Comox Valley

Union Bay is located conveniently close to the Courtenay/Comox centre, but retains a small community charm & peace.

Union Bay was first established as "Union Wharf" back in 1887. The community was developed as a port for the thriving coal mines at Union to the Northwest (later reincorporated as Cumberland). Originally the Union Coal Co. had intended to ship coal out from Royston to the north of what is currently Union Bay, but Robert Dunsmuir bought out the company.

Dunsmuir's sons decided that a port at Royston would be too shallow for their needs. The deep water near Hart Creek (in present-day Union Bay) was perfect for the deep sea vessels that would ship the superior quality coal across the globe. A large wharf, nearly 600 ft (200 m) long, was constructed, along with a rail network connecting the mines to the port in 1887-1888. Many of the masted freighters of the early days were so large that they had to be escorted by tug up Baynes Sound between Denman Island and Vancouver Island. The most famous of these ships was the Pamir.

Several structures were built on the colliery's lands including a shipping wharf, a coal washer, machine shops, and coke ovens. The community of Union Bay developed to support all of this industry and even had a small Chinatown. Many company houses were built for the workers and their families. In its hey-day, Union Bay had a population of about 10,000 (nearly 10 times its current population).

A few large hotels were built to accommodate the sailors who took shore-leave. These included the Nelson and the Wilson hotels, both of which burned down. The town also had a general store, the "Fraser and Bishop", which boasted an extravagant facade.

This little village has also known infamy.  One night in March 1913 the general store was robbed by Henry Wagner, the "Flying Dutchman" as he was called. On this particular night, two police officers, Constables Westaway and Ross, walked in on the pirate and his partner. A gunfight ensued during which Westaway was fatally wounded. Ross, however, managed to tackle Wagner and apprehend him after a long and bloody fight. Wagner was quickly hanged in Nanaimo.

During the two world wars Union Bay was a very active port because ships often coaled up there before crossing the Pacific.  The coal industry slowly faded during the 1950s and many of the structures, including the coal wharf, had been torn down by the early 1960s.

The Comox Valley area is a vibrant & growing area as tourists & would-be residents from all parts of the world are drawn to the natural resources, charming communities, excellent infrastructure & friendly people.

  • Vancouver Island Regional Library has branches in Union Bay and in Courtenay.  Telephone: 250-758-4697
  • The Friendly Port: A History of Union Bay 1880-1960 by Janet Glover-Geidt, published by Douglas R. Geidt, 1990
(ref. Wikipedia)