Ocean Falls - Ghost Town

by Dr. Robert Berdan
(Photographs were taken in September of 2008)
October 27, 2011


Each September I head out for a couple of weeks looking for a new Photo adventure, it’s my most productive photography period of the year. In 2008, I was part of a team leading a workshop into the Great Bear rainforest on the West Coast of BC. To get to the workshop I drove for two days from Calgary to Bella Coola, a remote town along the coast of BC (I will post a separate article on Bella Coola in the future). In Bella Coola, I purchased a ticket to board the BC Ferry, Queen of the Chilliwack that was to take me to a fishing lodge on an island off the coast called Shearwater where I was to board another ship called the Mothership III that would take me further north into the Great Bear rainforest (see article by Jon Huyer). The trip to Shearwater would take the better part of a day and on the way there we stopped at a small “Ghost town” called Ocean falls nestled in a deep fiord called Cousins Inlet. Below are some images I captured in this forgotten town.

.Martin Valley by Robert Berdan

We passed Martin Valley where most of the residents of Ocean falls live today

Martin Hotel in Ocean Falls from the Queen Chilliwack by Robert Berdan ©

Ocean Falls Town site with the derelict Martin Hotel in the background - at one time the hotel was one of the
biggest on the West Coast.

Ocean falls is a hauntingly beautiful place about 88 Km west of Bella Coola. The town is even more isolated than Bella Coola and the only way to get there is by boat, plane or helicopter. The town is divided into two districts, Martin Valley where most of the people live today and the town site which is linked by a  1.5 km road.  Ocean falls is unlike any place I have ever visited before and looks like a place out of a movie set.

 In the early 1900’s, Ocean falls was a bustling town that in 1912 grew to 3,500 people and boasted one of the biggest hotels on the West coast – The Martin Inn.  The falls above the town was and is still used to create hydroelectricity.  Below the falls they built a pulp and paper mill which processed Sitka spruce. The town subsequently suffered a number of economic hardships (see link to detailed history below) and in 1970 the population had dropped to 1500, by 1990 to about 70 - mostly loggers. In  2008, when I visited there were 35 full time residents and about 100 seasonal residents. The people living there are sometimes referred to as “The Rain People” as this location is one of the wettest in Canada receiving over 4,390 mm of rain (172 inches) annually.   

Ocean falls dock by Robert Berdan ©

BC Ferry dock which provides year round service. The Shack has been home to several restaurants, today
it is a boaters lounge and Warfinger office.

Ocean Falls court house by Robert Berdan ©

Court House, built in 1941 as the Provincial building, it was housing for the Police and Forestry. It is now the post office,
health clinic, library and town office.

Queen of the Chilliwack moored in Ocean Falls by Robert Berdan ©

Queen of Chilliwack - BC Ferry moored in Ocean Falls

After the BC ferry moored to drop off supplies, we were told we had a couple of hours to explore the town. I took my digital camera and one lens, 18-200 mm  zoom lens to explore the village. It was overcast with low lying clouds and moisture could be felt and seen on everything.  Some of the buildings were refurbished and appeared in excellent condition though most were falling down – yet the place had a haunting beauty to it. Houses were covered in moss, and flowers were found everywhere. Plants grew on everything, inside the houses and on them. There were a few people at the dock to greet us and they handed out pamphlets - Ocean Falls a Walking tour which I grabbed.

General store Ocean falls by Robert Berdan ©

The Coop, was the original company store from 1910-1953. It was rebuilt to become the Hudson Bay Store in 1954
and now serves as a general store open for supplies and food. The sign next to the front door says "Beware of Zombies".

Abandoned buildings Ocean falls by Robert Berdan ©

Back road behind apartment buildings in Ocean falls.

Abandoned swing and playground Ocean falls by Robert Berdan

Abandoned swing and playground

Plants reclaim buildings in Ocean falls by Robert Berdan ©

Plants reclaim old buildings

Mossy steps Ocean Falls by Robert Berdan ©

Mossy steps - one of my favourite shots from town.

Abandoned building with moss by Robert Berdan ©

Moss grows on everything

Unidentified plant by Robert Berdan ©

Common Rhododendron  is a genus of over 1,000 species of woody plants in the heath family, either evergreen 
or deciduous. Most species have showy flowers.

Moss on roof in Ocean falls by Robert Berdan ©

Moss forms carpets on roof houses

Old Fire hydrant

Ocean Falls tennis club members only by Robert Berdan ©

Ocean Falls Tennis club - Members only

hydro electric plant Ocean falls by Robert Berdan ©

A bridge crossed the river in 1910 - today all that is left is shown above - blue building is the hydro electric plant

Link Lake above ocean falls

Ocean falls water fall and Dam by Robert Berdan ©

Link Lake falls above the town of Ocean Falls provides hydroelectricity to the town and surrounding area

Blue Geraniums?

Unidentified shrub

Maple leaves and Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Foxglove contains cardiac glycosides that are highly poisonous.
The heart drug digitalis is derived from this plant and used to treat heart disease.

Killer whale mural on Ways building in Ocean Falls by Robert Berdan ©

Mural on the wall of the 'Ways' building which is being restored by Herb Carpenter, his wife Lena operates a Gift Shop in one corner.

Dock ocean falls by Robert Berdan

Part of the dock for local boats.

Postcard showing all that remains today of the buildings in Ocean falls

Town drawing showing buildings that are currently still standing - illustration from their web site (see source below).

Map showing Ocean falls, Shearwater and Bella Coola

Location of Ocean Falls in Cousin Inlet .

I visited a gift shop in town and also hiked up to the top of the Falls to see Link lake above the dam.  I walked past playgrounds, tennis courts and homes that appeared to have been suddenly abandoned. I imagined children playing on the swings and  tennis courts.  The place had a haunting beauty and I felt a sense of melancholy.  Flowers, moss and plants grew on everything.  I challenged myself to capture images that I might share of this unique place as I wondered what it might have been like to live here during the boom years.  Most of the residents have left, but a few have stayed.  There is a sign on the road that reads "July 13, 1929, Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you - Willy Buttner".


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