Cortes Connection

Blog post by Beth Boyce, Curator at the Museum at Campbell River

I love the North Island Region.  I love its people, its geography, and I love the islands that dot the seascape to the east. One of my favourites is Cortes Island where, when I was a child, I would go to visit my great-great-aunt in her tiny cabin at Smelt Bay.  My aunt, Peggy Newsham, was the Queen of Cortes. She was tiny, at under five feet tall, but she was a feisty Irish lady, more than making up for her diminutive size with a big personality. I remember she had a driver’s license that that was only legal on Cortes Island. When visiting the island recently, I was told that islanders would see her barrelling down the road in her VW bug and pull over to get out of her way.

I find that in my work at the Museum, my thoughts often turn to Cortes Island and the colourful characters who have shaped its history alongside my aunt. It has been the homeland of the Klahoose First Nation for thousands of years, their deep history carved into the landscape. The much younger settler community got its start in the late 1880s with the arrival of the Manson brothers. Cortes’ largest settlement, Manson’s Landing was named for the brothers from Shetland, Michael and John, who became the first Europeans to pre-empt land on the Island. Both had large families and many still living on Cortes can claim descent from one of these two men.

I was recently talking with the photographer David Ellingsen, whose exhibition The Last Stand is currently on display at the Museum, about his Cortes connections. David is descended from Michael Manson who was his great-great-grandfather. He is also descended from another notable Cortes family, the Ellingsens, his grandparents May and Elmer settling there in the 1940s.  Sigurd Ellingsen, Elmer’s father, developed and patented the design for a jack for hand loggers working on the coast to compete with the famous Gilchrist Jack. The Ellingsen Jack was lighter and had a gear system giving it more torque to shift heavy logs out of the dense undergrowth of the pacific rain forest. The Museum has an Ellingsen Jack on permanent display in our galleries.

There were other loggers scattered through David’s family tree, “George Freeman, and George’s son Wilf (David’s great-grandfather and great-uncle), felled the trees whose stumps are seen in the photographs of The Last Stand. On the family’s land on the south end of Cortes, they cut the old growth forest by hand with the crosscut saw – also known as the ‘misery whip’.”

When describing his exhibition David notes, “from falling old growth trees to creating local sustainable harvest initiatives, five generations of my family have been involved in the forest industry here in BC… It was in this familial context, filtered through contemporary environmental issues and thoughts of my own responsibilities, that the seeds of this series were sown.”

In the course of our conversation, I discovered that while my aunt was the Queen of Cortes, David’s great-grandmother, Eva Freeman, envied the title. A friendly rivalry between my aunt and Eva gave a smile to many on the island. Eva’s annual “Fatima” dance at the local community hall, with a stuffed snake, added fuel to the fire but could not dislodge the crown.

The Last Stand will be on display at the Museum from June 21st to November 10th.  A memorial to my great-great-aunt can be found in the garden at the Cortes Island Museum which reads “Dedicated to Peggy Newsham Queen of Cortes Island.”

The Last Stand exhibit at the Museum at Campbell River

Big Rock gets a Hallowe’en Makeover

October 1986 will probably go down in history as the year of Campbell River’s greatest prank.  It was the year that Les Antonelli and Steve Pitman decided to give Big Rock a Hallowe’en makeover.  With the help of 8 other people, three sewing machines, 238 garbage bags, and a mile of sewing thread, this Campbell River landmark was transformed into a giant jack o lantern.

The rock was surveyed by Darrell Enger and Steve Pitman, who determined from the height and circumference that the cover would need to be 70 feet by 72 feet.  Next, the team spent $100 to purchase the materials they needed.  After exploring a few options, they decided to sew together orange garbage bags.  Three machines took 22 hours to sew the bags together.  Two rope cans were wrapped in green garbage bags to be the stem at the top of the pumpkin.  Then, in the dead of night, a crew of dedicated pranksters climbed on the rock and carefully lifted the cover over it.  The installation took about 90 minutes.  When Campbell River awoke the next morning, they were greeted by a smiling orange Big Rock.

In an editorial by P. Brian LePine, he says “It will take some doing to come up with Halloween trick to top this one.”  It’s been 32 years, and the challenge has yet to be met.

(Here is a photo from 1975 of Big Rock getting a cleaning, to give you an idea of what it looked like without it’s orange covering!)

Cruising to the Great Outdoors

By Beth Boyce, Curator

For nearly 150 years Campbell River has been known for its outdoor recreation.  Visitors from afar encouraged others to come by writing effusively about the sports fishing, hunting, and of course the natural beauty found here.  This is still how we market Campbell River to the world today.

Today we have easy access to these beauty spots, Elk Falls Park is only a short five minute drive from downtown. But at one time, reaching these areas was a feat in itself. Initially, not even Campbell River could be reached by road! The road linking Campbell River to Courtenay and the rest of the South Island was not completed until 1919. 

Early on, Elk Falls was a popular spot.  When the Discovery Expedition was exploring the opportunities for a provincial park in 1910, they visited the falls, and their record keeper, Harry McClure Johnson, described the road access from Campbell River. “It takes an unceremonious end at McIvor Lake after six miles of turning and twisting, up and down steep grades, from the “Willows” at Campbell River.  The branch to the falls is between and mile and a half and two miles…The road has just been opened this summer by the government of the Province.  It is thus in its roughest stage right now.  We are lucky for any road, however, for even this distance.”

Locals would hike up to Elk Falls to picnic, swim in the calmer pools, and enjoy the scenery. As an indication of its popularity, work was undertaken to improve the road access to the falls. A report published in the Comox Argus paper in July, 1919, stated, “Today big cars can with difficulty make their way up the narrow and tortuous road.  It is to be straightened out and the surface improved.  At the falls, or near them, ground for an ‘automobile park’ is to be established and room for turning made.”

In the 1920s people from as far away as Courtenay began clamouring for formal park status to protect the woods around Elk Falls from logging. Although not formally declared a provincial park until 1940, many park-like improvements were made before that date.  Many of the trails still in use today were initially developed in the 1930s during the Great Depression as make-work projects for the unemployed.

Although Strathcona Provincial Park was established in 1911, after the Discovery Expedition completed its survey, there was no road access to the centre of the park at Buttle Lake until the early 1960s.  Work began on the road opening up the park to visitors in the years immediately following its establishment, but the First World War stopped its progress in 1915.  At that time a vehicle road was completed as far west as Forbes Landing Lodge on Lower Campbell Lake. People wanting to enjoy the beauties of the park itself had to hike from there over a pack-trail to Buttle Lake or canoe the network of lakes and rivers.

For many years, locals petitioned for the road to be completed to open up the park for recreation.  However, in the end, it wasn’t the province, but a combination of logging operations, the BC Power Commission, and later Western Mines who developed the road network to Buttle Lake. Today Strathcona Park has other features making recreation more accessible, including developed trails, campgrounds and picnic sites.

To see more photographs of the early years of Elk Falls and Strathcona Parks be sure to check out our website or come in to our archives, which are free to the public and open Tuesday-Friday from 1pm-4pm or by appointment.

You may think you know Quadra…but do you REALLY know Quadra?

Quadra Island. Many of us has visited it and enjoyed the feeling of peace that comes along with that short ferry ride.  Recently I was on a Museum at Campbell River boat tour that circumnavigated this island – the largest of the Discovery Islands.

History aside, it’s rugged beauty, the sea air, the delicious lunch at the Heriot Bay Inn, the mother humpback whale we saw with her baby.  It was unforgettable, and the view from the water gives you a completely different vantage point then driving on the island.  Fortunately, Quadra Island has a rich and vibrant history that we would love to share with you.  This remote island on the BC Coast has so many stories to tell. 




This coming Sunday, July 1, 2018, you can join us in circumnavigating the island and exploring some of these stories with your Museum guide, Alison.  There are a few spaces left and the weather forecast is calling for clear, sunny skies.  (Not that it matters.  I toured Sonora Island last weekend in pouring rain and we had a fabulous day despite the weather!)

Don’t forget that Museum members get discounts on boat tours!

Ripple Rock – new photo acquisitions!

A couple of years ago, Dudley Booth of Westbank, BC, approached the Museum with an exciting donation – 133 photographs of the Ripple Rock project.  Most of these were photos the Museum had never seen before.  They were taken by Alfred E. Booth, the donor’s father.  Alfred Booth worked on a government contract in Campbell River during the Ripple Rock project.  He took numerous pictures of the work being done to prepare for the detonation of Ripple Rock.  A number of photos were aerial shots of the worksite on Maude Island.  Other shots showed bunkhouses, boats, the cookhouse and other aspects of day to day life for the men working on the project.  Thank you Mr. Booth for the donation and for enriching the story of Ripple Rock that is held in our collections!

Here is a small sampling of the photos.

A few spots left on 4-Day Cruise aboard Columbia III

Myriad islands, snow-clad mountains, remote inlets, and tales of daring adventures are just part of the allure on the Museum at Campbell River’s four-day cruise of the Discovery Islands, Bute Inlet and Desolation Sound. The guided trip, May 21-25, is co-hosted by Mothership Adventures. 

Writer/historian Jeanette Taylor is the onboard guide, leading participants on daily shore excursions for short hikes to homesteads and archaeological sites. “Because we take no more than ten guests,” says Taylor, “we can take our time, and explore places like the lush tidal estuaries at the head of Bute Inlet,” says Taylor.

The tour starts and ends in Campbell River, following a winding route through the islands, with stops at places like Maud Island, a leisurely exploration of Desolation Sound Marine Park, and hikes along the trails of Mitlenatch Island bird sanctuary.

Taylor, whose BC Best-seller “Tidal Passages, a History of the Discovery Islands,” shares a wealth of stories about the intriguing characters who once lived in these isolated places. Though the region is now all but deserted, there were once many First Nations villages, homesteads and small settlements scattered throughout the region.

The impeccably restored Columbia III is the perfect vessel for this trip. She was built to serve this stretch of the BC coast over sixty years ago as a medical mission ship. “It’s like a homecoming for this boat when we stop at places like the old store and post office at Refuge Cove,” says Taylor.

The Mothership Adventures crew, a family-run business, is famous for their gourmet fare. They also share their passion for the birds, plants and marine life of this region, which has been home to the Campbell/Kornelsen family for four decades.

Only six spots remain on this cruise, at an all-inclusive price of $1795 per person, plus GST. For further information check the websites or, or call 1-888-833-8887.

International Women’s Day

Our region has a history of being home to some amazing women.  The rugged coast seems to attract strong women – women who could thrive away from the comforts of larger urban centres.  I can’t begin to name them all, and there were certainly many unsung heroines.  For one, I think any woman who lived in an isolated coastal floathouse and gave their families the comforts of home in these tiny floating shacks, deserves huge kudos.  But in honour of International Women’s Day, let’s name a few that have stood out in our region’s history.

mcr015624Pearl, Marion and Pansy Schnaar.  These girls were known for the pet cougars they kept, but what impressed me was how at quite a young age they would take care of the home and garden while their father was gone for many days at a time hand logging or hunting.  Their mother died when they were young, so they got to work doing all the chores needed around the homestead – whether it was canning food for the winter, taking care of livestock, or chopping firewood.

20 391-410Elizabeth Quocksister.  Today Elizabeth is often remembered as a gifted photographer who documented life on the Tyee Spit reserve.  Her photographs are an invaluable record of that time and place.  You can tell from her work that she cared deeply for her community, family and neighbours.  Her legacy goes deeper than those photographs however.  Together with her mother, Katie Ferry, Elizabeth spent countless hours teaching children traditional singing and dancing, helping to re-invigorate cultural activities in her community and Campbell River as a whole.  This was no small feat considering the politics of the time and the restrictions placed on First Nations people – especially women.

Ann Elmore Haig-Brown.  Her husband had a certain fame that came with his successful writing career, but without Ann he may not have risen to that level of notoriety.  For one, she typed all of his manuscripts for him, enabling him to submit his work to publishers.  Ann truly was a remarkable woman in her own right.  The list of her accomplishments and contributions to her community is lengthy, but perhaps one of the most mcr015191remarkable things she did was open her house to women and children in need.  Before Campbell River had a transition house (which is now named after her), she opened her doors and offered them a safe place to stay.

Happy International Women’s Day to the women of Campbell River and region – past and present – and to their daughters and granddaughters who are keepers of the stories of our past.

Break the St. Valentines Day Mould

February is here and with it comes Saint Valentine’s Day.  You could get flowers or go out for dinner, but didn’t you do that last year? Or the year before that? Or was it a heart-shaped box of chocolates last year?  They really all start to blend together in one big blur of roses, menus and cocoa.  Saint Valentine’s Day has so many clichés associated with it, so it’s about time to break out of that mould.  And we think exploring Campbell River’s history is the answer for you this Valentine’s Day.

This year the big day of romance fallsheart necklace on a Wednesday.  The Museum at Campbell River offers free admission on Wednesdays for locals. It must be a sign!  Exploring the exhibits with someone makes for a great first date.  There is perfect mood lighting in the exhibits, it’s warm and cozy and out of the rain, there are lots of things to discuss, and you can easily pass an hour or two without any awkward silences.  For those in more established relationships, taking the time to be a tourist in your own town can be very rewarding and offer up all sorts of date opportunities.

The Museum Shop is well stocked for St. Valentine’s Day.  You can find some great hand-made gifts that will be treasured for years to come.  Art makes a great gift, as seeing it every day on the wall can be a reminder of your love and devotion.  And of course, who doesn’t love getting jewellery.  The Shop has many jewellery items for sale, including a huge selection of hand carved one-of-a-kind pieces.

Dr. Samuel Campbell

Until recently, little was known of Dr. Samuel Campbell, the man who the Campbell River was named after.

From 1857 to 18mcr00938363, Captain G.H. Richards and the crews of the ships Plumper and Hecate were surveying the Northwest Pacific coast.  Dr. Samuel Campbell served as the Assistant Surgeon on both the Plumper and the Hecate.  At the time there was a dispute between the British and the Americans about the location of the International Boundary.  The 49th Parallel had been determined as the boundary, but once they reached the sea the course of the boundary line was unclear.  No good charts of the area existed at the time.  In such a vast region there were many features that the newcomers re-named in their charting process, and crew, friends, acquaintances, ships, animals and objects often found their names attached to bays, islands, mountains, inlets, and rivers.

Dr. Campbell was born in 1832 in Glenleary, County Donegal in Ireland.  Fifth born in a family of six, his family’s property went to his oldest brother, while he and his younger brother were encouraged to pursue a career in medicine.  Samuel began his studies at the University of Glasgow in 1851, and graduated with a medical degree in 1856.  Within six months he was appointed assistant surgeon on the Victory 101, and then shortly thereafter he was appointed to the H.M.S. Plumper.  At this time the ship surgeon and assistant surgeon were also responsible for reporting on the natural history of the areas surveyed.

In November 1857 the Plumper arrived at the naval base at Esquimalt Harbour, which at that point only consisted of three small huts.  Dr. Campbell was sent ashore to establish a hospital in one of the huts.  This would be the first hospital in the Colony.  Most ailments were treated on board, however seamen suffering from long illnesses or serious injuries were brought to the shore hospital.  Dr. Campbell remained there until the spring of 1859, when he once again took up his posting on the Plumper.  Immediately upon rejoining his ship he was chosen to accompany Lieut. R.C. Mayne on a survey up the Fraser River and into the interior of the Province.  On this trip they would cover approximately seven hundred miles in two months before rejoining their ship.

When the survey was complete, Admiralty Chart 2067 “Vancouver Island – Harbours in Discovery Passage, Broughton Strait and Goletas Channel” was published in February 1863.  The chart stated that the surveys were conducted by Captain G.H. Richards and the Officers of the H.M.S. Plumper in 1860.  This chart is the earliest cartographic reference to a waterway on Vancouver Island named the Campbell River.  Several other features in the region were also named after Dr. Campbell, including Campbell Bay and Campbell Point on Mayne Island, and Samuel Point adjacent to Mayne Island.

In his life he would go on to be appointed to ships in the Caribbean, the Chilean Coast, China, and Korea, among other areas.  In 1881 due to ill health he retired to County Donegal, spending his winters in the south of France.  He died in 1910 and was buried a short distance from the farm on which he was born.

A short book was written by Edward F. Meade entitled The Biography of Dr. Samual Campbell, R.N. Surgeon & Surveyer.  Copies of this book can be seen at the Museum at Campbell River’s Archives Research Centre.


Winners selected at 2017 Festival of Trees

After twenty days of voting, the results are in for the People’s Choice Award at the Museum at Campbell River’s Festival of Trees.  The winner is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, a fun and creative tree decorated by Broadstreet Properties.  The tree features a fun assortment of brightly coloured, and very Seupeoples choice award winnersical, ornaments, as well as the Grinch himself half-buried in the tree.

A volunteer committee voted before the Festival opening for a number of awards.  The Most Traditional Award went to the Willows Tree, located in the Willows Hotel, and supported by Gary & Glen Thulin (Carl-Marg Holdings Ltd.).  The Most Unique Tree Award went to Broadstreet Properties.  The Best of Festival Award went to the Coast Discovery Inn & Peak Mortgages-N.I. Mortgages tree called “A Victorian Christmas”.

“It’s been a great year for the Festival of Trees” explains Museum spokesperson Erika Anderson.  “The companies that participated really put a lot of effort into decoratinbest of festivalg.  The people that came in to vote frequently expressed difficulty in choosing just one tree to win the People’s Choice Award.”

During the month of December the Festival of Trees is open daily from 10am to 5pm.  Admission to the Festival is free.  Bring your family and friends and stop by the Museum at Campbell River at 470 Island Highway to soak up some Christmas cheer.