Museum at Campbell River
The Museum foyer windows have a spectacular view over Discovery Passage.
Daily, a myriad boats go by. Recreational fishing boats carrying eager fishermen with hopes of fresh catch for dinner, commercial fishing boats braving the elements trying to make a living from the seas, the occasional cruise ship during the summer months, barges of shipping containers, luxury yachts and more. A hundred years ago, the boat traffic would have had a different makeup.
Instead of today’s large cruise ships with luxurious accommodations, casinos and swimming pools, we had the lifeline of the BC Coast – the Union Steamships. One hundred years ago, Campbell River was a regular port of call for the Union Steamships.
The Union Steamships would bring passengers, supplies, and news to communities all over the coast. They also provided onboard dining and entertainment, a rare treat for those living in rural areas. Everyone from the loggers leaving camp for a break in the city, to expectant mothers looking to give birth closer to medical facilities, the Union Steamships provided a much-valued service.
These steamships also filled the role now filled by B.C. ferries to provide access to the islands. With the steamships stopping at many more settlements than the ferries do today, the islands near Campbell River had more settlements and communities. With less roads available, the waterways were the way most people travelled. Today canoeing or rowing across the passage would generally only occur as part of a special event, in the past, residents regularly canoed around to Quadra Island and other settlements.
Men and women in rowboats, canoes, skiffs and even small sailboats would spend their summer days trolling off Cape Mudge. Handliners would catch salmon one at a time to take to the cannery. Anything that would float was used to row, catching enough fish to subside on, but nothing that would ever make them wealthy.
This way of life reached its peak in the 30’s, and then as times improved, people began to acquire motors for their boats and things changed.
Today, where once we saw the handliners working, we now see many recreational fishing boats.
Often we see aluminum or fiberglass boats equipped with downriggers, and on a good day in the summer they may number in the hundreds.
The Quathiaski Canning Company owned a few seine boats that would catch fish for the cannery. These motorized seiners were among the earliest on this part of the coast. Despite a difficult start, once W.E. Anderson took ownership of the cannery, it became a thriving industry employing 200 to 300 people. Anderson, who owned Quathiaski Cannery, also had fish traps set up where the seiners would go check for fish.
Logging operations were located all over the coast and had to transport their wood to larger centres to sell.
Tug boats, loaded up with coal, would collect the wood and transport it to the city.
In the dangerous waters of Discovery Passage, pulling a heavy cargo of logs at the end of a towline is dangerous work, and this was even more true one hundred years ago before the destruction of Ripple Rock and this “Devil Beneath the Sea” was still sinking ships.
Unlike the rest of the marine traffic, recreational ocean fishing at the Tyee Spit one hundred years ago is not so different than today.
The Tyee Club was established in 1924, in part due to recent increases in the number of Tyee fishermen coming to Campbell River to catch the large fish.
With so many fishermen arriving in Campbell River, they wanted to standardize the sport of salmon fishing.
There isn’t much in Campbell River that has stayed the same over the last one hundred years, but it’s nice to know the Tyee Club has kept this piece of Campbell River’s past alive.