Coastal Islands

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Coastal Islands, Pacific Northwest

Quadra Island, Coastal Islands
Quadra Island, Photo By Robert Logan

Off the shores of BC are many Coastal Islands, some are quite small while others are pretty massive. Vancouver Island is the largest, Haida Gwaii is made up of many islands and the smaller ones are very numerous. Some of these Islands have all the amenities of mainland living and yet maintain a slower pace and peaceful way of life that comes from island life. I live on Vancouver Island and it has some large cities, Victoria is the Capital Of BC and is located on the southern end of the island.

Some of the smaller Coastal Islands were settled very early by the Europeans and islands like Quadra were once more populated than the adjoining communities on Vancouver Island. At one time, the residents of Campbell River had to go to Quadra to do their shopping. Now Quadra is quite laid back and the residents travel to Vancouver Island to do their shopping.

Many of these Coastal Islands were pioneered by families that still have descendants living there. Islands like Cortes with many of the settling families still having members located there.

Cormorant Island, Photo By Bud Logan
Cormorant Island, Photo By Bud Logan

Cormorant Island is the home of the North Island’s oldest settlers community, Alert Bay, it was used as a trading center by early settlers of the area. Cormorant Island is quite small, being only 4 kilometers long and measuring roughly 1 kilometer wide at the narrowest point of the island. Alert Bay visitors can enjoy many activities such as whale watching, Eco-tours, kayaking, hiking, and biking. Cormorant Island is located off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island and can be reached by a short ferry ride from Port McNeil.

Hardwick Island is across the strait from Kelsey Bay. When I was 16 years old, I was employed by Bendickson logging on the Island. The camp was built many years back and was the first logging camp that I worked in. The buildings were very old but bloody awesome….was like stepping back into time. The old school house was still in use but as our union hall, I was the union rep there for a while. There still was a number of families living on the Island then and the camp was more like a small community than a logging camp. The Bendickson family were a great bunch to work for.

Bendickson Logging Cook shack, Coastal Islands
Bendickson Logging Cookshack

I remember the wash house where we would clean up for supper when you walked in, there were enamel wash basins hanging on the wall. You would take one to the tap and fill it with water, you then took it to a long counter with round holes cut into the top. you would place the basin into a hole and then do your wash up, then you emptied out your basin and return it to its hanger.

Off the west coast of Vancouver Island is the small community of Yuquot on Nootka Island, Yuquot is also known as Friendly Cove and was the site of the first contact between Europeans and First Peoples in British Columbia.

In March 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy became the first European to set foot on British Columbian soil when he visited Friendly Cove on Nootka Island.

On March 22, 1803, while anchored in Nootka Sound, the trading vessel Boston was attacked by Nootka natives, with 25 of her 27 crewmen being massacred. John R. Jewitt and John Thompson, both survivors of the attack, became slaves and were owned by Chief Maquinna. There is a lake close to Yuquot name Jewitt lake, named for John R Jewitt.

Nootka Island, Coastal Islands
Friendly Cove, Nootka Island, Photo By Bud Logan

In the 70s, I worked for Art Mangles out of Plumper Harbor, we were logging further up the island, past friendly cove at the lagoon. We would fly into Plumper Harbor and then take a boat out to our very small 5 man camp. Our shack was pulled up on the beach and was not level, not level at all. We had a wooden tree and an old madill yarder. We were logging across the lagoon. If the tide was low we could walk across to where we were logging and if the tide was high, we would grab a log with a choker and the yarder operator would haul us across.

If the yarder operator was in a mood, he would sometimes stop half ways across and just dunk you in. I liked the days the tide was out best.

There are many Coastal Islands on the BC shores, most have great histories and many have wonderful stories written about them and the various settlers who lived there, long before the settlers arrived, had been used and lived on for thousands of years by our coastal first peoples. Many of them still are occupied today.

Gilford Island
Gwayasdums. Gilford Island. Photo Courtesy of Sharlote Thompson
Gilford Island is 388 sq km in size and is located between Vancouver Island and the entrance to Knights Inlet. It is part of the Broughton Archipelago. The Kwakiutl have inhabited the island for thousands of years. Logging on the island began in the 1880s and is still being done today. The interior of the island is one large clear cut.

There is still lots of first growth forest along its shores and some great little communities and first peoples villages to visit, places like Echo Bay, named because of a bluff that echoes the sounds of waves in the storms that blow through here.

Gilford Island
Gilford Island, Gwayasdums, Gilford Island. Photo Courtesy of Sharlote Thompson
There is evidence that Echo Bay was originally a first peoples village but in more recent history, it was a forest service station. Now there is the Echo Bay Marine Provincial Park there. There is a wharf for boat tie up and fuel and supplies are available at the echo bay resort along with moorage. Other amenities include a postal outlet, grocery store and some gift shops.

A dock and ramp provide access to the day use area. There is no overnight moorage available for vessels of more than 7 meters in length, these vessels must anchor in the cove or use the wharves located at one of the two resorts of echo bay.

Scott cove is another great little community located just west of Echo Bay, this is a logging camp with a float house community in the cove. I have always liked this spot for its fishing opportunities along with its beauty. A great place to use as a base for fishing, whale watching or just pure relaxation.

Gwayasdums is a village of the Kwakiutl peoples on the west side of Gilford Island in the Johnstone Strait region of the Central Coast, it was called Health bay for a while but all refer to it as Gwayasdums now, it is a great little spot to visit, the village has about 70 people living there, you should take time to visit here when you come to the island. They will make you welcome.

Sandspit, Haida Gwaii
Sandspit, Haida Gwaii, photo by Robert Logan
Haida Gwaii is actually an archipelago made up of over 450 islands.  Haida Gwaii is 80 km off the west coast of BC but is less the 50 km from the southern tip of Alaska. There are 3 ways to get to the islands, you can fly into Sandspit, take a ferry to Skidegate or travel in your vessel. If you fly into Sandspit, you will be on Moresby Island and will need to catch the Alliford Bay to Skidegate ferry to reach Graham Island. 4 out of 5 Haida Gwaii residents live on Graham Island. There is a paved hwy that runs north from Skidegate through Tlell and Port Clements to finally reach Masset 101 km later. The biggest community on Haida Gwaii is Queen Charlotte, just south of Skidegate,  it has a population of around 1000. There are about 5000 people altogether, living on the islands.

The name, Haida Gwaii,  means ‘Islands of the People, the Haida People are protectors of this great land, they saved huge tracks of Moresby Island from the loggers saw and now there is this place where we can all see how a natural environment looks like, this is l am sad to say is not the case in the mainland section of the BC coast. The mainland is being bombarded with fish farms, oil pipeline proposals, gas ports, and fracking and is losing the battle to the giant corporations. But on Haida Gwaii, there are no fish farms, oil pipelines or fracking and the Haida will fight to keep it so.

Balance Rock, Haida Gwaii
Balance Rock, Haida Gwaii, Photo By Robert Logan
The land is full of wildlife, bears, Eagles, Sea Lions, Seals and offshore you can see whales, even right whales are finding their way here, there are many killer whales in the waters surrounding these islands, its a paradise.

I worked up on the islands as a logger back in the 70s, loved it here, and then was able to return in the 90s again, working in forestry. Got to see the golden spruce before it was cut down. Worked in the Juskatla area. Now my son is working up there as a timber cruiser, it’s pretty cool hearing about the area many years later, through the eyes of my son.

If you ever get a chance to visit Haida Gwaii, don’t hesitate, jump right on board and you can be assured that a great adventure is waiting for you. Take time to see as much as you can, there are such wonders here.

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