Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steady growth of the town of Port McNeill

This article was originally published in the North Island Gazette August 30, 2006.
The bay that is home to Port McNeill has always been a busy place.
Port McNeill lies within the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nation.  The Kwakiutl traditionally used the area at the head of the bay called Pulkhukglalis (meaning thin beach at hind end) as a village site and fishing station.
In the late 1830s this location was an important strategic trading place between the Hudson's Bay Company and local First Nations. In 1837 and 1838 the Steamship Beaver obtained over 500 beaver pelts from First Nations in McNeill Harbour. It is also believed that while anchored in the harbour the crew went ashore to cut firewood.
McNeill Harbour and Port McNeill are named for Captain William Henry McNeill, who was the captain of the Beaver, and who served for a time as Chief Factor at Fort Rupert.
The harbour was surveyed by the Royal Navy's ship Plumper in 1860.
During the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s McNeill Harbour was used by local people as a prime location to hunt deer and fowl.  By the 1920s a number of small loggers were operating in the area.
In the 1930s McNeill Harbour began to attract the attention of larger forestry interests.  By 1936 a camp had been set up on the beach by three partners: Storey, Hoy, and Chisnall.
In 1937 Pioneer Timber Company established a logging camp near the present site of the Port McNeill waterfront.  Pioneer Timber had started on Malcolm Island in 1933 and logged at Rough Bay.  The camp was floated to McNeill from Malcolm Island and included bunk houses for 250 single men and a few families, a washhouse and a cookhouse.  About the time Pioneer Timber was moving to Port McNeill, the N.S. McNeil Trading Company, a subsidiary of a Japanese firm, bought up private land to the West of Port McNeill and began to log.
By 1939 this company had contracted its logging operations to C&A Logging (owned by Phelan Cyr and Bob Allan).  Situated on the southwest side of the bay, C&A Logging established a camp for about 60 loggers and other associated staff.  In 1941 the Canadian Government's Custodian of Alien Property seized the assets of the N.S. McNeil Trading Company, and the rights to the local timber changed hands.
As the camp grew, so did its services: a poker shack, pool hall and barber shop, community hall (which also served as a library and for a time a coffee shop), and Guide/Scout Hall were all constructed. By the 1950s the community was transformed from a camp housing mostly transient single men to one which was more family oriented.
An initial one-room school served the community until 1954 when a larger facility was constructed in which grades 1 to 8 were taught in two rooms.  There as also a gravel baseball and playing field, and in 1957 a swimming pool was constructed behind the community hall.
In the early days travel in the local area was by boat or float plane.  Residents would shop at the Co-op in Sointula or in Alert Bay.  A water taxi service started in 1951 which ran between Beaver Cove, Sointula, Alert Bay, and Port McNeill.  Port McNeill and Port Hardy were connected by a gravel road in 1959.
In the 1950s the Empire Development Mining Company started an open pit iron mine at Merry widow Mountain.  In 1961 the Cominco Mining and Smelting Company Ltd. developed a copper mine at Benson Lake.  The development of these mines helped to diversify the economy of Port McNeill.
Over the years the interests controlling the forestry industry in the local community have changed many times, but Port McNeill has always retained a strong attachment to the forestry industry.
In 1961 local businesses that served the 400 residents began to work together on issues of common community interest.  They formed the Port McNeill Chamber of Commerce in 1963 which eventually led to the incorporation of the Town of Port McNeill on February 18, 1966.  In is early days, the town fathers had the foresight to set aside 25 acres of land in the centre of town for the development of municipal facilities.  As the town expanded up the hill this municipal land was developed, and now houses a park, high school, track, curling rink, and swimming pool.  A local hospital was constructed even further up the hill in 1979.
Port McNeill has continued to grow and diversify.  In addition to logging and mining, the community today houses a number of government offices and plays an important role in the tourism and aquaculture industries.
It is also an important transportation hub for the North Island.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Construction of Fort Rupert at Port Hardy

This article was originally published in the North Island Gazette January 5, 2012.
Fort Rupert was established in Beaver Harbour on Northern Vancouver Island in 1847, the second permanent trading post established on Vancouver Island after Fort Victoria (1843) by the Hudsons Bay Company (HBC).
During the advent of coal-powered steamships, Fort Rupert was established support the mining of coal from reported surface deposits in the area.  This is very unique and unusual in the history of the HBC.
Due to the perceived hostility of local First Nations, Fort Rupert was one of the most highly fortified Forts constructed by the HBC. It had an 18ft palisade wall, was fortified with inner and outer gates, and was protected by a number of cannons (one of which is on display outside the current Kwakiutl Band Administration office).  Over 2500 First Nations lived in the area immediately adjacent to the Fort.  There are numerous historical references to cannons being used on local First Nations villages during this early historical period.
James Douglas, the Chief Factor for the HBC in Victoria, signed two Douglas Treaties with the Queackar and the Quakeolth First Nations in the North Island in 1851, order to settle concerns about establishment of the Fort.  They were paid in blankets the equivalent of £64.00 and £86.00 respectively.  These are some of the only treaties ever concluded historically with B.C. First Nations.
Over 220 large stumps were removed to prepare the site, which is just to the South-East of the main Kwakiutl reserve today.  The Fort was constructed with green wood, which reportedly twisted and cracked as it dried, meaning the buildings required significant repair as they aged. There are some reports that some of the buildings and materials for Fort Rupert were moved from Fort Stikine. 


The chimney for the central oven was constructed three times before it met the specifications of standards required.  It was one of the last remaining vestiges of the Fort, still visible as recently as 2003.
French Canadians, Russians, and Hawaiians were employed to construct the Fort.   The settlement included wharves, houses, a blacksmith’s shop, gardens, a common kitchen, livestock areas, water closets, a provisions house, a trading shop, and areas for coal and firewood supplies.  Before long it also included a graveyard behind the main Fort.
The Fort was designed to be manned by a small number of employees who would be isolated for long periods of time. 
Fort Rupert never lived up to the expectations of the HBC, and was sold to an HBC employee, Robert Hunt, at some point between 1873 and 1882.  Hunt and his wife Mary Ebbets (from a high ranking Tongass-Tlingit First Nations family in Alaska), had 10 children, and many of their descendants still reside on the North Island today in such families as the Hunts, Lyons, Cadwalladers, and many others. 

Whulk/Cheslakees and the Lower Nimpkish River

This article was originally published in the North Island Gazette December 1, 2011. 
In pre-contact times, Kwakwawala speaking First Nations referred to their terraced village as on banks of the Nimpkish River as Whulk.  Whulk was a significant winter village for the Nimpkish or ‘Namgis peoples, whose territory included the large Nimpkish watershed, throughout which the Nimpkish traveled both on foot and by canoe. 
The ethnographer Franz Boas reported that Whulk, or Xulku as he spelled it phonetically, meant “interlocking foundation” after the construction method used to secure the houses to the steep slope.
Captain George Vancouver noted visiting this village on July 8, 1792.  The Chief, Cheslakees, presented him with presents of copper. 

The British noted that Cheslakees was familiar with the Nuu chul nulth chiefs Maquinna and Wicananish on the West side of Vancouver Island, and they attributed this in part to the trade route that ran by land over Vancouver Island through the Nimpkish Valley. The Nimpkish peoples told the explorers that there was a way to visit Nootka over land which involved four days of travel.
Vancouver was impressed with this Chief and referred to the village on his maps as Cheslakees.
The village at the time of first contact with Europeans was noted to have been very large.  There were 34 big houses, each with many families.  Estimates of the population around the time of first contact vary between 400 and 900.
By 1860 most of the houses at Whulk had disappeared, and the population had moved to Alert Bay at Cormorant Island, where a cannery had opened to take advantage of the plentiful Nimpkish salmon stocks.
The lower Nimpkish was also a favourite of Vancouver Island naturalist Roderick Haig-Brown, who noted in his 1959 book Fisherman’s Summer:
“The Nimpkish was the one first North American river that I felt I had in some measure made my own.  I fished it a lot in the late twenties and early thirties, trapped and hunted and camped along its banks, traveled it by canoe and skiff and once even in a homemade scow.  I had been upset in it, half-drowned in it and considerably scared by it more than once.  I had watched its great salmon runs with ever-increasing wonder.  In it I had caught cutthroats and steelheads and, by fair means and foul, all five species of Pacific salmon.  Above all, I had first learned there to catch the big king salmon, sachems as the Indians called them, tyees to the sportsman.”
Today Cheslakees Elementary School in Port McNeill is named after the ‘Namgis chief. 

The Hardy Bay - Coal Harbour Trail

Originally published in the North Island Gazette February 23, 2012.
Before Europeans came to the North Island, First Nations travelled extensively in dugout canoes and via an extensive network of overland trails.  One of these trails crossed from the mudflats at the end of Hardy Bay to what is now Coal Harbour in Quatsino Sound.
In pre-contact times, before large numbers of First Nations had moved to the area around Fort Rupert, there were a number of sites utilized by First Nations in Hardy Bay.
With the arrival of settlers, and the advent of steamships, people and goods needed to move from Fort Victoria to the North Island.  In the late 1800s, it became clear that the quickest way for people and mail to get to Quatsino Sound in a timely manner was to travel by steamer up the East Coast of Vancouver Island, and then over the 13 mile trail from Hardy Bay to Coal Harbour.
Hardy Bay - Coal Harbour Trail

In 1888 Indian agent R.H. Pedcock reported walking the trail in 6 hours, in order to visit the Quatsino First Nation villages.   The trail generally traced the same route as today’s road.
The old community of Port Hardy, on the East side of the bay, was a stop for steamships. It only took steamers 3 days to get to Port Hardy from Fort Victoria, whereas it took 10 days to come up the West Coast of Vancouver Island to Quatsino Sound, and the trip on the exposed West Coast was much rougher.
The trail from Hardy Bay started in the mudflats by the mouth of the Quatse River.  There was a small boat which took people from old Port Hardy (present day Beaver Cove) to the trailhead.  The charge for the boat was .50 cents per man, but if you volunteered to row the trip was free.
Residents of Coal Harbour were hired to pack mail on the trail.  They would leave Coal Harbour in the morning, hike the trail, row to Port Hardy to collect the mail, row back to the trail, and hike back to Quatsino Sound.  Then they would use a small boat to deliver mail around the Sound.
A source of tension was mail orders for liquor placed by workers at the Port Alice Pulp Mill.  Albert Hole, who delivered the mail, at one point refused to deliver the bottles, packed in boxes stuffed with straw, because they were too heavy.  He insisted they had to be sent via second class mail on the West Coast steamer.   
Hole was accompanied on his mail route by a large sheepdog, which was fitted with a harness allowing it to carry up to 60 lbs.
In 1895 surveyor Hugh Burnet surveyed a route between Coal Harbour and Port Hardy known as the “Colonization Road,” because it would allow settlers to bring their belongings and livestock into the area.  Construction began on a 10 ft wide corduroy road in 1895, but after two years and $3071.34 there was still a four mile long section in the middle which was still a path.
In 1898 the Quatsino colonists circulated a petition to the government which, among other things, requested that Lord Varney (who had homesteaded at the mouth of the Marble River), be replaced as the road construction supervisor due to the fact that he was “utterly incapable of supervising the road-building crew.”
In 1916 the ‘trail’ was officially opened as the Port Hardy ‘road.’  Once a wagon could traverse the length of the road, perishables could be delivered to Coal Harbour and around Quatsino Sound.  At this time a road house was also opened in Coal Harbour to lodge travelers.  Horses were used to transport passengers and goods.

Coal Harbour Hotel, Store, and Telegraph - 1927

In 1927 the Hardy Bay – Coal Harbour road was graveled, and the first motorized vehicles travelled the road.  Very soon a bus service, taxi service, and freight delivery were all utilizing the road.  A few years earlier the town of Port Hardy had moved to the West side of Hardy Bay, and the trail eventually was connected to the new community by road, eliminating the need to row across the Bay.
It wasn’t until the construction of the Island Copper Mine that the road was finally paved, and the link between Coal Harbour and Port Hardy finally became more reliable and permanent.   

Winter Harbour Boasts Grand Past


Originally published in the North Island Gazette April 5, 2012.
Winter Harbour is located on the northern portion of Quatsino Sound close to the west coast.  It is the western-most settlement on Vancouver Island
Today Winter Harbour is within the asserted territory of the Quatsino First Nation.  In the past there were a number of different tribes around Quatsino Sound and the North-West Coast of the Island, but with the ravages of smallpox and inter-tribal warfare the number of First Nations people in the Sound declined dramatically through the 1800s. 
At one point, prior to the time of the first European contact, it is believed that the Nuu-chah-nulth speaking First Nations may have inhabited this area, although today the Nuu-chah-nulth speaking First Nations' claimed territories does not extend north of Brooks Penninsula.
In October 1890 the steamer Boscowitz dropped off a surveying party of five men to map out a new townsite near the mouth of Quatsino Sound.  The Times Colonist reported that the location was “said to possess certain distinct and original claims upon public favour,” and reported that the party went “well provided with stores, and will employ Indian assistants.”   In a historical interview with Ken Hole, he remembered the old timers saying that the area had originally been considered for a western Canada navel base.
Jobe (Joseph) Leeson pre-empted land in the area, originally called Queenstown, and later known as Winter Harbour, in 1891.  Leeson was accompanied by his wife Anna and child Benjamin (Ben).  Joseph was a miller by trade, but set up a trading post in this new location called J.L. Leeson & Son Trading Post.  Most of the trade was with local First Nations and passing whaling ships. 
Leeson subdivided his property in 1892 and tried to sell lots both in England and at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  Later that year a portion of the subdivision was set aside for an Indian Reserve.
Leeson started a crab and clam cannery 1904, the Winter Harbour Canning Company Ltd., which employed up to 40 Chinese workers.  It was located across the inlet. He later sold the enterprise to the Wallace Brothers who moved the operation and opened it as a fish plant near Mahatta in 1911.
Joseph’s son Ben was a talented photographer, and his pictures of the local community and First Nations in the early 1900s are a treasured historical record of the North Island area.
Thomas Ildstad and his wife Bertha arrived in Winter Harbour in 1904 with their seven children, prepared to work on a project dyking Browning Inlet.  Ilstead was hired to  supervise construction of a dyke which was to create farmland from a large marshy inter-tidal area.  The original plan called for a dyke over a thousand feet long and more than twenty feet high in spots.  The project quickly went over the anticipated budget and was the investors walked away from the project.  The Ildstads moved to Quatsino (which helped the colony have enough enrollment in their school to have it reopened).  The Ildstad Islands just west of Quatsino are named for these early colonists.
Browning Inlet was partially dyked by settlers who hoped to ranch cattle. A dyke was constructed at the south-west corner of the flats which enclosed a rectangular area of about five acres. Over time the area was abandoned and the dyke has eroded away.
 In 1928 Albert Moore, who was a former logging manager for Whalen Pulp and Paper (Port Alice) branched off to start his own logging operation.  He originally operated a floating logging camp, and in 1950 his son Bill moved the operation ashore about two miles from the Winter Harbour site. The W.D. (Bill) Moore logging company had distinctive company trucks and logging equipment which was coloured ‘salmon pink’. 
In the 1940s the community reached its maximum population, and at that time petitioned to change its name officially to Winter Harbour.
Bill Moore was a big fan of jazz and would bring groups up from San Francisco and other places for a jazz festival in Winter Harbour in the 1960s and 70s, pulling in fans from around the North Island
In the 1970s, at the height of ‘highliner’ fishing, Winter Harbour was a gathering place for the Pacific salmon fleet.  It would not be uncommon to have 200 boats waiting in Winter Harbour for an fishery opening.
Today Winter Harbour boasts a seaside boardwalk, and a population which is mostly seasonal.  In the summer the community is the base for a number of recreational fishing guides who fish both in Quatsino Sound and the adjacent offshore area.

Eagle Manor Hotel in Quatsino Boasts Colourful History


Article originally published in the North Island Gazette May 31, 2012.
Eagle Manor, formerly the Quatsino Hotel, turns 100 years old this year in 2012.
Ed Evenson was one of the settlers who arrived in Quatsino in the late 1800s.  Always an entrepreneur who had many interests in the community, in 1908 Evenson started construction on a small hotel to host engineers assisting in the development of the Port Alice pulp mill.  It was completed in 1912.
Evenson operated a store and post office, and put two large fuel tanks on the point in front of the hotel which would even fill up the Navy ships when they came into Quatsino Sound.   The hotel had five guest rooms.  When full, guests had to bunk in a common area above the store.
Evenson had a reputation of being very community-minded and he donated property for a community hall in Quatsino.  He was also a part owner in the Yreka mine.  After he had sold his share in the mine the new owners went bankrupt.  A number of the community members were written bad cheques for wages.   Evenson had purchased a boat from new owners which he had not paid for in full.  Local stories tell of Evenson cashing the workers cheques and then dropping off the bad cheques written by the mining company to ‘pay off’ his debt. 

The original Quatsino Hotel, circa 1915 after the addition was completed on the left side of the building (courtesy the Quatsino Museum)
One of the main floor rooms in the hotel served as a temporary dentist’s office.  Some locals said it was hard for them to go into the hotel because they always associated it with having painful dental work done.
Rumour has it that the Hotel at one time operated as a house of ill repute, however it is not clear if this is actually the case.
In 1950 Mr. and Mrs. Harris bought the Quatsino Hotel.  Mr. Harris eventually died and Mrs. Harris, unable to keep up repairs on the old building, moved into a small suite at one side of the hotel.  The rest of the building leaked badly and fell into disrepair.
Nick Tovstigo and his wife Johanna bought the property in 1969 for $5000.  Some of their friends thought they were crazy and suggested they bulldoze the structure.
The Tovstigo embarked on a labour of love refurnishing the hotel.  The first thing they did was cut a hole in the floor, jack up the building and replace the rotting foundation.  They also put on a new roof and started refurnishing the interior.
Unfortunately in 1978 Nick Tovstigo died when the car he was travelling in went off a cliff when he was going to work at the Port Alice pulp mill.

Johanna continued the refurbishment on her own.  After doing well on the stock market, in 1981 alone she spent $125,000 refurbishing the hotel.   In 1983 the Tovstigo’s daughter Andrea, and her partner  John Gresmak took over the property and ran it as Eagle Manor from 1986 until early 1990s.
Florian Tovstigo took over Eagle Manor in 1998.  He added two new cabins, enlarged the dining area, and made numerous other improvements.  Today Eagle Manor does a thriving business, and is a great North Island get-away with a colourful history.  

Ceepeecee Nothing but a Memory Now

Originally published in the North Island Gazette November 3, 2011.
In 1925 a small oily fish, known as sardines or pilchard, started to appear off of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  Fishing companies scrambled to establish reduction plants (where the fish were rendered for their oil) and canneries in order to harvest these fish. 

The future site of Ceepeecee was selected for the site of a fish plant due to its sheltered bay and year-round fresh water supply.  Local William R. Lord, who was the son of the original owner of the Nootka cannery, staked a claim to the site and then sold it to the Canadian Packing Corporation, a subsidiary of the California Packing Corporation (C.P.C.) who built a plant to process pilchards in 1926. 

Ceepeecee got its name when the locals made a request for a post office, and in the ‘official name’ section of the form spelled out the phonetic sound for the initials  - C.P.C.

The C.P.C. operated the plant until 1934, when they sold the site to Nelson Bros. Fisheries Ltd. of New Westminister.  Richard and Norman Nelson were well known and respected fishermen and entrepreneurs. They owned the plant, but seldom visited it, letting their manager take care of local operations.  The manager, Dal Lutes, was known as “Mr. Ceepeecee.”

In 1938 a ship, the Western Packer, blew up at the dock in Ceepeecee.  She sank as soon as she was towed away from the dock.  One person was seriously injured.

Ceepeecee boasted not only a cannery but a reduction plant, VIP rooms, a two storey staff house, a number of houses and apartments for married couples, bunkhouses, a first aid station and a cookhouse.  Eventually they also added many docks, a recreation hall, and a marine ways, and a store.

When the Princess Maquinna arrived twice a month tourists would have to negotiate their way down a walkway between the cannery and past the reduction plant in order to get to the local store.

When the pilchard arrived in local waters, boats would pull in to the wharf heavily loaded with fish.  A bucket-conveyer system would be lowered down to the boat, and men with shovels on the deck would load the fish onto the conveyer system.  The boat would be quickly washed down and the boat reloaded with fuel and supplies, and the fishermen would be ready to head out again. Fishermen and off-loaders were paid a ‘per ton’ rate.  In the course of a season thousands of tons of fish would be processed through the plant.

In the 1940s the pilchard left as suddenly as they came, and in 1951 the cannery closed its doors. In 1956-57 a large fire destroyed much of what was left of the cannery.  A marine repair shop and sportfishing lodge both used Ceepeecee as a base in more recent years.


History is Alive in Telegraph Cove

Originally published in the North Island Gazette June 21, 2012.
In 2012 Telegraph Cove celebrated its 100th anniversary.  A part of the traditional territory of the Namgis First Nation, this picturesque community has been enchanting people for many generations with its beautiful scenery, strategic location, and historical significance to the North Island.
It’s hard to describe the ‘feeling’ of Telegraph Cove.  Many people have been smitten by its natural beauty and the warm friendly feeling of its community. The docks and buildings have been the subject of many paintings by North Island artists, and many people have been returning every summer for decades and some for generations. 
Photos courtesy of Gordie and Marilyn Graham

The story of the Cove begins in 1912, when Alfred Marmaduke Wastell suggested the cove with good moorage for a telegraph lineman’s station, and christened the location ‘Telegraph Cove.’ The telegraph line ran from Campbell River to Port Hardy, and eventually also included the community at Cape Scott
The first inhabitant of Telegraph Cove was lineman Bobby Cullerne. His job was to patrol and fix the line when it went down.  At that time the line was strung between trees, and a trail followed the line.  When the line went down (literally) Cullerne had to walk the trail to find out where the trees had blown down and find a way to repair the line.
Wastell, then manager of a box factory in Alert Bay, clearly saw potential in the Cove.  He eventually purchased the timber rights in the area and supplied spruce lumber to the Canadian military who used it to construct aircraft in World War I.
In the early 1920s Wastell acquired a piece of private property in Telegraph Cove as payment for a bad debt.  In the next few years he partnered with Japanese investors and opened a fish saltery in the Cove.  There was also a small mill that operated for a couple of years.
 Photos courtesy of Gordie and Marilyn Graham

In 1928 Wastell and his son Fred were both put out of work when the wooden box factory in Alert Bay closed, as the fishing industry switched to cardboard boxes.  The Great Depression made their situation worse. The small fish saltery that had operated in Telegraph Cove also closed. 
Fred Wastell came up with a plan to re-start the mill in Telegraph Cove.  He contacted an old friend, Alex MacDonald, to operate as a partner.  They needed to upgrade the mill, build houses, and set up power and water for a small mill community.
A number of Chinese labourers moved into the Cove along with the Wastells and the Chinese residents fixed up an old shack for themselves which became known as “China House.”
Telegraph Cove Mills opened in 1929.  It cut custom wood for a number of purposes.  It operated for more than 50 years.
The Broughton Lumber and Trading Company developed a wharf in Telegraph Cove that was 170 ft long.
During these years the community only had electricity for one morning a week for domestic use.  Newspapers would arrive once a week on the steamship. Eventually a number of homes were winched onto the heavily wooded shore and connected with a wooden boardwalk.  The community had a mill, post office, school, and store, and steamers began to call at the port.

Photos courtesy of Gordie and Marilyn Graham


During World War II the Canadian military again made use of Telegraph Cove, taking over the mill and using it to produce lumber for the Air Force stations which were constructed at Coal Harbour and Port Hardy.
A number of Japanese families lived in the Cove were interned during WWII.  Their friends in the community tried to save their belongings by storing them, but the dampness and the length of their internment resulted in most of their belongings being lost.
The sawmill closed in 1980, and in 1985 Fred Wastell died.
In 1979 Gordie and Marilyn Graham purchased property in the Cove and built a campground, RV park, and marina.  They lovingly restored the houses, boardwalks, and docks with the goal of preserving the historical integrity of the Cove while making it accessible for tourists. 
Today when you walk along the boardwalk there are many signs and plaques with interesting stories about the history of the Cove that give a great feeling about the unique character of its history and more generally the history of the North Island.  It is truly a gem to have this small village from another era remaining intact.  
A booming tourist industry operates in the Cove today, which includes a restaurant and pub, galleries, stores, and service providers who offer whale watching, grizzly bear viewing, kayaking and sportsfishing.
A world class museum exhibits whale bones and the bones of other marine mammals, including sea otters, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. It was started when Jim Borrowman provided a donation of unique skeletons and the Grahams donated a building to house the exhibits. The Bones Project Whale Interpretive Centre is open on a seasonal basis and in some years has had over 20,000 visitors.

The Bleak History of Triangle Island


Triangle Island is an isolated and remote point of land located about 50 km northwest of Cape Scott, Vancouver Island. 
It is likely that in prehistoric times First Nations visited the island, which has a unique triangle shape and no trees due to the hurricane force winds that regularly bear down on it. It was named in 1849 by the British Admiralty survey for its distinctive shape.


During a survey of Vancouver Island in 1860, Captain G.H. Richards described Triangle Island as “about 1000 feet high – with a peculiar Notch summit.”  In 1862 Richards returned, noting in his journal “…this is third time I have been baulked in the examination of these Islands in consequence of fogs.”
A critical nesting and migration area, in some areas the bird droppings on the island are in excess of seven feet deep.
The fog, high winds and tide around Triangle Island make the seas a hazard to mariners, and in 1909 the government started construction on a light house and radio operator station. 
In order to build the station, which was built up on the crest of a peak, an 1820 ft tramway was constructed.  Building materials, and later food and supplies, and even people, were placed in carts which were winched up and down the slopes by a steam donkey, and later a gas engine.
Photo from the Harris Collection, courtesy of Frank Stratham
The first lightkeeper, James Davis, spent almost three years on the island with his wife and three daughters. Davis took care of the light which included a giant lens that rotated on a 950 lb bed of mercury which would be wiped clean by hand by the light keeper when soot accumulated.
Photo from the Borrowman Collection, courtesy of Ian Haynes
The radio operators, usually young men, were assigned to 6 week shifts on Triangle.  Gales, fog, and tides often conspired to strand them there for much longer, and some ended up staying 18 months at one time.
There were times when the tensions between the light keeper and the radio operators were fierce.  A fist fight in 1911 reportedly resulted in orders for the light station and the radio operators to “have no communication whatsoever… except when business necessitates it.”
It soon became clear that the Triangle Island light was too high to serve mariners effectively.  There is generally a rule in the construction of lighthouses that lights be no higher than 150 ft above the water, the Triangle Island light was significantly higher.  This rendered the light largely ineffective.
The ferocious weather on Triangle Island posed problems for the construction of the station from the beginning.  The putty used to seal the glass on the light would not set because of the constant wind.  During numerous storms radio antennas were snapped, a roof and chimneys flew off buildings, outhouses blew away, and other buildings were at risk of shaking off their foundations.  Some residents reportedly became seasick from the shaking of the buildings.  After two years the buildings that had not been destroyed were described as “unfit for habitation.”


Buildings at beach level did not fare much better.  In about 1911, high seas swept away two storage buildings which were thought to have been constructed above the high tide line, and did so again two years later, resulting in 450 oil drums blowing about the beach.
Photo from the Harris Collection, courtesy of Frank Stratham


A system of tethers linked the main buildings (the light station, the light keeper’s residence, the radio room, and the radio operator’s residence) to stop people from blowing away.  During some particularly bad storms the radio operators sought shelter in the light keeper’s house, which was more sturdily constructed.
Fishermen in the area would often stop to visit and drop off fresh fish for those working at the light station and radio room.
The light was decommissioned in 1919, and radio operations were shut down in 1921.
The old infrastructure from the Triangle Island light sat in storage for many years, before it was obtained by the museum in Sooke.  Today it serves as an interpretive exhibit, and a reminder of the bleak history of this remote island.
Triangle Island is an important bird refuge.  It is home to the highest concentration of breeding seabirds on Canada’s Pacific Coast. About 40% of seabirds which breed in British Columbia nest within the Scott Islands, and 9/10 Tuffed Puffins and about half of all the world’s Cassin’s Auklets breed in this area.
Photo from the Borrowman Collection, courtesy of Ian Haynes
In 2002 Allison Watt published a book entitled “The Last Island: A Naturalist’s Sojourn on Triangle Island,” which outlines her experiences spending four months on the island in 1980 as a part of research on the island’s bird populations. 
Today Triangle Island is known as the Anne VallĂ©e Triangle Island Ecological Reserve, named after a young researcher who died of a fall off of a cliff on the Island in 1982.  The Island is a part of the Scott Islands Provincial Park, and a part of the area under consideration for the Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area.  Today visitors must receive a permit to set foot on Triangle Island.
Although relatively close to the North Island, in some ways Triangle Island is a world away.

1907 Hurricane Ravages Northwest Coast of Vancouver Island in 1907


Originally published in the North Island Gazette December 6, 2012.
Winters on the North Island can bring strong winds and stormy weather, but a storm in the early 1900s was particularly noteworthy.
The Victoria Colonist reported that on December 23, 1907 a severe hurricane hit the North Island.  The storm tossed around boats, knocked down a considerable amount of timber, and caused many injuries and at least one fatality.  The paper called the storm “the worst ever experienced at the North end of the Island.”  
The “hurricane,” however, is not recorded historically in weather journals of the time, although locally the effects of the storm were reported from Port Alberni to Cape Scott.

 Damage from the 1907 storm visible behind the Quatsino sawmill.  Photo courtesy of Gwen Hansen.


Passengers on the Steamer Amur, which was tied up at the Yreka mine wharf when the storm hit, had their on-board concert interrupted when the boat began rolling beam to beam and one of the cabin doors flew off.  Luckily it was not lost because it was caught up on a meat hook at the stern of the vessel as it flew by.
One of the unlucky passengers, who ventured outside during the storm, reportedly lost his false teeth in the gale.
The trail between Port Hardy and Coal Harbour was rendered impassible due to fallen trees, and the trails between Cape Scott and Holberg also suffered serious damage.
One resident near Ingersol estimated that over 2000 acres of timber near Quatsino were blown down.  Some reports also said that there was barely a tree left standing after the storm on Drake Island.
During the storm neighbours worked to brace homes in the community of Quatsino, and the school was dismissed early.  Frightened children dodged flying debris to negotiate their way home. 
Jens Hansen of San Josef was reportedly killed when struck by a tree, while attempting to flee from his house.   Others sustained injuries from encounters with falling trees.  Two newly constructed houses in San Josef were crushed by falling trees.
In an archival interview Ken Hole reported that the following year the dried windfall erupted in a massive forest fire.  The fire was so fierce it jumped Quatsino Narrows, and ships had to navigate by compass because there was no visibility due to the thick smoke. 


St. Michael's Residential School in Alert Bay



Originally published December 27, 2012 in the North Island Gazette.
Special acknowledgements to Chief Bill Cramner for his review of this article.
The first Anglican mission, with day schooling, was started by the Reverend James Hall in Alert Bay in 1878.  Hall previously supervised a mission based at Fort Rupert, but the trade at the Fort was lessening and Alert Bay had become home to a large First Nations population who worked at the local fish cannery/ saltery. 
The school boarding of First Nations’ children in Alert Bay started in 1882, and in 1891 the government set aside 412 acres on the island as the “Alert Bay Indian Industrial School Reserve.”
In 1929 an imposing new four storey brick building was erected, called St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.  It had a capacity of 200 pupils, although many more than this were reported to have been regularly squeezed into the facility.
Younger students attended school all day, while older students had a combination of schooling and work.  Students generally graduated after grade 8.  The school aimed to be self sufficient and engaged students in farming. Students were punished for speaking their own languages and some missionaries referred to the children as ‘savages.’
The facility also housed a “Preventorium” for First Nations children from around the coast with tuberculosis, with a capacity of 18 students.
The school had pupils from as far away as Terrace, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
National Archives photo, 1970 
By the late 1940s there was increasing use of community or day schools around the coast, and the enrolment in residential schools began to decline.
In 1968 responsibility for the school was transferred from the Anglican Church to Indian Affairs.  In 1975 the building was turned over to the ‘Namgis First Nation and in 2003 was renamed Namgis House.
Many former students of the school were taken from their homes at ages as young as 5 or 6 years, and prevented from speaking their language, practicing their culture, and in some cases visiting their parents.  Others have spoken about constant hunger and inadequate meals, and other horrible treatment, including physical and sexual abuse, endured while in the care of the residential school system.  Some children became very sick and some died while at the school.
Many First Nations have stated that the legacy of the residential schools has been great suffering for individuals, families and communities.  Today, residential schools are largely acknowledged as a misguided effort, and a regretful and dark part of Canadian history. 
In 1993 the Anglican Church issued an apology with respect to its role in residential schools. On June 11, 2008, the Canadian government issued a formal apology for Canada’s role in the operation of residential schools.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was also established as a part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit launched by residential school survivors from across Canada, and its work is ongoing today.
** In February 2015 the 'Namgis First Nation conducted a ceremony to mark the beginning of the destruction of the old St. Michael's school buildings.

References:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/alert-bay-residential-school-survivors-gather-for-demolition-ceremony/article23067233/