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Excerpt from The Sunshine Coast

PARTS OF THE SUNSHINE COAST HAVE ENJOYED their own separate renown for decades.

The city of Powell River at the northern end of the territory, still the largest single community in the region, has been a destination for ocean-going ships since the world's largest pulp and paper mill was built there on the world's shortest river in 1910.

Nearby Desolation Sound has been known to discriminating boaters as one of the Pacific Northwest's most enchanting cruising experiences since Capi Blanchet immortalized it in her 1950s yachting classic, The Curve of Time. The feature attraction is an enchanted maze of islands and lagoons called Prideaux Haven, which by the 1980s had become the most popular marine park in the province.

Jervis Inlet, a mountain-girt fifty-mile-long fjord that cleaves the Sunshine Coast into north and south sections of roughly equal mass and population, has been a must-see for travellers of the world for generations. Princess Louisa Inlet, a canyon-like offshoot near the head of Jervis, attracted the likes of John Barrymore and Andrew Carnegie, who paid homage to its fabled mile-high splendour back in the early years of the century.

just to the south, Skookumchuck Rapids at the entrance to Sechelt Inlet has graduated into legend as one of North America's most awesome saltwater cataracts, the sea-going graveyard of dozens of unwary small boaters. Both scenic wonders have thankfully been preserved as parks, though not before the north side of the Skookumchuck was transformed into a giant open-pit gravel mine. Timber companies continue to gnaw at the forest around Princess Louisa, rather in the spirit of oldtime Athens businessmen grinding up the Parthenon to make cement (Gotta keep the boys busy).

Pender Harbour, an eccentric fishing community built around a jigsaw puzzle of coves, reefs and sloughs where some people still do their Saturday shopping in small motorized "kicker" boats, has long been known as "The Venice of the North," and once served as the bustling winter capital of the populous Sechelt Indian nation.

Anchoring the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, the town of Gibsons (I still like to call it Gibsons Landing, though it deep-sixed the "Landing" in 1947) boasts perhaps the west coast's most familiar sea front. It was imprinted on millions of minds all over the globe during its nineteen years as the setting of the popular CBC television drama The Beachcombers.


YOU MIGHT THINK THE SCENIC ATTRACI`IONS alone would have sparked a more general interest in the Sunshine Coast, but a full century elapsed between the beginnings of European settlement in the late nineteenth century and the boom of the 1990s.

Non-Indian history on the Sunshine Coast began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez; in 1789 followed in 1790 by an English expedition under Captain George Vancouver. Both churned through the territory in such a panic to find the fabled Northwest Passage they failed to notice Sechelt Inlet, Pender Harbour and a host of other major geographical features. They did find time, however, to replace the poetic and myth-laden Indian names which had served to identify the area's islands and inlets for thousands of years with the names of minor naval officials, school chums, mistresses, etc. The names for Thormanby Islands, Merry Island, Buccaneer Bay, Epsom Point, and Derby Point were inspired by an English horse race.

In other areas, southern Vancouver Island for instance, Indian names were widely adopted by the new settlers and today give a special flavour to the area - Saanich, Malahat, Cowichan, Nanaimo. Sharkain, Chichatomos, Tsawcome -names that reflected the Sechelt's long and intimate relationship with the geography of the Sunshine Coast, are all but lost. Apart from some less prominent geographical sites such as Sakinaw Lake near Pender Harbour and Clowhom Lakes up Salmon Inlet, the only major Sechelt name to survive is Sechelt itself, although "Sechelt" was not originally a place name, but rather the name of the shishalh people themselves.

Over the years more explorers came to fill in the blanks left in the charts by Vancouver and Narvaez - George Richards in 1860 and Daniel Pender in 1863, but no settlers followed in their wakes until the late 1880s. By then, the arrival of the trans-continental railway in Vancouver, and the PreEmption Act of 1884, which made it easier to obtain Crown land, had shifted BC development
into high gear. Sechelt was the site of one of the first attempts by a European to take up land for settlement on the Sunshine Coast when John Scales, a decommissioned Royal Engineer fresh from building the Cariboo wagon road, was awarded a 260-acre homestead there in 1869. But the preemption lay unoccupied until it was purchased by Sechelt's first real non-Indian settler, Thomas John Cook. Cook and his family didn't get established until 1890, about the time other settlers were staking out waterfront preemptions all along the Sunshine Coast from Port Mellon to Prideaux Haven.

Up on Texada Island things began stirring a little earlier when the BC premier of the day, Amor de Cosmos (a.k.a. Bill Smith), jointly purchased 50,000 acres for development as an iron mine in 1874. De Cosmos was forced to resign in the ensuing scandal, but eventually the iron mine did get up and running, providing the Sunshine Coast with its first two towns. The twin cities of Van Anda and Texada City boasted 'three hotels and saloons, a hospital, a variety of stores and businesses, a local newspaper (The Coast Miner), a jail, and an opera house." The mine fizzled out in 1916, but other mines and businesses intent on exploiting Texada's immense limestone and mineral deposits kept the community alive.

CHRONICLES OF NON-INDIAN SETTLEMENT ON the lower Sunshine Coast usually begin with the story of George Gibson, a gangling British naval officer who took out the first preemption in what would become Gibsons Landing in 1886, but I have never found old George had much to recommend him except the fact he somehow managed to wash up on these shores before most anybody else of the non-Indian persuasion. Dour and stolid, he always struck me as an unfortunate person to erect a founding myth upon.

My candidate for Founding Spirit of the Sunshine Coast is Harry Roberts, the patron saint of Roberts Creek, who didn't arrive until 1900 but was much more the classic Sunshine Coast personality than Gibson. Imaginative, visionary, nonconforming to a fault-he literally put the Sunshine Coast on the map. An art student in England and later a painter, author and homespun philosopher, Roberts was the first Sunshine Coast pioneer to put into practice the idea that there are other things to do here just as important as cutting the trees, catching the fish, and doing the developments. But he also forged a bit of an industrial empire around Roberts Creek between the turn of the century and 1930. He even built himself a castle, albeit a wooden one. Then he chucked it and took to sea in his trusty yawl the ChackChack where he could paint, write and philosophize full time, eventually resettling on a paradisical south-facing beach at Cape Cockburn on Nelson Island. There he constructed his celebrated second home, "Sunray," raised his three children, and kept house with his second and third wives, give or take.

Sunshine Coast pioneer Jim Spilsbury tells a story about Harry during his Sunray days that provides a glimpse of his uncommon character. For years Spilsbury and his wife Win summered on a choice piece of waterfront on Ballet Bay near Cape Cockburn which they had purchased from a crusty Norwegian boatbuilder named Sandvold. Sandvold was a bachelor, but not quite a confirmed one, it would seem. During the time in question, Harry Roberts felt called upon to take long absences from his wife Cherry in order to beachcomb, trade, paint, philosophize, philander - Harry himself never knew quite what he was up to at any given moment. Cherry had apparently quit caring and had taken to relieving her loneliness by entertaining Sandvold. Something tipped Harry off, so he pretended to leave on a trip but anchored in Quarry Bay and doubled back through the bush in time to catch Sandvold docking his fishboat at the Roberts dock in Cockburn Bay. Confirming his worst suspicions by peeping through the bedroom window, Harry considered his situation. He was wiry enough, but a flyweight. He weighed maybe 140

pounds soaking wet, while his rival was in the 200 range. Irate as he was, our Harry was no fool. He retreated quietly up the path and made his way over the hill to the dock, where he stepped aboard Sandvold's boat - and climbed up the rigging. When the big Norwegian came tromping down the gangplank in the wee hours of the morning, whistling and looking quite pleased with himself, Harry took a flying leap and landed on his adversary's head. Before Sandvold knew what hit him, Harry was all over him, thrashing in senseless with a cod bonker and cutting his boat adrift on the tide. Sandvold eventually recovered and had the bad grace to charge Harry with assault. When they appeared before the redoubtable magistrate William "Judge" Parkin in Powell River, Parkin listened as Sandvold began relating his complaint, frowned, then interrupted.

"Do you mean to stand there and tell me a strapping great oaf like you needs this court's help to protect you from a puny little runt like him?"

"He yoomp! He yoomp from de sky, your highness..."

"Case dismissed!"