A friendly hamlet at the northern end of the Comox Valley, Merville was named after the location in France where Canadians set up their initial field headquarters during World War I. Merville B.C.’s first inhabitants were a Group of soldiers and their families resettled by the government immediately following that war.
As you drive the Island Highway (Highway 19) through the Comox Valley, it’s always a treat to look across the Strait of Georgia at landmarks on the mainland, as the spires of the Coast Mountains rise on the eastern horizon.
As you head towards Courtenay and Campbell River, the peaks and glaciers of Vancouver Island’s ranges that rise in the west vie for your attention, principally the imposing Comox Glacier, Forbidden Plateau, and Mount Washington. As the highway winds past well-kept farms, this is a serenely rural part of the island journey.
Location: Merville is located at the northern end of the Comox Valley. Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. Approaching from the north, Island 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 ferry 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.
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Logging: In the 1890s, the area surrounding Merville was the site of one of the earliest clearcut logging operations in British Columbia.
Merville is the place where renowned B.C. author Jack Hodgins grew up, gathering impressions for such later novels as Spit Delaney’s Island and Barclay Family Theatre.
Salmon Spawn: Coho salmon may be observed in Black Creek during the fall months. A counting fence makes it easier to view the salmon as they return to the streams of their birth to spawn.
Boat Launch: Anglers will find a boat launch at the aptly named Salmon Point in Black Creek. Fly-fish for coho in September at the mouth of Black Creek, which flows through Miracle Beach Provincial Park into the Strait of Georgia, as well as farther north at Oyster River on Hwy 19.
Fishing: Some of the best saltwater fishing on the island, particularly for salmon, can be found in the waters of the Strait of Georgia north of the Puntledge River Estuary between Courtenay and Comox, and off of Cape Lazo, King Coho, and Bates Beach near Merville. Because of its sheltered location and an absence of dangerous currents, the shoreline around Comox is well suited for rod fishing in a small boat. If the weather does change, you can see it coming and quickly make for shore. Shore angling for salmon is popular in Comox Bay from August to November. The closer you get to Campbell River, the better the salmon fishing becomes. Tidal flows in Discovery Passage churn up clouds of nutrients that sustain a complex food chain, which includes, near the top, tasty salmon.
Golf: North of Merville is the Saratoga Beach Golf Course in Saratoga Beach, and Storey Creek Golf Course and Sequoia Springs Golf Club in Campbell River. To the south is the Crown Isle Golf and Country Club in Courtenay. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Sandy Beaches: The tide along this stretch of the shoreline goes out for over a quarter of a mile, creating a hard-packed oceanfront playground perfect for children to safely explore and play on. The gently sloping beach continues for well over a mile into the calm waters of the Strait of Georgia, creating warm, shallow and safe swimming conditions, free from powerboat traffic, deep water or strong currents. Beachcombing is a must here, where you can discover the life at low tide – a seashore profusion of sand dollars, crabs and starfish!
Miracle Beach Provincial Park is one of the most popular parks on Vancouver Island, located immediately north of Merville beside Hwy 19. It’s a 10-minute walk from the campsites to the extravagant expanse of cobblestone beach that gives way to hard-packed sand flats at low tide where herons stalk, seals bark, and ravens and eagles call. What a chorus!
The beach seems to stretch forever in each direction. From the covered picnic shelter (featuring two gas barbeques) visitors look east out onto Elma Bay. Watch for harbour porpoises, Steller sea lions, California sea lions (much smaller), harbour seals, and killer whales. The campsites are located in a second-growth forest of gnarly Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock. Wildflowers bloom throughout the park from early spring to the end of summer. Black Creek flows through the park and past the Miracle Beach Nature House, which has natural-history displays. Beachcombers will find a tide chart posted here daily from late May to September. Pick up a brochure here and take a self-guided nature walk through the park.
Mountain Biking: Seal Bay Nature Park in Merville doesn’t have a lot of downhill, but then, it doesn’t have a lot of uphill, either. This is a nature park, but if you’re trying to find some easy cranking and some peace of mind, you could do a whole lot worse than the multiuse trails here. All trails are well marked and begin from the park’s main trailhead on Bates Road.
Seal Bay Regional Nature Park on Bates Road is a BC Wildlife Watch viewing site where California and Steller sea lions, seals, and migratory birds hang out at this sunny stretch of coastline. Spring is a time of increased activity, when the sea lions arrive as they follow the annual herring and eulachon migration. (Eulachon are a small, sardine-sized fish.) Trails begin from the north end of the road and lead to a staircase that descends to the beach.
Mt. Washington Ski Resort: Merville is a great place to return to and relax in after a day of skiing at Mt. Washington Ski Resort, located 19 miles (31 km) west of Hwy 19 at Courtenay. 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. Mountain 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.