The Eagles of Hornby Island
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Hornby Island - by Doug Carrick

Hornby Island

The distinctive shape of Hornby Island, as seen from Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

Hornby Island is a small island on the west coast of British Columbia.  It is located at the northern end of the Georgia Strait, a wonderful climatic zone between the 8,000-foot Coast Range Mountains and the 6,000-foot Vancouver Island Range – a trough providing a rain-shadow of lower precipitation.  The Island Range also provides protection from Pacific storms.


The total rainfall here is similar to Britain’s (about 35 inches per year), but where Britain’s rainfall is distributed throughout the year, ours occurs mainly in winter, with the summers being warm and dry.  Kids spend their summers on the beach.  I remember my Glasgow cousins coming to Canada during the war years.  They were white as ghosts while my sister and I were tanned – the difference in summer sunshine.


Trees are an indicator of this favourable climate.  The Garry Oaks of California extend northward to parts of Oregon and Washington State, and further north into the Georgia Strait region and right up to Hornby Island, their northernmost limit.  The grasslands associated with the Garry Oaks become wonderful wildflower meadows each spring.  It may sound a bit stretched, but we also have cactuses growing along south-facing shores.

Birds also are an indicator of the climate.  Turkey vultures that winter in Mexico and California migrate northward up this same corridor – into the Georgia Strait region as far as Hornby Island – but not much further.

All and all, Hornby Island cannot be compared with California, but we do have a tinge of California here each spring, summer and fall.  It’s certainly one of the nicer areas to live in Canada.



crow harassing eagle

Crow harassing eagle



In recognition of this unique climate, Hornby Island and many of the other “Gulf Islands” are now protected by the “Islands Trust”.  Except for pre-existing lots, residential lots can no longer be subdivided to less than 10 acres and agricultural land to no less than 40 acres.  This is to maintain a rural setting. No large-scale developments are wanted here.

the view

The view from Qualicum Beach: 
Vancouver Island mountains at left in the background, 
Denman Island (low profile in centre) and Hornby's Mt. Geoffrey at right.

arbutusMount Geoffrey, the central feature of Hornby Island, is entirely for public use – partly a Regional Park and partly crown land.  It is laced with trails suitable for hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers.  In recent years, a group of trail-makers have made trails along side the main roads, making cycling both safer and pleasanter.  Every year they are extending this network of trails.  A most enjoyable walk is around Helliwell Park, the Jewel of Hornby Island.  It provides ever-changing views and landscapes.  Along the south-west bluffs are the Garry Oak meadowlands complete with wild flowers in spring, red-barked Arbutus trees in summer and the same trees overflowing with bright red berries in fall.  At the southern tip is Flora Island, a basking place for hundreds of seals throughout the year and sea lions in the winter.  The nests of two eagle families are easily observable from the pathway.

the trail



There are two spectacular beaches, at Tribune Bay Park and at Whaling Station Bay, along with many lesser-known beaches elsewhere.  All in all, 24% of the land area is dedicated to parks, and if crown land is included, it brings the total to 32% - a figure hard to match anywhere.


As in small communities everywhere, communal endeavors are second nature – the way to get things done.  Our community hall was built that way, the New Horizons building, the library, the ballpark buildings, our Co-operative store, our old clinic and now a new clinic.  Our thirteen-unit Elder Housing complex was made possible through endless fundraising by volunteers and is still maintained by volunteers.  Even banking on the Island is done through a Credit Union.

fall colours at the Co-op

Fall colour at the Co-op

People come to Hornby Island to a great extent because of this participation.  Nobody is going to get rich here and I don’t think that this is the desire of many.  It’s the life style that is so attractive, resulting in numerous artists, potters, jewelers, weavers, quilters, sculptors, poets, writers, craftspeople – you name it.

No one person alone can be credited with shaping the nature of Hornby Island but Hilary Brown had a strong influence.  She and her husband were activists who first came to Hornby in 1937 - a refuge from their struggles against the rising fascism at that time.  They bought a large property on the southwest side of Hornby – a Garry Oak grasslands with a sandy beach and beautifully eroded sandstone formations.  They set up a campsite that became a magical place for children and adults alike.

Hilary’s influence seems to be behind every co-operative move on the Island.  She started up the first credit union on the island.  The first loan went to Albert Savoie so he could buy a two-car ferry and start the first service to Hornby Island.  Hilary was the one to arrange a government grant to finance the New Horizons hall and she was the pioneering energy behind the Elder Housing complex.  It is not surprising that when the Heron Rocks Campsite became too much for Hilary to manage, it was handed over to a co-operative group, as it is to this day.  Later, she handed over the remaining portion of land to the Heron Rocks Friendship Centre  – to protect the land in perpetuity, for the use of the community.  Hilary died in 2007 at age 98.

And then there is the Quilting Group, in existence for over 20 years.  Individual quilters are coming up with better and better work every year.  But it is their joint work that has caught the minds of both tourists and locals.  Each year members of the group create a unique Hornby Quilt and raffle it at the market.  To win the quilt is everyone’s dream.  Each year they raise an average of $10,000 - and you’ve guessed it – the money is donated to a worthwhile cause.  This year, it was towards the new clinic. 

Suffice it to say, there is a strong feeling on Hornby that we can all benefit from working together – and get pleasure from doing so.

In discussing the people of Hornby, keep in mind that we are people just like people anywhere else, but with a tinge of sharing.  Maybe it’s just what happens in small communities – but I think it is also a reflection of the people who have chosen to live here.

Cardboard House Bakery




Visiting Hornby Island

If you are planning a trip to Hornby Island to watch Mom and Dad, the other eagle pairs, and the many unpaired eagles of all ages that dwell there, an off-season visit is well worth considering. While much of the exciting action occurs during the eaglets' pre-fledge period from July through mid-August, this period also coincides with the highest levels of summer visitors and activities. From Labour Day through early spring, the island is peaceful and comfortable accommodations are more readily available. Many of the restaurants are seasonal, so be sure to check local schedules before you come. The websites listed below will provide an enticing view of the island home of Mom and Dad Hornby.


Hornby Island Websites

RealHornby features an up-to-date schedule of events and happenings. Website: Real Hornby

Hornby offers a photo gallery, maps, travel information and in-depth information about the island. Website: Hornby

Hornby has information and links for visitors and residents alike. The site also offers a PDF file for download with listings for Hornby Island and Denman Island businesses, artists, crafters, eateries and more. Website: Direct link to the PDF:


ferry route to Hornby Island

How to get to Hornby Island

It takes three ferry rides to get from the mainland to Hornby Island; only two if you are already on Vancouver Island Ferry Schedule




Tribune Bay Provincial Park: With its unusual rocky shoreline hoodoo formations, white sandy beach, and reputation as being one of the warmest saltwater swimming areas in British Columbia, Tribune Bay is a popular spot.
Tribune Bay Provincial Park

Helliwell Provincial Park sits on a headland forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. A 3-mile (5-km) loop trail follows the Helliwell Bluffs that rise above the beach and lead through open fields and stands of fir trees. The cliffs offer spectacular views of Georgia Strait and the Coast Mountains. Numerous wildlife species can be observed including deer, eagles, herons, pelagic cormorants, and sea lions. Killer whale sightings are possible from Hornby's high headland. Helliwell Provincial Park




Ocean Kayaking
The calm waters surrounding Hornby Island attract many kayak enthusiasts eager to explore the shoreline and view the eagles, water and shore birds, seals, sea lions and fascinating inter-tidal creatures.
Hornby Ocean Kayaks offers tours throughout the year, as well as classes for first-time kayakers and kayak rentals. Visit Hornby Ocean Kayaks

Scuba Diving
British Columbia is one of North America's foremost dive destinations, and the gentle currents and good visibility in the waters surrounding Hornby make it one of the best. Hornby Island Diving describes an underwater terrain with sculpted sandstone reefs, and an abundance of marine life like giant Pacific octopus, wolf eels, harbour seals, large ling cod and rock fish, colourful anemones and nudibranchs. In winter, divers can also enjoy the underwater acrobatics of the sea lions that gather to feed on the herring.

Between April and September, shark dive enthusiasts can swim with Bluntnose sixgill sharks. An article on shark diving at Hornby describes the dive and the beauty of the experience. Read Elasmodiver's article about diving on Hornby Island

Hornby Island Diving has a tank fill station, dive boat and lovely guest lodge, and even hosts an annual photography workshop. To visit their website for more information, go to Hornby Island Diving.

The sandstone peninsula at Tribune Bay is perfect for snorkeling and shallow freediving. The sandstone formations extend into the water, and there are overhangs and boulders where like kelp greenling, perch, lingcod, dogfish, kelp crabs, ochre stars, sea urchins, and even the odd octopus can be seen.

Some of the nicest public beaches are the sandy beach at Whaling Station Bay and the beach at Tribune Bay where in addition to swimming, you can rent skim boards or play beach volleyball.

Fishing opportunities abound, and Inter Island Charters offer both fishing and sightseeing charters.

Avid bikers from near and far love the many miles of well-maintained trails through Hornby's diverse terrains. The trail system through Mount Geoffrey Park is described as 'smooth', but for bikers who like a rush of adrenaline, "No Horses" offers a big one.

The Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association maintains a website that features information on trails old and new. Visit HIMBA
The PinkBike site has a review on the biking experience on Hornby, with wonderful photos and videos. PinkBike
Hornby Island Outdoor Sports offers a variety of bikes for rent on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. HI Outdoor Sports

Walking, Hiking and Horseback Riding
Stroll, walk, or hike around Helliwell Provincial Park, Big Tribune Provincial Park, Mount Geoffrey Nature Park, Mount Geoffrey Escarpment Park, and Fords Cove Marina. A multi-use trail for hikers and horseback riders on Mount Geoffrey intersects with other trails; the cliff trail offers beautiful views of Hornby and Denman Islands, and to the north, Comox.
Most of the island's shores are accessible to hikers and beachcombers. Petroglyphs (ancient carvings) and fossils occur in several places; shells, sharks' teeth and even dinosaur bones have been found.

Special Attractions

Elderfield Old-Time Farm
This living-history farm and open-air museum offers interpretive walks, exhibits and demonstrations by costumed personnel relating to pioneer history and modern day rural life.


Hornby Festival
This annual nine-day Festival presents twelve to sixteen concerts early in August (sometimes beginning late July). The primary venues include the charming Community Hall and Olsen Farm, with its fabulous ocean view.
Visit the Festival Society's website for this year's schedule of events and performers. Hornby Festival

Hornby Island Blues Workshop
Sponsored by the Hornby Island Blues Society, this workshop brings many of Canada's top Blues musicians to the Island. The 2010 workshop is scheduled to take place from May 10-14; visit the Blues Society's website for more information. Hornby Blues Workshop

Hornby Arts Council Presents
The Hornby Island Arts Council presents a series of shows in its ARC gallery. To view the schedule, please visit the Council's website. Hornby Island Arts

Hornby Farmers' Market
"Make it, Bake it, Grow it."
Saturdays, 11 AM- 2 PM from the May long week-end until Thanksgiving week-end. Farmers' Market


Food, Glorious Food

Hornby Island Resort The Wheelhouse Restaurant offers eat-in or take-out menus. It also houses the Thatch Neighbourhood Pub, where the Friday Night Jazz is legendary. Wheelhouse Restaurant
The Cardboard House Bakery offers (in addition to wonderful treats) "Pizza & Music" nights on Sunday & Wednesday evenings. Cardboard House Bakery
The Vorizo Espresso Bar offers homemade cakes, pies, and specialty coffees. Vorizo
The Sea Breeze Restaurant operates seasonally. Dining at Sea Breeze Lodge 


And Drink ...

Middle Mountain Meadery offers a view of terraced hillsides full of plantings including about 2,000 lavender plants blooming in June-July. They also grow black currants, apples, and grapes, and are stewards of some beehives as well. Mead, as well as culinary herb blends and herb teas,  is available for sale in the tasting room. Middle Mountain Meadery



Campgrounds and RV Camping
There are two campsites located on Hornby Island. Both are very family orientated and can provide you with a couple of options. Tribune Bay Campsite is conveniently located close to the Hornby Island Co-op and Tribune Bay. Bradsdadsland is within walking distance to Shingle Spit, the ferry terminal and the Hornby Island Resort featuring a restaurant and the Thatch Pub.

Bradsdadsland Campsite is a family oriented camp-resort located on the bluffs above Lambert channel. Private and peaceful, this campsite was the home of Benn Kramer, the "Eagle Man of Hornby Island", to whom Doug Carrick dedicated his book. Bradsdadsland

Tribune Bay Campsite is just a two-minute walk from Tribune Bay Park and is conveniently located next to the Ringside Market. Tribune Bay Campsite


Lodges, Resorts, Vacation Rentals and Bed & Breakfasts

Hornby Island is home to several lodges and resorts, including Ford's Cove Marina, Hornby Island Resort, and Seabreeze Lodge. Vacation rentals (cottages and homes) are also available and can be viewed at Hornby Island Lodges & Resorts and Vacation Rentals. If you're planning a short stay, Hornby's bed and breakfast establishments offer all the comforts of home. Bed & Breakfast Accommodations

Be sure to consider The Old Rose Nursery, which offers weekly rentals of a three-bedroom post-and-beam house surrounded by a rose garden, orchard, and ponds. Garden Paradise Retreat

"Sip, Shop, Stay" Carbrea Vineyard offers a cottage for rent by the day or week: Carbrea Cottage




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