History & Culture
The West Coast’s First Nations, European Explorers & Industries
People in Ucluelet have always depended on the sea to sustain them. As many as 4,300 years ago, the Nuu-chah-nulth people fished the local waters. They lived on the ocean’s bounty of salmon, cod, halibut, shellfish, sea lions, seals and whales. The forests provided plant and animal food as well as cedar for their homes, canoes and clothing. Many Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations people still live in the area today.
European explorers settled here in the late 1880s and opened a saw mill and general store. Forestry figures prominently in much of Ucluelet’s history and lifestyle, but it didn’t start to dominate until the 1950s. Since then logs have been harvested and sent to mills elsewhere away from the coast.
Historians call the area offshore the Graveyard of the Pacific. Along Vancouver Island’s West Coast more than 100 ships have sunk, some dating back to the early years of trade and exploration by Americans and Europeans. Over the centuries fierce weather has foiled many mariners.
In 1915 the Carelmapu, a three-masted Chilean cargo ship, got caught in a violent squall that slammed it onto the rocks at Long Beach. Barclay Sound is home to several other wrecks.
Ucluelet experienced another boom after World War I, this time with the fishing industry. The predominant species were salmon, halibut, cod and herring. The increasing catch brought the addition of canneries, fish buying stations and processing facilities. Around 1920 a wave of Japanese fishermen relocated to Ucluelet, whose local economy still depends on commercial and sport fishing today.
The discovery of gold around 1900 at Wreck Bay (also called Florencia Bay) drew more settlers, but pursuing the gold commercially proved impractical. Mining flourished again in the early 1960s when Ucluelet became the largest shipper of iron concentrates in British Columbia.