Tag Archive | Mowachaht

The Road to Tahsis

I drove along the gravel road that connects Gold River to Tahsis twice this summer.IMG_0930

I had many thoughts as I navigated its challenging curves and hills, and yes, slid a couple of times on the gravel! It wasn’t my first time on the road; I had been there about five years previously in the winter to do a home appraisal in Tahsis but my former boyfriend did the driving in his big four wheel pick-up and I felt safe, even though the going was slow. This time I was driving alone in my little Astra which although it has manual transmission, is just two wheel drive.

During the first trip, I wondered more than once what I was doing on the road. I was on my way to Moutcha Bay Resort, about two thirds of the way to Tahsis, where I was invited to give one of my talks about Nootka Sound and I didn’t want to miss the weekend at the resort and at Nootka Sound Resort. But I felt I had to crawl along and it seemed I was taking an unnecessary chance. How else would I get there? Somewhere along the road, someone was pulled over who had car trouble – that can happen and how do you get help? There is no cell service at all, not from the time you leave Campbell River along Highway 28, anywhere past Forbes Landing. Just when I wondered if I would ever get there, I finally saw the sign for Moutcha Bay and arrived just in time to get settled in my room and take a breath before going down to give the talk in the bar. All went well and I met some great people who invited me to dine with them and have a drink or two on the patio that faced gorgeous Tlupana Inlet. Lots of people showed up and it was a fun evening, with everyone swapping fishing stories.

The next trip up was all the way to Tahsis to give the same talk to a senior’s group there. Again I was graciously offered accommodation and looked forward to it, except that I was worried about the state of the road. But something had happened between July and September, and the road seemed much easier to drive. Was is me, or was something different? I realized that in July, fresh gravel had been laid and some of the corners were slippery from loose stones. By September is was nicely smoothed down. Too, the entire way is not gravel and there are stretches of pavement.

This time, since I was more relaxed, during my drive I mused about the history of the road and wondered what would have motivated anyone to connect Tahsis with Gold River by road when it was possible to go by boat. Even as recently as the 1960s, those who worked at the busy sawmills in Tahsis  travelled by bus from Campbell River to the dock at Gold River and completed the trip to Tahsis on the water. The Uchuck III, a coastal goods and passenger freighter, became an important mode of transportation at this time providing a link between west coast communities in that region. Then as I was doing research through a scrapbook of articles collected about Strathcona Park, I happened on an unrelated article about the road to Tahsis by Margaret Sharcott that uncovered some of the early activities of the region.

Tahsis Inlet

The article, ‘Roads to West Coast History, is dated June 24, 1971 and published in the Daily Colonist. In it Sharcott explains that the road was being built at that time to accommodate logging. Near the Tlupana Inlet, there had once been marble quarries in the early 1900s that supplied a top grade blue and white marble that was shipped to Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle. One particular slab was commissioned for a museum in Ottawa. James Dunsmuir, son of Robert, once had an iron mining operation nearby. Prior to the arrival of industry, the Mowachaht dominated the area, and Chief Maquinna had his winter village Cooptee at the mouth of the Tahsis Inlet. Unfortunately I don’t have the complete article, but it seems her daughter has created a Facebook site in honour of her mother at https://www.facebook.com/A-Place-Of-Many-Winds-677624865691783/ and I should connect to see if she knows where to get it.

Then, as is often the serendipitous route of research, I was re-reading Wallace Baikie’s book about Strathcona Park and who should have an article in it but Margaret Sharcott! This lady really got around and wrote on many aspects of the west coast. I am grateful that she did so and has provided answers to questions that I have mused about. I, in turn, try to do much the same thing and through giving public presentations am always gratified to hear that people are genuinely interested in the little corners of BC history I present. And next time I go to Tahsis, I’ll know more about the road!


The Nootka Crisis – A history talk

Spanish Fort San Miguel in Nootka Sound 1789

I have always been fascinated by British Columbia’s west coast history and I see that Canada’s 150 Anniversary has brought attention to first contact between Europeans and Indigenous people on this coast.  As far as is known, first contact took place at Nootka Sound in 1774 between the Spanish and the Mowachaht people, although it is believed that Sir Francis Drake visited these shores in the 1500s.

I presented a talk on the Nootka Crisis this spring at the Museum at Campbell River, then again at the Courtenay Museum on Wednesday, May 10. As this talk was sold out I will be returning again in October to repeat it.  On Saturday, May 13 at 7:00pm I will present the talk on Cortes Island at Mansons Hall. In September I will give the talk in Tahsis, and this summer on one or two occasions in Port Alice – times and dates not yet confirmed.

An excellent book I read about European visitors to Nootka Sound, First Invaders by Alan Twigg is an excellent resource about this history.  It answered some of my questions, but raised some as well. I didn’t fully understand why the Spanish didn’t stay in this part of the world once they had a foothold. Through my studies at the University of Victoria, where I am currently pursuing my Masters in History (got through the first year, yeah!) I had an opportunity to really delve into the research of who got to Nootka Sound first and what they were doing, and as it turned out, not doing there. I wrote a paper entitled Nootka Unsettled where I discuss the various writings about an event known as the Nootka Crisis or Controversy that took place in 1789. I was pleased to find William Manning’s book written in 1904, The Nootka Sound Controversy, that was likely the first scholarly investigation into the Crisis. The Crisis or Controversy was a standoff between the Spanish and British about who in fact, had the right to occupy Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island. This of course, was irrespective of the fact that the Mowachaht had been occupying the region for over 4,000 years!

Spanish exploration into the Pacific Northwest began in earnest in the 1770s, with the Spanish sending ships on surveying expeditions out of San Blas, Mexico their Pacific port.  The first known visitor to the Nootka region was the chief naval officer at San Blas, Captain Juan Pérez, sailing in the Santiago.  He didn’t set foot on Nootka Island, but did meet the native inhabitants. Captain James Cook was to discover that some of the people he encountered four years later in 1778 wore silver spoons, that would have come from the Spanish. The Crisis is a complicated story that arose several years later. It is a matter of claim and counter-claim, with the Spaniard Esteban Jose Martinez asserting that the Spanish were the first to occupy Yuquot with their fort San Miguel, and the British represented by trader James Colnett wondering what happened to the buildings erected by his partner, John Meares the year before. The two governments battled it out in a document known as the Nootka Convention, which drew of the history of exploration to the area.

Ultimately, Captain George Vancouver would be tasked with trying to bring resolution to the occupation in 1792, when he visited Nootka Sound to discuss the matter with Juan Fransisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Neither Captain felt they could resolve the issue and left it to their respective governments. The interesting thing is, that in the end, both countries decided not to stay there and the Mowachaht happily took back the property where the Spanish fort had been erected once the Spanish left.

My presentation is pictorial, and I discuss the ins and outs of European notions of occupation in detail. The Crisis was a drama played out at a location remote from any European government, that almost resulted in war. Perhaps because Quadra and Vancouver were excessively polite with each other and like each other, war was averted. Who knows what might have happened if either man became heavy-handed about the issue?