Campbell River, or Wiwek̓a̱m, lies on the east coast of Vancouver Island, at the south end of Discovery Passage. Long touted as “the Salmon Capital of the World,” Campbell River is near the communities of Quadra and the Discovery Islands, Sayward, Oyster River, Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos.
The original inhabitants of the area were Members of the Island Comox and related Coast Salish peoples. During the 18th century, some Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwak’wala-speaking) people migrated to the region. The Kwakwaka’wakw became infamous as raiders of the Coast Salish peoples farther south.
Captain George Vancouver reached Campbell River in 1792. It is believed that the name of the city comes from Dr Samuel Campbell, surgeon on a ship that came to the area in 1859. The community took the name of “Campbell River” with the construction of the post office in 1907.
Sports fishermen travelled to the area as early as the 1880s. Established in 1929, a fishing lodge called Painter’s Lodge attracted clientele from Hollywood, including regular patrons Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
After 1912, Campbell River became a supply point for northern Vancouver Island, Quadra Island and Cortes Island. After the Second World War, Campbell River became a boom town and industrial centre with the building of the John Hart Dam, Elk Falls pulp mill, and nearby mills in Tahsis and Gold River.
In recent years Campbell River, which is about half-way up Vancouver Island, has marked the boundary between the more developed south and the wild and natural areas in the north.
Campbell River has an oceanic climate: summers are mild and cool, winters also mild, with a relatively narrow annual temperature range and few extremes of temperature.
Some notable people from the area include NHL players Brett Connolly and Kris Fredheim, LPGA winner Dawn Coe-Jones, judge, author and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown, freestyle skier Teal Harle (fifth in slope-style in the 2018 Winter Olympics), and actor Barry Pepper.
In February 2021, the benchmark price of a single-family home hit $547,700, an increase of 18 per cent over the previous year.
In 2016, Campbell River’s population was 35,138.
Traditionally, the main employers have been the commercial fishing, forestry and mining industries. There is a lead zinc mine nearby, and coal mines, while a large copper mine operated to the north.
Today, Campbell River has a variety of growing industries and small businesses suitable to an oceanside community. The focus of business is now directed towards aquaculture, agrifoods, clean energy development, construction, creative industries, health care, international education, mining, technology and tourism. Logging continues to be a significant source of employment.
North Island College has a campus in Campbell River. There is also a private K-12 Christian school and a Francophone school, École Mer-et-montagne.
With its five provincial parks, several marine parks, golf courses, wildlife viewing opportunities, and fishing hotspots, the region is a mecca for outdoor and marine enthusiasts.
Popular attractions include Elk Falls Provincial Park, which is known for its suspension bridge, waterfall, and six kilometres of old growth forest trails; Discovery Pier, which is popular among fisherfolk of all ages; and Beaver Lodge Lands. The latter have a variety of trails, including the three-kilometre Rail Trail. Another popular hiking trail is the Ripple Rock Hike, which overlooks the site of what was once the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world.
Tourist attractions include whale-watching, snorkeling, guided fishing, bear-viewing, and the Discovery Passage Aquarium. There is also diving and water-sports.
Annual special events include the Campbell River Salmon Festival (and the festival’s Logger Sports) and the Toy & Craft Show and Sale. Cultural institutions include the Museum at Campbell River and the CR and District Public Art Gallery. The Museum showcases the history of the region with exhibits and programs, and includes a small theatre, an archives research centre, native plant garden and a gift shop.
Located on the banks of the Campbell River, the Haig-Brown Heritage House preserves the heritage of Roderick and Ann Haig-Brown. The Maritime Heritage Centre offers a glimpse of the area’s fishing history, with a fully restored motor vessel, a table seiner.
Sea-to-table feasting is the main go-to for visitors and locals alike. Diners can feast on fish and chips served dockside in a marina, or surf and turf platters in a pub (Session Taproom, Riptide Marine Pub, Beach Fire Brewing and Nosh House) or restaurant. Some favourite spots, according to TripAdvisor, include Ideal Café (for burgers), Anglers Dining, and Harbour Grill.
Southend Farm Winery and Clearcut Distilling Co. and Shelter Point Distillery specialize in small-batch spirits.
Campbell River is home to big-box and chain retail stores, but also offers many unique shops and boutiques. Among them are Clayworks Café and Gallery, Willow Point Books, and Mussels and More Pottery/Gift Shop, which features pottery as well as work in glass, metal, silver, and wood.