The Abandoned Town of Ocean Falls

Today, we stopped briefly at the abandoned village of Ocean Falls, British Columbia to take on fresh water. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Friday, June 2, 2017

Today is the fourth day of  Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud sailing to the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s also the fourth day of the unrelenting rainfall that’s followed us thus far.

The rain seems to have doubled its efforts today. It’s absolutely pouring out. For a few brief moments, it will stop, as if it is about to clear. Then, it starts to pour all over again.

Passing Cloud at the dock in Ocean Falls. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A Sign of Happier Times: hand-painted murals on the electrical boxes at the Ocean Falls pier hint at better days. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Logistics today dictated that we make a run up to Ocean Falls, British Columbia, in order to take on fresh water. Approximately 30 nautical miles away from our overnight anchorage, Captain Matt fired up Passing Cloud’s engine and we began a four-hour run up the inlet.

Ocean Falls used to be a company town. A large pulp mill was in operation here for nearly a century, and a hydroelectric dam site was added later. But when the mill closed in 1980, the town was hit hard. During the closing days of the 1940’s, this was a bustling place to be. By 1990, Ocean Falls was largely a ghost town. The hotel – the multi-story Martin Inn – was shuttered in 1988. Shops and businesses closed up, and many of the town’s residences were torn down and burned.

A directional sign – obviously moved at some point judging from the map – welcomes visitors…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…though the abandoned Martin Inn looms large in the background. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

By the year 2000, fewer than 50 residents lived in Ocean Falls. Due to its remote location, most people just got up and left, leaving houses filled with furniture and belongings behind.

Today, Ocean Falls is mainly a ghost town. Were it not for the hydroelectric dam that’s still in operation, it would be entirely abandoned. A small pier is still maintained, along with docking facilities and – in our case – fresh water.

The rest of the town is an abandoned nightmare that’s right out of central casting for a horror movie. This place is ready to go – just grab a camera and some lights, and Ocean Falls can double as the set of the next big horror flick.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve always found abandoned places to be interesting and yet moderately disturbing at the same time. That was definitely the vibe I got from Ocean Falls today. With an hour of free time while fresh water was taken aboard Passing Cloud, guests were free to explore the town – or what’s left of it.

On the dock, a series of whimsical paintings on the pier’s electrical hookups hint at the town’s past as a tourist destination. Every small town seems to have these – paintings of Disney or Looney Tunes characters intended to make the place seem more cheerful than it really is.

These electrical hookups feature hand-painted artwork, usually of the local area and its surrounding wildlife. This is complemented by a wildlife-related pun. Old and faded, they actually make the town seem even sadder. Whoever the artist was, she’s long since left the building.

Built in the 1940’s and abandoned in 1988, the Martin Inn was once Ocean Fall’s prestige point. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

At the top of the dock, another anachronism: a phone booth. The only working public phone in the village, it’s maintained by Telus. I checked my iPhone: not a hint of cellular coverage. No surprise there. Still, I patted down my pockets in search of some quarters. No such luck; looks like I won’t be calling home today.

I also wouldn’t be buying any souvenirs here today, though my lack of cash-on-hand has nothing to do with it. The town’s Gift Shop seems to be permanently closed, though surprisingly well-stocked. Ditto for the Canada Post office, which advertised it would open for four generous hours later today. At least it had electricity: an exposed bulb illuminated the entryway when I went to check it out.

The remains of the former Legion. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Inside the remains of the former legion (as seen through an open window), things take on an acrid, chemical…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…repugnant smell. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

All over town, the sadness continues. The school is gone, and the local Legion is in shambles. It’s second floor has fallen in on itself, and the main floor is filled with old books, supplies, and wares of all kinds. It smells rancid; a mixture of acetone, mould, rust and leaking chemicals. Off to one side, a box of wine is rotting away, exposing six unopened bottles of cheap Merlot.

Across the street is the most imposing structure in Ocean Falls: the crumbling ruins of the Martin Inn. Situated right at the end of the street where the BC Ferries dock once welcomed arriving guests, the hotel is now in a state of disrepair.

The entryway to the Martin Inn is a study in decay…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and disrepair. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I poked my head into a ground-floor entrance, looking in on what used to be the hotel’s main reception area. Its door is long-gone, and I was able to waltz right into the building. I could only see maybe 10 feet in front of me. Glass crunched under my feet, and the distant echo of dripping water filled me with an uneasy feeling.

Blue tile still gleamed in the bit of daylight it received, and a staircase led up to the main Reception level. The darkness beyond that made further exploration impossible – between the shattered glass and fluorescent light bulbs on the floor and the water falling from the ceiling, I felt that to go further into the hotel would be unsafe. The thought of falling through a soft patch of flooring into a sub-basement filled me with dread. No one would know I was there, and no one would be able to help.

The Martin Inn’s Reception area, 1949. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver Archives / Don Coltman Collection.

The same view today. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Instead, I wandered out and up the gently-sloping hill on the right hand side of the hotel, coming to the entrance of the hotel’s old Bar, on the second floor of the building. Like the original entrance, the door here has long been torn off its hinges.

I was shocked at how much was still here. Carpeting – wet and mouldy – squished under my feet. Parts of it came up in huge, hair-like clumps on my hiking boots, and I felt my stomach flip-flop at the disgusting sight.

The bar itself contained many recognizable signs of its former glory. Some of its 1960’s-era wood panelling is still mounted to its walls, though someone obviously thought this panelling was a good deal: about half of it is missing.

A bathroom sits exposed at one end of the bar, with its pink walls and lone toilet complete with black seat.

The Bar at the Martin Inn, 1949. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver Archives / Don Coltman Collection.

The Bar at the Martin Inn, 2017. Note the curved ceiling remainders that correspond to the upper half of the bar in the previous picture. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Florescent light fixtures hang haphazardly from the ceiling. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This darkened hallway once led to the hotel’s public spaces. Now, it is a dark gateway into fear. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Shattered reflections. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Happier times? Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In the middle of the room, a dark entryway likely led to the hotel’s main common spaces. Now, the passage looks treacherous at best, thanks to a forest of fallen beams, broken fluorescent light fixtures, and fallen light housing and cables. The prerequisite “dirty mattress” sits off to one corner, near the bar’s windows.

The rest of Ocean Falls is no better. When residents left, they left in a hurry. Rotting century-old houses still have couches, tables, curtains and light fixtures inside. One house – probably a fish merchant – had a blue vacuum cleaner resting on the floor, adjacent to an industrial scale that looked like it would still be worth a few bucks.

The town of Ocean Falls in better times – the summer of 1941. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver Archives / Don Coltman Collection.

Ocean Falls, 2017. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The rest of the town is in disarray – crumbling…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and burned. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

“A Community Clean Up Project By The Good Folks of Ocean Falls.” Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

At one time, this was a bustling town. Not anymore. The place is a ghost town; itself part of the little lies of a civilization that didn’t quite take. A painting of Donald Duck, weathered and faded, still welcomes people to BC’s “Rain City.” The Martin Inn welcomes no guests, just the overt sadness of decay. Dark and forgotten, the houses of Ocean Falls look out over a place that no one visits.

It’s intriguing: I came on this trip to see the natural wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest, and yet I am enamoured with my sixty minutes at Ocean Falls this morning. The town, like so many other forgotten places on the coast of British Columbia, serves as a stark reminder that nothing – not even an entire village – lasts forever.

Walking back to the Passing Cloud…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and leaving Ocean Falls behind. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud in the Great Bear Rainforest will continue. You can learn more about travel in British Columbia by visiting the HelloBC website.  Follow along on twitter with @deckchairblog.

Springtime in the Great Bear Rainforest

May 29Arrival in Bella Bella
May 30Our Expedition Sets Out
May 31Beaches and Excavations
June 1A Day at the Hakai Institute
June 2The Abandoned Town of Ocean Falls
June 3Adventures on King Island
June 4Bears and Dolphins: a Wildlife Paradise in the Great Bear Rainforest
June 5One Last Day; Recapping our Voyage

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