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The True North (Vancouver Island)

Vancouver Island's hidden gem. An untouched area, rich in culture. A space for learning.

The first time I travelled to the north end of Vancouver Island, I didn't realize how incredibly lucky and fulfilled I would feel as I left. Spending 6 weeks immersed in nature and surrounded by the vibrant culture truly left a strong mark on me.

The North Island is predominantly made up of the regional district of Mt. Waddington, respectfully on Kwagu’l territory which is also home to the Gwa’sala- ‘Nakwaxda’xw and Quatsino First Nations. This region includes various communities with healthcare centres in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Alert Bay (Cormorant Island).

What should I expect on a contract on the North Island?


There are three healthcare centres that you may have the opportunity to work in based on specialty, designation and experience. Port Hardy and Port McNeill have similarly sized facilities with a close working connection between the Emergency Department and the Medical Unit. There are typically 3-4 nurses between both units depending on the shift (and shortages). There are also a few Long-Term Care facilities between the communities. Alert Bay (Cormorant Island) has a health care centre that is staffed by 1 RN for ER/Medical and an LPN/HCA for the attached LTC. This community is on an island that is a short ferry ride from Port McNeill. At the moment, Alert Bay's Hospital is typically staffed only during the day due to staffing.


I have to be absolutely upfront in stating that despite the many incredible assets to this area, the culture and people in this area are the ultimate draw. I would highly recommend checking out the U'mista Cultural Centre. This museum is modelled after a home and is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw. If you take a contract in the Kwagu’l territory, we recognize the importance of learning about the lands we are on and will cover your fees for any indigenous cultural centres you would like to explore. I have met an abundance of incredibly knowledgeable and kind individuals who were willing to teach me about their culture and allow me to experience the beauty of the area even more.


Zach and I are both very food forward individuals, always on the hunt for the next great eat. So, while our recommendations are not all encompassing, here are some recommendations for places to eat out.

  • Karai Sushi - in Port Hardy, the Rupert Roll straight up slaps (it's really good).

  • Culture Shock - right by the ferry port on Cormorant Island with amazing coffee and even cooler items in their interactive gallery.

  • Duchess' Bannock and Bakery - go here. Period. Full stop. If you haven't ever had bannock be prepared to be blown away. This is in Alert Bay by the way. Did I mention you need to eat here?

In terms of grocery shopping, there are grocery stores in all 3 of these communities. However, be aware that being in a rural and remote location there may not be specialty items that you may want. Make sure to stock up on specific items that may not be available before you get there.

Things to do

There is no shortage of things to do in this area. First of all, if possible, I would strongly recommend driving if you are going to work on the North Island. There are so many things to do, however the majority of them require some sort of transport. If you are in Port McNeill or Alert Bay, you can easily access each community by foot or bike. If you are going to fly up, I would recommend on of these communities.

Alert Bay

  • Culture Shock (already listed above) has a variety of unique items for sale including beautiful jewelry. This shop is indigenous owned and operated, celebrating the rich culture of the Namgis First Nation. Hop off the ferry, grab a coffee and browse the shop.

  • U'mista Cultural Center (also already listed above) is in my opinion a must see. It is filled to the brim with artifacts and immersive experiences that will allow you to become more familiar with the indigenous culture that saturates this area. You can also check out this website for virtual tours and information on traditions and history.

  • World Tallest Totem Pole - 173 feet, walking distance from the ferry/hospital/pretty much anywhere on Cormorant Island.

  • Whale Watching - This island is so magical that you do not need to hop on a boat to experience the pure magic of seeing a whale. Find yourself a quiet spot on the east side of the island, bring a book and chill on the beach until you hear a gust of air and try to spot the whale that it came from! There are a variety of whales including orcas, humpbacks and minke whales. You can also take a tour depending on the season!

  • Trails - there is a beautiful network of trails around the island. You can hike the perimeter of the north island and walk along the beach (depending on the tide). There is also the Alert Bay Ecological Trails in the heart of the island with beautiful boardwalks. If you are more interested in being by the ocean there is a lovely boardwalk that stretched along the west side of the island right off the ferry terminal.

North Island

  • Cape Scott Provincial Park - if you are into hiking this is going to be your heaven. This park has some amazing day/overnight hikes and spectacular views. To access this park, you should probably have a vehicle that has 4x4 depending on the conditions, expect to drive a few hours depending on your starting point to get to a trail head.

  • Dakota 576 Crash Site Hike - a short (ish) hike that has a really unique ending the historic site of a crashed Dakota 576 form 1944.

  • Sointula - a small community on Malcom Island formed by fishers from Finnish settlers. Check out more information here, including information on Beautiful Bay Trail where if you are lucky, you can see orcas rubbing against the pebbles in the shallows.

  • Telegraph Cove - a popular summer destination with picturesque and colourful stilt buildings bordering a beautiful harbour. This is a port for lots of activities from May - September. In the off season it is quiet and serene, perfect for a little getaway. While you're here you can check out renowned artist and carver, Don Bastion.

  • Kayaking - you will be able to find a variety of places to rent kayaks and explore the ocean from any of these waterfront communities.

  • Outdoor Adventures - you can check out this website for a plethora of activities including wilderness adventures.


  • Financial Incentive

    • There are often incentives associated with contracts in this area, so keep an eye out or consider what incentives may make your time in this area more enjoyable.

  • Free time

    • Although it isn't guaranteed, there is a high likelihood that you will have time during your shift (particularly night shifts) to work on independent projects such as education. I would highly recommend working in these locations if you are trying to earn income while furthering your education. Obviously, your personal projects should never come before the work at hand - this point is meant for when all your tasks are completed and should never impact patient care.

  • Clinical Experience

    • Working rural comes with a whole different set of skills and scenarios that builds your resume as a nurse. If you are interested in critical care positions (such as flight nursing) they appreciate seeing you can work in these setting. You will likely also get the opportunity to use different equipment/run blood work etc. - things you would never do in a larger centre.

  • Life Experience

    • Hopefully this blog has been extremely clear in the fact that this area is incredibly special. While it may not have all of the attractions of an urban setting, this location can offer the best mental/physical reset. If you need some self-care time, to take it easy, to enjoy the small things, to prepare yourself to return to the constant barrage of working in an urban setting - this location is for you. It's like a spa day for your mind.

TL:DR Why should I go to the northern Vancouver Island?

  • It's a straight up magical place with untouched nature galore.

  • There are lots of opportunity for adventure.

  • The money is good.

  • The work is completely different than urban centres and will give you a change of pace.

  • Take it as a working spa vacation for your mind - reset and rejuvenate yourself.


  • Culture, culture, culture.

Written by J, Dec 2022


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