British Columbia

Search for B.C.'s best small town: Vancouver Island quarterfinals

Voting will take place until 10 p.m. PT each day, with today's votes determining the final four in the Vancouver Island quadrant of the competition.

From Mill Bay to Port Hardy, the eight remaining entries span the region

Cumberland's main street has one of the hallmarks of any growing small town — a craft brewery with the community's name. (Justin McElroy/CBC News)

The 32 communities remaining in the Search for B.C.'s Best Small Town have a number of similarities.

Most of them have a direct connection to water — six of them are islands, seven are on a lake, another seven next to a river, while eight are next to the ocean.

Of the four without a strong water connection, two are known for their ski hills (Kimberley, Sun Peaks), while Tumbler Ridge is surrounded by mountains in the Peace Region with a UNESCO Global Geopark in its backdoor. 

And then there's Cumberland. 

"I'm a retired teacher, but I used to hear sometimes in school, 'Oh, you're from Scumberland,' " said Gwyn Sproule, who moved to Cumberland 44 years ago and has served on town on council for two decades. 

"But you would never hear that now because it's so, as you say, 'hip' to be from Cumberland."

A coal town that struggled for some years after the mines shut down, the town is now one of the fastest growing communities in the province, buoyed by interest in its mountain bike trails and — until recently — relatively affordable housing. 

The 'Namgis First Nation community of Alert Bay is a short ferry ride from Port McNeill. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Honouring all histories

Cumberland pays tribute to its mining, and labour heritage with an extensive museum — but it's not the only small town remaining on the Island that tells stories of its past. 

"Alert Bay is a really rare type of coastal community in B.C. because it is so steeped in Indigneous history and culture, and I don't think we see enough of that in the province," said Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a Nisga'a-Kwakwaka'wakw Indigenous Fellow at Simon Fraser University focused on decolonization and urban Indigenous policy.

The U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay has long been known for its exhibits highlighting the history of the potlatch and its long ban in B.C. The island, on traditional Kwakwaka'wakw territory, is listed in Atlas Obscura for having the world's largest totem pole.

"We have a lot of small towns that really honour its [gold rush], mining history, colonial history," said Gosnell-Myers.   

"[But] we see an emergence of First Nations/municipal relationships happening, where more of that culture and identity from host nations are coming in.... It's happening slowly, but it's happening more."

(CBC News)

Final four to be decided

Alert Bay and Cumberland are two of the final eight communities in the Vancouver Island section in the Search for B.C.'s Best Small Town. 

Each day from Tuesday to Friday, there will be a new series of one-on-one votes in a different region. Each week, we'll narrow the field down — from 128 to 64, 64 to 32, and so on, until we have a champion. 

Voting will take place until 10 p.m. PT each day, with today's votes determining the final four in the Vancouver Island quadrant of the competition.