For many thousands of years Cowichan Bay was home to First Nations people who harvested the wealth of salmon and shellfish found in its many coves, tidal flats and swiftly flowing rivers.

Cowichan Bay was the gateway for European settlement of the Cowichan and Chemainus valleys from the early 1860s. A steamer service from Victoria was the major link for goods and people before the coming of the railway. Bypassed by the Esquimalt and Nanaimo line and later by the Island Highway, Cowichan Bay nevertheless was a thriving little community, based on sport and commercial salmon fishing, and log and lumber exports.

From the early 1900s Cowichan Bay attracted sportsmen from all over the British Empire for superb salmon fishing in the Bay and the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers. It was, for a time, the Salmon Capital of the World offering not just fishing, but fine sailing waters, an annual regatta and, next to Wimbledon, the oldest grass tennis courts in the world.

The village of Cowichan Bay is a tourist attraction in the summer because of its cozy fishing-village feel. Cowichan Bay offers visitors a chance to see their impressive wildlife through kayak tours and rentals and whalewatching tours. Depending on the time of year it is not uncommon to see bald eagles, seals, herons or other wildlife in the area.