Intriguing Yorke Island Re-Visited

For those interested in Yorke Island and BC’s coastal defence, a book about Yorke Island has just been published.  See link below for full story:

http://kasha.ezabu.com/2012/05/12/434/

In 2004, museum docent Danny Brown (see left, yellow jacket) gave a presentation at the Campbell River Museum on a unique west coast military defence installation, Yorke Island, and later in the year took a group of people there on a tour.  The conditions had to be just right for this tour as this tiny island is surrounded by one of the most dangerous stretches of water in Johnstone Strait.  Located six kilometres northeast of Sayward, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, Yorke Island was considered to be a strategic site during World War II as it commands an exceptional view of the strait.  Then, there was another kind of danger lurking in the water; Japanese U-Boats had been sited in the vicinity as early as 1939 and especially after such a U-Boat launched a shell at Estevan Point lighthouse on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1942, the Canadian military felt it was critical to establish a gunnery post in defence of British Columbia’s west coast.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Yorke Island with outdoor guide and military enthusiast Ross Keller, and one of the most profound impressions the site leaves is of the sheer magnitude of the construction that still remains.   While the windows might be missing and some of the paint peeling, these poured concrete edifices look as serviceable today as they must have been during the war years.  Yorke Island was occupied from 1939 – 1947, after which some of the portable buildings were taken to Hardwicke Island (about one kilometre away).  Prior to that, the only evidence of occupation was a cabin left by an individual who had been there in about 1925.

The island would not have been a hospitable place to reside on as it was missing one crucial resource – fresh water.  To resolve this problem, the military had to import enough fresh water to fill a 50,000 gallon (250,000 litre) tank.  Each of the men by military standards had to be provided with one gallon of water per day.  With 250 men posted there and sometimes as many as 200 construction workers, it was a formidable task to store enough of this precious commodity.  In fact, sea water was used to supplement their requirements in places like the toilets.

As a result of Brown’s talk on the island, he met a veteran who had actually been posted on Yorke Island, Gordon Kurton (now deceased) of Powell River.  His research also lead him to meet Garry Ogrodnik, manager of the Campbell River Superstore, whose father had been posted to the island, and he provided Brown with a photo of his father in uniform.  Other archival photos (see right) were donated to the Museum by the Bishop family , whose father Jack Husted had also been posted to the island.

Isolated as Yorke Island was, it was not a popular post and has been referred to as ‘Little Alcatraz” (Raincoast Place Names, Andrew Scott).  Many young men living there, especially those not used to coastal conditions, found the circumstances extremely trying and in Peter Moogk’s book, Vancouver Defended, he relates a few amusing tales of attempted escapes.  Not so amusing is the story of a soldier who committed suicide on the boat returning him to spend another stretch of time there.

The island is currently under the protection of BC Parks, and as it is without a dock, is not an easy place to reach.  A boat can anchor there, but a kayak or dinghy is required to reach shore, unless you have a landing craft like the Aurora Explorer that can lower its drawbridge and place you safely on the beach.  Although the undergrowth and buildings have been well cleaned up by out-of-work foresters through Sayward Futures, a visitor has to be fit enough to climb the steep hill to the top (200ft) in order to properly view the abandoned buildings.  For now, it remains even more remote than it did during the war years, which adds in many ways to its intriguing charm.

While the Museum no longer has tours to Yorke Island, there will be historic boat tours beginning July 11 with Discovery Marine Safaris to many of the other Discovery Islands.  Call us to find out more!  250-287-3103.

Bill Henderson – Master Carver

Bill Henderson of the Wei Wai Kum Band of Campbell River is one of the most successful master carvers of his time,  and has established an international reputation with collectors of First Nation’s art.  He has been commissioned to carve several traditional totem poles to commemorate important Kwakwaka’wakw people and events, and creates dancing masks, paddles, bowls and plaques.  In 1983, he presented the town of Ishikari, Japan with one of his totem poles as a gift from its sister city, Campbell River.

Henderson began carving with his father, the late Sam Henderson, when he was seven years old.  Sam Henderson was not only an eminent Nak’waxda’xw carver, but also a devoted protector of ancient cultural traditions.  May Quocksistala Henderson,  Bill’s mother, was a high ranking woman of the Campbell River Band.  He also credits the great Kwakwaka’wakw master carvers Mungo Martin and Henry Hunt as major influences on his own work.  He distinctively carries on the Henderson legacy and passes on his knowledge and skills graciously to many of his nephews.

Henderson says that “the woods and waters of the [Kwakwaka’wakw] homeland are rich in animals and I have worked to capture the natural and supernatural figures in many of my masks”.  Pictured here is his Owl Mask, and the vibrant colours and strong lines speak clearly of Henderson’s skill and interpretation.

The Shop at the Campbell River Museum specializes in First Nations Art and carvings like the work of Bill Henderson.  Come in for a visit!

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The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit www.crmuseum.ca

Darrell Bourque – Hand carving in his own style

Bourque is an artist who has always been interested in woodworking, first as a carpenter then doing joinery (furniture making).  He has pursued wood carving as an art form since 1994.  Bourque was born in Saskatchewan but has resided in Campbell River since 1974.  His Canadian ancestry reaches back to the 1600s and Acadian New Brunswick, and he is related to the Swampy Cree of western Hudson’s Bay.

In the 2004 Shoreline Arts Competition in Campbell River, which is attended by driftwood carvers from all across the country, Bourque placed first in his division – using hand tools only.  He continues to prefer working by hand and uses few power tools, and in his designs, he incorporates the grains and patterns in the wood to create a unique piece every time.  Island art critic John Palmer says Bourques work “portrays a depth of emotion beyond what mere shaped wood should be able to convey.”

Featured here are Bourque’s hand carved wood feathers.  Distinctive and beautiful, they are so thin you can see light through them.  Each one represents one size of an eagle’s feather (if you put them all together, you would have an entire wing) and are made from yellow Cypress wood left over from the project to reconstruct the BCP 45 boat featured at the Maritime Heritage Museum.

These and other one-of-a-kind items make the Museum Shop a wonderful place in which to find that unique gift.  Come visit us soon!

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Connect with us here:

Campbell River Museum on Facebook
Campbell River Museum YouTube Channel
Campbell River Museum on Flickr
Campbell River Museum on Twitter

The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit www.crmuseum.ca

Hume Researches Strathcona History at Museum

This week, the Campbell River Museum Archives has had a well known visitor.  Award winning author and journalist Stephen Hume, who has been a long time staff writer for the Vancouver Sun, is researching the Ellison expedition into Strathcona Provincial Park that is being replicated this July by mountaineer Philip Stone of Quadra Island.  Hume will be writing a piece for the Sun about the upcoming Strathcona Centennial Expedition, and was interested in using the resources at the Museum to find out more about the history of Strathcona Provincial Park.  In particular, he said he also came to seeing the current photo exhibit of the Ellison expedition that is on display in the Museum temporary gallery until the end of June.

Hume may be a participant in the new expedition, but isn’t certain yet.  For now, he can vicariously take the journey as he peruses the wonderful journal kept in the Archives that was written by Harry Johnson, a member of the original Ellison 1910 trek.

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Connect with us here:

Campbell River Museum on Facebook
Campbell River Museum YouTube Channel
Campbell River Museum on Flickr
Campbell River Museum on Twitter

The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit www.crmuseum.ca