Sointula

The ferry to Alert Bay leaves from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island several times each day. Its typical route is: Port McNeill to Alert Bay; return to Port McNeill; Port McNeill to Sointula; return to Port McNeill. Rinse, repeat. But if, like Dale, you do your research, you can buy a single round-trip ticket to visit both Alert Bay and Sointula, which is what we did.

Sointula is a small village on Malcolm Island. Although Malcolm Island is considerably larger than Cormorant Island, it has a smaller population (576 in Sointula; 1,200 in Alert Bay), primarily of Finnish descent. Here’s a brief history of the place:

The island was largely uninhabited in 1900, when Finnish immigrant coal miners in Nanaimo petitioned the Dominion of Canada for a piece of land to escape their miserable working conditions and start a Utopia where they could live in a community where everyone shared, participated, and was treated equally. The Finns were given Malcolm Island, and they called their community established there Kalevan Kansa. The name of island’s main town, Sointula, is a Finnish word meaning “a place of harmony.” Concurrent with the arrival of the Finns, mariners petitioned for a light to be built at Pulteney Point to serve the growing shipping traffic.

Unfortunately for the settlers, their effort failed and half the population left the island after a tragic fire in 1903 destroyed the communal hall they had built, killing 11 of the settlers. The other half stayed on and many of the island’s current residents (like the ferry tollbooth attendant that sold us our ticket) can trace their lineage back to those original settlers. Today, the island appears to have active timber and fishing industries. We arrived at lunch time and proceeded to the only eating establishment on the island, the little “burger barn” at the marina. This was our view:


After lunch, we drove around the bay to visit the lighthouse on Pulteney Point, stopping along the way to take this photo of Sointula across the water:


After hiking through a fir and cedar forest at the end of the road, we emerged onto the beach, then continued around toward the point. Lucky for us, the tide was out.


The original Pulteney Point Lighthouse was first put into operation in 1905, but the building that stands today was built in 1943; it is one of the few manned lighthouses still in operation. As we approached, we saw a woman and small girl on the point ahead of us:


Their Golden Retriever ran out to greet us as we approached, followed closely by the little girl and the woman, who turned out to be her grandmother. They asked where we were from and then we asked them in return. “Right here,” the woman replied, “my husband is the lighthouse keeper.” They had been living here at the end of Malcolm Island, 7 miles from the village of Sointula, for over 30 years and had raised 5 children here. I told her that we were camping at the Cluxewe campground on Vancouver Island and that I had seen a red light across the strait the night before. “Yes,” she ackowledged, “that’s this light.”

We had a nice visit, then hiked back to the Jeep and drove back into Sointula to take the ferry back to Cluxewe. Here’s the view of the lighthouse from our campsite:


But the view from the RV looking staight out to sea is even better:

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