It was in the
late 1700's, when Captain George Vancouver anchored his vessel,
the H.M.S. Discover, at Xwalkw (mouth of the 'Namgis River). While
Captain Vancouver visited the 'Namgis, the island now known as Cormorant
Island, lay just a short distance away. The 'Namgis First Nation
used Cormorant Island as a place to bring their people who had passed
on. They also lived on the Island on a seasonal basis.
In 1846, the Island was named for the coastal cruiser, the H.M.S.
Cormorant and later, about 1858, the Bay was named after the H.M.S.
Alert which was then stationed on the Northwest coast.
Big House, used for potlatches
Alert Bay, British Columbia
The period of
1865-1870, saw the beginning of active settlement on Cormorant Island
and the nucleus of the formation of the Village of Alert Bay. Two
explorers and entrepreneurs named Spencer and Huson examined the
possibilities of resource development at Suquash and Gwa'ni (the
'Namgis River) before establishing on Cormorant Island. In 1870,
they built a small saltery, where local salmon was salted and mildcured
before being sent to Victoria. At that time Spencer and Huson leased
Cormorant Island from the Government..
As their business grew, Spencer and Huson became aware of the need
to establish a permanent work force on the Island. To this end the
partners approached the Reverend James Hall, a missionary of the
Church Missionary Society, who had just established a mission at
Fort Rupert in 1877. They persuaded the Reverend to relocate to
Alert Bay and in 1878, a mission house was built to school the first
nation boys and girls.
By 1887, the
settlement was beginning to show significant signs of progress.
In 1881, a store and cannery were built. Reverend Hall supervises
the construction of the "Christ Church," which was to achieve several
goals such as: the learning of new trades to the first nations and
the provision of construction material. A saw mill was established
between 1886-1887. The saw mill eventually produced lumber to be
used in the construction of homes and a new school for boys.
Government recognition of the growing community came during the
1890's, with the relocation of the Indian Agency from Fort Rupert
to Alert Bay. That same year saw the arrival of law and order when
the first Provincial Police Constable- Philip Woolacott was stationed
in the community.
Education was of prime concern in those early days and in 1894,
W.A. Corker was established as Principal of the newly constructed
Residential School for boys. The school was situated on approximately
4-5 acres of land and was primarily established to teach the skills
of carpentry, furniture making, boat building, animal husbandry,
as well as regular academic school work, to first nation boys.
has always been an important ingredient of Alert Bay's history.
In 1896, the Union Steamship "Comox", made its first regular call
while en-route to Rivers Inlet lying to the North. Many other ships
representing a variety of purposes ranging from the transportation
of goods, to the delivery of visitors who have come to our island
over the years. In more recent years, when the community was at
its peak as the centre of the region, regular access was provided
by ferry from Kelsey Bay via Beaver Cove.
of the Tallest Totem Pole in the World
Alert Bay, British Columbia
service is now provided from Port McNeill with direct runs to Alert
Bay, interspersed by trips to neighbouring Malcolm Island.
1902 saw British Columbia Packers Association purchase the cannery
from its founders, and in 1909, the first St. George's Hospital
A giant step
was taken during 1911-1912, when the Dominion Government established
the first communications system to link Alert Bay and other now-established
communities in the region, also to the Southern centres of Vancouver
and Victoria. The system comprised a very crude telegraph service
but proved a useful tool to the local industry. In 1912, the Dominion
Government built a wireless station in Alert Bay. The station operated
principally as an aid to navigation, although was used in other
capacities from time to time.
trend Alert Bay continued to develop and in 1925, a new St. George's
Hospital was opened to replace the original building which suffered
fire damage during 1923. That same year a beautiful chapel was built
next to the hospital as a memorial to Mrs. Paterson Hall, who, upon
her retirement as president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church
of England in Canada, was given an honorarium, which she in turn
gave to the Columbia Coast Mission for the erection of the Memorial
Chapel. The furnishings were the gift of Mrs. Georgina M. Pennell,
also of the Montreal Diocesan Women’s Auxiliary. The Toronto Women’s
Auxiliary, Babies’ Branch, donated the baptismal font. The chapel
is now located next to the century old Anglican Church.
the St. Michael's Residential School was constructed to serve, educate
and house native children from outlying areas in the region. The
school was solidly built of brick and designed to accommodate 200
children aged from seven to fifteen years old. Our Residential School
was one of the last ones to close in the early 1970's. The building
is now owned by the 'Namgis First Nation and many of the surrounding
First Nation's have an office space in this building. Also located
in the building are: North Island College, K.T.F.C, and many local
and the community continued to diversify its activities to include
dairy farming, raising of poultry, growing of vegetables, etc. The
Nimpkish Hotel became an established part of the community providing
accommodation for the traveler and entertainment for the local people.
In 1946, the
Village of Alert Bay became incorporated. At the same time the region
was commencing a new era of prosperity which would see profitable
growth in the fishing and logging industries. Alert Bay flourished
as the supply centre for necessary life-sustaining goods and provided
the desired recreation and entertainment to the many people employed
in fishing and logging. A community hall was built, electricity
came to the community, a taxi service was established, a bus service
operated on a limited scale and the volunteer firemen of Alert Bay
received a shipment of their new fire engine.
now began to serve an important role in the development of the community.
By 1948, the first elements of an air transportation service had
been established to serve the development of the area's natural
resources,. Until recently only float planes could operate from
the island but during 1972, a landing strip of wheeled aircraft
was constructed. The runway which was paved during 1979 is approximately
2,900 feet long.
countenance of the Alert Bay
community reflects much of its past history. Visitors to the area
will be fascinated by the mixing and contrasting of the cultures.
The native art forms are represented by their carving, paintings
weaving and metal crafting. Artifacts and events of the past can
be viewed in the community's U'mista Cultural Centre and the Library-Museum.
Above all a casual stroll from one end of the community to the other
instills one with an appreciation for the efforts of the early pioneers
who carved themselves a place to live, work and created the roots
of the village which now exists on Cormorant Island.
Alert Bay Visitor Info Centre
116 Fir Street, Bag Service 2800
Alert Bay, BC
Fax: (250) 974-5026