Bay: Much of the beach at Miners Bay is composed of a gently sloping shelf of smooth rock. At low tide much of this table rock is revealed and makes for interesting exploration. Miners Bay is the commercial hub of Mayne Island and is anchored by the historic Springwater Lodge. Perched at the head of Miners Bay Wharf in Active Pass, the Springwater Lodge was built in 1892, and is now the oldest continuously operated hotel in British Columbia. Make your way from the ferry dock along Village Bay Road, an easy walk or bike ride.
Mount Parke Regional Park is the highest point on Mayne Island, offering a good hike with the reward of great views of Active Pass and a beautiful view across Swanson Channel and the surrounding islands. Accessed at the end of Montrose Road, the 270-metre climb to Halliday Ridge takes approximately 45 minutes each way (2.2km). Other trails in the park include the Lowland Nature Trail, the Old Gulch Trail, the Loop Trail, Viewpoint Trail, and the Linking Trail.
Hikes and Trails: There are a number of trails to Vulture Ridge. The west end of Vulture Ridge Viewpoint Trail is accessed 200 metres beyond the cul-de-sac at the end of Beechwood Drive, and the east end at the pedestrian SRW opposite Lot #5. The trail ascends the bluff to the summit ridge of Henderson Hill at approximately 80 metres above sea level (1.1km). Linking with Vulture Ridge Trail are other short trails; Doreen McLeod Beach Access Trail (north end from Punch’s Alley and south end from VRVT trailhead), Don Herbert Memorial Trail (access from VRVT), Linking Trail, and East Boundary Trail, which joins Don Hebert and Vulture Ridge Trails.
Paddling: One of the most soulful ways to explore the Gulf Islands is in a sea kayak, sharing the water with orcas, seals, otters and sea lions that make the surrounding waters their home. Equipment can be rented on Mayne Island, and combined kayaking and camping trips are very popular. Mayne Island is located within easy paddling distance of Galiano Island, Samuel Island, the Belle Chain Islets, Saturna Island, North and South Pender Islands, Prevost Island, the Red Islets, and Saltspring Island. For those who come with car-top or hand-carried boats, there are numerous places to launch throughout the islands, beginning with any number of public wharfs and federal docks. Suitable locations on Mayne Island are located at Horton Bay and Bennett Bay. From Bennett Bay you can paddle to the nearby islets of the Gulf Islands National Park.
Cycling is a wonderful way to travel the roads and trails of the Gulf Islands, and Mayne Island is perhaps the most pleasant island on which to cycle. You can tour the whole island in the course of any easygoing day (about 18.5 miles/30 km), with stops around its perimeter at Miners Bay, the Georgina Point lighthouse (visiting hours 1-3pm daily), Campbell Bay, Horton Bay, and the BC Ferries dock and adjacent beach at Village Bay. As with all islands, freshwater is a precious and often rare commodity. One of the few places to fill your water bottles is at Dinner Point Community Day Park, a short ride south of Village Bay. A detailed road map of the island is available at the information kiosk above the dock.
Diving: Mayne Island’s reefs offer divers exceptional underwater scenery. Enterprise Reef, Conconi Reef, Georgia Shoal, and the wreck of the Zephyr await experienced divers prepared for the heavy marine traffic and swift currents that flow through Active Pass.
Fishing: Owing to the strength of the tidal currents coursing through Active Pass between Mayne and Galiano Islands, there are plenty of nutrients in the water to attract marine life. Salmon feed in these waters, although in recent years the large chinook have all but disappeared. It’s not as easy to purchase fresh seafood on the islands as you might imagine. Most islanders do their own crabbing and shrimping, but at Horton Bay you may find such delicacies for sale. Although the availability is seasonal, stop by the federal small craft dock between 4pm and 6pm and look for a truck with the personalized licence plates CRAB 4U, which says it all.
Wildlife: Upswelling currents bring cold, nutrient-rich waters to the surface around narrow passages between islands, such as in Active Pass, which divides Mayne and Galiano Islands. In April and early May, thousands of Bonaparte’s gulls, decked out in their black-headed breeding plumage, gather to feed on tiny shrimp or krill that float on the surface of Active Pass. Herring runs at this time of year attract California sea lions and bald eagles, as well as hundreds of jet-black Pacific loons and Brandt’s cormorants. One of the best places to observe all this action is from the deck of a BC Ferries vessel as it reduces speed when moving through Active Pass. The rich waters of the Active Pass Important Bird Area support 40 species of marine birds at some time during the year. The best viewing times are from fall to spring.
Island Hopping: Travelling between the Southern Gulf Islands and Northern Gulf Islands can be accomplished in small hops. Each of these islands is a world unto itself, each with its own history, culture and colourful characters. Each island deserves at least a day or two for exploring.
The closest Gulf Islands to Mayne are Galiano Island, on the north shore of Active Pass, Pender Islands to the west, and Saturna Island to the southeast. All are connected by a vehicle and passenger service operated by BC Ferries.