Artist Statement for new Bill Henderson Pole

In front of the Museum is a pole carved by well-known Kwakwaka’wakw carver, Sam Henderson.  Originally raised in front of Campbell River’s Centennial Building this Kwakiutl Bear Pole was part of the 1967 centennial project “Route of the Totems”.   Unfortunately, time and elements have weakened the Pole, which has been extensively restored in the past, and it has reached the point of being beyond repair.

Master carver Bill Henderson, the son of Sam and current head carver at the Campbell River Indian Band’s carving shed, has been identified as the lead carver for a replacement pole.  This new pole will be a testament of the continuing carving traditions in our community.

The Museum plans to take this opportunity to document and film the carving process.  This will be a valuable resource for the Museum, as well as for the community.  It will record not only the details of the carving of this pole, but also the culture of the carving shed and the methods used to mentor young carvers.  It will allow us to see how the knowledge of carving is passed from one generation to the other.

Recently, The BC Arts Council and the Government of British Columbia have awarded the Museum a grant to assist with the commissioning of this 22-foot pole.  We are thankful for the help to move this project forward, and hope to have the pole started in the near future!

 Artist Statement

Master Kwa Kwaka’wakw Carver Bill Henderson

 I worked alongside my Dad, Sam Henderson in his carving shed here in Campbell River from a very young age.  I watched him work, listened to him talk about our history, his life and where we came from.  Not only did I learn to carve under his guidance but I learned my culture and the importance of giving back to my community.  Today I am the Head Carver at the Campbell River carving shed which opened in 2000.  Like my Dad, who passed several years ago, I teach, guide and mentor the next generation of carvers.

I remember working with my Dad, in the 1960’s on the Bear Pole which now is located in front of the Museum.  The crests depicted came from my mother’s side of the family.  Under my Dad’s direction I worked on the face on the front of the top Thunderbird figure.  This pole, which was part of the Route of the Totems commemorative project in 1967, has been part of the community for a long time.  Over the years it has decayed and has been repaired, by myself on more than one occasion.  It is now at a point that it can no longer be repaired and will soon be taken down.

This pole will be the inspiration for a new pole that I will carve, as a commission for the Museum.  As Head Carver I will guide and direct my nephews and other carvers as we work on this pole.  I am proud of my nephews and it will be a time to learn and to strengthen our ties to our culture.  Once completed the pole will be located in front of the Museum, which is a very prominent location.  The new pole will be a reminder for many years to come of our culture and the strong legacy left by my Dad and myself as I followed in his footsteps.

As we work on the pole I am happy to welcome the Museum staff to the carving shed to film the process and interview those who will work alongside me.  I understand that this footage will be included in a short documentary that the Museum will produce on the making of the pole.  This film will add to public’s understanding of the pole and will serve as a record of it’s creation.

I look forward to working on this pole and with the Museum on this project.


Bill Henderson

Museum Hallowe’en Event a huge success!

Wow! It was great to see so many people come out for Hallowe’en at the Museum! The staff and volunteers helping out at the event had so much fun seeing the kids all dressed up in their costumes.  The kids really seemed to enjoy seeing the exhibits come to life.  There was face painting and crafts in the lobby, Hallowe’en Lego downstairs and one of our volunteers was capturing the imagination of all the little ghouls and goblins with his stories in the Van Isle Theatre.  The exhibits were decorated for the occasion, and most of them had characters in costume ready to greet you.  Captain Vancouver was telling tales of his exploration, while the fortune teller in the float house was seeing in her crystal ball that there would be lots of candy in most children’s near future.  This event gave us some great ideas to work with for a Christmas event, so watch for details coming soon!

Madame Zelda had some very accurate predictions for the young visitors.

Hallowe’en Lego was a blast, with all kinds of wonderful creations being built.

Our wonderful volunteers were busy helping kids build some Hallowe’en crafts


Students learning to teach their peers about Anne Frank

Steve Joyce, the teacher of School District 72’s Outdoor Adventures Program, approached the Museum about hosting the travelling exhibit “Anne Frank: A History for Today”.  We asked him what his motivation was for bringing this exhibit to Campbell River.

“The idea was passed on to me by a friend and former Campbell River person, Iris Young Pearson who had a contact with the Anne Frank House and made the connection with me.  I loved the idea of bringing this important story to our community and having my students help in the sharing with the students of our district.  Many know of Anne’s story as it is told in school and those that do connect her to the horror of the Holocaust.  As a teacher I have participated and led in symposia, events and classroom teachings covering this time in world history.  Sadly it really wasn’t the first instance of this sort of genocide and we have witnessed many similar events over the course of my lifetime.  Education can open eyes and hearts to events far away and connect us all together in common cause, as evidenced by that little boy on a Greek beach only a short while ago.  I remain hopeful that education can make enough of a difference that we as societies protect the vulnerable so as to avoid more instances like the Holocaust.”

“I was lucky to find in the Campbell River Museum the amazing support to bring Anne’s story to Campbell River and the CRM have connected it to our community through the stories of those who served in WWII fighting the very evil that created the Holocaust. The stories of Campbell River men who served and in some cases paid the ultimate sacrifice to liberate Europe will reside alongside Anne’s personal story.”

Steve was then asked about how he thought the youth who are being trained as guides for this exhibit would benefit from the experience. 

“As for what the students might get from this experience I give you their words:”

  • “While I know the story of Anne Frank I hope to learn even more of what life was like in Europe at that time….I think it is important not to forget all these terrible things that happened”.
  • “ I hope to learn why the Jews were persecuted and how this family survived as well as they did.”
  • “Along with learning more about Anne and her family, I hope to gain the skills one needs to guide others through her story”
  • “ to learn the importance of HOPE in a situation where hope is futile”
  • “I think it will be more real as we’ll be the ones speaking about it, teaching kids the intense history”
  • “ to share a story from the point of view of a teenager who experienced this horrible time.”
  • “gaining confidence in speaking to large groups”

The exhibit, Anne Frank: A History for Today, will be at the Museum at Campbell River from October 13th to November 15th, 2015.

It Was a Haig-Brown Sort of a Weekend!

There were two significant Haig-Brown events this past weekend – one at the Museum at Campbell River and the other at the Haig-Brown Heritage House site.

On September 29, the Museum hosted its annual Haig-Brown lecture with special guest lecturers being all four Haig-Browns themselves – Valerie, Alan, Mary and Celia.  Their talk entitled ‘What We Learned’ was delivered to an audience of over 80 people and marked an unusual occurrence – that is, all four Haig-Browns being together in one place at one time.  Many former friends and acquaintances of the Haig-Browns who attended the lecture had an opportunity to reminisce with them about their fond memories of the family.

Sunday proved to be an equally good day, with high attendance at the Haig-Brown Festival, held every year on World River s Day at the Haig-Brown property.  The Haig-Brown family was there too, and one of the highlights of their weekend was having a portrait painted of their father Roderick by local artist Dan Berkshire, pictured at right, painting in plein air to an appreciative group of onlookers.

Great music was delivered by the Bentwood Boyz (at left) and later by the youthful group Who is Barbosa.  Laverne Henderson, who opened the festival, moved the crowd with her powerful rendition of ‘Oh Canada’ sung in the Kwakwaka’wakw language.

Laverne Henderson

It is hoped that Cynthia Bendickson, who took over organizing the festival this year will return to do so once again.  She was clearly up to the challenge of taking over the reins from Terry Hale, who as festival organizer for several years always did an excellent job.

Cynthia with husband Chris Osborne

Festival Features Talented First Nations musicians

The Haig-Brown Festival has been attracting some excellent local talent in the last few years, and this year is no exception.  Duane J. Hanson, a member of Campbell River’s First Nations Homalco band, will be appearing again this year with the Bentwood Boyz, a group of musicians also composed of local Aboriginal artists.

Like last year, they plan to play a mix of blues and country tunes and Hanson is in favour of playing acoustically.  For this appearance, he will play the bass guitar, but he usually plays drums.  “I’ve been playing since I was six years old,” he said, “I grew up in a musical family and learned from my dad and my uncle.  I was already performing in public by the time I was 10.”

When asked what drew him to the Festival, Hanson said that while working with MISA in Campbell River last year on a project involving Aboriginal youth and art, he got to know Ken Blackburn at the Campbell River Arts Council.  When Blackburn (who also coordinates the Haig-Brown Festival) found out that Hanson was a musician, he asked him if he would be interested in providing the festival’s musical entertainment.

“I went to the property to get a feel for the location,” Hanson said.  “I liked the fact that it was right by the river.  Historically, everything in Campbell River started with the river.  I think the Haig-Brown Festival is a really good festival because it tries to create an awareness about our impact on the environment.”

“I don’t think there is a First Nations group that would disagree about the importance of preserving the environment, and right now, there is a concern that commercial interests are going to overwhelm the small communities that are being offered dollars in exchange for compromising their surroundings.”

Hanson has a degree in social and economic studies and works for the John Howard Society as First Nations Relations Advisor.  His recent experience with the Society has given him the opportunity to look from the outside, in.  He has also been an elected chief, and he is well acquainted with the frustration experienced on both sides.

“I have an ‘over the hedge’ philosophy,” he says, “I think Aboriginal peoples are in a position to take the best from both worlds and to empower each other.”

Duane playing with Darren Harry at the 2011 festival

This philosophy has worked well for Hanson musically, and he is ready to move forward with recording original songs.  He has been very busy this summer playing in the Vancouver area mostly for weddings and family reunions.  There, he says, the demand is usually for rock music.  As a writer of songs however, he leans more towards blues/rock.

He would like to see other First Nations musicians on the West Coast break away from what is classified as Aboriginal music and create something new, and he wants to help the Bentwood Boyz take the next steps towards doing that and creating a following.

This summer audiences enjoyed their music at Spirit Square, and they are booked to play at the Quinsam Hotel in November.  On Sunday, September 30, you can have the pleasure of hearing them play live on the grounds of the Haig-Brown house.  The festival is free and runs from noon to 4:00pm.

While you are there, don’t forget to look for this year’s commemorative fly, Haig-Brown’s ‘Coho Blue’.  A boxed ‘Coho Blue’ has been donated by Tony Pinder and will be available for auction at the Festival.

By Catherine Gilbert

Preserving Food for the Cold Months Ahead

With harvest season on our doorstep, thoughts turn to gathering and preserving for the colder months ahead.  Our ancestors expended a great deal of time and energy keeping food in different ways.  From fish to berries, wild and domestic crops and game were prepared in different ways with the purpose of having edible food for the lean months ahead.

First Nations people smoked and dried fish, made oils, and dried berries and seaweed without the use of salt, sugar and jars and our pioneer forefathers and mothers brought with them their European ways of preserving.  Fish and meat, fruits and vegetables were canned, pickled, dried, salted, fermented, made into beverages, or where it was cold enough, frozen.

On the West Coast, one of the most proliferate and important food sources has been salmon.  As the different varieties of  salmon would make their appearance throughout the season, people found it necessary to find ways of preserving it.

“Processing the salmon harvest has been going on for hundreds of years, (William Sovde, longtime logger) Natives dried it (salmon) for their own use and for trading.  Early settlers salted it for export.”

In ‘Nootka Sound Explored’ author Laurie Jones tells us that prior to the establishment of canneries, there were several Japanese owned salteries on the west coast of the island.  “Herring and later chum salmon were dry-salted and shipped out to markets in China and Japan… the salteries were exporting fish as early as 1902.”

Smoking fish as a means of preserving has also been practised the world over for centuries.  Explorers were surprised to find the Nootka people of the west coast of Vancouver Island smoking and preparing fish right in their own dwellings.  The people of the Nimpkish area were also known to smoke large quantities of fish in their homes.

The smokehouses at U’dzo’la’s on the Nimpkish River were described to Leonard Hamm the following way:  “The smoke houses at U’dzo’la’s were the biggest I ever saw… big enough for four families, with four levels of hanging racks.  The fires were carefully tended, so that they did not burn too hot.

Salmon hung for smoking

Maybe six or seven hundred fish hanging at one time.  There was a big flat piece of metal put over the fire, so the smoke would to up around the edges, not go straight up the smoke hole.”

The process of smoking the fish is described thus: (from Raincoast Kitchens).  “Every day, over two hundred fish were brought in, cleaned, filleted and hung up to dry.  Those prepared the first day were hung closest to the ceiling of the house, those prepared the following days were hung on lower levels… my job was to turn those which were already hung up.  They would have to be turned several times each day.”

In ‘The North American Indian’,  Edward Curtis notes that “on account of its keeping qualities, dog-salmon (chum) was the principal storage food, and was used through the winter whenever the weather did not permit fishing.”  He goes on to say that the blubber and flesh of whales (that were sometimes stranded on shore or hunted) was also smoked and preserved, and the oil was stored.

Captain Cook observed that porpoise was commonly processed by the Nootka on the west coast, “the fat or rind of which, as well as the flesh, they cut in large pieces and having dried them, as they do the herrings, eat them”.  He also noted that the oil from sea animals was used “in great quantities”.

Another fish prized by the native people of the northwest were the eulachon

Making oil from eulachons

(smelt), whose nutrient rich oil was rendered into a grease that is said to have medicinal properties, and would be used to ward off colds and flu in the same manner that cod liver oil has been used by Europeans.  Eulachon oil was also an important trade item and a source of wealth. In the 1700s a vast network of eulachon “grease trails” stretched from Alaska to the Fraser River, even crossing the northern Rockies.

Eulachon have also been called ‘candle fish’, as they are so full of oil that when dried, placed upright, and lit, the fish would burn from end to end like a candle. Eulachon was often dried and smoked as well.

“The return of the eulachon meant the beginning of spring and a renewed food supply, (What’s Cooking America) literally saving lives and earning them the name “salvation fish” or “saviour fish.” They were the first fish to arrive in the river after a long cold winter when most of the stored food supplies had been depleted.

The oil or grease made from eulachon was rendered in various ways by individual tribes, but mainly the process was to fill a pit or box with the fish, allow them to decay for a week or two, then add boiling water so that the grease would rise to the top so that it could be skimmed off.  At room temperature, the grease is solid like butter and would be eaten with other fish or berries.  Bread could be dipped in the oil for eating also.

Florence Tickner, whose family were settlers in Knight Inlet, describes how when the eulachon run started, they ate the fish fresh until they couldn’t eat any more and how her family always had a stone crock containing eulachon in brine, which would be eaten later.  “Preserving food in those days often presented a challenge” she relates: “Mother used jars and put up berries, salmon, deer meat and deer stew.  Many people had a smoke house, and smoked salmon, cod, halibut, deer and eulachon.”

Differing from the native people, settlers brought with them the idea of leaving salmon in a brine before smoking it.  The brine was usually a combination of brown demerara sugar and pickling salt, with the amount of each being varied, depending on how ‘candy-like’ a person would want their fish to turn out to be. The number of days the fish stayed in the brine and the length of time for smoking the fish varied from individual to individual, as did the addition of certain other flavourings like maple syrup or whiskey.  Many people still smoke their own salmon and everyone has their own unique recipe.

Salmon and other seafood was often also ‘jarred’ or canned. It wasn’t long before the commercially minded saw the potential in processing large amounts of salmon for canning, and by 1910, there were about 80 canneries were operating along the coast.   Clams were also processed for canning.

Aside from fish, seafood and wildlife, another important indigenous food source was berries.  “There were plenty of berries: blackberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, blueberries, saskatoons and wild strawberries.  Indian women showed settlers the value of other berries such as the fruit of salal and Oregon grape.” (Women of British Columbia).  Before the advent of jars, native women were preparing berries for keeping.  ‘Currants, salal berries, raspberries, red elder berries or a mixture of them were steamed or boiled, then placed in cedar frames, spear on rack and dried slowly over a fire.’ (Raincoast Kitchen).  These would be formed into cakes for keeping and eating later.

Women settlers were often challenged in making preserves, as finding containers took some ingenuity until glass jars were available, and even when they did become available, were considered to be a luxury.

“We used whiskey bottles” recalls one woman pioneer… “we had to sterilize them [and] to make containers for jam, we tied a string around the bottom of the neck of each bottle, dipped that in coal oil and set it alight, then plunged the bottle into a pail of cold water.  Usually the neck snapped off neatly.” (Women of British Columbia)

Sealing jams and preserves was another task; settlers could use the hard, glutinous substance in which store-bought bacon was preserved.  Pieces of cloth, cheesecloth or paper could also be used.  If possible, enough jam was made to last the family through the winter.

The West Coast rainforest also abounded with edible mushrooms which came into fruit at different times of the year due to the mild climate, and these could be dried by hanging them in strings over a wood stove.

Cultivating fruits and vegetables opened up many more possibilities for variety of food and accessibility when the growing season was over.  Root vegetables could be stored in a root cellar or house.

“We had lots to eat; potatoes, carrots, parsnips turnips and beets were in the root house… we had over one hundred fruit trees in the orchard, cherries, plums and apples.” (Jean Turner, Raincoast Kitchen).  Jean recalls that her mother kept a very large garden and would put away five or six hundred jars of preserved fruits and vegetables before the winter.  Certain varieties of apples would also remain edible, if kept in a cool place, throughout the year.

Many vegetables were pickled, and cabbage could be fermented and made into sauerkraut.  Captain Cook believed that sauerkraut was a ‘cure-all’ and made it a staple aboard ship in the late 1700’s.  German and Eastern European settlers brought the tradition of sauerkraut with them to the west.  “Barrels of freshly pounded cabbage were kept for about a fortnight in a warm kitchen or stable and later transferred to a cellar or larder where they were kept for the whole winter.” (Pickled, Potted & Canned, Sue Shephard)

Today, many food preparation techniques have been continued or revived, despite the advent of refrigerators and freezers.  Numerous people today still smoke or jar fish and wild meat, pick mushrooms and berries and make jam because they enjoy the process and enjoy the taste of food that is both wild and prepared by hand.  Many of us take pleasure in giving and receiving gifts of food made from favourite recipes for preserving, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, we can be thankful that much of the wild fare our forefathers in this area enjoyed is still available to us today.

‘Raincoast Kitchens’ is a wonderful collection of old time recipes produced by the Campbell River Museum, and available in the Museum Shop.  Books like ‘The Women of British Columbia’ are available in our Archives collection.


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

Tribute to Van Egan at 2010 Haig-Brown Festival

The dual passions of well known author and early environmentalist Roderick Haig-Brown, fly fishing and conservation, are being celebrated at the 9th annual Haig-Brown Festival.  Again the festival coincides with World Rivers Day and is held on Sunday, September 26, from noon to 4pm.  Admission is free, with activities for all ages, good food, music, great displays, tours and more.

The City of Campbell River will again present Stewardship Awards at 1pm to any individuals, groups or businesses who have made an impact in an area of conservation like pesticide and waste reduction, energy and water conservation, habitat awareness or air quality protection.

This year, the festival will commemorate the life of Lavant Gorman Egan (better known as ‘Van’) who recently passed away in July.  Pictured here are Valerie and Ann Haig-Brown with Van Egan.  Egan was a friend and neighbour of Haig-Brown and a fellow fly fishing enthusiast, and he was a biology teacher at Carihi, a Campbell River high school.  Among his accomplishments, he wrote and taught Canada’s first oceanography course, and authored several books including The Tyee Club of British Columbia, Waterside Reflections, Rivers on My Mind, Rivers of Return, and River of Salt. In his most recent book, Shadows of the Western Angler, Egan wrote a wonderful story about the ‘Silver Lady’.  This special fly is now the 2010 Haig-Brown Festival Commemorative Fly, and you will be able to bid on it at the festival’s silent auction.

The Haig-Brown Heritage Site is located at 2250 Campbell River Road (on the Gold River Highway). For a list of this year’s participants, visit  For further information call the Museum at 250 287-3103.


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

Melissa March Exhibits at Haig-Brown Festival

Cutthroat Trout

Melissa March’s oil paintings of fish are as dramatic and arresting as they are beautiful.  Her love of fish and nature shines through her work, and as such, her paintings fit in very well with the other displays that will be at the Haig-Brown Festival this year.

Although she once received a Fine Arts scholarship after completing high school, Melissa chose to travel rather than attend a post secondary institution in pursuit of the study of art.  She is largely self taught as a painter, and has been drawing ever since she can remember.  She attributes her interest in painting to the influences of her family, who all participate in creative activities like carving and sewing.  They also contributed to her love of the outdoors.  In fact, it came as no surprise to her family, that fish would be her favourite subject to paint.  “They (fish) live in a mysterious world”, she says, “and unless you really look, you never know anything about it – it is a big part of the intrigue.”

Melissa in her studio

While exhibiting at ‘Art in Bloom’ at Kitty Coleman Woodlands in Courtenay, she was approached by Erin Nowack from Greenways Land Trust, who suggested that she participate in the Haig-Brown Festival.  Since coming to Campbell River from Vancouver three years ago, Melissa has found that the festival has become her favourite event to attend, and she feels honoured to be involved.  “It is a fitting venue for what I believe in”, she explains, referring to Festival’s celebration of the natural environment with love of fish and fishing.

The festival, taking place on Sunday, September 26 from noon to 4pm at the Haig-Brown Heritage Property also features Haig-Brown readings, fly casting and tying, river rafting, property tours, children’s crafts and games, music and more.  See the website for a complete list.

To see more of Melissa’s paintings, go to

One Hundred Years of Education in Campbell River

First school house at Cedar and 9th Ave

One hundred years ago, in 1910, there was no school in Campbell River, but there was a classroom.  Pupils came to the Willows Hotel Annex to be taught by Harold Campbell, who later became Deputy Minister of Education in BC.  As seven students were required before a school could be opened, a four year old (Arnold McDonald) was included to artificially inflate the numbers.  Since only five children attended regularly though, instruction was given for just two months before the ‘school’ was closed and Campbell was sent to teach elsewhere.  However, shortly afterwards, the classroom reopened and the number of students rose to 16, prompting the building of the first school house, the Campbell River School, situated at the corner of Cedar and 9th Avenue.  The photo at right is of a class from 1921-22.   The Campbell River School  accommodated students for the next 10 years, until the Elm Street School was built.

Elm Street School circa 1945

In 1945, School District 72 was created as a result of consolidations recommended by a report of the Royal Commission.To celebrate 100 years since schooling first began in Campbell River, a reunion is being planned for September 9 and 10 to include students attending from 1939 to 1959.

For a complete history of early education in Campbell River, visit the archives where the Museum has a copy of ‘The Schoolhouse on the Hill – The Story of a Coastal Community’s First School’ by Dr. Thomas Fleming (written in 1987).


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

When Waterways Were Our Highways

This summer, the Campbell River Museum is offering historic guided boat tours to the Discovery Islands, whose fascinating history has been the subject of such books as Tidal Passages by local historian Jeanette Taylor.  Long before Campbell River became a settlement, there were three thriving centres of importance in the islands area: Rock Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Shoal Bay on East Thurlow Island, (see map) and Thurston Bay on Sonora Island. Such was the importance of these settlements, that even before WW1, there was a telephone line connecting Rock Bay, Shoal Bay and Thurston Bay, several years before Campbell River had telephone service.

SS Cardena Union Steamship

In an era when waterways were the highways, and settlement was moving west from Vancouver, these centres had natural good harbours and the natural resources that expanding companies and settlers were looking for.  The easily accessible timber and mineral finds lured loggers and prospectors to the area, and after WW1, the government was granting 160 acre parcels of homesteading land  to entice settlers as well.  Soon afterward, the Union Steamships made their way up the coast from Vancouver and stopped at all the important settlements.

As early as 1880, logging operations like Hastings Saw Mill out of Langley, BC were looking to expand west of the mainland.  They first made Bickley Bay on East Thurlow Island their regional headquarters, then moved their operation to Rock Bay, on the east Vancouver Island, about 40km north of Campbell River.  In ‘Upcoast’ , Richard Rajala explains how “Rock Bay became the first upcoast site of mass production logging – tugboats moved logs from this site to Lower Mainland mills. [Rock Bay offered] accessibility, high-quality timber, efficient logging with oxen and horse teams.”

Horse and oxen were soon replaced with railroads starting about 1910.  These rail lines were never used to connect Rock Bay with other communities on the island however, and even today, the only way to get to Rock Bay by land is to follow a rough logging road from Highway 19.  At one period, Rock Bay had more loggers employed than at any other location on the coast, (about 1500).  A hospital was built there in 1904, further increasing its importance, but was closed in the early 1940’s when logging activity ceased.

Shoal Bay on nearby East Thurlow Island was a boom town in its own right, owing its growth to mineral finds.  The first stake was claimed 1884 and the gold rush followed in 1890. (Jeanette Taylor, Tidal Passages).

Old store at Shoal Bay, now torn down

This caused a great deal of excitement and drew large numbers of prospectors there.  By 1897, there were two stores and two hotels, and Shoal Bay was the distribution point for other mines in the area.  That same year Shoal Bay became incorporated as a town and the Union Steamships were stopping by four times a week.

The steamships were a vital link to people and supplies, in an era when it was rare for individuals to have their own motorized boat. When it was time to go to civilization, loggers with their paycheques and settlers would take the Union Steamship to Vancouver, enduring the 30 hour trip there and back.

Even as recently as the 1940’s, people in the islands used row boats for getting around in.  In fact, they rowed astonishing distances – from as far away as Cortes and Quadra Islands to reach destinations like Shoal Bay.  In ’Guide to Blind Channel’, Phil Richter tells us how a mother who lived at the Green Points settlement on the mainland would row from there to Blind Channel (on West Thurlow Island), a distance of about one mile, to get her children to school.   Len Crawford, who wrote ‘The Way It Was’,  remembers rowing as being the main means of getting around.  It could be dangerous, as most people didn’t wear life jackets—the only available style was too bulky.  Len himself never learned to swim, even though he spent his whole life on the water.  The water was too cold to enjoy, and as he says “the main thing was to stay out of the water.”

Thurston Bay

Thurston Bay on Sonora Island was unique from other coastal communities.  Instead of developing as a result of pioneering or exploitation of its natural resources, it was established in 1914 as a BC Forest Marine Service station and according to John Parminter, who for many years was editor of the Forest Marine Service newsletter, it was also a ship building centre for the Marine Service starting in 1917.    During its busy years, Thurston Bay had several boat building sheds, floats and bunkhouses and its own electricity, created by a Peltham wheel, and homes were built to house the families that came with the Forest Service Rangers, engineers and boat builders.  While rangers were out on patrol or fighting fires, their wives would man the station and keep up radio contact, and homeschool the children. As many families homesteaded in the area, eventually they had a school in Thurston Bay.  The community thrived until1941, and kept its status as a Ranger District until 1969, when that was transferred to Campbell River.

By the 1950’s, times were changing drastically in the islands.  The Union Steamship Company went out of business, and new provincial legislation meant that small logging concerns could no longer get forest licences. Schools were closing due to lack of enrolment and families moved to where the work and amenities were. The era of waterways as highways was over, giving way to recreational boating and floatplanes.

Catch a glimpse of a bygone era and imagine the coastal communities as the vital and thriving settlements they once were this summer.  Take a trip on Discovery Marine Safaris comfortable boats and learn about your desination from knowledgeable local guides.  Follow this link to the schedule.