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“.

Denman and Hornby Islands have been lobbying for improved ferry service to Vancouver Island for the last 100 years. Some of those efforts are outlined here.

585 Denman Islanders were employed in 2020 being 48% of the population. 230 of them
worked at home. More than half of Denman workers spent less than 15 minutes getting to
work but there were 45 workers taking more than an hour. 55 residents had earned Doctorate
degrees, more than four times the proportion in BC as a whole. 87% of Denman households
owned their residence, compared with 67% for BC.

The 2021 census found Denman Island population had grown to 1391 and had a median age
of 60.8. Although this median age is much higher than for all BC (42.8) other BC retirement
communities have much higher median ages! There were 881 private dwellings of which 695
were occupied. There were 90 tenant households.

Coal mining on Vancouver Island was the spur to early European settlement on Denman Island beginning with the Quadra P.O. in 1878. The Alpha, Flora, and Willamette were all carrying coal when they ran aground off Denman Island in the early 1900s. In 2010 a proposed coal mine behind Buckley Bay triggered a vigorous protest on Denman.

City West is presently installing fibre-optic service to Denman Island. The first telephone
service came to Denman Island in1908. Two telephones were established on the Island. Soon
a party-line system was added by the settlers and their locally owned system served them
well with two manual exchanges until 1961 when BC Tel added Denman Island to their network.

Denman Conservancy Association acquired a Conservation Covenant on Railway Grade Marsh, now part of the Denman Island Provincial Park, in the northern part of Denman Island as an outcome of suing 4064 Investments Ltd. (Mike Jenks) for Breach of Contract arising from his purchase agreement.

Extensive areas of the smooth rock surfaces of the Chrome Island are covered with figures
created by grinding shallow grooves into the rock. There is extensive evidence of First
Nations’ previous occupation of the shores of Denman Island and also around Deep Bay on
the adjacent shores of Vancouver Island. The images on Chrome Island include sun-stars,
fish, birds and deer but by far the most common are of people. There are no images of
subjects that suggest the presence of Europeans on the Coast.

In 2021 Denman Conservancy Association purchased an 80 acre forest property from a
company which had long history with Denman Island.

An old growth redcedar tree fell down in Fillongly Park. Ring counts tell that it reached a height of 62 feet 210 years ago. The tree was young when Jose Narvaez sailed between Hornby and Lasqueti Islands in 1791, the first European explorer. The tree was rooted in midden from prior occupation by First Nations. Planning for use of Fillongly Park was restricted to 10 public camp sites by community concerns.

Landforms of Denman Island are influenced by glacial retreat effects and also by long-term colonization by Beavers. The odd drainage route from Eagle Marsh to Railway Grade Marsh may be an example of the latter

Extreme weather and the wreck of the steamship Alpha on Chrome Island in 1900.

The story of Denman Island coal begins in 1852 when Joseph William McKay visited Denman Island, looking for coal deposits. He stayed overnight at Siklault, the name he recorded for Denman Island, and the Pentlatch settlement at Village Point (now Denman Point). Others including Judge Crease believed there was coal under Denman and bought land here. Exploration for coal gas was promoted by the Province in the 1990’s but underground rights granted at that time were subsequently revoked.

An analysis of temperature and rainfall statistics recorded in the summer of 2021 on Denman Island

The first Crown Grant of land, to settlers of Denman Island, costing $1 per acre, was made in 1877. Settlers continued to take up parcels of the best farm land until, in 1888, four land speculators claimed 4119 acres, almost all the remaining land on the Island. Evidence of the early settlers activities such as cedar stumps and split rail fences can still be found on Denman properties.

Analysis of the June 2021 heatwave on Denman Island

Barn Raising was a community occasion and a Barn created by the community for Bert Pickles was memorable.

Logging practices on Denman Island in 1927

The income of loggers and carpenters as well as the lightkeeper are recorded while farmers generally declared no income. Some relevant prices from 1921 are listed.

Reflections on the 1921 census figures for Denman Island.

In 1921 there were 40 farmers on Denman Island, almost all making a living for their families from that work. It is calculated that Denman’s good agricultural land could feed a larger population than the present.

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.

Brief notes on the background to the treaty process with indigenous peoples of the region.

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.

Responses of Denman Island residents to proposals for the opening of a pub in the 1980s.

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.

Responses of Denman Island residents to proposals for the opening of a pub in the 1970s.

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.

Responses of Denman Island residents to proposals for the development of Fillongley Park in the 1970s.

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

An historical examination of weather statistics for the month of April.

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.

An examination of the history of periodical publishing on Denman Island, from the “Rag and Bone” and “High Tides” in the 70s and 80s up to the current publications, “The Grapevine” and the “Flagstone”

An exploration of the origins and dimensions of Morrison Marsh.

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.

Rain and snowfall statistics recorded over the past 74 Novembers examined.

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.

In preparation for the assault on Normandy in 1944, Sandy Island was “bombed, shelled and strung with barbed wire”.

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.

A balloon bomb manufactured in Japan landed, without incident, on Denman Island in 1944.

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

Record-breaking cold and warm temperatures recorded in the winter of 2019.

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.

Denman Island population statistics from the 2016 census

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

Record-breaking rainfall and temperatures recorded in the summer of 2018.

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.

Evidence of the significant role played by the owl in the culture of the Pentlatch

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.

Elaborate wedding on Denman Island in 1911 “drew a truly magnificent crowd, as well as the page-one attention of the press from far-off Cumberland.”

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.

In 1871 a party of entrepreneur/adventurers attracted by the discovery of coal on the banks of the Tsable River is threatened and “nearly devoured by bears, wolves and such like”.

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

Beginning in the 1950s Doras and Jim Kirk, owners of the General Store, housed a private museum, first in the store, then in their home. In 1980 they asked the Seniors Club if they would take it over and the seeds were sown for the building of what is now the Activity Centre.

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

A history of the Lacon Brewery in Norfolk England

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.