This Place

This Place” is a series of articles on Denman Island history written by John Millen and Graham Brazier. They originally appeared in the Denman monthly publication “The Flagstone“.

The 1921 census records for Denman Island contain the names of the 242 residents along with many details of their origins, residences and occupations. Many place-names on Denman record the family names of that era.

In October 1918 the BC government ordered closure of places of assembly as a measure to control the spread of ‘Spanish Influenza’. There is no evidence in the Denman ‘Settler’s Cemetery’ of deaths from that pandemic. One heroine of the time, Amy Herbert, subsequently lived on Denman Island.

Admiral Joseph Denman, for whom our Island is named was, as Commander of HMS Wanderer, active in the suppression of the slave trade in 1840. An indirect result of his work on the African coast was a famous court case known as ‘Buron v. Denman’ which is still referred to in British and American courts.

The house at the corner of Denman Road and Lacon was built in 1908 by Sam Dumaresq who came to Denman to build and manage the stone quarry.

Humdergen was a local name for improvised railway logging equipment. Best known are the two log unloading machines built and operated by Comox Logging.

The Quadra Sands were deposited around Georgia Strait during the most recent Ice Age. A major deposit on Denman Island is found at Komas Bluff which provides significant groundwater flows at Railway Grade Marsh; and a small deposit is found near the south end of the Island on Driftwood Farm.

Denman Conservancy association worked for ten years to preserve the Lindsay Dickson forest. Dr. Frederick Lindsay Dickson bought the land in about 1900 from the original settler on that land, John Graham. The ‘Arts & Crafts’ residence was built in 1923. The land was sold by the family in 1990 and purchased by the Provincial Government in April 2000.

The opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886 started a flurry of land speculation in BC that was extended to this area by 1888 when James Dunsmuir started coal mining in Cumberland. That year Angus Johnston, merchant, of Nanaimo contrived the purchase of one third of the land area of Denman Island.

Admiral Joseph Denman was asked by Governor Arthur Kennedy to investigate the loss of the trading vessel Kingfisher in Clayoquot Sound in 1864. Denman was seeking Chief Chapchah of Ahousat who he believed was responsible for the sinking of the Kingfisher and killing its crew. With his Flagship HMS Sutlej, along with other gunboats, Denman destroyed many villages and canoes in Clayoquot Sound but could not capture Chapchah.

George Drabble arrived in Comox in 1864 and served the colony as trader, surveyor, road builder, Postmaster and Magistrate.

Judge Crease donated an acre and 16 perches for the Denman Island Anglican Church.The previous standard measurements of Chains and Perches is reviewed. Much of the donated acre is now roadway.

Judge Crease’s land included the area that became ‘Downtown Denman.’ The Piercy family acquired this land. Over the years members of that family donated land for the Community Hall and other purposes.

Families from the Orkney Islands were early settlers on Denman Island. Books belonging to the Isbister family provide some insights into the background.

There once were raccoons on both Hornby and Denman Islands. Settlers eliminated them from Denman long ago and the last of them disappeared from Hornby in the early 1970’s. They were reintroduced to Denman Island in the late 1990’s.

In 1886 Judge Crease owned 285 acres on Denman Island stretching north along the shore from Denman Road for about a mile. He started to build a hotel and store on the property but abandoned that plan when the community prevented him from obtaining a liquor licence.

Judge Henry Crease, resident at his mansion ‘Pentrelew’ in Victoria, owned two farm properties on Denman Island. The judge and the Denman family in England were friends, exchanging correspondence and assisting each others children. Judge Crease donated an acre of land on Denman Island for the Anglican Church.

The Beaver Pond, crossed by the bridge on Pickles Road was the focus of an early conservation action by Denman Conservancy Association. From this beginning, work by the Denman community has resulted in the establishment of a large contiguous area of Park and conservation land in the northern part of the Island.

The winter solstice and its aftermath on Denman Island

On June 23, 1946 a magnitude 7.3 earthquake shook this region including Denman Island. It remains the largest on-land quake recorded in Canada. Tall buildings swayed as far away as Seattle. Much damage occurred in this area, especially to brick chimneys.

Archaeological investigations on Denman Island

In 1997 a third of Denman Island’s land area was purchased by 4064 Investments Ltd. run by a gyppo logger, Mike Jenks, who immediately started clearcutting. A massive community response was unable to prevent the logging but eventually resulted in much of the clearcut land becoming Park or Conservation land.

Changing perspectives on the Islands Trust

The Settlement Lands comprises two 80 acre blocks each with its own history. The east part was pre-empted by David Pickles, one of Denman’s original settlers. It remained in his family for two generations before being sold to a logging company. The western part was acquired from the Crown as a speculation and was shuffled through several owners before becoming part of James Dunsmuir’s holdings.

An incident at the Denman Island School in the 1930’s motivates NDP Education Minister Eileen Dailly to change the policy on corporal punishment in BC schools in 1973.

Figures from the 2016 census show Denman Island population at 1165, increased by 14% over the last five years. That was more rapid growth than in the previous 15. In its OCP Denman Island has a limit on the number of residences that suggests a maximum population of 2000 persons.

Admiral Denman saw Denman Island during two visits to Comox in his Flagship HMS Sutlej in 1865 and 1866. His first visit was responding to concerns of settlers about the visit of Lekwiltokw people, led by Chief Clalick of Quadra Island, who had come to obtain potatoes.

An historical examination of October and November precipitation statistics.

Officially named Sandy Island, this Marine Provincial Park is reached from Denman Island by walking across the tidal flats at low tide. Changes in levels of the flats may explain some of the discrepancies we find in the tales of M. Wylie Blanchet published in the classic book The Curve of Time.

The Robert Brown Expedition on Denman Island in 1864

In 1984 the planned logging of Komas Bluff by Weldwood of Canada was stopped part-way through by local protest.

Did Harlan Smith, an archaeologist and member of the Jessup North Pacific Expedition in 1898, collect human bones from burial sites at Village Point on Denman Island?

The SS Charmer served Denman Island from 1911 into the 1930’s. First named the Premier she had a chequered career of collisions and beachings, even including colliding with the Government Lighthouse tender Quadra and sinking her. Memories of the Old Charmer are compared with those of the ferry Quinitsa recently removed from Denman service.

An encounter between the Pentlatch and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Denman Island Farmers’ Institute held its first Fall Fair in September 1916.

In August 1946 the barque Pamir was towed down Baynes Sound with a full load of Cumberland coal on her way to New Zealand. Pamir was seized as a war prize by the New Zealand government and in that service made seven return crossings of the Pacific between New Zealand and North America

Coastal erosion is washing away a midden at the base of Long Beak Point. This is part of the very extensive midden at Henry Bay that resulted from long and continuous occupation by Pentlatch and Comox people.

Remains of railway grades used for logging in the 1920’s and 30’s by steam trains on Denman Island can be found. Notable examples are those from Village (Denman) Point to Pickles Road and the Railway Grade Marsh trail where hand excavated cuttings may be seen.

The Honourable Joseph Denman for whom the island is named became Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Royal Navy, in 1864. Denman made his name in 1840 by his efforts to combat the Atlantic slave trade and was subsequently tried and acquitted of a charge of damages to property arising from those efforts in Africa. Prior to his appointment to this coast he was Captain of Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht “Victoria and Albert”.

Denman Island first appeared as a line on a chart by Jose Maria Narvaez and named along with Hornby Island as Islas de Lerena. It was named and charted by Captain George Richards during his 1860 survey of the coast.

Josephine Crease visited the Ormistons near Village Point (Denman Point) in 1933 and made paintings of the landscape and of the totem poles there.