More than half of the village's 982 residents are First Nations people. The village is in traditional Kwakwaka'wakw territory. Two Indian Reserves take up the rest of Cormorant Island, Alert Bay 1 on the east side of the island, Alert Bay 1A on the west.
Alert Bay has a grocery store, museums, a traditional 'big house', a hospital, an RCMP station, a drug store, a post office, three restaurants and retail gift shops, a BC liquor store, a Royal Canadian Legion, a pub, doctors' offices, dental clinic, a drug and alcohol treatment centre, Alert Bay Drugs has automated teller machine exterior of their building. also automated teller machine inside Bayside Pub. The town has an Alert Bay Airport, a public airport and the Alert Bay Water Aerodrome. There is a boat harbour and a BC Ferries terminal with service to Sointula and Port McNeill. There is also one campground and an ecological park consisting of a cedar swamp and a small area of old-growth trees.
There is the Alert Bay Elementary School elementary school in Alert Bay for children in kindergarten and grades 1 to 7 and the T'lisalagi'lakw School (independent) owned and operated by the 'Namgis First Nation for children in Nursery, Kindergarten and grades 1 to 7. Grades 8 to 12 travel by foot ferrywater taxi to a school in nearby Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, along with students from Sointula on nearby Malcolm Island and others on North Island.
Alert Bay is also home to the world's tallest totem pole.
In 1921, the Government of Canada, in an effort to stop the potlatch custom of dance, song, and wealth distribution under Section 116 of the Indian Act, confiscated many items including wooden masks, copper shields, and dance regalia. During the 1970s and 80s, the Kwakwaka'wakw regained their possessions after long negotiations. The returned artifacts are housed in a museum at the U’mista Cultural Centre.
The settlement was named c.1860 after the Royal Navy ship HMS Alert, which conducted survey operations in the area. and HMS Cormorant.
Volcanic features in the geography around Alert Bay are part of the Alert Bay Volcanic Belt. It appears to have been active in Miocene and Pliocene times. No Holocene eruptions are known, and volcanic activity in the belt has likely ceased.