Hornby Island: An Economic Profile

Geographical context

Hornby Island is three ferry trips from the mainland of BC and two ferry trips from Vancouver Island (with no early-morning sailings and evening sailings only on Fridays). Although considered part of the Comox Valley, Hornby's distance and distinctiveness from the urban centres limits its economic, social and cultural connectivity with the Valley. Connectivity with Denman Island is also limited because of hours of ferry operation and separate organizational and service structures. Nanaimo and the ferries to mainland BC are about two hours travel from Hornby Island.

Political context

An unincorporated area, local government functions are divided between the Islands Trust (which has planning authority under a provincial mandate to preserve and protect the Trust Area and its unique amenities and environment) and the Comox Valley Regional District (which is responsible for the provision of services). Land use decisions are made by the Hornby Island Local Trust Committee. Hornby Island is represented on the Regional District Board by the director for Area A (which also includes Denman Island and Vancouver Island communities adjacent to Baynes Sound). Hornby Island is with in the federal riding of Vancouver Island North and the Provincial riding of Comox Valley.

The Hornby Island Residents' and Ratepayers' Association operates some services under contract with the Regional District and serves as the main venue for addressing community issues.

Land base

Hornby Island is 2.900 hectares (7,388 acres) in area. About 34% is protected and 28% is in the Agricultural Land reserve. About 37% is zoned for residential use leaving less than 1% for commercial, light industrial and institutional uses. There is very little subdivision potential and no unoccupied commercial land.


The population of Hornby Island is 1,074 people according to the 2006 census. The winter population is likely somewhat more than this number and the summer population is likely at least three times this number (65% of residential properties are owned by non-residents). Over 50% of the population is over 50 years of age.

Work force

In 2006, 50% of residents participated in the work force. This is down from 62% in 2001. Half of the 500 members of the work force were self employed with 200 people working in their own homes.

The main sectors for employment were the following:

Only about 100 people were employed steadily year round. Most workers are employed part-time and/or seasonally. Many combine employment with self-employment. Median annual earnings are $10,044 (compared to $25,722 for the province). A third of Hornby households have an annual income of below $20,000.

Housing can be a challenge for members of the work force. Home ownership is out of the question for most. House prices increased by 116% between 2001 and 2006. Household income increased by 7.4% during the same period. Only about 18% of the housing stock is available for rent compared to 30% for the province as a whole. The number of rental units available went down from 165 in 2001 to 100 in 2006 - a 40% decrease. 45% of Hornby households are paying more than 30% of their income on shelter which is generally considered the threshold level for affordability

Transportation and communication

Almost all transportation to and from the island utilizes the BC Ferry Service which operates 12 hours a day with late sailings on Friday. Ferry fares have been steadily increasing since 2003. A Harbour Authority operates a marina at Fords Cove, the only year-round protected wharfage. A small but increasing number of residents and part-time residents are using private boats for off-island transportation. A water taxi service is in operation.

There is no public transport on Hornby Island or across Denman Island. Private bus and taxi operations proved to be unsustainable. From Buckley Bay there is transit service to Courtenay, a private bus service to Departure Bay plus infrequent coach and train service. Regular flights from Comox to Edmonton and Calgary have opened up increased access to Hornby Island for Alberta residents. The Inland Highway has reduced traveling time from Vancouver and Victoria.

There are no car rental operations on Hornby, Denman or at Buckley Bay. Bicycles can be rented on Hornby Island. There are no facilities in place for air transportation. There is a daily mail service, a daily freight service and a local trucking service.

High speed internet is now available to most residences. There can be interruptions to service resulting from power outages due to winter storms. There is a community Computer Access Centre open for specified hours most days of the week and a number of people providing computer support services.

Infrastructure, facilities and services

Hydro and telephone are available throughout the Island. Hydro service can be interrupted for several hours - sometimes several days -due to winter storms. Water is generally obtained on-site, mainly through groundwater wells, which are often supplemented by water purchases (bottled or bulk) and/or rainwater collection and storage. Sewage is treated on site.

Community facilities include the Community Hall, the New Horizons Senior Centre, the Joe King Clubhouse, the Community Health Care Building and Community School, all of which are available for rent. An additional facility is the Outdoor Education Centre which can only be used for youth-related programs.

Public service facilities on-island include volunteer fire department, medical clinic, dental bus, community health care centre (including home support and counseling services), community school (K-7, continuing education program, recreation programs and Job Shop), library, computer access centre, recycling depot, teen centre, arts centre, community kitchen and ball park (with tennis court). There is a Union Bay Credit Union branch on Hornby Island.

Community organizations

There is a large number of constituted societies on the Island, the most prominent and active ones are listed on our Community Organizations page with descriptions and contact information.

Participants in the economy

Hornby has a broad mix of participants in the local economy:

Primary industries


There is no commercial forestry activity on Hornby Island. The one property owned by a forestry company has now been sold. The forested vacant Crown land is within a groundwater recharge area and, while there have been community proposals for forest management; no appropriate tenure arrangements have been identified.

Fishing and aquaculture

Commercial fishing, once a key activity, is now very much a part-time occupation for only a few. Small-scale oyster farming takes place on the west side of the island, with two leases being locally operated. There is little if any expansion possible due to physical and zoning constraints.


Agriculture has been a major activity in the past with food products being sold on Vancouver Island. Active farming is now only conducted on about two dozen properties. There are only a handful of farms operating at a commercial level to provide the community with food products and several of these are operated by people in their later years. Products are sold at the Co-op, at the seasonal twice-weekly farers' market and at the farm gate. There are also a small number of small scale livestock operations and nurseries (including a successful rose nursery that sells Canada-wide). There are three wineries, a distillery and a meadery in operation or under development. The future of farming is challenged by the high price of land, the regulatory framework, limited local market, transportation costs and the lack of new generation farmers. Water availability can be a constraint.

Food processing and manufacturing

Apart from the bakery, at which bread, vegetarian pate and other food products are produced, most food processing takes place in commercial kitchens on private lots as a home occupation. Some sell products to Vancouver Island markets. There is small coffee roasting company, a meadery and three wineries. Regulations are becoming a significant challenge for food processing. Most manufacturing is small scale, conducted through home occupations and is generally craft-related.

Light industry

There is currently no light industry on Hornby Island. There is an area of land in the centre of the island now zoned for public use which includes community trades and services as a permitted use. This land can be used to accommodate businesses that are not appropriate as a home occupation. A proposal was been developed for a business park but this has not been implemented.

Construction and related services

There are a number of small building operations tackling everything from million dollar homes to repairs and maintenance. There are few undeveloped lots remaining, but as properties change hands to more affluent buyers, dwellings are replaced or modified. With a large number of homes owned by part-time residents, property management is an important economic activity. There is limited availability of some trades on Hornby Island resulting in some off-island trades people being used. Other trades pursue off-island work to supplement locally-available work.

Construction and home maintenance is challenged by increasing transportation and other costs and difficulties in securing some trades and labour.

Retail and related services:

There are only three small areas zoned for general commercial use. They are

In addition, there are limited commercial activities operated by the Syzygy Co-operative on a seasonal basis (pizzeria, bakery, café, crafts store). A co-operative gallery operates under a temporary use permit. A Farmers' Market operates twice-weekly on a dedicated site in the summer and occasionally in the community hall during the off-season. Sea Breeze Lodge provides restaurant services.

Retail sales also take place on residential properties in conjunction with home occupations (eg art, crafts, wine) and also as farm gate sales. The two general stores both report that they rely on sales in July and August to sustain their operations for the rest of the year. Most other retailers either close or only open part-time in the off-season.

Tourism and hospitality

Tourism is a major economic driver for the community, but most of it occurs in July and August. Most residents believe that the island is at or beyond its carrying capacity during the height of summer. Most visitors are from BC and are repeat visitors.

Accommodation is provided by three resorts offering cabins, three camp-grounds and a handful of bed and breakfast operators (the number of B&Bs is decreasing). There has been a substantial increaser in the number of dwelling units being rented for tourist accommodation (although this is not currently a permitted use) with over 100 dwellings being advertised for this purpose.

Food and beverage services include restaurant and pub at the Hornby Island Resort, restaurant at Sea Breeze Lodge, the two cafes at the Ringside Market, the café and pizzeria at the Bakery and food services at Fords Cove. Additional food services are established in the summer and there are some private catering services.

Tourism challenges include increasing ferry costs, lack of key services in the off-season and some community resistance.


There is a diving lodge and an outdoor sports (bikes, skim-boards, kayaks) shop operating commercially. There is a kayak rental operations and a boat (fishing) charter service.

Fee-based recreation services are offered on an ad hoc basis or through the co-ordination of the Recreation Committee (which has a part-time coordinator). The Outdoor Recreation Centre at Tribune Bay also offers recreation programs.

Self-directed recreation activities include hiking in the three provincial parks and regional nature park and mountain biking on the extensive trail network on Mount Geoffrey.

Arts and culture

There are about 100 practicing artists on Hornby Island. Hornby and Denman have the third highest concentration of working artists in Canada. There is also a significant number of musicians and performance artists. However, incomes in this sector are generally low. Hornby is known for the annual Hornby Festival (in August) and the Blues Festival (in May). Art is mainly marketed locally through galleries, art shows and studios, with individual artists selling through various external channels. Collective marketing is starting to be carried out. A number of artists offer classes and workshops. The Island Gallery provides a collective retail outlet for local products. The Hornby Island Arts Council provides support and promotion for local artists and a showcase for their work. A challenge for the arts and culture sector is to establish new markets.

Education, health and related services

Enrolment in the Community School K-7 program has decreased from a high of 148 in 1990 to fewer than 40 in 2008. Staff has been reduced accordingly. Enrolment in the Pre-School has ebbed and flowed; it has sometimes been a struggle to keep it open. Funding for the Community School's other programs has been drastically cut, resulting in the loss of its co-coordinator. The Outdoor Education Centre maintains an active program with staff and interns generally hired from off-island. A number of individuals or collectives provide small scale classes, workshops and retreats.

The formal health care program includes a small number of professionals plus a larger number of home support workers (usually part-time). There are a significant number of practitioners providing health and related services (massage, acupuncture, body work, yoga classes, etc). Please visit our Healing Arts listings Deerheart Sanctuary is a small private facility that offers a range of programs and retreats. Over the years there have been unsuccessful attempts to set up a collaborative healing centre.

Home occupations

Home-based businesses form a major component of the Hornby economy. Many are arts and crafts related. Others include personal, professional and technical services and trades. High speed internet has enabled some people to conduct all or much of their work from home. Larger lots than in urban and suburban areas provide the space for workshops and studios on residential properties.


Key economic opportunities for Hornby Island are based upon its core assets, which can be described in the following related groupings:

Natural values and hospitality

Hornby Island has exceptional natural values with only modest modification of the landscape. There is a variety of scenery and over a third of the island has a high level of protection. There is a long history of providing hospitality, both informally but also through small lodges and resorts.

Recreation and well-being

The Island has many recreation opportunities on land and sea, including utilization of the extensive trail system. Hornby has long been a diving mecca and is now established as a mountain biking destination. Hiking, kayaking, skim-boarding, boating, sports fishing, wildlife viewing and photography are increasingly popular activities. A mild climate enables many of these activities to be conducted for a large part of the year. The quiet beauty and supportive ambience of the Island has made Hornby a destination for rest, relaxation and healing. There is a strong resource of healing practitioners.

Art and culture

Hornby Island is widely known for its concentration of practicing artists and artisans. The long-running Hornby Festival has established the Island's reputation as a cultural centre, now enhanced by the annual Blues Festival and other high class performances.

Learning and innovation

The beauty and cultural character of the island has attracted full-time and seasonal residents with a valuable range of education and experience. The combination of isolation and an influx of thoughtful people has resulted in Hornby becoming known for innovative practices, such as with respect to building, recycling, water utilization and organization. These resources can provide learning opportunities for residents and visitors.

Community character and self-sufficiency

All the above has combined to give Hornby Island a unique character that is widely known. The Island's physical and human resources (including agricultural land) and the modest income expectations of residents have enabled a high degree of self-sufficiency that shapes how islanders and visitors perceive the community.

Local markets

Hornby's resident population is only about 1,000 people. However, in the summer the population swells to several times this number with the presence of seasonal residents (about sixty percent of properties are owned by non-residents). There are specific opportunities associated with demographic changes. An aging population, enhanced by people moving to Hornby for retirement, provides opportunities for services to people of senior years. As real estate changes hands at higher prices there is an increasing number of more affluent property owners. Higher costs of transportation and greater environmental awareness may increase economic opportunities for services and products that support self-sufficiency. The same dynamics may increase the informal economy, something that was a more integral part of island living in the past. Denman Island has a population of similar size as Hornby's providing an additional nearby market.

Regional markets

Vancouver Island has a population of over 700, 000 with a further 2,000,000 people in Vancouver. There are now direct flights from Comox Valley to Edmonton and Calgary (combined population of 1,700,000). On the east coast of Vancouver Island the age group that is increasing most rapidly is over 65, as more people retire to this region. Increased interest in health, recreation, environmental sustainability and natural foods presents particular opportunities.

Tourism market

Visitors to Hornby Island as a travel destination include seasonal residents, friends and family of year-round and seasonal residents, vacationers (staying at resorts, campgrounds, B&Bs and vacation rentals) and day trippers. Visiting has a strong seasonal peak in July and August with beaches being the main attraction during that period. The following approximate numbers of visitors can be extracted from 2007 ferry travel statistics: March/April: 3,000; May/June: 10,500; July/August: 34,500; September/October: 6,500. Most visitors are from the region and are repeat visitors. Most visitors purchase locally-produced food and wine products; about a third purchase crafts. Realhornby, a marketing service of HICEEC, focuses upon maintaining the connection between visitors and Hornby Island in order to promote local products, services and events to this important market. Efforts are being made to encourage off-season visiting.


Restrictions on development

The mandate of the Islands Trust, as implemented in the Official Community Plan and the Land Use Bylaw, constrains the size and type of developments that can occur in order to preserve and protect the amenities and environment of the Island. These constraints are generally supported by the community and serve to maintain the special assets of Hornby Island.


The relative remoteness of the Island and the costs and time to bring people, goods and services to and from Hornby, constrains most aspects of economic activity.


The isolation of Hornby Island reduces the potential for cross-fertilization, training, education and support for up scaling that might exist in larger centres.

Life-style choices

Many entrepreneurs make business decisions influenced by life-style choices and are resistant to up-scaling and commercializing their operations or providing them year-round.


The annual boom-and-bust cycle of Hornby's economy, based upon peak-season tourism, presents challenges for establishing balanced year-round economic activity.

Labour and housing shortages

Hornby is facing a shortage of labour that is presenting challenges in a number of sectors. A key factor is the lack of available housing for service workers and other low-income participants in the economy. Lack oh stable homes is impacting the establishment of home businesses.

Escalating ferry costs

Continuing increases in ferry tariffs are impacting several aspects of Hornby's economy.

Surge in senior population

The increasing proportion of the population of senior age has implications both for the availability of workers and for meeting the specific needs of seniors.


The combination of an aging population and increased housing costs gives cause for concern about the capacity to ensure succession in needed trades and services, in particular sectors (eg, arts and crafts), in leadership, in volunteer capacity and with respect to the viability and particular qualities of the community

Food and farming

Hornby's agricultural sector has been vibrant, but is now challenged by high land costs and the aging of active farmers. Concerns about this trend are heightened by anticipated future needs for increased local food security.

Energy costs and availability

Anticipated trends with respect to energy costs and availability are of particular concern to an isolated community dependent upon transportation and remote fuel sources.



With respect to costs, local operations have been at a disadvantage due to the cost of transporting materials to the island, the ability and willingness of residents with sufficient means to shop regularly off-island and the availability of discount outlets in nearby centres. Despite these circumstances, local businesses have managed to retain a degree of competitiveness due to quality of service and community loyalty. Increased ferry costs, inhibiting off-island travel, could increase competitiveness, but this could be eroded by the increased cost of bringing goods to the Island and non-availability of labour. Good service and building customer loyalty will likely remain the keys to local competitiveness.

Regionally and beyond

Hornby's primary products, such art and crafts, face stiff competition. Achieving required quality and quantity are particular challenges, especially when producers do not have the capacity for up-scaling. Competitiveness is being pursued through community branding whereby the association of products with the particular attributes of Hornby Island can add value. Establishing connectivity with Hornby and with the individual stories of producers is a key to this approach.

As a destination

Research indicates that Hornby has a loyal core of returning visitors. Without active promotion, Hornby is a regular subject of travel articles in major media. The market for long-stay summer vacations can likely be retained. More challenging are increasing short-term stays (decreased dramatically since ferry fares started escalating) and establishing off-season visits. Regional competition is increasing as more communities are moving from resource-based to tourism-based economies and are up-grading their attractions.

Improving competitiveness

One key to competitiveness is to build upon the particular assets of Hornby Island and the distinctive character of its community. Another is to ensure that the necessary range of services and activities are available with appropriate quality and quantity. A third is to reach out to particular segments of the market to which Hornby's attributes would appeal.