Nuu-chah-nulth for “safe landing place”, Ucluelet still lives up to its name as a well-known safe haven for commercial fish boats and transiting yachts as well as a popular launch site for sport fishing boats.
Historically, the Nuu-chah-nulth people established winter villages along protected waters, often locating near herring spawning sites. They chose Ucluelet Harbour for its diverse marine resources including herring, salmon, cods, rockfish, lingcod and flat fish. Marine invertebrates such as clams, bay mussels and cockles were especially plentiful. Tidal flats support abundant populations of migratory and resident waterfowl and terrestrial mammals such as deer, bears, wolves, cougars, river otters, minks, martens and raccoons. Sheltered inlets support useful plants such as red cedar and many species of berries.
This abundance and the harbour's ideal location, later attracted sealers, settlers, fishermen, and loggers. Three major shipwrecks in the region (the King David, the Pass of Melfort and the Valencia) in the winter of 1905-06 emphasized the need for more life saving facilities on the west coast. Both Ucluelet and Bamfield were recognized as important locations for these facilities. A new lighthouse was completed at Amphitrite Point in 1914. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Services provide essential communications to mariners on the west coast of Vancouver Island, (though this facility is due to be close in 2015 and amalgamated with Victoria). The “big golf ball” atop Mount Ozzard (a protective dome for a 12 m. radar scanner), was installed in 1978.
For a time in the 1930s, Ucluelet's Japanese fishing families outnumbered the white settlers. Ucluelet was the only community to request, unsuccessfully, both Victoria and Ottawa to allow the Japanese families to remain for the duration of the war. Evacuations orders came, and they were transported and interned in camps away from the coast. Following the war, a fraction of these families returned to the area to resume their livelihood.
Now supporting a population of approximately 1500 permanent residents, Ucluelet's motto is 'Life on the Edge'. A highlight for tourists is the easily accessible Wild Pacific Trail, which offers spectacular vistas of the other side of the peninsula – the open Pacific Ocean. Also not to be missed is the Ucluelet Aquarium, a seasonal aquarium stocked with life from local waters and released each fall. It is small, but proof that smaller can be better! Staffed with enthusiastic and knowledgeable biologists and local ambassadors, you can focus on the beauty and strangeness of each creature. Like everything in Ucluelet, it’s very personal.
Visitors to return each year to enjoy community events such as the annual Whale Festival (March), Ukee Days & Logger Sports (July), Pacific Rim Summer Festival (June), with a host of other ongoing events such as the summer Friday Night Market.
Just north of the town is the Long Beach unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve with more beaches and trails to explore. At the other end of the peninsula, about 40 km away, is the village of Tofino.