Friday, October 19, 2018

Kwakwaka'wakw Dancers of Fort Rupert

This week's North Island historical photo is called "Indian Dancers of Fort Rupert," taken about 1896. Within the big house, large elaborate dances and productions were an important part of the Kwakwaka'wakw culture. Some of the stories portrayed killings and even cannibalism, at times this would include the resurrection of a murdered person or supernatural being. Special effects, such as tubes running under the ground, special material thrown into the fire to make smoke or explosions, and other special effects were used to create an amazing experiences for audiences. Some of the first people to record seeing these events in English expressed their shock and horror at events that were both very scary and seemingly magic.
BC Archives H-04849

Sunday, October 14, 2018

RCAF Station Coal Harbour

When World War II broke out, Canada perceived a threat on its Pacific Coast from the Japanese. In 1940 the government authorized the establishment of a Royal Canadian Air Force Station at Coal Harbour. The station supported both initially radio operators, and eventually the No. 120 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron. Although the 'Jokerville' in Port Hardy is better known, the Air Force employees in Coal Harbour also constructed makeshift cabins just off the base so that their wives could join them during their posting. At its height during the war, the population of Coal Harbour reportedly reached about 1500 people. This was a big change for the small outpost, which spent the previous 50 years mainly as a terminus of the Port Hardy - Coal Harbour trail/road and home to the Hole's hotel & store. In 1927 the Port Hardy - Coal Harbour road became passable by motorized vehicles, it wasn't until the Island Copper Mine opened that the road was paved.
BC Archives G03241

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Steamship Beaver

An icon of the BC Coast, the Steamship Beaver was originally built in England in 1835. Able to proceed under either sail or steam power (via a side paddle wheel), she heralded a new era of coal powered vessels on the Pacific Coast.

The SS Beaver arrived in British waters in the Pacific Northwest in 1836, and in 1837 William Henry McNeill took over as her Captain. As steam power began to replace sail as the preferred mode of transport, the economy and trade on Vancouver Island shifted from the fur trade to the search for reliable sources of clean coal. This resulted in the establishment of Fort Rupert at Beaver Harbour (today Port Hardy), and Fort Nanaimo.

The SS Beaver played a prominent role in early coastal history, serving the needs of the Hudson's Bay Company, transporting trade goods, and shuttling dignitaries around the South Coast until it foundered on the rocks off Prospect Point in Stanley Park in 1888.

Beaver Harbour in Port Hardy and Beaver Cove in Port McNeill are named after this ship. Port McNeill is named after her early Captain, William Henry McNeill, who was also for a time the Chief Factor at Fort Rupert.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

US Air Force Drops Bomb off BC Coast

On February 13/14, 1950, during a mock nuclear bomb drop training exercise, two US Air Force planes departed from Alaska en route to Texas. Their flight plan was to keep them out of Canadian air space until they would come toward land to conduct manoeuvres over California. It was bitterly cold in Alaska, and from take-off the planes began to suffer a number of malfunctions.

As the planes approached Haida Gwaii it became apparent that a B 36 Bomber, carrying a Mark IV atomic bomb, was going down. The plane had multiple engine failure. The US Air Force was under strict orders not to let their bomb technology fall into enemy (Russian) hands, and the crew jettisoned the bomb over the Pacific Ocean (reportedly without the fuse device that would ignite a nuclear explosion) before parachuting down over the Inside Passage. There were 17 crew members on board, and 12 were rescued after they were found on Princess Royal Island.
 The crew were taken to Port Hardy, where the historical photo of the week shows them warming up after their ordeal. 

The plane, originally thought lost in the ocean, was eventually located near Smithers, BC. For more information about the crash check out the book Lost Nuke: The Last Flight of Bomber 075 by Dirk Septer.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Seaweed harvesting in Smith Inlet

This historical photo of the week shows an Indigenous woman drying seaweed. She is not identified in the photo. This picture is credited to Clifford R. Kopas, believed to be taken while he was travelling on the CPR steamship Cassiar in the 1920s or 1930s in Smith Inlet. Local First Nations have harvested many resources from the ocean and land for thousands of years, often travelling around their territory seasonally to harvest various items at preferred traditional locations.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Construction of the first dock at Port Alice

Over 100 years ago the Quatsino Power and Pulp Co. began development of a mill in Port Alice in order to process the vast timber resources in the Quatsino Sound area. The company changed hands a couple of times during the war years, but Whalen Pulp and Paper Mills did complete the construction of the mill and a townsite by 1918. This historical photo of the week shows the construction of the original Port Alice dock, circa 1916. Photo by Ben Leeson.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Captain Edward Gillam and the Princess Norah

"Princess Norah with her dead master" 1929 photo by Ben Leeson

This historical North Island photograph, taken by Ben Leeson in 1929, is entitled "Princess Norah with her dead master." Her dead master was Captain Edward Gillam, who spent most of his career piloting CPR steamships along the West Coast of Vancouver Island route. Gillam worked on the Princess Maquinna and the steamship Tees before taking charge of the Princess Norah. He died while on the bridge of the ship, and is buried in the Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria. While a Captain on the West Coast Gillam often came to the need of those in distress and provided a much needed lifeline to the outside world. Notably he made a heroic rescue attempt when the Carelmapu ran aground near Long Beach in a horrible storm, but only 5 of the crew of 24 survived. Gillam Channel in Esperanza and the Gillam Islands in Quatsino Sound are both named after him.

Captain Edward Gillam