Photo Credit: VanIsle News staff

Cumberland Comes of Age

Welcome to the transition from the mining to microbrew economy

Bikes, beer, and civic pride make this once gritty coal town one of the hottest places to live on Vancouver Island

Investment in recreation and conservation is transforming Cumberland. As a result, this once-gritty coal town is booming.

Founded back in the late 1800s, Cumberland once brought immigrants from around the world to work the mines. Now they come for the bikes and beer.

When the last mines closed in the 1960s, Cumberland was plunged into recession. Today it has become one of the most desirable places to live on Vancouver Island, with a thriving arts community, hundreds of kilometres of hiking and biking trails on its doorstep, and a community-owned campground and park on Comox Lake. Cumberland Brewing Company, the first craft brewery to open in the Comox Valley, is now a bustling social hub and watering hole.

Ronni Lister, one of the Comox Valley’s top-performing realtors, says the boom is being driven largely by people cashing out of the Lower Mainland wanting to raise kids in a small town close to the outdoors and recreation opportunities.

And many of them are bringing their jobs with them. COVID-19 has made remote working more viable than ever, allowing towns like Cumberland to grow. 

Surrounded by forest owned by Hancock Forest Management and TimberWest, Cumberland residents realized more than two decades ago that they needed to take action to save some second-growth forest from logging. The Cumberland Community Forest Society was formed in 2000.

Since then, the non-profit society has raised several million dollars through small and large private donations, foundation grants, and special events to fund the purchase of more than 200 hectares of forest land for the Cumberland Community Forest. Fundraising continues with plans to continue adding to the community forest.

In 2016, the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC) led the effort to establish a land-use agreement between the private forestland owners, the Village of Cumberland and the bike club. It was an important step to legitimize a growing trail network that increasingly attracted mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners from throughout Vancouver Island and elsewhere.

The agreement allows Cumberland to market its enviable trail network, a big reason many young families have moved there. Today there are roughly 200 km of signed and mapped trails accessed a short pedal from downtown shops and cafes along historic Dunsmuir Avenue. Last year an automatic counter at the network trailhead recorded a whopping 170,000 trail visits.