Catherine Gilbert: Coastal Exploration – Naming the Named

When local historian Catherine Gilbert ( also author, editor and lecturer) was a guide on boat cruises, the question came up: “What were the original individual names of the archipelago of islands that surround us?”  As it turned out,  First Nations people never actually gave the islands names,  referring to them after the function they served such as “place where we dried our fish” or “place where the wind blows”.  After the advent of explorers however, beginning with the Spanish in the 1500’s the islands were usually named after people they considered worthy of note.

On January 5th Catherine Gilbert treated Probus members to a fascinating look at the early explorers and how they charted and mapped the British Columbia Coast, from the Spaniards, to Captain James Cook and Captain George Vancouver in the 1700s, and hydrographer Captain George Richards in the 1860s.

When Captain George Vancouver came to the west coast islands in 1792 aboard HMS Discovery, one his directives was to survey the west coast and name its geographical features, which meant of course ignoring any indigenous names for the same places.  On his way north from the present day city of Vancouver, he encountered two Spanish Captains: Galiano and Valdes, who were also surveying the coast.  All three captains spent an amiable time anchored in Teakerne Arm, at West Redonda Island in Desolation Sound, next to the picturesque falls, having dinner together and comparing charts.  Vancouver was impressed with the Spanish charts, however, he wasn’t impressed with the landscape and even described it as ‘forlorn’.  That is how we ended up with the unlikely name of Desolation Sound for a place which in modern times is a considered to be a premier boating destination with stunningly beautiful scenery. 

Catherine Gilbert is the author of number of publications including the book Yorke Island and the Uncertain Wars

For those interested in reading further about Canadian West exploration, Catherine provided this bibliography:

The Pilots – Hazardous Navigation

British Columbia Coast Names

Raincoast Place Names

Sailing with Vancouver

White Flame of Maquinna

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