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BC Archives image of the Port Hardy Docks

Port Hardy from the water
Port Hardy downtown
Port Hardy
Port Hardy warf
Island Copper open pit mine
Downtown Port Hardy now

Port Hardy

North eastern Vancouver Island

The area surrounding Port Hardy was first settled by Europeans in 1849, with the establishment of an HBC fort in nearby Fort Rupert. Port Hardy itself was settled in 1904, and the community greatly expanded with the selling of Hudson Bay Co. lands in the area in 1912. Resource extraction has always been Port Hardy’s number one industry and fishing, logging, and mining have all been through boom and bust cycles in the town. Today, Port Hardy is about half its historic size, and though suffering at the hands of the declining commercial fishing and forest industries, is carving out a niche as Vancouver Island’s premier northern tourism destination.


Coordinates: 50°43’N 127°29’W

Fort Rupert was established in 1849 as a trading post and coal town to serve the nearby coal mines at Suquash. Though explorers made their way into the Port Hardy area many times, the area was not settled until 1904, when a pair of settlers, the Lyons, set up a general store and a post office in Hardy Bay. Slowly, people trickled in to Port Hardy, but the rush did not come until 1912, when the HBC offered and advertised cheap land to settlers from the USA and England. A considerable number of people came, looking for the scenic pastures and railways advertised in the flyers, but arrived to a cool, wet, densely forested terrain unsuitable for farming. Many left immediately, but 12 families stayed, and built up Port Hardy into a thriving little town, containing a one-room school, a sawmill, a church, and a hotel.

Middle History

Still accessible only by water and a trail from Fort Rupert, a necessity for expansion were travel corridors. In 1916, a trail to Coal Harbour was established, linking the east and west coasts of the island. As logging developed in the area, a network of logging roads began to be cut, and eventually a path from Campbell River to Port Hardy was formed. This connection facilitated further expansion, and Port Hardy’s industries took off. Fishing became the largest industry in the city and between 1950 and 1965 the population expanded from 1000 to over 5000 individuals. This presented a problem, as the entire north island at this point was serviced only by rough gravel road. The citizens of the northern communities had been lobbying for years to get the final link of paved road completed, and after many failed promises of completion from the government, the road was finally paved in 1979. Contributing to this boom was the copper exploration happening in Coal Harbour. In 1965, copper was discovered, and by 1970, the Utah Construction and Mining Company had begun to dig what would become the largest open pit copper mine in the world. As fishing and logging tapered off in Port Hardy, the mine became even more important, and it was one of the biggest employers on the north island until it too shut down in 1996.

Present Day

Like many resource towns in BC, as the fishing began to decline and the pressures on the logging industry continued to mount, Port Hardy began to decline both in population and in economic activity. From 1990 to 2000, more than half the fish plants in the area closed, and the largest employer on the north island, the Island Copper Mine, shut down for good. From a high of 5,400 people in the mid 60s, the town now contains just over 3,500 people.

Though the decline in resource extraction has undoubtedly affected the community, Port Hardy has performed a timely diversification of its economic base, and is increasingly focusing on touting itself as the tourism capital of the north island. The BC Ferries inside passage route departs from Port Hardy, making it a key gateway to the north coast, and as the largest major settlement on the north island, it is an important jumping off point for many smaller destinations including the Cape Scott Provincial Park. There are many fishing charter operators in and around the city, offering world class fishing expeditions, and a number of B&Bs exist to serve the increasing summer tourist population.

With a good amount in infrastructure in place, Port Hardy has the ability to grow once again, and likely will, given the current trends. It is accessible by road via highway 19, which terminates in downtown Port Hardy, or by air, to the Port Hardy airport in Fort Rupert.


Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.