Prince Rupert, British Columbia is a community hard hit by economic woes, but rich in culture, history and shopping. If time permits and you are so inclined, I recommend you make this a two day road trip and plan on taking the excursion to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary (pronounced koot-sa-ma-teen).
Billed as the City of Rainbows, Prince Rupert is aptly named, owing to its considerable annual rainfall. In fact, it is Canada’s rainiest city, but don’t let that get you down. Just bring an umbrella. On any given day, it is not uncommon to experience all four seasons. It’s part of the charm. Dress accordingly.
The drive from Terrace to Prince Rupert is a leisurely 90 minutes where you will experience hilly terrain that provides a glimpse of old growth forests, silent fjords, and a number of opportunities to pull off the road to inhale the heady aroma and view magnificent scenery filled with a wide variety of wildlife and plants.
I have driven this route countless times with Asylum, the world’s worst guard dog and my almost constant companion. We always choose to stop, despite it being a short jaunt, to stretch our legs and so Asylum can ‘get acquainted’ with the forest. It’s also a pregnant reminder to slow down life just a little. All along Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) heading toward the northwest coast, you are almost assured of passing many avid fishermen who can be found near the roadside partaking in their favorite pastime.
Just before arriving at Prince Rupert is the community of Port Edward, home to the North Pacific Historic Fishing Village, the oldest surviving salmon cannery village in British Columbia. I highly recommend a one or two hour visit to this Parks Canada National Historic Site and a place I consider to be the second best area to snap photos of bald eagles that nest in the region.
A little plug here for the North Pacific Historic Fishing Village. This icon of early coastal enterprise is run by a small but dedicated not-for-profit organization that struggles financially to preserve an authentic representation of a very unique way of life. It’s an hour or two out of your day, a few bucks for admission, and I promise you it will be a memorable addition to your vacation.
A few minutes from Port Edward brings you to your destination of Prince Rupert. The Atlin Terminal is where the visiting cruise ships dock and the surrounding area, known as Cow Bay, is, not surprisingly, teaming with restaurants, boat charters, and nifty little gems for shopping such as Homework, a store offering souvenirs, home fashion, clothing, and some very cool stuff . You will discover your own treasures here. Funky and hip only begins to describe the Cow Bay shops and even if you don’t buy anything, a simple visit will definitely put a smile on your face.
Take a stroll around this lively area, where you may stumble upon a special event or free entertainment at Mariner’s Memorial Park. Seafest, the city’s major summer shin dig takes place in June, but the area is always a beehive of activity during cruise ship season.
Downtown Prince Rupert is only a few blocks from Cow Bay. Like any community suffering in an ill economy, there are plenty of vacant storefronts, but peppered among them are morsels of early 20th century architecture such as City Hall as well as locally owned shops and galleries offering a taste of Prince Rupert’s heritage and culture. Downtown is certainly more conservative and drab than the Cow Bay area and should be avoided if you have any expectations of being inspired in any way.
The Museum of Northern British Columbia and the Prince Rupert Fire Museum are located next door to each other near Cow Bay. Featured at the Museum of Northern British Columbia are exhibits of aboriginal heritage and culture. You will need a couple of hours to fully appreciate this important collection of coastal nations that have inhabited the area for more than 10,000 years. The fire museum is a quirky display of apparatus that screams to be visited by firefighters and kids alike.
Another leisurely stroll several blocks away is around the train tracks at the waterfront. The Kwinitsa train station is located here and serves as a gift shop and museum. While it is not germane to the city itself, it nonetheless is an authentic regional train station that has found a very nice home overlooking the port area. If you follow the tracks down a bit to the old pier, you will arrive at what I consider to be the single best spot in the entire area to snap photos of bald eagles. Your camera will get a workout especially if your timing is impeccable. I find between 4:30pm and 7:00pm during summer months for having the best luck capturing these majestic birds of prey in flight, hunting for fish, or just hanging out with their buddies.
You must be hungry by now. Chances Casino is on the waterfront next door to the Crest Hotel and the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Both Chances and the Crest are known for great food, however service can be hit and miss and the fare can be pricey. For mid-priced meals offering reasonable value, Zorba’s on 2nd Avenue West for a variety of Mediterranean dishes and absolutely fantastic pizza, and Dolly’s Fish Market on Cow Bay Road for seafood.
Accommodations in Prince Rupert are mostly ma and pa style, although there are two corporate hotels and the four star Crest Hotel. If you travel by RV, there are many sites available.
The nightlife in Prince Rupert is non-existent, unless your tastes lean toward the tavern style establishments. And I don’t mean ‘tavern’ in the campy roadhouse style offering anything you can be proud of. Think old, dirty, and rough. Patronize at your peril. Besides, you are going to need a good night’s sleep so you can enjoy that day long excursion to the grizzly bear sanctuary.
That not-to-be-missed full day excursion to the Khutzeymateen, Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary, consists of 45,000 hectares, and is best experienced with Prince Rupert Adventure Tours, one of the few operators licensed to guide eco-adventures into this protected wilderness. They provide an entertaining and informative boat ride to the sanctuary, illustrating local history along the way, and position the boat expertly in the sanctuary, allowing you to quietly capture stunning photos of these coastal bruins. What I really appreciate about Prince Rupert Adventure Tours is their sensitivity to the ecosystem in which they operate. Follow their direction and you will have an exceptional experience. With any luck, you may see whales or other marine life during your trip.
For 20th century history buffs, you will be interested to know that Charles Hays is credited with the founding of Prince Rupert in 1910. Almost immediately, he saw the huge economic potential of the area and quickly made his way back to England to raise investment capital. He was successful in doing so and in April 1912 sought to make a hasty return to North America, and ultimately Prince Rupert. And the quickest way to do so? Charles Hays perished along with 1500+ others aboard the Titanic.