What to do in historic Cumberland, BC
Cumberland, British Columbia (BC), population 2800, is in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, about a 2.5-hour drive from Victoria. It was a coal mining community from 1888-1966. Mine workers came from Europe, China, and Japan to work for the Union Coal Company, owned by Robert Dunsmuir. The village was first called Union after the name of the mining company. If you’re wondering what to do in Cumberland, BC then you’ve come to the right place.
There is lots to see and do in Cumberland, BC. As you enter the community, you will see two beautiful Totem poles in Cumberland’s Peace Park. Made of red cedar and carved using a mix of chainsaws and traditional tools, the totems reflect the culture of the two artists, Junior Henderson, and Karver Everson. The totem poles help to recognize the First Peoples in the area.
Cumberland Museum and Archives
The Cumberland Museum, located next to the Cultural Centre on Dunsmuir Avenue, comprises two floors. It shares the history of Cumberland through stories about its people.
There is a walk-through replica of a coal mine as well as displays that tell the story of labour leader Ginger Goodwin, who was instrumental in leading the mine on a two-year strike for better wages and working conditions.
Storyboards tell of the influx of Chinese immigrants who came to work in the mines and how they shaped what Cumberland is today.
- Adults $6
- Seniors $5
- Children (6-11) $2
- Family (2 adults & 2 children) $15
- Under 6 Free
Cumberland Cultural Centre
You might notice a row of attached historical buildings directly beside the Cumberland Museum. This cultural centre was built with an emphasis on the contributions of the various ethnic communities in the development of Cumberland.
Whites, Chinese, Japanese and Blacks worked the coal mines. At one point, Cumberland was one of the largest Chinese settlements in British Columbia.
Today, the Cultural Centre is just a facade with several community spaces behind it, but it gives you an idea of what the town looked like. This is one of the most fascinating things to do in Cumberland, BC.
No. 6 Mine Heritage Park
Right off Dunsmuir Ave, the No 6 Mine Memorial Park contains interpretive signage on local mining history and historical artifacts.
The mine was operational from 1898 to 1917. When the mine was closed, the mine shaft was capped with a massive concrete slab. Today, a memorial gazebo and plaque at that site commemorate the coal miners who lost their lives.
This small park is a playground with old mining cars and benches made from mining cars split in half. It is an excellent area to have a picnic or to take a break.
More of what to do in Cumberland, BC
Cumberland Heritage Walks
There are four heritage walking tours that you can take free of charge. If the museum is open, ask for a map. Otherwise, you will find interpretive signs in wooden kiosks with maps. These signs give a glimpse into the lives of the people of the past who lived in the little village of Cumberland.
The four tours and their durations:
- Down Camp and Little Jerusalem (1 hour)
- Doctor’s Row (30- 40 minutes)
- Fernwood Heights and Bridal Alley (30-40 minutes)
- Main Street (30-40 minutes)
The Ilo Ilo Theatre is one of the many historical buildings in downtown Cumberland. This 1932 theatre building was constructed in the Art Deco style.
After many performances of silent films, live theatre and movies, the building’s interior was modified to function as an auction house. The original exterior of the building was also restored. Public auctions were held every Friday night for close to 40 years.
Local lore says that the name of the building, Ilo Ilo, means “variety” in Japanese—a fitting name for the use of the building. Now, having been closed since 2007, locals are hoping that a way can be found to reinvent the use of the building and preserve its heritage.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cumberland, BC
After walking around and getting a feel for the history of Cumberland, you might want something to eat or drink. Here are a few suggestions of what to do in Cumberland, BC when you get hungry and thirsty.
Cumberland Grind Espresso & Smoothie Bar
This popular little coffee shop, located on the main Street, has outside seating only and lots of parking out back. They serve unique flavour combinations of teas, coffee, smoothies, and snacks. The Canadian Fog is my all-time favourite. It consists of black tea, steamed milk, and a shot of maple.
Cumberland Village Bakery
Next door is the equally popular Cumberland Village Bakery. The bakery is over 100 years old and has only ever operated in this one location. They make donuts, hand-made sourdough bread, pastries, baked treats, sandwiches, pizza, and savoury pastries.
Love’s Ice Cream
If you still have room, and it’s a summer afternoon, head over to Love’s Ice Cream. Their products are made fresh from local ingredients. They offer soft serve, hard scoop, dairy-free options, and homemade waffle cones.
The selection of flavours changes regularly, but with flavours like Passionfruit soft serve swirl, Raspberry Cheesecake and Oreo Cookie, flavour surprises await.
Cumberland Brewing Co.
If you are in Cumberland all day, you may want to stop for lunch or dinner. A popular spot is the Cumberland Brewing Co. Located on Dunsmuir, this community-focused brewery subscribes to no distribution outside of Cumberland and no bottling or canning.
They have rotating taps and offer other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and small bites of food that go well with all their refreshments.
Waverley Hotel and Pub
Consisting of three attached buildings, the first of which was built in 1894 and is one of Cumberland’s oldest surviving buildings, the Waverley Hotel has undergone several changes over the years.
It started as a room and board hotel for miners and businessmen. During the infamous big strike of 1912-1914, where miners demanded better pay and working conditions, the hotel housed the Special Constables, who came to manage the strike.
Today, the three buildings make up the Waverley Liquor Store, a small hotel, and a well-known pub for live music.
How to Get To Cumberland, BC
Plane, train, ferry, or automobile?
The Comox Valley is a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Victoria or a 75-minute drive from the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point near Nanaimo.
BC Ferries operates a route between Comox and Powell River on the British Columbia mainland.
Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. From the north, Highway 19 links the Comox Valley and Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island.
There are two major airlines that serve the Comox Valley Regional Airport, with flights between Vancouver and Comox. Small aircraft and floatplanes land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay.
Daily coach lines connect all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland. Local bus service is also available.
Conclusion – What to do in Cumberland BC
Cumberland is not just food, drink, and history. This little town makes for an excellent day trip from Vancouver, especially in the summer because it also has a nearby campground, lake, and hiking trails. The village has a place to rent bikes if you prefer not to walk.
Whether driving through or stopping to visit Cumberland, British Columbia, you will find lots to see and do for everyone.