NOTE: This article is a condensed version of a more detailed, documented history of Gabriola's wharves, also written by Jenni Gehlbach. It was published in Issue 27 (December, 2013) of SHALE, the journal of Gabriola Historical and Museum Society.

Gabriola's wharves

As far as any Snunéymuxw Elders could remember a few years ago, "Gabriola Island" never had a name before the Europeans came, although certain locations on the island did. There was nothing special about being an island—just like any other place on the coast, you could only get there by boat. Canoes can of course come ashore on any beach, and that all of Gabriola’s beaches have ancient middens at their head testifies that they once did. European settlers arriving in the mid-nineteenth century continued to travel everywhere by canoe at first, but the growing trade between Gabriola and Vancouver Island called for larger vessels to transport families and their possessions, farm produce and farm animals, freight and mail; and these bigger boats required wharves and permanent floats out beyond the low-tide mark.

Major public and neighbourhood private wharves were built in the sheltered waters of Degnen Bay, at both ends of False Narrows, and in Descanso Bay. Silva Bay has been home to several commercial wharves as well as private ones. Several large private wharves, widely used, were constructed around the Twin Beaches Peninsula (Gabriola Sands), and a substantial wharf once stood briefly in Clark Bay. Many of these wharves have been controversial, and some were short-lived.

In 1874 there were around 20 European settlers living on the island; among them, Thomas Degnen and Robert Gray who had settled in the southeast corner of Gabriola, near what became Degnen Bay. Thomas McGuffie’s land in mid-island stretched along False Narrows and included the location of the future Green Wharf. (His land also included what became Brickyard Beach when the brickyard started operating in the mid-1890s.) Settlers Henry Goss and John Penberthy-White were closer to Descanso Bay, which was then called Rocky Bay. All three of these areas became hot contenders for the location of a public wharf.

This article traces the history of Gabriola's wharves in five areas:

gabriola shorelines
Gabriola and nearby islands' shorelines and channels

Wharves in Northumberland Channel

The first public wharf on Gabriola was built in 1878 on the south side of the island at Percy Anchorage in the Northumberland Channel, across from Dodd Narrows. It was known officially as the Gabriola Wharf, but islanders then knew it as the Big Wharf, the Government Wharf, or simply The Wharf.  Names like Centre Wharf and Green Wharf came later, not until the 20th century.

green wharf 2010
Green Wharf in 2010

Prior to government involvement, the roads connecting the south-east and north-west ends of Gabriola and various private wharves were rough trails. In the 1870s, the scattered residents were seeking government money to improve them. Already we read of varied priorities being voiced for the two ends of the island, and can foresee the future differing opinions about how and where Gabriola’s community facilities should be built. The July 7, 1875 edition of the Nanaimo Free Press wrote:

Nearly all the settlers of Gabriola Island attended a meeting called by Mr. Fawcett, Government Agent, at Mr. McGuffie’s residence, yesterday afternoon.  The purpose of the meeting was to decide how the $500 government grant for roads, etc. should be spent. It was duly moved, seconded, and carried that one half of the grant be expended at [the] west end and the other half at the east end. Mr. McLay was elected foreman for the west end and Mr. Martin foreman for the east end of the Island. After the customary vote of thanks the meeting adjourned.

The phrase “roads, etc.” must have also indicated wharves, because negotiations soon began about the location of a wharf suitable to serve all Gabriolans.  

Gabriola Wharf—1878

On Saturday, May 4, 1878, the Nanaimo Free Press reported:

Gabriola Island Wharf
Mr. Mahood, C.E., proceeded to this island on Wednesday and examined three places for the proposed public wharf. The particulars will be sent to the Lands and Works Department, which will decide upon the site. The construction of this wharf will be a great boon to the settlers, as it will enable them to get their products to market.

On May 22, the Land and Works Department invited tenders “up to June 3rd for the construction of a wharf on Gabriola Island at the upper end of False Narrows, abreast of Dodd Narrows”. The location of the wharf had no doubt been an attempt to reconcile the conflicting needs of those at the south and north ends of the island, and the need to provide a convenient landing place for mail steamers travelling between Nanaimo and Victoria.

On June 12, 1878, a contract was signed between Forbes George Vernon, BC’s Chief Commissioner of Public Works, and Alexander James McLellan of Nanaimo to: "…find all plant, labour, and materials necessary to erect, build, make, repair, carry on, and complete a wharf on Gabriola Island…" He and his partners posted a $400 bond to guarantee its completion by the end of that month and the Nanaimo Free Press reported that it was finished on June 26.

But Gabriolans are rarely satisfied by even such prompt accomplishments, especially if the decisions are arguably ill considered and the results shoddy. The road down to the new wharf was steep and treacherous.  Worse, already on October 11, 1879, we read in the Nanaimo Free Press that, “the wharf…is reported to be in a very dilapidated condition”.  This was a very rapid deterioration, and on October 25, a very long, sarcastic letter to the editor almost certainly written by James McLay under a pseudonym included the comment:

There seems to be a considerable amount of unappreciated and perhaps unmerited affection lavished for some time back on the settlers of Gabriola, and especially, in this case, with those on the north end of the island. The kindness at present being forced upon them is in the shape of a road—a grand, new and picturesque road—leading them several miles out of their usual course in reaching Nanaimo, their market. In fact, it is meant to lead them half way back down the island to that wharf—the pet wharf—which, according to some accounts, is already shaky about the knee-joints. Some people have the temerity to say, ‘That wharf has never been of any service nor ever will’. Well, this is scarcely correct, as I am almost certain there has been one man landed there, from the mail steamer too. But then, there is no use denying the fact that the consequences to that man were rather bad.  He was sorry afterwards for being landed there. And by the way, there is another service that the said wharf must get credit for. This is the third year that it has been the means of gobbling up all the money appropriated for the island’s roads… ”

How Gabriolans have always loved to write long, cantankerous letters to the editor! But both the wharf and the road to it continued to be judged inadequate. On September 15, 1880, the Nanaimo Free Press reported:

A meeting of the settlers of Gabriola Island was held at the wharf on Saturday.  M. Bray Esq., Government Agent was present. It was agreed that a trail be cut to the wharf and the balance of the appropriations divided between the upper and lower ends of the island.  Mr. Dignan [Degnen] for the lower end and Mr. Penberthy [Pemberthy-White] for the upper end, to superintend the expenditure of the money.

Five months later, on February 23, 1881, a Public Works report for Nanaimo District said that: “The road and trails from the wharf to the upper end of Gabriola Island have been repaired, and new bridges and culverts made…"

Gabriola Wharf—1883

Serious complaints continued about the wharf’s state of repair and location for a couple more years, and on September 5, 1883, the Nanaimo Free Press reported:

Mr. Raybould, M.P.P., Mr. Bray (Asst. Commissioner of Lands and Works) and Mr. S. Price (Road Superintendent) visited Gabriola Wharf on Saturday in the steamer Nellie Taylor. They chose as the site for the proposed new wharf, a spot about 200 yards nearer this city than the present location. By this change a better wharf can be constructed and an approach easily made.

Several tenders for the construction of the proposed wharf were sent to Victoria for consideration, including the lowest bid by Gabriolan, Richard Chapple, which was accepted. Chapple lived along False Narrows so no doubt had a vested interest in doing a good job. The contract between Bray and Chapple was signed on September 22, and on September 25, Alexander Shaw and Magnus Edgar posted a $350 bond that it would be completed by November 15.

The contract specified that the wharf was to be “300 yards west of the present one”, not 200 yards as reported in the newspaper. It actually ended up being 260 yards [0.24 km] west, with the terrain calling the shots. The builder was to re-use any good timbers and planks from the existing wharf and told where and how to pile the unused timbers. The dimensions of the approach ramp and wharf, of the float, pilings, stringers, and caps were all precisely specified, as were the bolt dimensions and the number of spikes to be driven at various connection points. The height above low water was to be 18 feet. So, Gabriola would have a sturdy new wharf suitable for steamers.

Mail service

On May 17, 1884, The Victoria Times Colonist carried an invitation from E.H. Fletcher, Acting Inspector at the Victoria Post Office, to submit tenders by June 5 for a contract “for the conveyance of Her Majesty’s Mails”.  The mail was to be carried three times a week each way between Nanaimo and Victoria, calling at North Saanich, Cowichan, Maple Bay, Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island, Chemainus, and Gabriola Island. The contract was awarded to the Sydney and Nanaimo Transportation Company

Puzzlingly, June lewis Harrison, in her book on Gabriola’s history, writes:

On October 1, 1884, Alexander Shaw Sr. signed a contract with the Government for the mail service, and the contract was written as the ‘Gabriola Island and Wharf’ service… Alexander Shaw would row to Nanaimo to obtain whatever packages there were and bring them safely to the Island.  Of course, the northern end of Gabriola looked after its own mail, and later Bob Hoggan, with his boat brought the post to the north.

This story seems odd because the Sidney & Nanaimo Transportation Co. had already been contracted to call at Gabriola en route to and from Nanaimo.  Perhaps Shaw’s role was simply to collect and distribute the mail from the new Gabriola Wharf to the south end.

More wharf repairs

The relocated wharf quickly developed its own troubles because marine worms rapidly attacked its piles.  Only three years after its construction, on August 25, 1886, we read:

Our attention has been drawn to the fact that the Gabriola Wharf is greatly in need of some new fender piles and, if left in its present state, will undoubtedly become a wreck during the coming winter.  If such is the case, the government officials should see that the wharf is made secure at once.  It is a great convenience to the settlers, and quite a sum of public money has been expended in making a road thereto.  We feel certain that the government will not allow the wharf to be jeopardized for the sake of the slight expense of a few piles.

Early in September, the SS Amelia brought a pile driver over to the island, and the Nanaimo Free Press reported on September 29 that Chapple and McGuffie had completed the repairs.

An August 1887 Nanaimo newspaper report about the second wharf on False Narrows indicated continuing dissatisfaction with the road to the wharf. Still, clearly the wharf was in regular use, because a timetable from the People’s Steam Navigation Company that took effect July 31, 1888, says that the SS Amelia was scheduled to leave Victoria on Wednesdays at 7:00 a.m. bound for Comox, calling at Saanich, Bourgoyne Bay, Vesuvius Bay, Chemainus, Gabriola Island, Nanaimo, and Denman Island, returning via the same ports of call at 2:00 p.m.

The wharf continued in regular use by Gabriolans, Mudge Islanders, and by visitors.  The Nanaimo Free Press reported on July 29, 1889:

had by the ‘Bradfords’ yesterday at Gabriola
Yesterday morning a party, numbering twenty-three, boarded the fine yacht Rover shortly before nine o'clock and started for Gabriola Island to play a friendly game of baseball with the ‘Big Island’ boys.  The wind was very light and hardly any headway was made until after the point of Protection Island was rounded when a stiff breeze was encountered from the gulf. The trip from here to the wharf was greatly enjoyed by all the party, with the exception of one or two who commenced to feel ‘squamish’ from the pitching of the yacht…

Just before reaching the wharf the steamer Empire was passed, which had come through Dodd’s Narrows, and, in response to three hearty cheers by the baseballists, Captain Butier responded by blowing the steamer’s whistle. The wharf was reached at 10:30 o'clock, and wagons were in waiting to convey the party to the scene of the coming conflict, some four miles distance. Arriving at Jim Martin's ranch, a halt was made and his liberality was displayed by the generous manner in which he served pies, crackers, cakes, milk, etc. to the now hungry party… The home trip was made in the evening by way of Bigg’s Portage [a boat canal cut through Jack Point], the party arriving home at 9:30 o'clock.  

The wharf’s dominant role in Gabriola’s maritime infrastructure faded in 1891, when a new government-funded wharf was built at Rocky Bay (later called Descanso Bay). The False Narrows wharf could no longer simply be called “Gabriola Wharf”, but it remained in service and in need of regular maintenance.

Green Wharf in the early-20th century

The wharf at False Narrows near Dodd Narrows was clearly marked on a chart made by Capt. Parry in 1904 during a British naval survey of the area, and for the first decade of the twentieth century, a reliable steamer service used the wharf on its mail run between Victoria and Nanaimo via the Gulf Islands. A 1903 timetable for the Sidney and Nanaimo Transportation Co. has the SS Iroquois connecting at Sidney with the Victoria and Sidney Railway train from Victoria.  It then headed for Nanaimo on Mondays and Thursdays, making seven other stops, including Gabriola.  On Tuesday and Friday, it ran back to Victoria from Nanaimo.  June Harrison mentions that the SS Iroquois was popular on Gabriola in part because of her well-stocked bar when she arrived at the "Big Wharf".

The SS Iroquois has a fairly dramatic history.  In 1910, it foundered on the rocks near Jack Point so that its stern was almost completely submerged. Surprisingly this accident caused little damage and she was soon back in service.  But on April 11, 1911, the SS Iroquois did not fare so well.  She sank for good off Sidney in a strong southeaster, losing all her cargo, including 20 cases of pickled pigs’ tails, her coal ballast, and, tragically, 21 of her passengers, who were unlisted.

Why "Green"?

Within living memory, Gabriolans and Mudge Islanders have always called the landing in the Northumberland Channel, “Green Wharf” or “Green’s Landing”.  Local historians have been puzzled by where and when this name originated because no Greens are listed on Gabriola or Mudge between 1881 and 1911, the name does not appear on censuses or voters’ lists, and there have been no prominent Greens in the area since.

The most likely explanation for the wharf’s name is that it took the name of the man who was the province’s Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works just after the turn of the century: Robert (Bob) Francis Green (1861–1946).  In the report on the Legislative Assembly in The Victoria Daily Colonist on Saturday December 12, 1903, we read that the Hon. R.F. Green (Conservative) had to answer a question from Mr. Paterson (Liberal, Gulf Islands):"

What proportion of the moneys appropriated for roads, streets, and bridges in South Nanaimo was spent on Gabriola Island each year since 1900, inclusive? 
The reply was:

    • 1900/01     456.75
    • 1901/02     536.25
    • 1902/03     5.00
    • 1903/04     223.25

The follow-up question was: "Were instructions, written or verbal, given to anyone other than the authorized superintendent regarding road work on Gabriola Island in …September 1903?”
Green’s brief reply was: "Government Agent, by public works engineer, to set aside $500.00 for roads on Gabriola Island to be taken from the district vote; arrangements to be made by department regarding foreman.

The election, which was the first provincial election to involve organized political parties, was held on October 3, 1903, so it sounds like there was a nasty suspicion that the pro-government candidates had been handing out pre-election goodies—my, oh my! In any case, Gabriolans didn’t take the bait, if that is what it was—they elected an opposition member. 

On January 28 1904, The Victoria Colonist reported from the Legislative Assembly:

Mr. Patterson complained bitterly of the appropriation of $2500 for roads, trails, and bridges for the Islands District. He wanted to know if the unspent vote for this district last year would be spent this year…  He pointed out that Gabriola Island had been added to the Islands constituency, the old North Victoria district, and this made it much more difficult to deal with.

That edition of the paper also reported: “Mr. Oliver also criticized the Lands and Works Department, and asked that drastic reforms be initiated there.  He had heard that the working of that department needed radical revision.”  The report continued:

Hon. Mr. Green asked the hon. member to have patience; the government had not yet had time to investigate everything in the department, but if Mr. Oliver would wait a year, the government would then be glad to hear his views…

So, R.F. Green appears to have been fairly new to his post and was about to shake it up a bit.

Green Wharf since the 1920s

Local journalist Frank Bond reported that the wharf on False Narrows had been managed by Public Works Canada since 1919.  Government documents show that responsibility for this wharf at “Gabriola Centre” was transferred in 1929 to the Department of Marine and Fisheries.  That year the traffic at the wharf was reported to be “[a] gasoline passenger and freight launch three times a week and other private launches”.

An aerial photograph from 1932, clearly shows the wharf and the road leading down to it.  The wharf was reported to be in fair or good condition until 1934, when a few planks were replaced and in 1936, it was deemed in good condition.  The traffic reported in 1935 was “a small passenger boat six times a week, tow boats, and launches”. But by 1937, the annual Department of Marine report said the structure was in dangerous condition and no regular traffic was using it.  Despite this, letters were exchanged about the possible appointment of a wharfinger to be paid from tolls levied, but nothing came of it.

Although government reports in 1942 and 1945 said it was in bad condition and had “evidently not been used for some time”, a Davenport map of the Nanaimo-Alberni district still had a wharf marked (wh) at this location after its 1946 revision.  Clearly, it must have been renovated by 1947 as government correspondence in March of that year about "Gabriola West Wharf" states that its superstructure had been renewed, the float was new, and it was being used by fishermen, local residents, pleasure craft, and vessels waiting for the tide in Dodd Narrows. The road to the wharf however was noted as needing repairs.

Frank Bond wrote that Public Works Canada replaced Green Wharf’s deteriorating docks and ramp again in 1950.  Bond added: “In 1954, they tried to hand responsibility of the facility to the province, but within months it reverted back to the federal government.

The Green Wharf Preservation Society records that Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) took over Green Wharf on September 17, 1954.  Frank Hackwood used to fish in False Narrows in the 1950s and 60s and remembers the wharf with its red (not green!) railings, and he told me that in those days it had a winch and a sufferance shed nearby for temporarily storing cargo.

The report in 1969 by the Department of Transport stated:

Guardrails require painting to preserve wood. Large log “hung up” between Approach bearing piles. Guardrails on gangway are loose (bolts need tightening). Floats will require renewal in near future.

Responsibility for the wharf’s upkeep has remained contentious. Bond was writing about Green Wharf in 1995 because the Federal Government was again trying to rid itself of responsibility for the wharf, but it was up to them to find an agency willing to accept that responsibility. Despite occasionally having used the wharf in emergencies, BC Ferries had no interest in taking it on. The province’s Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks could manage BC foreshore but had no mandate to manage facilities, so would need the wharf removed unless an agency could be found to manage it.  Mudge Islanders had been trying to save the wharf and had petitioned the Regional District of Nanaimo in May 1992 as soon as they learned the Federal Government wished to close it.

The Preservation Society’s notice continues:

Through a water lease with BC Lands, PWGSC improved the wharf and maintained it until 1988.  By that time BC Ferry service and other Gabriola wharves reduced the need for Green Wharf and it had begun to deteriorate. But because of development of subdivisions on Mudge Island, the need for access between Mudge and Gabriola began to increase.

PWGSC tried to divest itself of the wharf but public protests in the ’90s saved it from demolition.  Then the regional District of Nanaimo agreed to manage the wharf through a sub-lease with PWGSC, with volunteer support from Green Wharf Preservation Society.  The Society performed much of the volunteer labour, replacing the deteriorating government float, replacing decking, and clearing hazardous debris such as deadheads, etc.

Green Wharf is still in use at the time of writing (2011) and its location, accessibility, and maintenance were still controversial.  On March 1, 2010, The Gabriola Sounder had a lengthy article about whether the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) could and should own and operate the wharf:

At its latest regular meeting in Nanaimo, the Regional District Board has directed staff to move forward with the application to take on the ownership of Green’s Landing, commonly known as Green Wharf.

Gabriolans would be asked at some point in the next fiscal year to decide on paying an additional $4.10 per $100,000 on taxes to cover the cost of ownership. Carol Mason, Chief Administrative Officer for the RDN, also explained: "In order for the RDN to consider looking after it, we would need to acquire the water lot that the wharf is located on.  In addition, we would need to review our authority to operate a wharf service."

The newspaper report continued:

a survey done of the facility in 2008… indicated there will need to be ongoing major repairs…new floats and a new gangway will be needed soon and…repairs to the major structural components in the next 5 to 10 years could cost from $75 000 to $125 000. To cover the regular operation costs and to create a reserve to cover the major repair expenses, the RDN staff estimate that between $40 000 and $50 000 a year would be needed. This would be in addition to the $5360 that is currently collected from Area B taxes to pay for the Descanso Bay Emergency Wharf.…”

It seems little has changed since the late 1870s except that costs have gone up.

In 2011, discontent was particularly focussed on road access to Green Wharf.  On July 25, The Flying Shingle reported that PWGSC wanted to divest itself of the wharf but were not willing to pay both to dismantle the current one and to build a new one.  They were spending “about $150 000” to improve the current wharf, leaving road access as is.  But Malcolm James claims that his family has been patient “for over thirty years”, and that Wharf Road has encroached on his land by “up to 30 feet. He claims the road destabilises the slope, and they are not willing to allow any more realignments of the road on their property. Needing to re-assert his family’s ownership of the land, he has erected warning signs that wharf users parking alongside the road where it crosses his property could be towed.

In 2012 Wharf Road, connecting South Road to the federal dock, Green Wharf, was secured by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure as a public road. In a letter to the Green Wharf Preservation Society MOTI noted that while making a public road:

…ensures the legal standing of the roadway, what has not changed is the parking situation.  Parking is still restricted to the uphill half of Wharf Road, including the parking area built up by the ministry at the Wharf and South roads junction

MOTI however also noted that the ministry appreciates that access to Green Wharf is very important as the wharf has provided Mudge Island residents with water access from Gabriola Island to Mudge Island for several decades.

Coats Wharf—1971

The Coats family has a significant private wharf a kilometre or so west of Green Wharf, opposite Dodd Narrows, nestled amongst the log booms at the foot of the sandstone cliffs below Hoggan Lake. A concrete boat ramp is just north of the dock, and both are well used, not just by the Coats family. When the ferry was unavailable for emergency medical transportation to Nanaimo, the Gabriola ambulance often had to use the long rough road down to Coats Wharf before the official emergency dock was built in Descanso Bay.

This wharf is near the waterfall where the brothers David and William Hoggan first made landing by canoe in the 1860s when they explored Gabriola.  They preempted the land around what became Hoggan Lake, and blasted the outlet to lower the lake’s level and to create more arable land.  
David and William Hoggan died without children, and their brother Alexander’s family had settled near Descanso Bay.

Bill Coats, who came to Gabriola in 1912, is best known for his store at Descanso Bay near the Farmers Landing, and for owning the land on which the millstone quarry operated in the early 1930s.  The last Gabriola land that enterprising Bill Coats bought (in the 1930s) was the land preempted by William and David Hoggan, though Bill never lived there himself. Eventually, Bill’s son Clyde built his family home there overlooking the lake, cleaned the lake out because it had become clogged with hunters’ debris, and the family still generates electricity from the waterfall to feed into the grid. Clyde told me that he blasted the road out down to the water and put the wharf in when he was about 30 years old— around 1971.

Coats Wharf
Coats Wharf in Northumberland Channel

This 1968 aerial photo shows a rough road angling down among the trees and a docking area where Coats Wharf is today. You can see Hoggan Lake in the top right corner of the photo, and the log booms below, with the dock in the middle.

Wharfs at the Maples and Degnen Bay

The wharf at the Maples

Aerial view (BC1437.23) of the wharf at the Maples
in 1951 with a large barge moored nearby

At the southeast end of False Narrows, at the foot of the hill near the Community Hall is a shallow bay locally known as the Maples where there was once a well-used wharf. The shore there is suitable for wharf construction, so it seems likely that the early landowner would have constructed one. We don’t know when it was first built, but June Lewis Harrison writes:

The wharf at the Maples had been discussed as far back as 1894 as a suitable landing and docking area for a larger boat and the ranchers at the south end were anxious that something better be done for their needs.

The preemptor of the land in that area was Magnus Edgar and on September 10, 1891, The Nanaimo Free Press reported:

At the invitation of the Lower End Settlers, all the settlers of Gabriola Island have been invited to a grand pic-nic to be given at “The Maples,” (Mr. Magnus Edgar) a beautiful spot on the banks of the False Narrows.  A gala time is expected, as all are entering into the reunion with earnestness and in a jovial spirit.

There is no mention of a wharf at the Maples in that 1891 article, but there was certainly one there by the 1920s. When writing about the Gabriola arguments in the late 1920s about which wharf an official ferry service should use, June Harrison said: "The ranchers at the south end began to agitate for The Maples Wharf to be fixed as there were sizeable launches being used and they wanted a safer mooring."

Dated June 6, 1929, a letter from the Department of Public Works transferring administration of wharves and floating landings to the Minister of Marine & Fisheries lists “Gabriola Centre” (Green Wharf), North Gabriola Island (Descanso Bay), and “Maples BC”, although the latter might possibly refer to Maple Bay near Duncan.

The first pictorial record I have found of The Maples Wharf was in Peggy Lewis Imredy’s contribution to the history of Gabriola.  Under a picture of the wharf, she wrote:

…we first lived near here; the house can be seen in the background.  I remember seeing the Atrevida coming up the channel on her maiden voyage, and waiting ‘til it was time to go to the North end for the ceremonies.  Bill (Capt.) Higgs found an Indian skull jutting out of the ground in the ditch at the side of the road”.

The remark about the Atrevida’s maiden voyage dates the memoir as 1931, and another picture of people is captioned, “…at the Maples…1931”.  And a quote from the 1939 school newsletter Anecho, says: “There has been a new float put in at the Maples.”

Text Box: Pictures of the dock at the Maples are hard to come by. This familiar undated one appears to be all that has survived. Gabriola Museum 1997.008.010

Wharves require lots of upkeep, and without specifying dates, June Harrison wrote:

The popular wharf at the Maples was constantly maintained by the local residents and would become the subject of much controversy later on when attempts to keep the Maples in use were to come about.

Hazel Windecker (née Cox, 1929) says that Mudge Islanders often used The Maples Wharf and she remembers travelling as a child between the Maples and Mudge Island in Breezy,the speedboat owned by her uncle William “Punch” Cox.  The picture below is of Peggy Imredy Lewis as a girl with her friends, moored at the Maples Wharf in 1931.

Text Box: Some “People of Gabriola” at The Maples Wharf in 1931.  Left–Right: Maud Logan (Logan Bay is at the end of Stalker), Peggy Lewis (grand-daughter of James & Mary Lewis who bought preemptor Aaron Martin’s land on the west side of Degnen Bay), Dick Edgar (grandson of preemptor Magnus Edgar), Walter Logan, Babs Lewis (Peggy’s sister), John Finnamore (best known these days for being photographed firing the kiln at the brick factory).  Mrs. Poyner’s house in background. 	Gabriola Island—Gabriola Three Schools Reunion 1984, p.118.

A 1946 Davenport map of the Nanaimo Alberni district has a wharf marked (“wh”) at this location but Neil Aitken and Aula Bell wrote in Gabriola Place Names that the wharf at the Maples ended its life in the early 1950s. Certainly, an aerial map from 1951 clearly shows the wharf at the Maples with a large float or barge is nearby; but a similar aerial map from 1962 shows no dock in this location.

Wharves in Degnen Bay

Degnen Bay today (Wikimapia)

Several of the earliest European settlers farmed the south-east end of Gabriola and were clustered near beautiful, sheltered Degnen Bay and along what became Peterson Road.  The Gray and Degnen families settled on the shores of the bay—Degnen on the northeast of the bay and Robert Gray on the west and northwest.  Henry Peterson and Alexander Shaw settled inland, north of them, and across to the forested cliffy north shore of Gabriola.

Degnen Bay is called "Degnen’s Cove” in one early map, and on a 1930 hand-drawn copy of part of Admiralty Chart No. 3618, the bay is called “Dingmans Cove”, a name used apparently by members of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.  Their chart shows a public wharf and the Degnen family’s farmland at that time, and marks the “South Gabriola P.O.” at the location of the Gray family’s farm. Modern marine charts show the public and commercial wharves in the bay and also mark old pilings in front of the Gray family's farm, where their wharf once was.

Degnen Bay in the mid-19th century

Thomas Degnen was about 30 years old when he came to Gabriola.  He had arrived in Victoria in the mid-1850s and preempted his first Gabriola land in 1862. He and Robert Gray were both Irish immigrants who had rejected the life of coalminers in Nanaimo, and both acquired good farming land with access to the waters of Degnen Bay. In 1868, Degnen married Jane Janimetga, the Cowichan woman who reputedly had first brought him over to Gabriola by boat. June Harrison wrote:

Thomas Degnen wasted no time in finding a solid dugout canoe, purchased the worthy craft and brought it to Gabriola.  It was a sturdy canoe, capable of carrying two tons, propelled by 12’ sweeps. Five of the nearby ranchers were always on hand to man the sweeps, while Thomas Degnen and Robert Gray manned the steering sweep. This craft proved to be a boon to the farmers, and Degnen would call along the shore to pick up neighbours and their goods.

Much of the shoreline of Degnen Bay is gently sloped and would have allowed easy canoe launch and landing—no need for an elaborate wharf at first. The journey from Nanaimo took 4 or 5 hours apparently, and Harrison writes: “Degnen’s canoe was one of the first means of transportation between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo.”

But what about larger freight and animals?  Old-timers told June Harrison that:
Scows made of logs lashed carefully together, provided a flatbed for bringing ploughs, hardware, oxen, cattle and sheep over to the ranchers.  Careful steering would make the precarious voyage a safe one, although there are many stories of horses swimming ashore.

By 1871, Thomas Degnen had acquired a more substantial boat—the Patsy I and had a wharf at Degnen Bay. Harrison reports:

“The Patsy I was an excellent steam launch that would carry some forty passengers and a considerable amount of produce...and his son James worked as the engineer. …One day, when the Patsy I was being repaired at the Degnen wharf, a sudden fire brought about its destruction when it burned to the waterline….”

Thomas Degnen’s great grandson Gordon McDonald told me that his family’s original wharf was tucked into the protected northeast corner of the bay, below their house.  He says that the ramp sloped down near the petroglyph carved into the sandstone. The stories about old mail services indicate that boats were coming into Degnen Bay throughout the 1870s and 80s and, presumably, docking at the Degnen or Gray families' wharves. 

Public wharves in Degnen Bay

It is not clear when public money was first used to build or maintain wharves at Degnen Bay, but there must have been a pretty substantial public wharf there in the mid-1890s because on July 26, 1896 the Victoria Daily Colonist announced:

Nanaimo, July 25
R. Nightingale is constructing a large pile-driver for the provincial government.  It will first be employed to repair the south wharf at Gabriola Island.

Steamers sometimes came into Degnen Bay in the 1890s. Helen Hill-Tout (née Taylor), who lived as a child in Taylor Bay, told June Harrison about her Christmas trip to Victoria in 1896:

Of course, we could have gone to Nanaimo and taken the train (E and N) but Dad knew Captain Gardiner of the SS City of Nanaimo who would be calling in at Degnen Bay in early December.  We had to trek the ten miles to Degnen Bay on foot. I walked part of the way but we took our toy wagon…and I was pulled by Dad in the wagon. Ten miles is a long, tiring walk and too much for even a tough little girl barely five years old.

The schedules for the SS City of Nanaimo for December 1896 published in the Victoria Daily Colonist read:  “Leave Nanaimo for Victoria Saturdays at 7 a.m.”, giving no details of intervening ports of call, so it is not clear whether Degnen Bay was a regular port of call.  Its local route is a puzzle too—it’s hard to imagine substantial steamers negotiating tricky tidal currents in False Narrows with its reefs or Gabriola Passage on a regular basis, though they did go through Dodd Narrows.

But, as late as 1930, people at the south end were apparently still dependent on the Gray or Degnen families for transportation to and from Nanaimo.  In a letter petitioning the authorities for improved boat or ferry service, on February 16, 1930, Mrs Euphemia Shaw wrote about their difficulties, saying, “we have only one boat a week from this end and that is through the kindness of Mr. James Gray”.

The government wharf in Degnen Bay

Included in the Hansard record of Canada’s Parliamentary proceedings on June 14, 1929 is a list of “Public works chargeable to income, Harbours and Rivers” for British Columbia. Amongst the approved constructions is “Degnen’s Bay—float”.  June Harrison writes: “In 1929, the federal government installed a wharf at the northeasterly end of Degnen Bay, and the road leading to the wharf was upgraded.” Although this wharf was not among the BC marine construction and repairs listed in October 1929, it appears ("a") in a 1932 aerial photograph.

Text Box: Degnen Bay in 1932. (a) Government Wharf; (b) Degnen; (c) Taylor (formerly Martin); (d) Gray; (e) Lewis? (formerly Martin); (f) Snunéymuxw village.  Old surveying annotations—Rock, Tur[nabout], Vil[lage], Isle, Log—are red on the original contact print.  Adapted from UBC Geog. Dept. A4530-33

The Gabriola Museum Archive has some interesting early but undated photographs of the federal government wharf in Degnen Bay.  The following photo shows a steamer docked at the government wharf.

Degnen Bay Government Wharf (undated)
Photo courtesy of Gabriola Museum archive 1995.003.005.11)

Hugh Tufnail thought that the vessel at the back behind the dock was probably a fish-buying camp; he said it looks just like the Norpac camp that used to be at Les Page’s in Silva Bay. Hugh told me that the grid beside the government dock was built by his father Roy Tufnail (who came to Gabriola in 1934 when he was only 17) with local fishermen including Randy and Bill Thompson.

There is also a good undated photograph of a large group of relaxed people gathered at the landward end of the Government Wharf, with the wood planks looking quite fresh. Judging by their clothes, it's probably from the 1930s. A much later colour photo shows the typical red railings used on federal wharfs and piers in the 20th century.

Text Box: Waiting for a ferry in Degnen Bay; judging by their clothes, in the 1930s.  Gabriola Museum 1995.017.001

Port and harbour management

Canada’s National Harbours Board was created in 1936 to centrally manage Canada’s ports and harbours. The Harbour Commissions Act of 1964 provided significant local autonomy with major expenses to be approved by Canada Transport and the Minister of Public Works responsible for major repairs.  

In 1973, more than 2000 public harbours and government wharves were transferred to the Department of the Environment and throughout the 1970s and 80s the federal government moved toward a policy of devolution for ports and harbours. Responsibility for managing small harbours was shifted to local groups such as the Degnen Bay Harbour Authority, but with federal monies still available for significant repairs.

Private wharves in Degnen Bay

In the 1932 aerial photo, Degnen Bay’s low-lying shores are surrounded by farmland.  You can see the curve of what is now South Road turning back inland at the top of the picture and side road (Martin Road) that turns off at Gossip Corner down toward the tip of the northeastern arm of the bay where Thomas Degnen’s house and wharf had been in the 1870s. You can just see a very small dock ("b") near that end of the bay in 1932, and there is a big private dock ("c") in the narrow cove on the opposite side, across from the Government Wharf.  There are also private docks visible on the long shore ("e") and off Gray’s property ("d").  

Hugh Tufnail said that the long private wharf (c) in the narrow cove in the aerial picture most probably belonged to William Taylor who had a fish boat and owned land near Hugh's father. Hugh was born in 1953 and says the Tufnails had their dock a little further along the shore, with steps down to it, and in his boyhood, their dock was the only one in Degnen Bay apart from the Government Wharf.

Roy Tufnail also owned a pile driver and a landing barge with big skids, so he worked on various docks and also brought large keel beams from Chemainus to Withey’s Shipyard in Silva Bay. Hugh told me that the small V-shaped structure visible in the 1932 aerial photo near their cove was a set of “stiff-leg” booms designed to keep logs away from the beach—there had been a log dump there.

The substantial private commercial wharf that is now next to the Degnen Bay Government Wharf is not shown on aerial photos up to 1957 and Margaret Hesthammer says it was still not there when she first came to live in the area in 1976. Peggy Parkinson, who came to Degnen Bay in 1966, says that in the 1980s Steven and Margaret “Mugs” Taylor held the water lot lease there and had a slip where people could haul out and work on their boats. After the Taylors, John Bateson maintained and managed the enlarged wharf.

In 1966, Peggy and Roy Parkinson became partners with their friends Ernie and Elsa Creamer, and Al and Jen MacNeill to buy Roy and Betty Tufnail’s land. Parkinson’s group were long-term close friends and business partners and they built their wharf together as soon as they got their land, coming up from Victoria on vacations and weekends to do so. Their wharf was on the little cove’s shore opposite the Tufnails’ dock. Peggy told me: “When we first came, we had lots of boating friends in Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo and sometimes we had as many as 13 boats tied up at our dock.” Hugh said the Parkinson group shared the access ramp down to their wharf.

There are several private docks in the north-eastern arm of Degnen Bay now. About a half-dozen are accessed from Bevmaril Crescent or Martin Road near where it meets South Road. Also, a prominent cantilevered metal ramp to a float has recently been built on land that previously belonged to Palmer the boat-builder, and Peggy Parkinson says there are now three docks in their little cove.

Degnen Bay, 2009, Google Earth

Wharves in Silva Bay

John Silva's Portuguese name was Jacque De Almeida. He was a fisherman born in Lisbon in 1845. He was married to Louisa Marilee (Maralee, Marelee), a member of the Cowichan Tribes. In the 1880s, he preempted the land around Silva Bay after having moved from Mayne Island. He also bought land at the northeast tip of Gabriola from Henry Peterson and his wife Jane, who was another First Nation settler. We have no record of any wharves those families may have built.

In an undated postcard photograph of the Silva farm, possibly from the 1920s, you can see a float and ramp on Law Point (previously Banyan Point) and a derelict wharf on the far left. Someone is rowing a boat on the far right.

1920s (?) postcard photo of Silva Bay farm and Law Point

Private wharves in Silva Bay in the 1930s

A hand-drawn 1930 chart of the Flat Top Islands marks the whole bay as “Anchorage”.  The only “landing” marked is south of what we now called Law Point (Banyan Point on the old chart). The part of Silva Bay’s shore that later was home to Withey’s Shipyard and Silva Bay Marina is still simply marked as a clam bed in 1930. Sear Island is called Passage Island, and Tugboat Island is called Shelter Island, the local names familiar to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club (RVYC) at the time.

Text Box: Part of Chart of the Flat Top Islands & Vicinity enlarged from Admiralty Chart 3618 (now CHS 3475) with RVYC local names and notes.  Drawn by R.W. Purves & dated April 1930.  Gabriola Museum Archives

In a reminiscence of the Law family published in Gabriola Island—Gabriola Three Schools Reunion, Annie Silva Koehler, Joe Silva’s daughter, includes a picture (shown below) with caption “my father’s boat Silva Bay II at Laws’ wharf.”  This small wharf was near Law Point. Another photo from Gabriola Museum's archive (P2003 004 006) shows an unknown woman rowing near J.E. Silva (Ed Silva)'s float with the Law family's boatshed in the background.

The Law family's wharf and boatshed

A 1932 aerial photograph of Silva Bay shows the large clearing around the Silva family’s farmhouse and their float; the Law family's wharf is also faintly visible in the cove on the south side of Law Point. A later family picture of swimmers shows the Law family’s boat Westgyle tied up at their wharf. Date unknown, but probably before the second World War.

The Silva family's farm and float, and the Law family wharf and boat

Fish-buying wharves in the 1930s and 40s

From 1934 until they were forcibly evacuated in 1942, Kanshiro Koyama and his family operated a store and fish-buying wharf in Silva Bay. Phyllis Reeve, whose family now owns Page’s Resort and Marina, wrote:

The Koyamas, like the Pages, were fishermen, and their store, listed in the Gabriola directory as a general store …was also a fishing-buying wharf, trading at least as much with boaters as with landlubbers. … Two buildings sat on floats close to the shore.

…two Japanese families, named Haminaka and Koyama, began a fish camp and store in Silva Bay. Most of the business was on floats, with a tiny piece of land leased from Art Millward.…The Haminaka family lived on the dock in a building 16 × 24 feet, constructed of dark shiplap…A separate building 20 × 24 feet, also on the dock, was the first store.

Koyama's store and fish-buying wharf at Silva Bay in 1938
(photo courtesy Peggy Imredy Lewis)

The Japanese families who ran their pre-war store and fish-buying wharf never returned to Gabriola after their wartime internment inland in 1942. In 1944, their property became the “home and headquarters” of brothers Les and Jack Page and Jack’s family and fish-buying continued in Silva Bay. A 1948 letter from BC’s Department of Public Works about Gabriola’s ferry berthing at the CPR dock in Nanaimo and about the transportation of perishable goods mentions some of the fish-buying wharves at Silva Bay:

The Sears Store and Fish Buying Wharf is at the far end of the island and supplies are brought in by fish boats, etc. …The Page Store and Fish Buying Wharf is in the same category….

Adding to this, Fred Withey told the Silva Bay Yacht Club in 2004 about his childhood memories of the late 1940s:

At that time there was a small store run by Henry Halverson who lived with his wife Anita in the back, a fish buyer who sold to Canadian Fish Company, a small set of floats, and a coffee shop run by Bea and Ben Bodaker.  The store sold gas for Imperial Oil and Page’s sold Standard Oil. I used to watch the tankers coming in at night as they shone their spotlights in my window.  The fish packers used to come in once or twice a week to pick up the fish and drop off ice…

Page's Resort and Marina

Page's fish-selling wharfIronically, after the war other Japanese fishermen became frequent visitors to Page Bros. Store and Fishcamp. Phyllis Reeve, whose family has run Page’s Resort and Marina since 1987, wrote its history in SHALE, Issue 6. Reeve reported that "the Pages made a deal for 1944–5 with the London Fish Company for the use of a packing boat and the sale of fish."

Hazel Windecker (née Cox), who is Alexander Hoggan's great-granddaughter, has this photograph of her brother Thomas (Bill) Cox selling fish from Page’s wharf with Jim Easthom just after the war.

By 1957, when Jack Page suddenly died, the fish camp was already being transformed into Page’s Resort and Marina with extensive berthing facilities and marine gas supplies, as well as a campground and vacation cottages.

After they bought the marina in 1987, Ted and Phyllis Reeve continued to develop it, adding considerably to its charm and its cultural value to Gabriola with a bookstore and art studio in their home, holding book launches, art shows, and classical concerts.

The marina and resort are now owned and managed by the next generation of the Reeve family, Gloria and Ken Hatfield. When asked what recent improvements have been made to Page’s Marina, Gloria wrote:

Since taking over Page’s in 2007, along with upgrades to dock and ramps, we added 300 linear feet of dock primarily to expand our capacity to welcome more and larger transient boating visitors to Page’s.  We now have over 2000 linear feet of moorage, which accommodates up to 80 vessels.

We also began monitoring the marine radio channel VHF66A year-round, which is of great assistance and allows many more boaters to find their way here.  We also expanded our fuel dock so that we could assist multiple boats simultaneously, which became a necessity.

In 2010 we were pleased to complement the scheduled flights into the bay by introducing charter floatplane service right to our docks from the Vancouver area though Van City Seaplanes.

Post-war developments

After World War II, Silva Bay became more closely tied to life on the rest of Gabriola, and also an important source of employment other than fishing and logging. June Harrison writes: “In 1945, work was finally authorized to begin the connecting link to join the North and South Roads at Silva Bay and $3,600 was allotted to complete the task.”  Silva Bay was now more efficiently connected by land to the rest of the island.

A 1957 aerial photograph of Silva Bay shows an elaborate wharf structure in the cove under Law Point, of which there is almost no trace today. There is also a rectangular float due south of Law Point and a short straight wharf where the Boatel and Store were. Private wharves are on the southwest shore of Tugboat Island and the west shore of Sear Island. What was to become Silva Bay Marina is still just a single wing-shaped log float. You can see Page’s Resort and Marina’s long wharf meandering mostly parallel to the shore (opposite the tip of Sear Island), but the most elaborate structure on Silva Bay in 1957 is the 325-foot long wharf and buildings of Withey’s Shipyard.

Text Box: Silva Bay 1957	BC2244:79

Withey's shipyard wharf

Text Box: The shipyard wharf in the 1950s—ways on the right were later moved to the left—with the Withey family home in the background on the far left.

Norm Sear, a Silva Bay landowner and fisherman, went into business with newly arrived Les Withey in 1945, opening a shipyard on the Sear property. A few years later, Les Withey became the sole owner of the shipyard. The full story of Withey and his Gabriola shipyards is told in Withey’s Shipyard at Silva Bay” in SHALE 22, January, 2010.

Withey built lots of fishing boats, several large wooden harbour craft for the navy, and many private yachts, employing significant numbers of locals. He built ways and a wharf for the shipyard and extensive floating docks for the marina that he developed over the next two decades.

In Withey’s Shipyard at Silva Bay, we read that:

One of Les Withey’s enterprises in the 1950s was helping to work out a deal for the 105-foot cargo and passenger vessel Lady Rose to have Silva Bay as one of its stops on its weekly voyage out of Steveston. …Withey wanted to see Gabriola become a famous vacation spot… Part of the Lady Rose deal was to haul livestock feed and store it in the empty shed beside the dock. Local farmers would (they hoped) buy the feed and subsidize the service.

Alas, this Lady Rose service to Gabriola only ran for a year or two in the 1950s.

Withey sold his shipyard in 1974 and it has had several owners since.  The glory days of wooden boats are over and the Silva Bay Shipyard is much smaller than it was, but it is still in operation.

Silva Bay Marina

Les Withey’s primary interest had been the shipyard, but in the 1960s he also began developing a marina with extensive pilings and docks, and a pub and restaurant. The Withey story records:

Into the 1960s, Withey’s Shipyard expanded the Marina from a few log floats to something closer to the size it is now. They also changed the location of the marine ways from the other side of the wharf ramp.

… Float pontoons were built using fibre-glassed wood with decking on top.  They had a contract with British American Gas to sell marine and auto fuel, using the first modern gas pump…”

Withey sold the marina in 1968 to Silva Bay Resorts, and it has continued to develop its docks and berths under several different owners and managers since then.  The owner at the time of writing (2011) was Silva Bay Resort and Marina and about its current capacity, manager Jenny Ireland then wrote:

It is difficult to say exactly how many berths Silva Bay Marina has as some of the docks are linear…footage and some are slips.…One way to describe it is as follows (depending on the size of the boats):
Permanent Moorage - approximately 2000' (approximately 52 boats)
Temporary Moorage - approximately 1658' (approximately 32 to 38 boats)”

Silva Bay, 2009, Google Earth

The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club wharf

There are extensive private docks on Tugboat Island just across from Silva Bay Marina, which are reserved for members of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. The Communications Officer at RVYC told me that:

…the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club purchased Tugboat Island in 1960 with a mandate to preserve and protect the natural habitats of indigenous flora and fauna.  Our 50th anniversary celebrations were highlighted by a work party together with nature conservancy agencies to replant species of wildflowers as well as tend the Garry Oak meadow.

Wharves on the north shore

The weather and sea can be fierce on the northern shore of Gabriola Island, exposed as most of it is to the open waters of the Strait of Georgia.  Several attempts have been made to build a wharf along this shore, but most haven’t lasted more than a few years.

Wharf at Clark Bay

A photograph in the Gabriola Museum Archives shows an elaborate wooden dock being built on the northern shore somewhere near Berry Point (Orlebar Point)—you can see Entrance Island in the background, as well as a two-funnel steamship.  

"Patricia Park" Wharf at Clark Bay

A hand-written caption on the photo “Patricia Park Wharf, North Gabriola” seems mysterious since there’s no such named park on the island. However, Russ Beattie thought that the ship might very well be the early CPR ship SS Princess Patricia, which had two funnels. (The later Princess Patricia vessel had three, as did the Princess Victoria.) Seeing this picture, John Capon, who lives close to that area, wrote: “I once heard that there was a dock at Darling's Point, at the end of Seagirt Road” and George Westarp, who lives on Seagirt, wrote that he too had been told that there had been a wharf at the end of his road, and he had found odd pieces of metal in the rocks there. He also wrote to Nick Doe about this photograph:

I am almost certain that it is the wharf that was built for the CPR steamers …at the end of Seagirt Road and succumbed to the winter storms relatively soon after construction.  In the background of the photo is Entrance Island when the light was on top of the light keeper’s house… I would guess that the wharf is post-1912 as that is the date of the subdivision along the shore of Section 22 and properties were bought by people from Vancouver. Some descendants still own summer places in the area. My guess would be that…the wharf was destroyed either before or during the first World War. Afterwards the economics did not justify a rebuild, similar to the abandonment of the CNR line construction to Port Alberni, which stopped at the outbreak of war and was never restarted.

Confirming one of these inspired “guesses” was a notice found in The Nanaimo Free Press dated June 18, 1913:

In the matter of the ‘Navigable Waters Protection Act’ revised statutes of Canada, Chapter 115, Notice is hereby given that I have deposited in the Land Registry Office at the City of Victoria, British Columbia, and with the Minister of Public Works in Ottawa, Canada, a plan showing a proposed wharf on the foreshore adjoining Lot 5 Block 6, and Lot 12 Block 5 in the subdivision of the North Half of Section 22 and the North Half of the Northwest Quarter of Section 23, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, and notice is further given that one month after the date of such deposit I shall apply to the Governor-in-Council for approval of the construction of such proposed wharf.
Dated this 1st day of May, A.D. 1913.
W.G. Morrison,
Trustee for Gabriola Island Syndicate, Vancouver, BC.

Which leaves us with another intriguing question—who were the Gabriola Island Syndicate? The only other reference I have found to them was in the Nanaimo Free Press on May 1, 1911, which printed this:

On December 9, 1910, 100 lbs of tobacco leaves was shipped out by a Gabriola Island Syndicate under the name ‘Nanaimo Mixture’.

Possibly the first Gabriola Island grow op needed a handier shipping point?  Anyway, I imagine the newspapers were too busy with the First World War to note the collapse of a Gabriola wharf in a storm.

Wharf in Peterson Bay?

A 1932 aerial photograph appears to show a substantial wharf in Peterson Bay where the Grande ("Grandee" to locals) Hotel was built in the 1950s, but the resolution of the picture is very poor and it might just be a natural feature. If there was a wharf there, it would have been built by Henry Peterson, the head of an, in-its-time, well-known, large, and reputedly colourful family.  Beyond that, the history of any wharf or wharves in Peterson Bay has now been lost. 

Wharves near Twin Beaches—1920s to 1950s

In Twin Beaches (officially “Gabriola Sands Subdivision”), Pilot Bay and Taylor Bay are sheltered, gently sloped, and sandy-bottomed, so they provide reasonably safe moorage for small craft without the aid of wharves, although in a good blow, boats anchored there are often dragged. Pilot Bay was the Spanish Navy’s Cala del Descanso and they noted that, despite being less sheltered, it was a better anchorage than the present-day (wrongly-named) Descanso Bay.

Gabriola's north shore from Descanso Bay to Berry Point

Frank Hackwood, who lives on Pilot Bay and whose mother first started coming to Taylor Bay in the 1920s, told me that Pilot Bay in the early days was shallow and a bit too “swampy” for easy landings.  Taylor Bay is more accessible to Nanaimo, more protected, and more appropriate for boat landings, moorage, and wharves.

Jankowski’s wharves

After the Rev. Taylor died in 1912, Richard Frederick Jancowski, who was 29, signed articles of agreement with three other men to purchase a quarter section of Taylor’s land at Twin Beaches for $9700. He was a resourceful entrepreneur whose family company Jancowski & Bros. had built boats in Nanaimo and his family says he had a silver mine in Stewart—apparently a nearby mountain there was named “Mount Jancowski” after him.  He also had a coal company in Victoria called The Western Coal Co. and Frank Hackwood remembers that Jancowski worked for Hamilton Baillie at Chemainus Towing.

He was usually called Fred and he and his wife Gladys had five children including Fred Jr. (Frederick Barret-Lennard Jancowski, born 1917) and Charley (Charles Hardwicke Jancowski, born 1924).  It was Charley Jancowski who years later brought the Hackwood brothers over to Taylor Bay to show them his new boat, during which visit, Hackwood said: “Old Mr. Jancowski came down to the wharf and said he wanted to sell a piece of his property…because he needed $1300 to buy a Vivien diesel engine.”  That is how the Hackwoods acquired their Pilot Bay property.

Fred Jancowski Sr. lived in a big log cabin that he built at the head of the bay—nobody lived on Pilot Bay in those days.  Frank said Jancowsky had a shingle mill in the corner of Pilot Bay in the only cleared space, and there must have been a small wharf for loading the shingles for delivery at one time because he remembers seeing the rotting remains of pilings on the beach as a boy. He believes there haven’t been any other wharves on Pilot Bay—even the pilot boats didn’t use one, despite having a shack on the shore.

June Harrison writes that Jancowski operated a ferry company as early as 1915, bringing big parties across to Gabriola on excursions.  His 78-foot boat Usella could carry “some one hundred and fifty passengers”.  In a story told a few years ago to Nick Doe, Hackwood said: “In the days before the depression, the 1920s, there were lots of ideas of making this a big holiday resort area with hotels and lodges.

Jancowski built three different wharves in Taylor Bay over the years. Two of them were near Turtle Rock on the north shore of Taylor Bay opposite today's Haven; both of these were floats without pilings, and the first one was anchored to the rock—you can still see its eroding support rings sunk into the sandstone.

Jankowski's first wharf

Jankowski's first Taylor Bay wharf around 1915. It was built off “Turtle Rock”
Photo courtesy of Gabriola Museum archive (#1999.019.001.01)

The only newspaper reference I found to his early wharf was in 1931—a July 27 article in the Nanaimo Free Press reported the drowning death of a young Nanaimo girl whose “…[sketching] box and kit were found at the end of the wharf, and the immediate supposition was that she had fell off the landing and drowned”. A 1932 aerial photograph of the Twin Beaches area shows the sizeable wharf structure sloping off the rock.

Frank Hackwood has a photo of his own family’s boat Franalja (an amalgam of the sons’ names, Frank, Alan, Jack) tied to Jancowski’s dock in 1933 or 34 when Frank was a little boy—his family used to come over often to Taylor Bay for picnics from Indian Beach in Nanaimo.  He says that early wharf blew apart in a storm some years later.

Jankowski's wharf on the sandy beach

Sometime in the late 1930s, Jancowski also built a wharf right at the head of Taylor Bay on the sandy beach in front of his big log cabin. The wharf was left high and dry at low tide and There is an attractive old postcard picture of the otherwise empty sand beach with this structure ("C") at the far end. "A" is Jankowski's house, and "B" is Bill Little's cabin. 

Jankowski's second wharf at Turtle Rock


Jancowski built another, smaller float near Turtle Rock in the mid-1940s with the help of his neighbours Henry McIndoo and Joe Chapple. The ramp to it ran across the adjacent beach rather than off the rock. In those days, Taylor Bay Road ran around the edge of Taylor Bay, ending near Turtle Rock, and Jancowski’s new wharf ramp ran directly down from the road. Stringer logs in the water held the float in place. The right-hand picture show the Hackwoods' boat The Franalja tied up at the dock in the 1940s.  

Russ Beattie, who lives on DeCourcy Drive and has been coming to Gabriola since 1945, remembers two wharves near Twin Beaches, both of which were eventually blown away in storms.  He used to come here in his grandfather’s boat, and said: “We used to land our boat in mid to late 1940s on the small wharf in Taylor Bay near the ‘big rock’.”  He showed me some metal bars that had supported the ramp to Jancowski’s second wharf near the wooden beach access steps. The wharf structure can be seen in that location in aerial photographs in 1945 and 1957, but the wharf is diminished by 1962, and is not there in 1975.

McIndoo’s wharf

The other wharf that Russ Beattie remembered was Henry McIndoo’s wharf, which was built in 1934.  Beattie showed me where McIndoo’s long straight wharf used to be off the “hammerhead” outer shore of Twin Beaches.

A 1945 aerial map (#A9302) from the Federal Department of Energy & Mines shows it clearly (as well as Jancowski’s second floating dock in Taylor Bay). Hackwood told me that in 1944 he helped McIndoo straighten his wharf.

The first issue of The Gabriola Advertiser Vol.1 No. 1, 3/5/1934 contained this news item:

We note with interest that the strenuous efforts of Messrs. Chapple and Johnston are meeting with success in the construction of the new wharf for Mr. H. McIndoo. We are assured that this sturdy wharf will ably withstand the raging seas which lash our northern shores.

Moses Henry McIndoo was listed as retired on Gabriola in the 1934 Sun British Columbia Directory, and Frank Hackwood always referred to him as Captain McIndoo (firmly pronouncing “mac” at the beginning of the name, as did Beattie), explaining that he had served in the RCMP. At that point, McIndoo must have been renting one of Jancowszki’s lots because he didn’t buy his parcel of land from Jancowski until 1941.

Unlike many of Gabriola's wharves, McIndoo's wharf appears to have lasted well.The Gabriola Museum Archive has a photo (#2001.021.006), which must have been taken in the 1930s because the steamer shown is the SS Elaine, recognizable by its low pilot-house.

Russ Beattie has similar photo with the SS Princess of Nanaimo passing, which was built in Glasgow in 1950. Hackwood said that when the CPR steamers passed McIndoo’s wharf on their excursions to Newcastle Island, they would toot their whistles in greeting and the McIndoos would wave tablecloth banners. Alas, after Pearl Harbour, the steamers were all painted grey and were forbidden to toot.

Text Box: McIndoo’s wharf in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Russ Beattie

Eventually though, McIndoo's wharf was also blown away. There is no trace of it in a 1957 aerial photograph, although you can still find its anchor loops embedded in the sandstone point just north of the public beach access.

Descanso Bay

What we now know as Descanso Bay was called Rocky Bay in the nineteenth century. In 1904, it became ‘Knight Bay’, a requirement of the British Admiralty who knew of too may “rocky bays” around the world; however, an assertive Geographic Board of Canada changed it two years later to “Descanso Bay” in the mistaken belief that this was the ‘Cala del Descanso’ of the 1792 Spanish naval expedition (which was actually Pilot Bay).

The smaller bay to the northeast of our modern ferry terminal, which we now refer to as Peacock Bay was originally named Hoggan's Bay (after the pre-emptor Alexander Hoggan), and was later called Paradise Bay by the Cox family. Elsewhere it was more frequently referred to as Cox Bay.

Hoggan’s wharf in Cox Bay

Alexander Hoggan started out life on the west coast first as a sandstone quarrier on Newcastle Island, then as a coal miner in the Dunsmuir mines at Wellington, but, according to the 1891 census, he had by then achieved his objective of becoming a full-time Gabriola farmer. He owned 62 acres around Cox Bay.  The wharf he built there was much used by north-enders in the early days, and he used his boat to carry mail and produce for his neighbours, just as Thomas Degnen and Robert Gray did at the south end.

Both his daughter, Martha Holm (born 1883), and later her son, Ernest, recorded their memories of the early settlement in Cox Bay.  Ernest told June Harrison:

There were no roads anywhere when the first Hoggans came and it was really something to move farm equipment and cattle. You had to take the cattle down to the wharf and down over the steep bank into the boat. The sheep would get down too far over the high bluffs, down into the wharf area, and then we’d have to climb down and either rescue them or shoot them. It would be impossible to get them up.

Cox Bay kept its importance well into the twentieth century, but later without a wharf. Alexander Hoggan’s great-granddaughter Hazel Windecker (née Cox), who was born in 1929, told me that the Beban Logging Company used to dump logs there during her childhood and her Dad would boom them ready for towing. She says fishboats would tie up at those booms. She knows there was once a family wharf in their bay but that was before her time. An aerial picture from 1932 shows extensive log booms floating in Cox Bay.

Farmers Landing in Rocky Bay—1891

Despite renovations completed in 1883, Government (Green) Wharf in the Northumberland Channel was too out-of-the-way for the settlers around Rocky Bay—it required a rough ‘road’ trip and a long, back-tracking boat trip for them to reach Nanaimo.  We read in the January 28 1889 edition of The Nanaimo Free Press:

A wharf needed:
We understand that the settlers and property holders on the northern portion of Gabriola Island will address a letter to the Hon. Robert Dunsmuir and Mr. George Thompson, Members of the local legislature for Nanaimo district, asking them to use their influence with the government to obtain a wharf at Rocky Bay, near the end of the main road.

It is to be hoped the government will realize the great convenience this wharf will be to settlers as, under the present arrangement, they are compelled to cross to this place in small boats with their produce and obtain supplies, which not only takes considerable time, but is rather dangerous. If the government agrees to the wishes of the settlers, by the erection of a wharf, the mail steamer could call there with mails and supplies.

There is a wharf on Gabriola Island, but it is such a distance from the northern settlers it is practically useless as far as they are concerned.

As with the first False Narrows wharf a decade before, things moved fairly quickly. On June 12, 1891, the newspaper reported: “It is officially stated that $1000 has been set aside from the road appropriation for the erection of a wharf on the North End of Gabriola Island, and for building of roads generally”, and on August 10 we read:

North Gabriola Wharf
“Mr. Marshal Bray, Government Agent and Mr. J. Love, Road-Superintendent, visited Rocky Bay, North end of Gabriola Island, on Saturday, to locate the site for the proposed wharf.  They have picked upon a spot close to the end of the present road, where a wharf can be made to deep water.  It is not the most sheltered place in the bay but it was the only place to construct a wharf within a reasonable expenditure. This wharf will be a great boon to the Gabriola settlers, as it will enable steamers to call for their stock and produce.”

Bray received tenders until August 22, and work had commenced on the new public wharf by September 10, 1891.

The new Farmers Landing was almost certainly on fisherman John Canessa’s land, which encompassed most of the shoreline of Rocky Bay. The building-stone quarry that Vancouver Granite Company operated from the late 1890s was on land leased from Canessa and they bought the land from him in 1902. One newspaper referred to the quarry site as being “in the vicinity of the Farmers Landing on M. Manly’s property” but this is unlikely; although Michael Manly had bought 19 ½ acres of Canessa’s land on the south side of Rocky Bay in 1886, the water there is fairly shallow and the road around the south end of the bay was not put in until after the Easthom brothers acquired some of Manly’s land in 1904.  The Easthoms’ petition for a road, eventually to become Easthom Road, was first made in 1904/5.  Canessa never lived on Gabriola, but Mike Manly did, which may have been the source of the confusion over whose land near Descanso Bay the wharf was on.

Local farmers of course used Farmers Landing to carry themselves and their produce to Nanaimo markets. It would also have been used a bit later for bringing supplies and personnel back and forth to the nearby quarry. Helen Hill-Tout (née Taylor), who lived on Taylor Bay as a child, told June Harrison: "I can also remember the stone quarry going full blast, which would account for the Farmers Landing being there… The only road to Farmers Landing was through the bush."

It is not stated exactly where the 1891 Farmers Landing was built, but it was most probably in roughly the same location as the later wharf referred to by old-timers as the Atrevida Wharf. Although I have found no written references to the wharf in the early 1900s, our museum has a picture, which the BC Archives dates at 1911, of an A-frame pile driver being used (it is claimed) to rebuild the wharf in Rocky Bay.

The photograph is puzzling because at that time the Vancouver Granite Company owned the surrounding land although the building-stone quarry was not very active by then. Also the road position and some of the landforms don't quite match up to Descanso Bay's terrain. Certainly, had a pictue been taken of the Farmer's Landing in Rocky Bay it would probably have looked very much like this picture.

Plans for a private wharf in Rocky Bay

There seem to have briefly been plans for a private wharf development on Rocky Bay. On March 28, 1892, The Nanaimo Free Press carried this story:

A Pleasant Excursion.
Several members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Bucks made an excursion yesterday afternoon to Gabriola Island, with a view to selecting and purchasing a plot of land, to be used as a pleasure ground. The party left directly after lunch, and under the guidance of Capt. Bigney made a pleasant but uneventful trip across to the Island. The party landed near Mr. Manley's place, and both Mr. Manley and his neighbour Mr. Higgins treated them very hospitably presenting them with some very fine fresh venison. 

After prospecting around for some time, it was decided to purchase a piece of land from Mr. Manley, opposite Hogan's place. The land will be put into good order at once, and a landing wharf will be built. The Bucks will use their new property as a recreation ground, and will be willing to let it for picnics when it is properly laid out. … While the sun was yet high in the heavens the Honorable Bucks boarded their ship, and sailed home again, landing at the boat house in safety at 6 p.m.

I have found no other reference to this plan or the wharf.

Freight and ferry services

Talking of the early part of the century, James Rollo, who was born on Gabriola in 1896, told June Harrison that, “the Iroquois came in with heavy stuff, coming into the government wharf [Green Wharf], and the Islander after that”.  He also said:

…In those days, people travelled to Nanaimo by their own boats, or had a ride with someone else who had a boat.  Rowboats, sailboats, canoes, you were on your own. There used to be boathouses and stables at the wharf at Descanso.  Bob Hoggan was the first to have a launch; he had the Bessie and the Mary, with a scow for towing. It used to cost 25¢ to go both ways. …There was a Shaw’s boathouse in Nanaimo, down where the big wharf is now.  On this side,… the water used to come up where the parking area is now, and on this side we used to land at Hoggan’s Bay (now Cox Bay). …Even in those days, years ago, there were people who wanted a bridge to Mudge so that they could take their goods to town easier, and surveys were being carried out, but nothing came of it.

Attempts continued to acquire a suitable boat to ferry people and goods to and from Gabriola after the demise of SS Iroquois in 1911. Rollo told Harrison that after he returned to the island from overseas in 1919:

I eventually began a freight service on the island. It became a good job, as people could order their stuff from town and have it safely delivered.… The ferry Bessie [Bob Hoggan’s boat] would take about an hour to go over. I brought the first car over to the Island, and that was quite an event. It had to be scowed over, of course, and it was landed ashore safely at the wharf down at Descanso Bay.

June Harrison writes that later, the Naida II ran back and forth to Nanaimo through the week varying its route and schedule to serve all the areas, north, south, and the Maples. She also reports that the CPR briefly ran a service that stopped at various island locations—a service also described to John Capon by his father and Capt. Higgs—but that it proved “too costly to operate”, so was discontinued.

Where should a ferry service be located?

In the 1920s, a Ways and Means Committee had been formed to try to get the government to provide a regular boat service. As always, these Gabriola discussions were contentious because of the problem of where the boat should dock—north or south? A petition organized by the recently formed Conservative Club (precursor of today’s Ratepayers’ Association) was sent on January 10, 1927, to Premier John Oliver’s government in Victoria.  It described the limitations (particularly in winter) of the launch services, and the inadequate mail service.  It pointed out that there were 250 residents and about 30 cars on the island and requested a ferry service for passengers, vehicles, and freight. Over 123 people signed the petition—an acceptable representation of the adult population.

Oliver wrote to the Minister of Public Works in May. As a result, controversies, petitions, inspections, and negotiations resulted concerning who should run the ferry, where it should land, and whether the priority was to upgrade the wharf facilities, and if so, which one: Green Wharf or Rocky Bay?  Middle wharf or northend? Or what about the Maples?

The islanders couldn’t agree on what they wanted for several years, but on March 12, 1930, W.W. Mitchell invited Nanaimo Board of Trade President Cowman to accompany a Gabriola delegation to an upcoming interview with the Government in Victoria and on March 15 the Nanaimo Free Press reported on a recent meeting with “the Hon. H.S. Lougheed, Minister of Public Works” about the proposed Gabriola to Nanaimo ferry. The Gabriola contingent was Chas. Jolley, J.R. Murray, H. Smith, and C. Delong. Those who today protest the idea of our ferries terminating at Duke Point might be amused to read this report’s background information:

A ferry scheme with a run between South Gabriola Island and some point near Dodds’ Narrows had been before the government for some time, but since 1927 Nanaimo and Gabriola interests have been endeavoring to point out that a ferry service between Gabriola Island and Vancouver Island should have one of the terminals located in Nanaimo City, and that the most feasible route would be a ferry operating between North Gabriola and Nanaimo harbor.

From the government’s attitude on Thursday, it would appear that the controversy over the route has been definitely settled and the North Gabriola Island–Nanaimo route the only practical and common sense one, and that the communities interested may feel they have a reasonable chance that this long wanted service may become a reality in the not far distant future.

In the Three-Schools Reunion book, there is a picture of a newspaper clipping dated Gabriola, January 22 and with “1931” handwritten on it (probably incorrectly; it was more likely earlier):

Government Officials Pay Visit to Gabriola Island.  Make Great Impression.
The Hon. Minister of Lands and the Deputy Minister of Public Works were the outstanding visitors of the week to Gabriola. Their visit was chiefly concerned with the island’s greatest need, the ferry. Although in the past we have had many generous promises regarding this subject, as no doubt we shall have in the future, all these have proved themselves empty.

At last however, there is something definite. A private company is prepared and willing to put into action a reliable and efficient service at once, pending government approval. And with one marked improvement on all previous projects. They intend to call at all government wharves including Mudge Island and not only, we note, at one wharf and that the North Gabriola one.

Thus the South end residents and especially those without automobiles will be spared the [in]convenience which would inevitably be theirs should the old plans ever materialize. Who is there amongst us would like to be faced with the alternative of ‘bumming’ a car ride for oneself, a crate of eggs, cream can, couple of lambs and possibly a few live chickens, or hitching up the old grey mare and driving eight miles with them? Not the farmers living on South Gabriola, we feel sure.

The hardship we referred to is not propaganda for there are at least 16 homes on the South End, who are without automobiles. Let us suggest that, in fairness to these people, the ferry we expect some day, whether operated by the government or a private company, will not be for the convenience of the few families on North Gabriola.

The north-enders won out though.  On February 23, 1931, the Government called for tenders to operate a Gabriola ferry between Nanaimo and Descanso Bay and the contract was awarded to Capt. Thomas Higgs with an annual government subsidy of $6000.  Brothers Thomas and William York Higgs established Higgs’ Gabriola Ferry Ltd. in July 1931 with $50 000 capital and headquartered provisionally in Victoria. They were to use their new boat Atrevida, which had been purpose-built in New Westminster with a capacity of five cars and 40 passengers, a smoking room and rest rooms on the lower deck, and an observation room on the upper deck.

The Atrevida coming into its wharf in Descanso Bay

An article in the Nanaimo Free Press on July 31, 1931, reported the proposed schedule for the new ferry service:

On Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the ferry would leave the CPR dock in Nanaimo at 7.30 a.m. and arrive at North Gabriola Island at 8 a.m.; leave Gabriola at 8.30 a.m. and arrive back in Nanaimo at 9 a.m.  In the afternoon, it would leave Nanaimo at 4 p.m., arriving at North Gabriola 4.30 p.m.; leave Gabriola at 5 p.m., and arrive back in Nanaimo 5.30 p.m.—over-nighting on the Nanaimo side.

Surprisingly, the article also reported that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after arriving at North Gabriola the Atrevida would proceed to South Gabriola Island before returning to Nanaimo by noon, with a similar run in the afternoon.  The article does not say at which wharf in South Gabriola Island the ferry would call, but it did say: “This schedule will be changed to suit the needs of Nanaimo citizens and the Island people”. Obviously this schedule was very quickly abandoned.  Once the service officially started, we read no more of the Atrevida calling at South Gabriola Island.

The Atrevida Wharf 1931-1957

The Government also awarded a contract to the Kennedy-Leith Construction Company to bring the wharves in Descanso Bay and Nanaimo Harbour up to standard for the new ferry service.  On August 10 1931, the Nanaimo Free Press reported:

Wharves and approaches to be used in this connection were put in first-class shape, under the direction of the Department of Public Works.  The Kennedy-Leith Construction Company had the contract for the wharf conditioning.

Text Box: The Atrevida Wharf with the Coats’ store and gas station up the hill ca. 1940.  There is a cargo storage shed on the wharf. Photograph courtesy of Clyde Coats

Another photograph of the Atrevida Wharf in the museum’s archive has the following description by the donor:

The edge of the wharf …is a ramp that went down to a float where the ferry pulled in— pontoon[s] on the float ramp went up and down with the tide—it was locked in place with chain winches for the traffic coming on and off.  Shed on the wharf was for storing cargo.

After cutting the ribbon at the inaugural ceremony on August 14, 1931, the Hon. R.W Bruhn, Minister of Works said slightly ominously:

It is the declared policy of the Government to assist industry and settlement by steady development of transportation by means of roads, bridges and ferries.  Transportation is the key to human progress, and modern transportation, now largely automotive, is now almost indispensable to our present social structure.  You will appreciate the fact that this is the third case where up-to-date boat transportation has been provided by this Government to an individual island, within the term of the present administration.  It is up to you to show the policy is a wise one.

Text Box: Waiting for the Atrevida in the early 1940s.  The car on the right belonged to the McIndoos. 	Photograph courtesy of Hazel Windecker

The Higgs brothers ran the Gabriola ferry until 1946, when they sold their business to H.C.R. Davis’s Davis Shipping Co.  In 1955, the Atrevida was replaced by the M.V. Eena, a 90-foot steel boat that could carry 10 vehicles and 70 passengers. The early ferries were quite small and had to be side-loaded—a precarious procedure at which locals became very proficient, but off-island visitors did not.

A letter dated February 11, 1948, from the Province of BC Department of Public Works to the Deputy Minister is about reported difficulties of the Gabriola ferry berthing at the CPR dock in Nanaimo and about the transportation of perishable goods. Before 1954, Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, and the Union Steamship companies had operated the major freight and passenger services between BC’s coastal and island settlements, subsidized by the provincial government.  Smaller companies and individuals like the Higgs brothers provided service on minor runs with or without subsidies.

The modern ferry terminal—1957 to today

By 1957, the government subsidy to Gabriola’s ferry service was $22,000, Gabriola’s population was 370, and the Eena’s side-loading had severe limitations. Landings at both ends of the route needed to be upgraded if end-loading was to be accommodated.  A January 29 1957 letter from the Department of Ferries to the Department of Highways said:

…the population of Gabriola Island is approximately 370 persons.  At the present time, a new landing is being built at Gabriola and a new landing is being considered for Nanaimo. When these landings are completed and the ferry is able to load end-on the service will be greatly improved.  In the meantime, I feel that my decision regarding the overnight berthing of the ferry on Gabriola Island should be held in abeyance.

The new ferry landing at Descanso Bay used riprap to fill in part of the foreshore, enlarging the space for parked cars, and advancing the ramp toward the drop-off to deeper water.  The wharf was moved, realigned and enlarged.  A 1957 aerial photograph clearly shows the new, larger ferry terminal, differently angled from the shore than the Atrevida wharf.

In 1961, the Department of Highways took over BC’s ferry services. The Westwood replaced the Eena in 1963, and ran until 1972. Several boats shared the service for a short while, then the Kahloke took over in 1973, running until the Quinitsa came into service in 1977.  The Quinsam—the names are First Nations nameswas brought into service in 1982. She continues on the run today under the ferry service that was again privatized in 2003.  She has been periodically overhauled over the years, and was extensively refitted in 2009 and 2010.

The population of Gabriola has soared by several thousands since 1957 and when ferry parking became a problem Clyde Coats provided space for paid public parking on his family’s land alongside Easthom and North Roads, and up behind the pub. The approach road and ramp to the ferry terminal were renovated and strengthened in 2009 and the ferry’s crowded parking lot and lighting were upgraded in 2010.

Descanso Bay ferry terminal and emergency wharf in 2010

Emergency wharf in Descanso Bay—2004

The need for a medical emergency evacuation dock arose after the ferry crews on the Gabriola route ceased to be on call for night-time emergency runs, but like almost everything on Gabriola it was controversial. Some sought to require or persuade the ferry crews to continue their much-appreciated old service, turning out at all hours of the night to the detriment of their family and social lives, even though after-hours calls had become increasingly frequent as the population grew. Others wished to have an expanded helicopter evacuation system.

Boats other than the ferry were not allowed to dock in Descanso Bay and there was no safe and convenient way to transfer patients into an emergency vessel there, which meant that transfers had to be made at Green Wharf or at Coats’ private landing just west of Green Wharf. Both had very steep and rough access roads and there had been some very bad experiences for First Responders and patients while transferring stretchers from ambulance to the emergency vessel at those docks.

The Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee resolved in 2002 to apply for a water-lot licence and request the RDN to construct an emergency pedestrian dock near the ferry terminal in Descanso Bay.  In her RDN Electoral Area Update in April 2003, Gail Lund wrote:

Progress continues to be made in the establishment of an emergency wharf at Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island.  The proposed wharf is to be located next to the BC Ferries dock and is for medical emergencies when the BC Ferries service is not available. The Ambulance Service has contracted with the Nanaimo Port Authority to provide the linkage to Nanaimo.

The Regional District has submitted an application for a water lot licence to Land & Water BC Inc. If approved, the RDN will move forward with a bylaw and counter petition to obtain Island residents' consent to establish, construct and operate a new emergency wharf service.

At the November 2003 meeting of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee, Lund reported that tenders had been issued for upgrading the emergency dock and that RDN officials had met with BC Ambulance Services to review dock requirements. The dock was quickly built and went into operation in February 2004. It is used only for medical emergencies when the ferry is not running, and is kept locked at other times.

There has been a push from the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce to extend the dock’s use beyond emergencies, and in her December 20, 2010 report, Gisele Rudischer wrote:

The Gabriola Chamber of Commerce would like to use the emergency dock at Descanso Bay for a pedestrian only ferry for occasional peak season or special event charter service. A request was made for information on the conditions of use and agreements related to use of the emergency dock, which I passed onto staff.  Staff responded that the Descanso Bay Wharf is operated by the RDN as an emergency wharf under agreement with the Emergency and Health Services Commission (BC Ambulance Service). The agreement ends in December 2014.  The wharf is not used for any other purpose as that would interfere with it being available for emergencies.

What might prove to be a bigger issue is use of the BC Ferries water lease for a competing service. The RDN obtained a sub-lease from BC Ferries for that area of the water lease that contains the dock. The approval was for a wharf that provides emergency access during those times that BC Ferries was not operating. There is also the issue of casual boaters possibly using the dock (at present the dock is opened only for emergency use). BC Ferries removed a similar dock years ago because casual boat traffic back and forth to the wharf interfered with the ferry docking.

Text Box: The emergency wharf in Descanso Bay.  Although intended for medical emergencies, it has also been used as a temporary foot-passenger terminal. Google Earth

Residents were asked by referendum whether or not they supported the creation of a taxing function for an emergency dock and local taxpayers contribute approx. $5000 a year for maintenance. The cost of maintenance is low because the dock is not used regularly. Staff estimates that cost would be higher if it was used more frequently and voter assent would be necessary to expand this function.

Oh the problems of wharves!  Ever since the late 1800s there have been a few people on Gabriola who longed to solve all of them with a bridge to Vancouver Island. Gabriolans seldom agree on how and where they should get on and off the rock.

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Created January 7, 2014
by Documents that Work