Ucluelet, aka “Ukee” as locals fondly call it, is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The name means “people of the safe harbour” in the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) language.
Located on the Ucluelet Peninsula at the western edge of Barkley Sound, the town is 288 km (179 mi) northwest of Victoria. The closest city, Port Alberni, is approximately 100 km (62 mi) to the east. Tofino is 40 km (25 mi) northwest.
In between Tofino and Ucluelet is Long Beach, which is part of Pacific Rim National Park. Southeast of Ucluelet lies Barkley Sound, a marine area. The fishing and scientific research community of Bamfield lies on its farther shore.
Archaeological evidence indicated the presence of First Nations along the outer west coast of Vancouver Island for at least 4,300 years. The province’s recorded history began with European explorers searching for the Northwest Passage.
In 1870, fur sealers came to the area. Ucluelet began to grow along with the sealing industry. By 1900, more settlers had moved to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Development brought more infrastructure and services.
When World War II began, the military established a seaplane base in Ucluelet and a land base at Long Beach.
Ucluelet continued to grow after the war. In 1952, the town became incorporated.
Ucluelet has an oceanic climate, with mild, rainy winters and cool summers. Although it has an average snowfall of 32.4 cm (12.8 in), the median is 0, meaning over 50 percent of years it does not experience a single snowfall. This makes its climate unique in Canada.
An airport is about 20 minutes’ drive from downtown. Highway 4 serves the community. There is also a ferry service during the summer from Port Alberni to Ucluelet.
As of 2021, real estate in Ucluelet had become, like Tofino, a sellers’ market due to a lack of supply. “Housing demand isn’t just outpacing supply, it’s lapping it, pitting buyers against each other in bidding wars that are launching real estate prices to never-before-seen heights,” reported the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News in May.
In November of 2021, rew.ca listings for Ucluelet included a 1bed/1bath water-facing home for $839,000 and a 1-bed/1-bath condo for $289,000.
As of 2016, Ucluelet’s population was 1,717. This represents a 5.5 percent increase from 1,627 in 2011.
Although the local economy has historically been based on fishing and logging, increasing numbers of seasonal residents pass through to work in the tourism and hospitality industry. Both Ucluelet and nearby Tofino have become sites for resorts, restaurants and adventure tourism centres.
There are approximately 700 members of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (Ucluelet) First Nation living in the region, with approximately 275 people residing on treaty settlement lands in the community of Hitacu.
Ucluelet is a part of School District 70 (Pacific Rim) and currently has one elementary school and one secondary school in town.
Like its neighbour Tofino, Ucluelet has made the transition from a resource-based economy to a year-round tourism-based economy.
Activities include surfing, paddle-boarding, sport-fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, biking, swimming, and beachcombing. Storm watching is also popular over the winter.
The Wild Pacific Trail, which begins near the mouth of Ucluelet Inlet and travels north along the open Pacific coastline, is accessible to all ages and abilities. Bikes, horses, and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the park’s beaches or trails.
Marine and wildlife tours include whale- and bear-watching. As in Tofino, surfing has become a popular activity, and the summer months find locals and visitors along Florencia Bay, Wickaninnish Beach and Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
In mid-June, the annual Edge to Edge Marathon welcomes participants in a race from Tofino through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to Ucluelet.
The catch-and-release Ucluelet Aquarium displays a wide variety of fish and invertebrates.
Every March, Ucluelet co-presents the Pacific Rim Whale Festival with Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The week-long festival focuses on marine life protection education and celebrates the annual return of migrating Pacific grey whales from their breeding and calving grounds along the Baja Peninsula. Events include gala dinners, children’s activities, workshops and live entertainment.
Every odd year, Ucluelet hosts a leg of the Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race, a point-to-point race circumnavigating Vancouver Island. While the participants are in Ucluelet, the community hosts a salmon barbecue with live music and a send-off event.
In early July, the Pacific Rim Summer Festival features two weeks of concerts featuring national and international performers at venues in Ucluelet, Tofino, and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The end of July sees Ukee Days, a three-day local celebration with several events including a town parade and a dance.
Ucluelet restaurants include Eagle’s Nest Pub, which overlooks Ucluelet Harbour, and Currents, which offers an artisan-inspired culinary experience. The Floathouse Patio & Grill is a floating harbour restaurant.
Shops include Cedar House Gallery and the Crow’s Nest. Cedar House specializes in Nuu-Chah-Nulth art, including carvings, masks, totem poles, jewelry, prints, and paintings. The Crow’s Nest is located in a 1908 frontier building that operated as a general store until 1988. Today, it’s the town’s largest gift store, with the original shelving and oiled fir floors intact.