Vancouver Island is the largest island on the West Coast of both North and South America and geologically forms part of a partially submerged chain of the Western Cordillera. It is considered a geologic continuation of the US coastal mountain chain. Discovered by Europeans (first the Spanish and later the English) in the late Eighteenth Century, the island is 460 kilometres (290 mi) in length, 80 kilometres (50 mi) in width at its widest point, and 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi) in area. Originally called ‘Quadra and Vancouver Island’ after Spanish navigator Juan de la Bodega y Quadra and British navy officer George Vancouver, the former’s name was eventually dropped and it has since been known solely as Vancouver Island.
But European adventurers were far from the first humans to explore and call the island home. With a history stretching back more than 10,000 years, First Nation’s peoples have inhabited its shores and forests since the dim mists of time. Representing three distinct peoples, the Coast Salish, the Nuu-chah-nulth and the KwakwakawÂ’akw, these original settlers lived and prospered thanks to the benign climate and the abundance of plant and animal food sources the lush forests and surrounding ocean provided. Unlike with the Native Peoples of the plains and prairies, the coastal natives did not have to embrace a nomadic lifestyle, as the ready food supplies eliminated the need to pursue herd animals to survive.
The fixed nature of the Vancouver Island First People’s life allowed for the development of large and sophisticated villages, artfully crafted wooden structures and ceremonial long houses, and the time to develop esoteric skills such as art and adornment. The Native Peoples of the West Coast are renowned carvers and artisans whose works continue to attract museums, collectors and galleries across the world.
This long and productive First Nations presence on Vancouver Island has allowed for the development of Native-themed tourism, which enables visitors to enjoy the natural splendors of the Island, while embracing the rich and varied cultures which have resided on its rugged shores since before written history. This opportunity to explore living history will be examined in depth in our next blog entry.