The friendly residents of the small coastal settlement of Sayward on Kelsey Bay live in a spectacular natural environment in the Sayward Valley of North Vancouver Island.
Logging is the primary industry in the area around Sayward and Kelsey Bay, but tourism continues to grow and gain in importance. Outdoor recreation includes caving, kayaking, hiking, whale watching, and wildlife viewing.
First settled as Port Kusum in the 1890s, at the mouth of the Salmon River overlooking Johnstone Strait, the settlement was officially named Sayward in 1911, after William Parsons Sayward, a carpenter and lumber merchant who moved from California to Victoria in 1858, becoming a very successful lumberman on the Island. Although he never visited the Sayward area, the government of the day decided he deserved some honour and so named the community after him.
When the first settlers arrived, there was a small First Nations village on the Salmon River. By 1917, the village was empty and today the reserve is unoccupied, with most of the descendants living in nearby communities.
The wharf at Kelsey Bay was once the southern terminus for the B.C. Ferries Inside Passage route until 1978, when Highway 19 was extended north to Port Hardy, but is now a convenient stopping point for sport fishing and eco-tourism. Fresh seafood is often available from one or more boats tied up at the federal wharf.
As with all communities on northern Vancouver Island, Sayward was only easily accessible by water in the past. It was not until after World War II that a gravel road connected Sayward with Campbell River, and not until 1979 that a paved road connected the North Island.
Location: The community of Sayward is located on the east coast of north Vancouver Island, British Columbia, accessed by a 10-km paved road off the Island Highway 19. Travel time along the Island Highway 19 to Sayward is under one hour from Campbell River in the south, and about 2 hours from Port Hardy to the north. Sayward can also be reached by boat at Kelsey Bay.
The World’s Largest Yellow Cedar stood tall for centuries, a giant among B.C.’s largest trees. Sargeant RandAlly after Randall Dayton and Ally Gibson, the two forestry engineers who discovered it in 1993, the world champion tree boasts impressive statistics; Height 61m (200 ft), Circumference 13.08m (42ft.11in), Diameter 4.16m (13.7ft), Crown Spread 16m (52.5ft), and Stem Volume 175 cubic meters (6,200 cu. ft). Shortly before the opening of the St. RandAlly recreational site, the Alaskan yellow cedar, succumbed to old age. The demise of the 2,000-year-old tree shocked supporters, who had worked to keep it safe and had viewing platforms constructed around it. But they are looking on the bright side, saying the sights of the massive tree on its side on the forest floor gives an even better view of its size.
Champion trees in North America are determined using a point system that awards 1 point per inch of circumference at breast height, 1 point per foot in height, and 1 point for every 4 feet diameter of the live crown. Sgt. RandAlly’s score in British Columbia Big Tree Points is 728. The number 2 yellow cedar in the record book is Admiral Broeren (575 points), also located in the Memekay, with more volume (188 cubic meters) than Sgt. RandAlly, but smaller in height, crown and diameter.
Hkusam Mountain: Watch for a mysterious steamy ring round the peak of Hkusam Mountain – the Kwakwaka’wakw People called it Hiatsee Saklekum: “Where the breath of the sea lion gathers at the blow-hole”.
Fall and winter are good times to visit the Salmon River Wildlife Reserve to view winter waterfowl. Spring is also a delightful time due to the prolific nesting around the estuary. At one time this 52-hectare reserve on the Salmon River estuary sheltered and sustained the island’s largest wintering population of Trumpeter Swans, which are still numerous here. The village maintains the path along the estuary to make your viewing experience even more special. Visitors are asked to be very careful not to disturb the wildlife at any time.
Visit the unique Cable Cookhouse, a steel-framed building wrapped with 8,200 feet (2,700 metres) of wire cable weighing 26 tons, located on the east side of the one-lane bridge on Sayward Road that crosses the Salmon River. The Cable Cookhouse provides excellent food and welcomes all travellers. And, don’t miss the The Logger’s Totem, built in 1986 by Glen Duncan to honour the logger.
Picnic Site: There’s romantic picnicking just south of the Adam River Bridge on Hwy 19, 10 km north of the turnoff to Sayward. As you feast, enjoy the view of Mounts Romeo and Juliet, the snowmelt from which fills Adam and Eve Lakes, from which two rivers of the same names flow east into Johnstone Strait. Equally impressive is the sight of Jagged Mountain and Mount Cain, which dominate the skyline north of here.
Kelsey Bay harbour is the only small craft harbour located between Campbell River and Port McNeill on Johnstone Straits. It offers a loading ramp, a derrick, a wave-reduction system, and the availability of marine gas. A boat launch ramp is located at the end of the old BC Ferries’ parking lot.
The Salmon River is one of the better known destinations for steelhead fishing on Vancouver Island, before it empties into Johnstone Strait at Kelsey Bay. Drive east of Hwy 19 towards Sayward and Kelsey Bay. En route, Sayward Road crosses the Salmon River at several points, offering access. Angling information is available where fishing licenses are sold; White River Court, Salmon River Motel and Fisherboy Park.
Skiing: Spend the day skiing and snowboarding in unbelievable powder at Mt. Cain Ski Resort (5,400 ft), located southwest Sayward, 25 minutes west off the Sayward Junction along Hwy 19. It’s a 16-km drive on a gravel road from the highway to the day lodge (3,900 ft), with chains mandatory on the last 10 km. Mount Cain offers a unique experience for skiers, snowboarders and backcountry explorers, with virtually no line-ups for lifts, and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The community-run Mt. Cain is located in a regional park, and is ideal for families and snow enthusiasts of all skill levels. The Mt. Cain resort usually opens from November to April.
Hiking: Hikers can spend the day on the trail up Mt H’Kusam, called Bill’s Trail by the locals. The 8-hour return trip to the summit (peak at 5,261 feet) will reward you with sweeping views of the area, including the village of Sayward, Kelsey Bay and the Salmon River estuary and wildlife reserve. The world-class hike is now an annual event in June, the “Kusam Klimb Challenge”. The trailhead for the Dalrymple Creek Trail is located 8 km south of the Sayward Junction on Highway 19, where Dalrymple Creek crosses the highway. The self-guided forest interpretation trail leads you on a 500-metre peaceful walk through a changing forest.
Alpine Hiking: Mount Cain also offers wonderful alpine hiking in a sea of bright flowers. Hiking trails also abound in the immediate vicinity of Sayward, including the White River Forest, a beautiful protected park with easy walking trails.
The Kusam Klimb is a wild and rugged 23-km race that draws participants from around the world hoping to conquer the mountain! The wilderness course is a loop heading up and over the back of Mt. H’Kusam, then down the Stowe Creek watershed. Starting at sea level, participants pass through some of the most spectacular scenery on Vancouver Island, with views of mountain peaks and the Johnstone Strait as they negotiate their way over the well-developed trail. The Kusam Klimb is held annually in mid June on the summer solstice. More information at www.kusamklimb.com.
Wildlife: Visitors driving the scenic route from Sayward to Port McNeill are very likely to encounter at least one large mammal alongside the road or ambling into the forest. Black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk and black bear are common year-round. Cougar and gray wolf are also present, but are less frequently spotted.
Paddling: The Salmon River is a popular river for exhilarating river rafting in the Sayward community, and the lakes and rivers offer a range of canoeing and kayaking routes.
The Sayward Forest Canoe Route covers almost 30 miles (50 km) of lakes east of Sayward. Allow three to four days to complete the circuit, which begins on Campbell Lake. Wisdom has it that the best approach to the route is to journey in a counterclockwise direction, putting in at the boat launch on Mohun Lake in Morton Lake Provincial Park. The well-marked route continues through 10 lakes before returning to the park. Road access to most of the lakes within the canoe route means that paddlers can pick and choose from a variety of put-in and take-out points.
North of Sayward, you’ll find good paddling on the Klaklakama Lakes. Travel 4 miles (7 km) south of Hwy 19 along a rough logging road that initially leads towards Schoen Lake Provincial Park. The best place to launch is from the Forest Service recreation site on Upper Klaklakama Lake (5 vehicle/tent sites). You’ll also find a small Forest Service recreation campground at the south end of Upper Klaklakama Lake, as well as a good picnic spot on Lower Klaklakama Lake near Hwy 19, when you’re in need of a break from driving.
The nearest large provincial park to Sayward is Schoen Lake Provincial Park, considered by some to be the most beautiful areas and lake on Vancouver Island, offering wilderness hiking, canoeing, fishing and spectacular mountain scenery.
Camping: With no private campground located beside Highway 19 from Campbell River north to Cape Scott, travellers must seek out a provincial or regional park, or Forest Service recreation site, if they want an alternative to a private campground. Elk Creek Recreation site is located about 500 meters north of the Hwy 19 turnoff to Kelsey Bay, on the west side of the highway (sign visible). The campground is a provincial recreation site maintained by the by Sayward Futures Society and is considered a wilderness camp, but does provide water, tables and outhouses. Pockets of Forest Service recreation sites occur around McCreight Lake as well as nearby Pye and Stella Lakes, all located east of Sayward and north of Hwy 19. To reach McCreighton Lake, take Rock Bay Road east of Hwy 19, about 23 miles (37 km) north of Campbell River. Both Pye and Stella Lakes are located short distances south of Rock Bay Road, and their respective turnoffs are well marked.
A public campsite is located at K’husam Park in Sayward, offering camping and a washroom, but no electrical hookups. Information is available at the Sayward Village Office. Three private campsites are also available.
Robson Bight (Michael Biggs) Ecological Reserve, west of Sayward in Johnstone Strait, provides ocean adventurers with a sure thing when it comes to whale watching. In this case it’s actually killer whale watching. Pods of orcas come to this part of Johnstone Strait each summer to rub on the barnacle-encrusted rocks at Robson Bight. As the top predator on the inland-water food chain, they are also attracted by the annual salmon runs that funnel through the strait beginning in late June. One of the best ways to approach killer whales is quietly aboard a boat or kayak. Whale watching and wildlife viewing tours are available out of Sayward.
Golf: Golfers will have to head south on the Island highway to Campbell River for a game at one of the two courses: Storey Creek Golf Club and the Sequoia Springs Golf Club. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Travel from Sayward to Zeballos – here is a community whose roads were once truly paved with gold! In fact, the owners of the nearby gold mine actually scraped the surface of the road at one time so the tailings could be run through new equipment and residual gold removed.