Royal LePage in the Comox Valley
Denman Island & Union Bay
Union Bay is a small community approximately 15 kilometres (9 mi) south of Courtenay, in the Comox Valley. Union Bay is populated by about 1200 people and is an unincorporated site within the Comox Valley Regional District. The main drag along Highway 19A features a boat launch, sports/coffee shop, bistro and market/cafe. Also along the highway are the heritage Gaolhouse museum, Post Office, the brand new Coast Realty Group Office, the church, and now closed school that is currently used as the District Improvement Offices.
The community has a rich history that is intertwined with that of Cumberland, British Columbia. Just above today’s post office, on Heritage Row, is the Office of Coast Realty Group where Sylvie Schroeder, a long time Denman Island resident, will be there to help you discover Union Bay as well as nearby Denman Island. Stop in the Union Bay office for your Real Estate needs, information for surroundings areas or simply to chat!
Union Bay History
Stroll along Heritage Row~ a group of historic buildings recently re-located and restored. The Union Bay Historical Society was formed in 1989 to preserve these historical buildings, artifacts and the character of Union Bay. The Society bought and restored the 1913 Post Office building, the main floor of which is now leased by Canada Post thereby retaining the postal outlet in its original setting. Also acquired for restoration and moved to the Post Office property was the 1901 Gaolhouse. The old jailhouse is now a gift shop. 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.
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. Workers from India were brought in to build the wharf. They lived in the big boarding house at the head of the bay. Scottish bricklayers arrived with a boatload of bricks from their homeland and assembled the coke ovens which were worked by the Japanese. There were five Japanese families They had homes on the north side of Washer Creek. Chinese labourers laid the railway between Union Bay and Cumberland and then became trimmers on the coal ships where they would work 12-hour shifts. About 100 Chinese men lived in jerry-built shacks where the community hall is today.
Two hotels were built to accommodate travelers, the Nelson and Wilson. They featured beer parlours for loggers and sailors. Fire destroyed both hotels.Several stores served the town, including Fraser & Bishop’s large general store with an extravagant facade. 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.
Of the original buildings four are left: school (built 1915), church (1906), post office (1913), and gaolhouse (1901). Together they form “Heritage Row”. The Union Bay Historical Society restored and now maintains the gaolhouse and the post office. The post office has the distinction of being the only wooden post office erected before WW1 still in service in Canada.
During the two world wars Union Bay was a very active port because ships often coaled up there before crossing the Pacific. The last sailing ship to carry coal was the Pamir, in 1946. Freighters and barges continued to call until the coal industry slowly faded around the 1950s. Many of the structures, including the coal wharf, were torn down by the early 1960s.
An abundance of shellfish farms on Baynes Sound now help to drive the economy of Union Bay. In 1923 Eikechi Kagetsu, a logging entrepreneur started work at Fanny Bay. Baynes Sound beaches reminded Kagetsu of areas in Japan which produced superior mollusks to our smaller native oysters. He brought in oyster seeds from Japan and started to cultivate Pacific oysters, an industry which has blossomed and now includes clams, mussels, scallops, and abalone.
As merchant seamen during the coal mining days were always made welcome here, Union Bay became known as the ‘The Friendly Port’, a name still appropriate today.
Not to forget. Located off the northwest tip of Denman Island, 4 kilometres offshore from Union Bay, is Sandy Island Marine Park, a cluster of tiny, wooded islands. At spring low tide the 33-hectare Sandy Island is connected to Longbeak Point on Denman Island by an exposed sand bank. The marine park is ideal for day trips and overnight camping, and offers 8 rustic campsites set in a wonderful grove of Douglas-fir trees.
You will want to spend a day on the lovely Denman Island and Hornby Island, touring artists’ studios, swimming on a sandy beach, hiking the bluffs and trails, scuba diving or just plain relaxing. Catch a ferry from Buckley Bay, 8 km south of Union Bay, to Denman Island.,,,just 10 minutes crossing with BC Ferries. Denman Island’s brand new Community Dock makes it easy for the Boaters to go from Union Bay boat launch to Denman for an afternoon picnic!
Look around Union Bay by using the Google Map below.