Port Hardy's culture and history begins at Bear Cove, the oldest known site of human habitation on Vancouver Island (circa 5850 BCE).
Artifacts from the archeological dig at Bear Cove, now the site of the Prince Rupert ferry dock, along with aboriginal exhibits and a colorful recounting of European settlement, forestry, mining and commercial fishing are displayed at the Port Hardy Museum and Archives downtown.
The Kwakiutl, a First Nations band within the larger Kwakwaka'wakw nation of northern Vancouver Island, inhabited villages in Beaver Harbour (today's Storey Beach/Fort Rupert area) and Hardy Bay (at the mouth of the Quatse River just east of downtown).
First contact with Europeans occurred in the early 19th century when a trading post was established on the Nahwitti River north of town. The steamship S.S. Beaver was sent on an exploratory trip by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) in 1836. Coal deposits motivated the HBC to establish a fortified trading post at Beaver Harbour a dozen years later. It was named Fort Rupert after the company's governor, Prince Rupert, Duke of Bavaria.