Courtenay is a city of about 26,000 people (2016) on the east coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.
For thousands of years before the first contact with European explorers, Courtenay had been the home to the Comox people now the K'ómoks First Nation. The K'ómoks people farmed the rich agricultural land, and proximity to the local waterways allowed for fishing and trade with nearby First Nations people. In the Comox language, K’omoks means "plenty" – resulting in the Valley being known as the "Land of Plenty". In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, anchored HMS Discovery in what soon would be known as the Comox Harbour and made contact with the First Nations people in the area.
The settlement of Courtenay by Europeans began in the spring of 1862. The first settlers were coal miners from Nanaimo who were drawn to the area, because it had been known as one of the best agricultural districts in the colony. The early settlers relied on the knowledge and help of the local First Nations people. They hired them for general labour and farm work, although they were paid low wages as were most non-white people during that time. Many of the settlers ended up marrying or living with First Nations women who provided trading and social connections to surrounding First Nations people.
In 1864, Robert Brown, leading the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, discovered coal deposits in the Comox Valley, and by 1888 Robert Dunsmuir purchased mining claims in the area. He eventually established a mine in Union, later renamed Cumberland, which brought an influx of settlers, and Chinese and Japanese immigrants. During the establishment of the mining and farming industry, the downtown of Courtenay developed on both sides of the Courtenay River, initially on the east side then the west. The two sides were eventually connected by a bridge in 1874.
Courtenay was incorporated as a town in 1915, and designated a city in 1953. The city was named after the Courtenay River, which in turn, was named after George William Courtenay, captain of the British ship HMS Constance, which was stationed in the area between 1846 and 1849. On 12 July 1915, a large fire ripped through 5th Street destroying much of the south side of the downtown. After much of the street was rebuilt, another fire hit the south side of 5th Street, again destroying many of the stores.
On 14 June 1946, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck just west of Courtenay, with the epicentre at Forbidden Plateau. The earthquake was felt as far north as Prince Rupert and as far south as Portland, Oregon. Many of the town's chimneys were destroyed, and there was some significant damage to the post office and the Courtenay elementary school. This was the largest earthquake to hit Vancouver Island, and the largest onshore earthquake in Canada on record. There were only two reported deaths.
ClimateThe climate in Courtenay is very similar to that of the rest of Vancouver Island. In the summer months it can sometimes be considered to have a Mediterranean-like climate due to the low levels of precipitation and drying. In the spring and fall seasons, Courtenay tends to be quite cool and wet. It has one of the mildest winters in Canada. The high precipitation levels can be attributed to both the oceanic climate and also its proximity to the Insular Mountain range which results in the rain shadow effect.
The Comox Valley is a three-hour (220 km/137 mile) drive north from Victoria or a 75-minute (107 km/66 mile) drive from Nanaimo, where the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point are located. Drive Highway #19, the new inland, four-lane expressway. From Highway #19 take exits #101, #117, #127, #130 or #144 to access various points in the Comox Valley. Visitors can also take the scenic Oceanside Route on the old Island Highway #19A.
Regular ferry service links the British Columbia Mainland and Washington State to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Riding a ferry provides an opportunity to stretch your legs, get something to eat, browse the gift shop and observe marine traffic and wildlife. It is a mini-cruise in the middle of your vacation.
Take advantage of discounted ferry fares with the Sunshine Coast CirclePac. This Circle Tour offers four ferry/highway routes linking the Comox Valley with the Mainland and lower Vancouver Island. A truly unique way to make the journey a memorable part of the holiday!
From the BC Mainland, you travel to Vancouver Island via BC Ferries.
Contact BC Ferries at +1-888-223-3779 for route information and at +1-888-724-5223 for reservations on major routes.
- Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria)
- Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Duke Point (Nanaimo)
- Horseshoe Bay (Vancouver) to Departure Bay (Nanaimo)
- Powell River to Comox
- Prince Rupert to Port Hardy
- Bella Coola to Port Hardy
From Washington State, you can travel to Vancouver Island via several routes. Schedules and information can be found at the Washington Ferries website.
- Princess Marguerite: Seattle to Victoria
- Victoria & San Juan Cruises: Bellingham to Victoria
- Victoria Clipper: Seattle to Victoria
- Victoria Express: Port Angeles to Victoria
- Washington State Ferries: Anacortes to Victoria
Numerous direct flights from the Vancouver International Airport, Calgary International Airport and the Edmonton International Airport land daily at the Comox Valley Airport (YQQ) in Comox.
Pacific Coastal and Central Mountain Air also offers a convenient service to and from Vancouver. Call Pacific Coastal +1-800-663-2872 or Central Mountain Air +1-888-865-8585 for schedules and reservations.
WestJet Airlines operates non-stop flights from Comox to Calgary and Edmonton, with connections to other WestJet serviced airports out of Calgary. Call +1-888-937-8538 or +1-800-538-5696 for schedules and reservations.
Helijet International offers non-stop flights to and from Seattle Boeing Field to the Campbell River Airport, which is a 35-minute drive from the Comox Valley. Call +1-800-665-4354 for reservations and schedules.
Small aircraft and floatplanes can land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay. Call (250) 338-9814 for information.
Those travelling by boat will find a full range of facilities including moorage, showers, restaurants and shops adjacent to the Comox Marina. Contact the Comox Valley Harbour Authority at (250) 339-6041, for more information.
Daily bus service connects all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland. Island Link Bus provides shuttle van services between Departure Bay Ferry Terminal and various locations in the Comox Valley.
Courtenay is served by the Comox Valley Transit System, which is managed and run by the BC Transit Authority. Although it is quite small with only 13 bus routes, it provides quick and inexpensive transportation throughout the Comox Valley. From the main bus stop, on Cliffe Avenue in downtown Courtenay, there are buses that go to Cumberland, Royston, as far south as Fanny Bay, and as far as Oyster River, where a connection to the Campbell River Transit System is offered. BC Transit also operates a handyDART transportation service, for people who have a disability or require extra assistance.
phone: +1 250-338-2430 (Ticket Centre ext 1)address: 442 Cliffe AveIn downtown Courtenay, it is the major performance theatre in the Comox Valley.
Stan Hagen Theatreaddress: Ryan Road
- Performing theatre groups include the Rainbow Youth Theatre and the Courtenay Little Theatre.
phone: +1 250-897-4611address: 625 Cliffe Ave #5HAMM features the memorial to the men of HMCS Alberni (1941-1944) and U480 (1940-1945), as well as exhibits from the Great War to the present day of the Canadian Forces.
phone: +1 250-334-0686address: 207 Fourth StreetHistorical exhibits and fossil tours of local rivers.
phone: +1 250-339-8162The museum has exhibitions from the First World War onwards and is open year round. The Heritage Air Park is home to several aircraft and is open from April to September. From the Dakota to the CF-100, the Air Park allows you an up-close view of the planes that made the RCAF great. The Air Park is about 500 m from the museum, on Military Row/Little River Rd, across from the Base Chapel. Parking is available at the entrance to the park.
phone: +1 250-339-2885address: 1729 Comox AveDepicts the history of the town. It covers the history of Port Augusta, a century of military presence on Goose Spit, the archives from early settlers, and the famous wharf in Comox where the 102nd Battalion headed off to World War I. Wheelchair accessible
phone: +1 250-336-2445address: 2680 Dunsmuir Ave., CumberlandDepicts the history of coal mining in the area. Wheelchair accessible.
Nim-Nim Interpretive CentreThe site was the original home of the now extinct Pentlatch People, and is named for Chief Joe Nim-Nim. The centre highlights the achievements of the First Nations people of the area.
phone: +1 250-338-6211address: 580 Duncan AveContemporary art by professional artists from the region, the country and beyond.
Muir Galleryaddress: 440 Anderton AveA project of the Arts Council of the Comox Valley, it offers exhibition opportunities to local and emerging artists.
address: 6183 Whitaker Rd,A woodland garden that was developed by hand. Bryan Zimmerman spent more than two years clearing the brush on his 24-acre (9.7 ha) lot and using a wheelbarrow to make the paths. It has one of the largest rhododendron collections in Western Canada with over 3000 plantings. It is also home to a multitude of native plants, birds and wildflowers. It has bark mulch paths and many water features. It is recognized as one of the world's finest informal show gardens.
phone: +1 250-871-8463address: Comox Valley Exhibition GroundsIn mid-July, the largest music festival on Vancouver Island takes place in the Comox Valley. Three days of an eclectic mix of music. On-site camping. A shuttle bus brings people to the site all weekend.
- There are several other festivals in the area and they include the North Island Festival of Performing Arts, Fiddlefest, Comox Valley Highland Games and the Comox Valley Piano Society puts on performances at the Stan Hagen Theatre.
- Woodhus Slough is a nature area especially for bird watching. It is midway between Courtenay and Campbell River, about 1.5 km north of the Miracle Beach Provincial Park turn-off. From Highway 19A turn onto the Salmon Point Road and continue to the end of the road to the Salmon Point Pub, the trail sign is on the right hand side of the Pub by the beach. It is an easy trail in good condition, 2 km long, and can take 35 minutes return.
- Walking trails include Nymph Falls Regional Park, Seal Bay Regional Nature Park and the Courtenay Riverway Heritage Walk.
phone: +1 250-338-1386The largest commercial ski area on Vancouver Island. Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, snow shoeing, sledding. Summer attractions such as mountain bike riding and hiking. The resort has a lot of on-mountain accommodation in the Alpine Village.
- Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park, about 29.8 km (18.5 mi) away, is on Mitlenatch Island, a small islet in the northern Strait of Georgia
- Kitty Coleman Provincial Park, about 10.7 km (6.6 mi) away, is south of the mouth of the Oyster River just northeast of Courtenay
- Mount Geoffrey Regional Nature Park, about 29 km (18 mi) away, is on Hornby Island
- Tribune Bay Provincial Park, about 30.7 km (19.1 mi) away, is on Hornby Island
- Fillongley Provincial Park, about 23 km (14 mi) away, is on the east side of Denman Island, southeast of Courtenay
- Helliwell Provincial Park, about 33.5 km (20.8 mi) away, is on the southeast end of Hornby Island
phone: +1 250-339-7702address: 3310 Comox RdRun by the K'ómoks First Nation , it displays and sells modern and traditional BC coastal First Nations art, including masks, prints, gold and silver jewellery, and wood carvings produced by First Nations artists. The beautiful house front design of I-Hos Gallery incorporates a whale and the double-headed sea serpent, which represent important crests of the K’ómoks people.
address: Exhibition Grounds, 4839 Headquarters RdAn open air market. A gathering place for farmers to sell directly to the consumer.
phone: +1 250-338-9838address: 250 6th StGlobal cuisine. Mexican and Asian dishes, gourmet burgers, and many vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, or add in tuna, salmon, pulled pork, roasted chicken.
The Hen and Hog Cafephone: +1 250-871-7001address: 1190 Cliffe AveBreakfast & brunch restaurant
phone: +1 250-898-8858address: 1-450 Ryan RdNorth Indian restaurant with vegetarian and gluten-free options.
phone: +1 250-871-1111address: A-244 4th StFocusing on Belgian ales, European lagers, and Pacific Northwest style India pale ales.
phone: +1 250-334-2451address: 1885 Cliffe AvenueSeasonal outdoor pool. Free Wi-Fi. A refrigerator and a coffee maker are offered. Cable TV. Some rooms offer a kitchenette. Accessible rooms are available. Laundry facilities are available.
phone: +1 250-338-8932address: 1820 Cliffe AvenueAdjacent to the Strait of Georgia, free WiFi, cable TV, air-conditioned. Some rooms are equipped with a kitchenette.
address: 1730 Riverside LaneIn the Comox Valley on the Courtney River. 79 rooms.
phone: +1 250 337-2051address: 1481 Larkin Rd, Comox, B.C.Smith Lake Farm's agritourism suite, is a two-bedroom accommodation with all the amenities. Swim in the private lake in the summer or ski or snowboard Mt. Washington in the winter.
Courtenay River Vacation HomesThree-bedroom, two-storey townhouse alongside the Puntledge river. In the heart of the Comox Valley and short drive to Mt. Washington Alpine Resort. Call for more information.
- The Vancouver Island Regional Library has a branch located in downtown Courtenay. The Courtenay branch offers many services such as free Wi-fi for library members, computer access, and printing and photocopying stations.