Cruising through the Thurlows

The Thurlow Islands of British Columbia are a paradise of natural beauty and abundant history. Situated between Johnstone Strait and Cordero Channel, both East and West Thurlow offer stunning vistas and great fishing.  There is just a small population of mostly seasonal residences, and an even smaller number of hardy souls who live in the area year round. On the surface, it may not look rich in history, but if you delve beneath the dirt just a little, you’ll come up with some interesting stories.

View from shoal bay

View from Shoal Bay into Phillips Arm

I have been to this area several times, as we have a family cabin there in the quaint cove known as Gunnar’s Landing.  I have always been amazed at the rich history of the area, and the courage and fortitude of the people who from the 1880s onward, settled and raised families there, operated sawmills, mined, logged and fished, and to get around, rowed great distances.  An excellent account of early life in the Thurlows can be found in Len Crawford’s book The Way it Was.

Logging had started in Bickley Bay on East Thurlow Island as early as 1880, but it was really the gold rush at Shoal Bay, also on East Thurlow that started in 1890 that brought people there in droves.

The gold attracted a large number of prospectors and development. By 1897, there were two stores and two hotels, and that same year Shoal Bay became incorporated as a town with the Union Steamships stopping by four times a week, and the population at one point reached 1500.
The plans for a township never developed however, and today, all that remains at Shoal Bay is a privately owned lodge, the original government dock  and seasonal residences.  Even the famous store pictured below was dismantled in 2008.

Store at Shoal Bay, Aug 2006 003-Optimized

Old store at Shoal Bay

The lodge owners organize long weekend potluck barbeques and open a ‘pub’ which brings together area residents, and their music festival, which will be held August 9 is growing every year.

On the Museum trip, we stop into Shoal Bay to see the original townsite map and visit with the current owners.

The two Thurlows are separated by Mayne Passage, and West Thurlow lies to the northwest. The main attraction on West Thurlow Island is Blind Channel Resort, that was once the site of a sawmill that was built in 1910.  By 1918 it disappeared and was replaced by a cannery.
In ’Guide to Blind Channel’, Phil Richter says: “The visitor to the area today, might find it difficult to imagine the activity which existed here within less than one lifetime.”  He goes on to say that the area attracted people looking for opportunity and an independent way of life.
An independent way of life was what attracted the Richter family to Blind Channel in 1969, and by 1970, they had sold their home in Vancouver and purchased the property and existing store there.  The family consisted of parents Edgar and Annemarie, sons Philip, Alfred and Robert and grandparents William and Therese.

Blind Channel Resort

Blind Channel Resort

They developed the location into a thriving resort, complete with a first class diningroom, general store with a liquor licence and post office; washroom and laundry facilities, and moorage and fuel for boats. Philip and his wife Jennifer took over when the parents passed away, and now a third generation assists with operations.
Travellers to the area are quick to discover the excellent homemade bread sold in the store and admire the unique artwork created by Annemarie Richter that is comprised of items she collected on local beaches; bits of crockery, jewellery and seashells.  On the Museum trip, passengers will stop here for an excellent lunch.

The Museum at Campbell River, in partnership with Discovery Marine Safaris is offering two trips to the Thurlows this summer on Sundays in August out of Kelsey Bay, with myself as the interpretive guide.

The 2015 schedule is on the museum’s website:


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