By Catherine Gilbert
It isn’t until you get to Port Neville, on the mainland side of Johnstone Strait and the next stop along the coast heading north from Kelsey Bay, that you realize why Norwegian settler Hans Hansen would have chosen this place to build a homestead.
Not only does the 13- kilometre-long Port Neville inlet offer shelter from the winds and strong currents of Johnstone Strait, but it is pristine and beautiful.
This is the spot where Hansen chose to build his home – on the south side with long, white sandy beaches stretching in either direction.
Today, a large government dock remains that boaters can easily access, and at the end of the dock, the sturdy old log Hansen home, built in 1920, still stands as a tribute to Hansen and his ingenuity.
For more than a century, Port Neville was an important community on the coast and over the years operated as a fuel depot, post office, general store and gathering place.
Hansen began building cabins on his property in 1891, and by 1892, the port became a stop for the Union Steamships, enabling Hansen to ship to Vancouver and to receive supplies.
It wasn’t long before he began trading with local natives and offering services to other settlers and loggers.
By 1895, he became the first postmaster for Port Neville.
The Port Neville post office was, in fact, the oldest continually operating post office in B.C., with Hansen’s granddaughter, Lorna Chesluk, being the last postmistress when it closed in 2010.
Hansen had six children, an adopted son Billy from his first wife Elizabeth who had passed away in 1898 and five children with his Norwegian wife Kathinka – Karen, Olaf, Edith, Lilly and Arthur.
His daughter Edith married Harold Bendickson of Hardwicke Island in 1940 aboard the Columbia, (see photo) one of the fleet of Columbia Coast Mission vessels, and three years earlier, Harold’s only sister Lilly married Olaf Hansen at the Bendickson home on Hardwicke Island.
Edith (Hansen) Bendickson wrote several articles on the Hansen family history, which are available in the Museum at Campbell River archives.
Also in the archives are Hansen family photos and correspondence, and Hans Hansen’s diary. Most recently, an artifact from the Port Neville store, a McCaskey Account Register, was donated to the Museum.
The Museum at Campbell River is offering two guided historic boat cruises to Port Neville this summer, on Sunday, Aug. 11, and Aug. 25.
The cruise includes Kelsey Bay, Hardwicke Island and passes by Yorke Island, once site of a Second World War defence installation.
Call 250-287-3103 to sign up or to learn more about these trips.