Located just off the west coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the picturesque Vancouver Island. This gorgeous stretch of land is approximately 456 kilometres in length and 100 kilometres wide, making it the largest island along the west coasts of the Americas.
Vancouver Island is made up of centuries-old forests, rugged shorelines, and beautiful beaches stretching along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Several charming small towns are scattered across the island creating a sense of community everywhere you travel on this idyllic island.
The variety of rustic, country villages and more urban, populous cities offers potential residents ample opportunity to search for their dream home on Vancouver Island.
No matter what your lifestyle is like, whether it’s more outdoor adventurer or trendy city-dweller, the natural landscapes and growing, vibrant cities have something to offer people of all walks of life.
Separated from the mainland of the province by Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Strait, and the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island is nestled in the southwestern corner of British Columbia. The surrounding waters create a picturesque setting, ideal for those who are looking to reside in a nature-infused setting in one of the many wonderful cities and towns of the island.
Running the length of the island are the Vancouver Island Ranges, which divide the island into east coast and west coast sections. The west coast of Vancouver Island has a more wet and rugged terrain while the sheltered east coast is typically drier. The west coast is also decorated with many fjords, bays, and inlets, texturizing the rocky shoreline and creating a unique and beautiful terrain along the island.
Near the centre of Vancouver Island is the Strathcona Provincial Park consisting of a collection of peaks and glaciers including the largest: the Comox Glacier. There are also plenty of pristine lakes making up the interior section of the island including Kennedy Lake, just north of Ucluelet, which is the largest of all of Vancouver Island lakes.
The majority of Vancouver Island’s population is found in the Greater Victoria area. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and has been consistently ranked as one of the top places to live in the province. Other popular cities on the island include Nanaimo, Comox Valley, Campbell River, and Port Alberni.
Vancouver Island was originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples, thousands of years before the Spanish and British expeditions arrived in the eighteenth century. These groups included the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and various Coast Salish peoples.
Today, there are still approximately 5,500 Kwakwaka’wakw people residing in the northern region of Vancouver Island as well as on the mainland. This tribe was among the first to come into contact with European settlers ventured onto the lands and began trading pelts and other goods.
The Coast Salish are the largest Indigenous group found in the southern area of Vancouver Island. Traditionally, the Coast Salish lands span from the northern border of the Gulf of Georgia on the east end of the island and covers most of the southern region.
Europeans began to come to this portion of Canada around 1774. Expeditions landed on Vancouver Island from Spain in order to claim the Pacific Northwest. The Santiago, commanded by Juan Jose Perez Hernandez, was the first of the expeditions to come to the island. Vancouver Island caught the eye of the British when Captain James Cook spent a month at Nootka Sound, found on the west coast of the island, in 1778. Fur traders began to settle in the area and eventually, fur trading expanded into the interior locations of the island, eventually leading to a permanent settlement.
Approximately twenty-five years later, Vancouver Island had gained a reputation for itself, which led to the founding of the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849. The Hudson’s Bay Company leased the Colony for seven shillings a year. The following year, Captain Walter Grant became the first independent settler, starting a homestead in Sooke. Other followed shortly after, and by 1856, the first legislative assembly was formed. Today’s Parliament Buildings were opened in 1898.
Vancouver Island has one of the warmest climates in all of Canada. The proximity to the ocean, surrounding the island on all sides, keeps the temperatures mild and comfortable year-round. Even in the middle of winter, January temperatures usually remain above 0°C. The southeastern section of the island has the warmest summer temperatures, reaching a maximum of 28-33°C.
Rain on the island is common all throughout the year. The mountains create a rain shadow effect and cause more precipitation on the west coast than the east coast, though the whole island collects quite a bit of rain year-round. Henderson Lake, located along the west coast, has actually been deemed the wettest place in North America, receiving approximately 6,640 millimetres of rain per year. Snow is rare in these parts, due to the warmer climate, but not unheard of. Vancouver Island’s mountain tops are snow-covered and ideal for winter activities such as skiing and snowboarding.
The mild climate found around the island creates a temperate rainforest biome. Douglas fir, western red cedar, arbutus, Garry oak, salal, Oregon grape, and manzanita trees make up the majestic forests found all over the island and these forests are decorated with a colourful array of additional flora. Some of the tallest Douglas fir trees ever recorded can be found in these parts. These vast forests provide ample opportunity for locals to get outside, hike, and explore all that nature has to offer. Nature enthusiasts delight in the various flora and fauna found among the lands of Vancouver Island
The largest city on Vancouver Island, Victoria, is home to a thriving IT and technology industry, providing countless jobs at over 800 technology companies operating within the area. The combined annual revenues of this industry is approximately $1.95 billion, making it the fastest growing and most profitable industry on the island.
Shaw Communications, Telus, and a variety of local networks handle the high-speed internet delivered on Vancouver Island.
Outside of British Columbia’s capital, the economy is dominated by forestry companies. Many of these large logging operations are dedicated to exportation off the island, although they started out as sawn lumber, pulp, and paper operations.
Fishing is another booming contributor to Vancouver Island’s economy. Commercial fishing vessels have access to the plentiful ports and harbours found along the coasts of the island and fish farms produce tons of Atlantic salmon every year. As an island situated on the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, it’s no wonder that fish, shrimp, crab, and other shellfish are a huge contributing factor to Vancouver Island’s thriving economy.
Tourism on Vancouver Island plays a major part in the economic flow of the island. Many tourists are drawn to the island every year, whether it be to enjoy the mountain ski resorts, the gorgeous beaches, or whale watching off the coast, there are so many incredible excursions waiting to delight and thrill visitors. Tofino and Ucluelet are popular beach resort areas, while the stunning nineteenth-century architecture found in the many small villages scattered throughout the island are a whole other type of attraction. Tourists can also indulge in sport fishing, hiking, scuba diving, and skiing, which creates jobs for experts in these areas as tour guides and instructors.
The average household income on the three main subregions of Vancouver Island is above the typical household income of British Columbia, which is $75,797. Two of the three regions, Sooke and the Western Communities and the Saanich Peninsula, tend to have a much higher average income at $84,395 and $90,154. The Alberni-Tofino-Ucluelet region of Vancouver Island, which are all much smaller villages and towns, falls just under the provincial average, sitting at approximately $58,856. In general, Vancouver Island is a rather affluent region of British Columbia.
Median household incomes per region are as follows:
Vancouver Island overall
The students of Vancouver Island are provided top quality education through a wonderful selection of excellent school districts. There are twelve school districts found on the island offering both elementary and secondary education. Located in the Greater Victoria area alone are three school districts and the other eight districts are scattered all over the island.
School districts on Vancouver Island include:
Greater Victoria School District
Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District
Sooke School District
Qualicum School District
Saanich School District
Alberni School District
Gulf Islands School District
Comox Valley School District
Campbell River School District
Vancouver Island West School District
Cowichan Valley School District
Vancouver Island North School District
Vancouver Island is also home to a variety of exceptional private and religious-based schools. These independently run schools are a great alternative for students who wish to attend outside of the public school board. The following are the private schools available on Vancouver Island:
St. John’s Academy
There are fifty villages, towns, and cities found on Vancouver Island. The largest of these is Victoria British Columbia’s capital city, with a population of 84,000 out of the island’s 750,000 residents. The smallest city is Zeballos with a population of just 110. With so many fabulous residential areas on the island, potential residents will have a hard time deciding just where to settle into their new home! Seven cities found on Vancouver Island made it onto Canada’s Top Fifty Communities To Live In list, proving just how fantastic this island is to call home. The following are some of the best places to live on Vancouver Island:
Oak Bay is a charming city found along the southeastern section of Vancouver Island, just outside of Victoria. This trendy area is filled with unique boutiques, vibrant art galleries, and a diverse selection of eclectic eateries. Willows Beach is a short walk from the core of Oak Bay, featuring tranquil waters ideal for kayaking, paddleboarding, and other small water vessels. The Oak Bay Marina is filled with luxurious yachts and surrounded by ritzy, upscale homes.
Colwood is a beautiful coastal community located along the southern shores of Vancouver Island. This fast-growing community is family-friendly and filled with interesting people and over seven kilometres of stunning oceanfront. Colwood is known for the excellent selection of job opportunities and amazing amenities. Colwood is rapidly becoming one of the top places to live on Vancouver Island.
North Saanich provides breathtaking views among the hills and valleys, overlooking vast open space and the vast Pacific Ocean. As one of the top rural-residential areas in the province, North Saanich is made up of vast agricultural farmlands, quaint bays, and plenty of protected parklands. North Saanich is ideal for those looking to commune with nature through the many parks, perfect for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding.
Duncan is a smaller community found between Victoria and Nanaimo with a population of just under 5,000. Duncan is a popular tourist destination and is known as the “City of Totems” due to the forty-four totem poles found within the city limits. The rich heritage of Duncan is a cultural experience for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
Nanaimo is a classic West Coast community nestled into the east coast of Vancouver Island. Nanaimo consists of one of the longest shorelines in Canada as well as majestic, forested mountains, and a thriving downtown core. The surrounding wilderness allows residents to lose themselves in the beauty of nature and the plethora of shops and restaurants found within the heart of the city allow residents to access their inner urbanite.
Langford is a small, yet fast-growing community in the Greater Victoria area. Ample amenities are available to keep people of all ages entertained for hours on end! The beautiful parks and trails are immaculately maintained, the wealth of shops and boutiques offer unique treasures found only in Langford, and the diverse dining options provide endless opportunities from cozy cafes to fine dining and open patios to indulge in.
Sidney is a seaside community found along the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The name comes from the Wsanec term set,tines which means “chest sticking out” as a reference to the shape of the land jutting out of the water. Sidney is approximately twenty minutes away from Downtown Victoria and is the home of the Sidney/Anacortes Ferry terminal. Many tourists flock to this beautiful coastal community to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, the incredible amenities, and exciting excursions. The waterfront offers the perfect opportunity for boating, sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, and fishing.
Victoria is British Columbia’s capital city and the largest city on the island. Originally named for Queen Victoria, the city has a rich heritage and is full of historic buildings. In particular, its two most famous landmarks, the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel, both of which are popular tourist destinations. Victoria is home to many formal gardens, rugged shorelines, beaches and boasts a temperate climate which makes it the perfect destination for boaters, vacationers and retirees.
If there’s one thing for sure, Vancouver Island is home to an exceptional selection of diverse dining opportunities. From cozy cafes to fine dining, from craft breweries to late-night pubs, the cities on the island offer a wide variety of excellent eats to satisfy all cravings. Many of these restaurants source locally produced foods through nearby farmers to sustain the local economy.
Crow and Gate
This vibrant pub is reminiscent of old school England. The menu is a fantastic collection of comforting English foods such as housemade pies, Scotch eggs, and bangers and mash. Several English-style drafts are on tap, ready to quench the thirst of locals and visitors alike.
Tofino Brewing Company
Recently renovated, Tofino Brewing Company is a casual atmosphere allowing visitors to indulge in a fantastic selection of unique craft brews. The menu includes a variety of fresh-caught seafood and foraged Pacific seaweed. Unlike crowded pubs and bars, the Tofino Brewing Company opts for a more simple atmosphere, free of flatscreens or jukeboxes.
Drake is one of Victoria’s most popular taphouses offering over thirty craft drafts to visiting patrons. This outstanding bar is ideal for rainy afternoons or late night snacks and bevvies. The locals are all familiar with the top-quality dishes found on the menu and the unique drafts can’t be found anywhere else on the island.
Renfrew Pub is known for the amazing patio set up along the wharf. It’s not hard to understand why locals flock to this incredible establishment between the delectable food, cool beverages, and stunning views overlooking the shorelines.
This delightful microbrewery is a classic neighbourhood pub, familiar to all the locals. Cumberland Brewing is the perfect mix of rustic, small-town charm and trendy, contemporary dining. This vibrant hot-spot is a must for locals as well as anyone passing through Comox Valley.
FoggDukkers is a tasteful little beach shack that has been converted into a trendy coffee bar. The interior of the building is filled with whimsical decor and is centred around a beautiful wood-fire stove. Locals frequent this charming coffee shop to catch up on the latest gossip, hangout with friends, and enjoy the delicious coffee and house-baked cookies while enjoying the spectacular views across the beach and ocean.
There are a variety of transportation options available to the residents of Vancouver Island. Most of the cities on the island offer public transportation systems, even to some of the more rural neighbourhoods. Access to marine, rail, road, and air transportation are readily available to the locals on this beautiful island.
Vancouver Island has one major highway system running from north to south along the eastern side of the island. Starting in Victoria, Highway 1 is a part of the Trans-Canada Highway system all the way to Nanaimo.
From there, Highway 19 travels from Nanaimo to Port Hardy. This entire stretch of highway, between Victoria to Port Hardy, is made up of two-, four-, and six-lane roadways. This main road allows access from all the major cities and connects to all the smaller towns and villages.
The main roadways running east to west are slightly less busy than the roads running north to south, and are mostly two-lane routes with a few four-lane highways along the way. Highway 4 runs between Qualicum Beach and Tofino, Highway 14 connects Greater Victoria and Port Renfrew, Highway 18 runs between Duncan and Lake Cowichan, Highway 28 runs between Campbell River and Gold River, and Highway 30 connects Port McNeill and Port Alice.
There are plenty of secondary routes running through Vancouver Island, many of which have been renovated to include roundabouts along the main highway routes in an attempt to lighten the flow of traffic. A multitude of active and decommissioned logging and forest service roads allow travel throughout Vancouver Island’s backcountry, used mainly by locals who know the routes.
Being that Vancouver Island is just that, an island, marine transport is an important feature to the community to access mainland British Columbia as well as Washington. No bridges connect the island to these mainlands, but an excellent ferry system is run through BC Ferries, Washington State Ferries, and Puget Sound Navigation Company, which operates the seven vehicle ferry routes to and from Vancouver Island.
British Columbia Ferries include:
Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay (1 hour, 35 minutes)
Tsawwassen-Duke Point (2 hours)
Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay (1 hour, 35 minutes)
Gulf Islands-Swartz Bay (35 minutes-3 hours)
Powell River-Comox (1 hour, 20 minutes)
Port Hardy-Prince Rupert (changes seasonally)
Washington State Ferries include:
Anacortes-Sidney (2 hours)
Port Angeles-Victoria (1 hour, 30 minutes)
Seattle-Victoria (2 hours, 45 minutes)
Rail systems on Vancouver Island are operated through the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island and stretches 234 kilometres around the island. The SVI is the only remaining railway system on the island after the closure of the previous Englewood Railway in 2017. Lines extend from Victoria to Courtenay and branch off from Parksville to Port Alberni.
Vancouver Island is home to fifty-two certified airports, registered aerodromes, and heliports, allowing ample opportunity for residents to travel via air rather than the much slower ferry service. There are seven aerodromes and airports in Greater Victoria, with Victoria International Airport as the major hub on the island, connecting with national and international flights directly from the airport. Other land-based airports include Campbell River, Comox Valley Airport, Nanaimo, Port Hardy, Qualicum Beach, and Tofino/Long Beach Airport.
Water-based airports can be found around the island as well. Seven of these unique establishments offer scheduled services via Campbell River, Comox, Nanaimo Harbour, Port Alberni, Tofino Harbour, Victoria, and Victoria Inner Harbour. Much of the floatplane traffic travels to and from Victoria Inner Harbour, Nanaimo Harbour, and Vancouver Harbour.
Visitors will come to Vancouver Island year-round thanks to the mild coastal climate that allows for comfortable and enjoyable weather even in the cooler winter months. The summer is definitely the island’s busiest time, but the winter remains surprisingly populated by tourists and locals alike. Due to the mild winter temperatures, it’s not rare to find surfers taking on the chilly waves even in the middle of February! Of course, other winter hobbies are popular on the island, such as skiing on the various resort slopes, or snowmobiling through the mountain paths.
In the summer, the beaches are flooded with people looking to soak up the sun and sand and the parks are filled with hikers and birdwatchers. Even the waters are populated with sport fishers, scuba divers, and sailors.
Victoria is one of the most popular destinations on Vancouver Island and there are a multitude of fantastic options for locals to enjoy! The scenic Inner Harbour is a major hub of action and entertainment and is a must see for anyone in the area. Looking out over the Inner Harbour is the Fairmont Empress, one of Victoria’s most popular historical landmarks. Built in 1908, the Fairmont Empress was host to visiting royalty for decades. Now, visitors can indulge in High Tea at the Empress to get a taste of the royal lifestyle.
The Royal BC Museum is located in the heart of Victoria and offers an intriguing insight to the history of British Columbia. The Parliament Buildings are another staple on the to-do list when in the city, as they are a proud symbol of British Columbia’s government and beautiful buildings to boot. Surrounding all these fantastic sights and establishments are a variety of excellent shopping opportunities and great local restaurants.
If hiking is your preferred activity then Southern Vancouver Island has you covered! There are numerous excellent trails and walking paths found in the area including:
The Coast Trail near Sooke is a magnificent, natural beauty that stretches ten kilometres and takes hikers on a journey through winding forests and along a beautiful coastline. The views from the various points along the trail include the spectacular, snow-capped Olympic Mountains.
Mount Work Hiking Trail is a modest workout of a hike traversing Mount Work and overlooking the Saanich Inlet. At 4.5 kilometres, this beautiful trail travels through large fir, arbutus, and cedar trees, offering incredible lookout points along the way. At the peak of this steady climb, hikers can take in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean as well as the mighty Olympic Mountains and Mount Finlayson.
Thetis Lake Hiking Trail can be found within Thetis Lake Regional Park. The entrance of the trail is surrounded by beaches and the path takes hikers along the beautiful Thetis Lake. Many people opt to take a refreshing swim in the lake once their hike is complete, enjoying the warm, clear waters after a five-kilometre trek.
Trestle Bridge Hiking Trail is a challenging hike found within Goldstream Provincial Park. This more advanced trail winds across rivers, over a towering metal bridge spanning a deep chasm, and through thick forests. For anyone looking for a more hardy experience, Trestle Bridge is the trail for you!
Butchart Gardens is one of Vancouver Island’s highlights on the must-see list. This collection of gardens offers a year-round step into the beautiful, natural setting of fabulous floral displays. The pathways in this tranquil atmosphere are lined with stunning arrangements of flowers and trees both native to British Columbia and foreign and are changed with the seasons. In the summer, live music is performed every night at the gardens, adding to the beautiful ambiance.
Tofino is a hidden jewel of Vancouver Island, tucked away on the western shore. Surrounded by beaches and parkland, Tofino has some of the most spectacular scenery on the west coast! Just outside of this charming little town is the expansive Pacific Rim National Park. Home to some of the best hiking on the island, the park is made up of a dense forest of ancient cedars, some of the oldest trees in all of Canada! For those who can’t get enough of this majestic parkland, Pacific Rim offers overnight camping facilities.
Long Beach is a part of the Pacific Rim National Park and one of the top beach destinations on Vancouver Island. The sixteen-kilometre stretch of sandy beach is the perfect day-trip to relax in the sunshine, surf the waves, or try to spot whales along the horizon. Recently, storm watching has become a more popular activity during the fall and winter months. Photographers come from great distances to capture the perfect storm over the crashing waves.
From almost anywhere along the coast of the island, whale watching tours are set up and ready to take explorers and nature lovers to the sea to spot some of these beautiful saltwater creatures. Some of the most commonly sighted marine life include orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, and porpoises. Tour operators are trained to bring visitors in as close as possible to see these majestic creatures without disturbing their natural habitat too greatly.
Whether you’re searching for a rustic cottage, surrounded by mighty forests and tranquil streams, or you’re better suited to suburban neighbourhoods and access to trendy coffee shops, the best of both worlds can be found all on one, fantastic island. From quaint and cozy towns, such as Tofino and Ucluelet, to thriving and expanding cities such as Nanaimo and Victoria, Vancouver Island has it all! The ever-exciting events held all over the island, year-round, offer plenty of activity to engage all ages. The eclectic selection of restaurants and shops provide an opportunity to get out and try something different. Young and old, there is a place for everyone to enjoy the sights and amenities of this stunning destination of British Columbia!