The story of the Scarlet Ibis is a classic story of Vancouver Island. The pub sits on a logging road on the edge of the world. But for a lot of folks, it feels like home.
Built in the early 1970s, the pub served local loggers and travellers. It was a warm place to land at the end of a long day’s work or a long trek. For 45 years, it was run by one person—Patricia Gwynne. She held the place together with grit, determination, and duct tape.
But Pat was getting ready to retire. A few people came by the pub and kicked the tires. One person even bought the place, but the deal fell through.
Then one day, twelve friends ended up at the pub while on a motorcycle tour of NorthIsle. And they kind of fell in love with the place.
Alan Friesen was one of those friends. He’s now the marketing director for the pub. According to him, the twelve of them were sitting around the table over some food when they started joking around.
“Well, we should buy this place!” he said.
Friesen said it was a funny idea at the time. But even after their tour was finished, they couldn’t get the idea out of their heads.
“Why couldn’t we?” they wondered. After all, these twelve friends were businesspeople. Some were retired, and some still ran successful businesses. Friesen was the only one who didn’t live on VanIsle, but they all felt connected to the Island.
So they met with Pat and agreed on a number everyone was comfortable with. And that was it—the friends had bought a bar in the middle of a global pandemic. And not just any bar—they bought the Scarlet Ibis.
Friesen still laughs about it. “We ended up buying the bar, which you would think would be the stupidest thing anyone could ever do!”
Times were tough at first. But the bar didn’t lose any money in its first year. There was some support for the workers, but for the most part, the new owners just made it work.
“And you have to make it work,” Friesen said. “Because you bought this pub, the most remote one on Vancouver Island, and you serve the community. We have a responsibility to the community, and we take that seriously.”
Because the new owners are a big team, they could combine their business skills and connections to start to upgrade the pub.
“Patricia, god bless her soul, was one individual who tried to create and maintain this environment to support this community,” he said. She managed the essentials and made a comfortable place for people. But she couldn’t renovate the building or take care of the land.
The new team in charge had twelve times the resources to get down to business.
Since taking over, they’ve:
- stripped the kitchen and installed stainless steel
- replaced the electrical wiring
- replaced all the gas fittings
- expanded the deck and the parking lot, and
- stabilized the ocean-front property.
“This building is now ready for the next 50 years,” Friesen said.
They’ve also hired a new cook and server.
But the two most exciting improvements are the generator and the adventure huts.
They installed the generator to ensure the pub can stay running even when the lights are off in the rest of town. And that’s super important considering the power situation on NorthIsle.
And the six adventure huts are warm, comfortable structures for folks who are passing through. That could be hikers, bikers, campers, or anyone who wants a place to sleep and a chance to meet local people over a hot meal and a cocktail.
They also built two outdoor washrooms for the huts where folks can take a hot shower and use a flush toilet—the kind of luxury you might miss on a long-distance hike!
As if that isn’t enough, they’ve partnered with Longwood Brewery in Nanaimo to create their own signature beers.
Their Red Bird Logger is a lager beer only sold at the pub. They named it Logger to honour the folks who built the community.
Their North Coast Ale is sold all over NorthIsle. And for every can that gets sold in stores, the owners are donating 25¢ to the folks at 43K Wilderness as they’re the ones who look after the North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Provincial Park.
The team is looking forward to the summer. With all the improvements, they can’t wait to welcome regulars and visitors.
The pub has been a central meeting place for a long time. And with the new generator (and beers, let’s be honest), it will only become more so in the coming years.
Why not drive out to Holberg? Take your photo out front of the most remote pub on Vancouver Island?
You’ll never find another place quite like it.