Cortes Island History – the area has been traditionally used by First Nations for centuries and the use and health of the Island’s resources remain vital to their cultural and economic well-being. Klahoose has a history of use, occupation and management of Cortes Island and surrounding areas that long predates the onset of European colonization. Squirrel Cove was one of the summer places Klahoose had used prior to contact, where each spring they harvested shellfish and berries and planted and harvested gardens prior to returning to Toba in the Fall. In the late 1890’s the Klahoose First Nation relocated from Toba Inlet to Squirrel Cove.
The explorers, the surveyors and the whalers came and went. The miners came, staked claims and left. Japanese loggers came with horses and left. Then came the settlers. The first white settler on Cortes was Michael Manson, who arrived in 1866, preempting land the following year and receiving his crown grant in 1913. With Michael came his brother John and a friend, George Leask, both of whom preempted land in 1888. At that time there were no roads, no buildings and no steam ship service to or from civilization. There were no gas engines and transportation was by rowboat or dugout canoe. (John Manson did a phenomenal amount of rowing in those early days, taking meat orders to logging camps. He once rowed 100 miles each wav to the head of Knight Inlet and back to bring out two school girls to board at the Manson’s home and raise the number of available pupils to the number required to open a school.)
At the turn of the century there was a population rush on Cortes consisting mainly of hand-loggers who often working on one place just long enough to make a stake and move on somewhere else. It was replaced by the slow but steady influx of homesteaders. The population reached a zenith in the 1920’s then dropped off again due to the rigours of isolation, the economic depression and the high cost of transportation. The Union Steamship was the main tie to the outside world at that time. There are still reminders of those long gone settlers in the form of twisted fruit trees in old long abandoned orchards.
Population figures picked up again after the 16 car ferry, Cortes Queen, began it’s regular run to and from Quadra Island in 1969, and electric power arrived in 1970. Today the island is an intriguing mix of the old and new. Along with the early settlers and their descendants there are the more recent ‘settlers’ , people of all ages and backgrounds who have come here in search of a more independent and casual lifestyle free from many of the troubling complexities of modern existence.
The Cortes Island Museum & Archives Society is a registered charity whose mandate is to collect, preserve and present the social and natural history of Cortes and the surrounding islands. Located at 957 Beasley Road, the Cortes Museum features: Cortes Island’s Tourist and Visitor Information Booth, a beautiful heritage garden, social and natural history exhibits, a pioneer kitchen (see photo below), a Von Donop logging shed, an archives collection, and a gift shop. Admission is free; donations are welcome.
Box 422, Manson’s Landing, BC V0P 1K0
10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Tuesday to Sunday (June through August)
12:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday and Saturday (September through May)