Ocean Falls

In 1906 a group of businessmen chose the site for a new mill along the timber rich coastline of British Columbia. At the head of Cousins Inlet a large waterfall allowed the construction of a hydroelectric dam that would eventually power an enormous paper mill. As the mill grew, the city of Ocean Falls grew as well, eventually reaching a population of over 5,400. The aging mill became uneconomical as the 1960’s waned, leading to a threatened closure in 1973. With closure looming the British Columbia government stepped in to buy the mill and town, leading to another decade of production. When the mill finally closed in 1980 the abandonment began.

Ocean Falls

Ocean Falls before the closure of the mill, image from wikipedia

Ocean Falls is now a mere shadow of its former glory, in many ways a ghost town. Much of the mill and many of the buildings were demolished, the forest allowed to reclaim the land. While homes and buildings were bulldozed, quite a few are still standing, if slowly sinking into ruin. The remaining buildings range from mostly intact to collapsing ruins covered in blackberries. The handful of homes and businesses still occupied are the exceptions, standing among the ruins of past prosperity.

Ocean Falls

The city of Ocean Falls as it appears today

Exploring the ruined buildings is a major tourist activity in Ocean Falls. It appears that some effort to secure the buildings was performed in years past, these efforts have been mostly bypassed. There is no point in chaining a door that has no remaining glass, just step through. As a result it is easy to access many of the ruins. Care must be taken, there are risks here, as snow and rain penetrate the ruins the wood and steel decays, leaving dangerously weakened structures. Tread lightly and at your own risk.

Danger aside, the opportunity to photograph the ruins was difficult to ignore, I had the camera bag packed and ready before we docked. Spending a beautiful summer afternoon wandering through the ruins with a camera was the plan. The clear sky and afternoon light provided perfect conditions that I took full advantage of.

The abandoned Martin Inn

A room in the abandoned Martin Inn

Walking up from the harbor, the hotel is the first obvious target. This enormous building is what remains of a once posh hotel. The Martin Inn was once one of the largest hotels on the Pacific coast. Traces of that opulence remain in the ruins.

A couple of the hotel doors are still locked, but most are wide open. The basement is now a dank dungeon that requires a flashlight to explore. A reception area, staff facilities and laundry can be identified. The dark basement also hides a bowling alley, bowling shoes litter the counter, though the wooden lanes are becoming difficult to identify.

The bar of the abandoned Martin Inn

The bar at one end of the Grand Ballroom of the Martin Inn

From the ground floor a grand staircase leads up to a ballroom at the front. A large bar and enormous fireplace reveal a room that once hosted dinners and parties. In the far room Christmas decorations await a celebration that will never come. The roof has collapsed and the window glass is gone, nature has begun to invade. Wildflowers and young spruce tree seedlings sprout in the remains of the wood floor. The view from the large windows is still impressive, with the harbor and mountains beyond.

The upper floors are a maze of rooms. Few furnishings remain, most of the rooms are empty. Here and there a bed or table can be found. The rooms had no individual bathrooms, served instead by common facilities at the end of the hallways. Scattered plumbing fixtures and electrical parts remain strewn across the floors of some rooms, left behind by the scavengers. The stairways allow access to the roof and impressive views of the town. I was careful on the roof, unsure of the integrity of the structure, staying close to the parapets and the structure of the walls.

Abandoned House in Ocean Falls

One of the few original homes in Ocean Falls now abandoned

While the hotel is a relatively safe building to explore, the concrete structure is still reasonably sound. Not so some of the surrounding buildings. The upper floor of the department store next door is beginning to collapse, the roof has yielded to the winter snows. The school next door is beginning the same process, with one section of roof that has fallen in enough to turn a glass walled classroom into a terrarium of ferns and young spruce trees.

Above the town the dam and waterfall looms. The hydroelectric plant here has been refurbished and can be seen across the river as the large blue painted building. The plant provides power to the town and several surrounding communities including Bella Bella and Shearwater.

BC Ferries still calls at Ocean Falls, mostly because the city lies just a short distance off of the ferry route from Bella Bella to Bella Coola. The ferry providea a supply link for the staff who maintain the hydroelectric facility, a small government outpost and a few tour businesses that continue in Ocean Falls.

The docks are in excellent condition. The Ocean Falls Harbor Authority may be grandly named, but they do maintain a few hundred feet of good dock. It is about 0.50/ft for overnight mooring. Water, and a couple computers with internet access is availble at The Shack found at head of the dock. There is also a WiFi access point even if it does not reach across the dock, rather you need to take your computer and grab a chair near the ramp.

An afternoon spent exploring the city, a very pleasant night at the dock. I filled several memory cards here exploring the ruins. Very much worth the detour off the main cruising route.

About Andrew Cooper

An electrical engineer living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i. Webmaster for the NordicQuest.com website. Sometimes the first mate/deckhand/launch driver/anchor detail/cook/dishwasher and mechanic aboard the Nordic Quest.
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