Vancouver Island (Part 2): Stranded in Sointula with the Salt of the Earth

If you want your faith in humanity restored, I highly recommend having a mechanical breakdown on a remote island, perhaps inhabited by a community established by a former Finnish utopia and see what happens. That experience is essentially the highlight of my latest motorcycle trip with Scott.IMG_20160819_193414977_HDR

After exploring Vancouver Island (see Part One), primarily via backroad we decided to do a side-trip to Malcolm Island and the village of Sointula. A neighbour in our building had described it’s Finnish history, which Scott was particularly interested in (he has a love of Finnish knives and bushcraft!). Apparently, in 1901 a group that included Finnish idealists and miners (sick of being exploited) established the village of Sointula on Malcolm Island. Sointula means “Place of Harmony” in Finnish, and while the utopia was short-lived, it continued to be a real refuge and experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, with folks who wanted to live off the land and get back to their roots.

We had had some issues for a few days with my kickstart-only motorcycle (a 1985 Honda XR600R), but made it on and off the short ferry from Port McNeill to Malcolm Island. Our first destination was Bere Point Campground, known for its “Beautiful Bay” hiking trail that passes a beach where killer whales are reported to rub themselves against the small boulders. We didn’t see that particular behaviour, but caught a few spouts and whale tails out in the ocean, as well as some dolphins.


Initially, there were no campspots left for us to take but one of the manager’s grand-daughters remembered that there was room on the over-flow lawn!  We took the lawn for a night, and then scored a waterfront spot the next day. We woke up early and did the coastal hike, which was rated as the best hike of the north island. We also checked out the local museum, thrift store, and “Burger Barn” down on the wharf, which was delicious! Scott had the veggie burger (a quinoa and veggie fried patty), and I had the freshly caught Salmon burger and home fries. This was a real treat.

It was time to start heading back to the main island, so we aimed to be on the 11am ferry to Port McNeill, which would give us a little time to explore Port Hardy. From Port Hardy we would catch the ferry to Bella Coola, and I had even reserved a cabin for a few nights since we would arrive at midnight.

We dismantled our campsite efficiently, loaded the bikes, and then we started to kick, and kick, and kick my motorcycle. Not a rumble! We watched as 11am came and went, and after two hours of trying choke in, choke out, gas off, gas on, we admitted to ourselves that my motorbike was dead. I had released a selfish prayer request to start the motorcycle and fix my problem, and while a solution came, it was not the one I had expected – it was even better.

One experiences a whole range of emotions when your mode of transport fails in a place far from home. There’s a lot of self flagellation since you wonder if you could’ve prevented the issue, or detected it earlier (and responded to it earlier)? You also blame yourself for not having the know-how to pinpoint the problem and fix it. Scott and I were in pretty low spirits, but remembered to be grateful since we were at least not stranded on a dusty backroad without cell phone reception!

I alerted the woman monitoring the campsite, who made a call to some friends with a truck. In literally 10 minutes a truck pulls up, and our true adventure begins! We are introduced to a jovial couple named John and Rhea, who are happy to help at no cost. The bike is loaded and Scott rides his bike behind us as we head to the ferry terminal. But, after a few minutes John decides we will go to their place to see if he (and a few friends!) can’t sort out the issue.


We pull up to a cozy house with an elderly black lab dog, two goats, chickens, and a wide assortment of tools, parts, and machinery in various states of being. Scott reported being a bit bewildered by our route to the ferry, but is pleased by the outcome. John “opens shop” by hoisting open a patio umbrella for shade and hauling over some tools. The comedy begins!

John’s friends start pulling in, and a hilarious banter ensues. These guys have all kinds of opinions, but are pretty thorough in their study of my bike. In no time we are laughing, puttering around, chatting it up, and having good times. I think this is what they do. An ATV needs a part replaced, or a motorbike needs a rebuild, and everyone gathers round and pulls together.

It is decided that “Big Daddy” will download the electrical schematics, and we will reconvene the following day. Unfortunately, the consensus is that the CDI (or “brain box”) of my bike is fried, or perhaps the stator has deteriorated (according to various XR forums). It’s electrical and will not be an easy fix.

We decide to spend a few nights at the local Inn, and because we “know” John and Rhea, the kind owner upgrades our room to waterfront at no cost! It’s a basic room, but with a glorious bed that envelopes you like a cloud, a powerful shower, and a view that blows the mind. Total luxury for where we were at.

We then head to the Burger Barn again (with Scott doubling me!), since it was so good. The one server remembers us and notices that one of our motorcycles is missing (she had seen us the previous day, struggling to kick over my old beast!). We laughed, and explained the situation, and halfheartedly inquired if she knew anyone selling a truck?IMG_20160822_141027059

The other server pipes up, and asks me where I’m heading… Well it turns out that her dad was going my way on Thursday, and as long as I thought my motorbike would fit in his truck, she was confident it would work out! We get back to John and Rhea’s and they also have the same news… everything is going to be okay! This small town village was showing us the meaning of community.

From there we just soak it up! We borrow the free bicycles for a bike ride along the coast, we chat up the ladies at the local co-op grocery store, discover the veggie box and it’s honour system, are advised to go to the co-op recycle depot to find used books, and at every point we meet the most lovely, encouraging people. There is also a myriad of hiking trails, including one to the still active Lighthouse (where the cutest golden retriever welcomed us), and the Mateoja heritage trail through marshes, an old homesteaders property, and around small lakes where we spotted a huge black eagle.


We stay two more nights, but at a different campspot – Harmony campsite, right on the water. In no time, we are bumping into various locals and my future ride back to Vancouver, Dennis and his daughter Jessica pop in for introductions. We instantly hit it off and arrange to load the bike and make the trek home. We connect with John and Rhea again to communicate our plans, and they offer us some freshly caught cod fish for our final dinner!


Our plan was to stay on Malcolm Island for two nights, but it turned into six nights, and every day had its own unique highlight. By far, it was the people and their relentless generosity and easy-going nature that stood out. In a funny way, Scott and I had even expressed an interest earlier in our trip in meeting some locals and connecting with people. We couldn’t have imagined how this desire would come true!IMG_20160825_085518655

On our last day, Scott took the early ferry and blasted back to Nanaimo, and I puttered around with Dennis doing a few errands. I got to witness some rogue cows that had escaped from a farm, a fisherman filleting his catch, and live crabs being dismantled. I also had one more meal at the Burger Barn (halibut and chips), and had a really interesting conversation with Jessica about the struggles of some of the First Nations communities, and the situation of protesting the fish farms. Soon enough Dennis and I were on the road, having a non-stop conversation! The day flew by.

Bella Coola will have to wait, but we hope to return to Sointula to see our new friends again in the near future. It sounds like the north region of Vancouver Island is packed full of trails, backroads, and adventures, and wonderful people – the salt of the earth.





  1. […] I was tempted to pass on the island and do some other backroads, like the Port Alice loop and find some random camping, but Scott felt we would be disappointed if we gave up. So, we waited around, got in the line-up and my bike pulled some real comedy by taking forever to kick over, just barely getting onto the ferry. I have ferry anxiety, since I’m always on a kickstart motorbike but when we went to depart onto Malcolm Island, it suddenly decided to respond and I’m grateful. We were about to meet some of the most kind, hilarious and generous people… See Part 2! […]

  2. Dont you just wish everyone could live in a community like that. Great story.

  3. Arjenna Strong · · Reply

    aww…i love this! I lived on Malcolm Island for a year (4 years ago), and then visited again this past summer for 2 months. I drove across Canada in my van, and when I arrived at the Sointula dock on the ferry, my van wouldn’t start. I had to go towed back to McNeill, and it took 2 weeks to get it all sorted, but I had so many people offer me places to stay, vehicles to drive, and free advice and help with the van. I love those guys. I know some of the people you were talking about. They’re good shit in Sointula. 🙂

  4. Jessica Tennant · · Reply

    Awesome this just brightened my day!! With an attitude of gratitude one can hardly fail❤️

  5. We truly are lucky to live in this little piece of the world ❤ I'm glad you got stranded ❤ ❤

  6. Im from sointula my mom sister moved there when i was 16 now im 47
    Time goes i have so many happy memories .

  7. […] dual sport with a blown CDI box there was not much I could do to remedy the situation during the roadtrip up Vancouver Island. As a result, I decided to swallow my pride and purchase an electric-start motorcycle. There is no […]

  8. […] four years in the building we shared a glass of wine twice. They were the ones that alerted us to Sointula on Malcolm Island, which led to a fantastic motorbike tour (and memorable breakdown) a few years back. I regret not […]

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