The History of Campbell River
The Tides of Time
Long before European explorers entered the waters surrounding Campbell River, the First Nations people lived here in harmony with nature, and the cycles of the salmon. They occupied small villages scattered along the coast; fished salmon-K'u ta'la-which had spiritual significance and was honoured through art and ceremony.
It's suggested that European explorers arrived in this region as early as the late 1500s, when Sir Francis Drake over-wintered just south of where Campbell River is today. Two centuries later, in 1778, Captain James Cook came ashore at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver landed on Quadra Island. He also named many local landmarks, including Discovery Passage, which you see today from Campbell River's waterfront.
Permanent settlement in Campbell River and the Discovery Islands occurred during the 1880s, changing the way salmon was harvested. Salmon became more than just food for local people; it was fished commercially and for sport. The area first received international sport fishing acclaim in 1896, when Sir Richard Musgrave detailed his accounts in the British magazine, The Field. Musgrave wrote about the 70-pound (31 kilogram) Tyee salmon he caught with the aid of native guides at the mouth of the Campbell River. This story launched a modest tourist trade in the region, consisting of sport fishers camping in tents on the beach now known as Tyee Spit. Campbell River flourished as a sport fishing destination, attracting Hollywood stars and others eager to test their angling skills. In 1925, several local businessmen started the renowned Tyee Club to protect and honour the majestic salmon.
You can still become a member. The mighty Tyees are the stuff of which legends-and great fish stories-are made. The region also developed forestry, mining, and other enterprises, including a whaling station on Cortes Island and a fish cannery on Quadra Island. In 1952, Elk Falls pulp and paper mill opened on a point of land jutting into Discovery Passage. This state-of-the-art facility is now Campbell River's largest employer, and during the summer, mill tours are available. More recently, a mine was opened above Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park. Today, you can tour the gold-copper-zinc-silver operation at Boliden Westmin mine in the summer months.
As commercial activity grew, so did concern for conservation, and in 1911, Strathcona Provincial Park was created to protect the surrounding natural heritage. Strathcona was British Columbia's first provincial park and at over 250,000 hectares (600,000 acres), remains Vancouver Island's largest. Over the years, numerous other provincial and regional parks have been set aside in the region, a gift for us all to enjoy today.
In the relatively short time since permanent settlers arrived here, Campbell River has changed dramatically, and it's now home to over 31,000 residents. But below the high water mark, the cycles of the salmon continue as they have for thousands of years. Campbell River celebrates and perpetuates this heritage with successful salmon stream enhancement projects, numerous ecological and recreational greenways, a meandering oceanside walkway, museums and cultural programs, and more. We bring our past to life every day, and invite you to be part of it.
Explore Campbell River's past through the writings and heritage home of Roderick Haig-Brown, renowned twentieth century sport fisher and nature conservationist. Haig-Brown was also an acclaimed outdoors writer. During his lifetime, he published numerous articles and over twenty-five books, some of which are still in print-others, as you might imagine, are treasured collector's items. Haig-Brown won several literary awards, and in fact, there's an annual British Columbia book prize named after him, too.
Haig-Brown's deep respect for nature, waterways, fish, and in particular, salmon, lives on today not only through his writings, but also through his conservation efforts. Over the years, Haig-Brown and his wife Ann worked to preserve several of British Columbia's natural legacies. In recognition of Haig-Brown's dedication, Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near the Adams River (a well-known salmon spawning ground in British Columbia's Okanagan) was named for him in 1977.
Today, you can visit the Haig-Brown family home in Campbell River. Since 1990, the house, gardens and orchard have been an official British Columbia Heritage Site. Tour Haig-Brown's inspiring library, the riverside grounds, and the adjacent Haig-Brown Kingfisher Creek salmon enhancement project. Plan to linger awhile-it's also a charming bed and breakfast.
The Tyee Club
Re-live Campbell River's legendary sport fishing days by joining the famed Tyee Club. Established in 1925 to honour and protect the magnificent Tyee-large "Spring" or "Chinook" -salmon, the club awards membership to anglers who land extraordinarily large fish.
If you aspire to become a Tyee Club member, there is a catch and it's more than just the minimum 14 kilogram (30-pound) Chinook on a hook. Strict rules stipulate that-among other things-you fish from a rowboat in Discovery Passage's Tyee Pool with a hand-operated reel and no more than twenty-pound test line.
Today, this venerable institution also participates in salmon enhancement and waterway restoration projects. For more information, telephone the Tyee Club at 250-287-2724.
In Campbell River, the Salmon Capital of the World, Painter's Lodge is a sportfishing icon. It opened in the 1920s with a few rustic cabins operated by Ned and June Painter on Campbell River Spit. Ned Painter was also associated with the famous Tyee Club and built wooden rowboats that he rented and sold to anglers.
In 1938, the Painters moved their operation to the oceanfront where the resort now stands. June Painter worked steadfastly to ensure its success, and after ten years in their new location, the family sold the lodge. Tragically, in 1985 fire destroyed the historic lodge and its irreplaceable memorabilia. Before long though, Painter's Lodge was rebuilt.
Over the years, Painter's-as it's fondly called-has hosted Hollywood celebrities like John Wayne, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and many others aspiring to join the legendary Tyee Club. This renowned resort continues to welcome guests to the community.
Ripple Rock - The Devil Beneath the Sea
Until 1958, the Devil Beneath the Sea lurked just north of Campbell River. It wasn't actually a sea monster, it was treacherous Ripple Rock, which lay concealed in seething tidal currents at the mouth of Seymour Narrows. It was a navigational hazard, and over a hundred ships and just as many souls met their fate on its unforgiving shoulders.
Over the years, there were several unsuccessful attempts to remove Ripple Rock. By the mid-1950s, however, engineers had devised an elaborate plan that involved sinking a shaft through nearby Maud Island, tunneling horizontally under Ripple Rock, then up into its twin peaks. Working non-stop, it took miners twenty-eight months to drill the tunnels and install explosives.
In 1958, the day of the big blast arrived. It was the largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history, a record that stands to this day. Within seconds after detonation, 700,000 tons (637,000 tonnes) of rock and water shot over 300 metres (1000 feet) into the sky. As dust and debris fell back to earth, the Devil Beneath the Sea disappeared forever into the murky depths.
You can re-live the drama of Ripple Rock on video (provided courtesy of CBC archives). There's a viewpoint on Highway 19 just north of Campbell River, and a trail near the site of Ripple Rock. The Museum at Campbell River has an exhibit about the Ripple Rock Explosion if you wish more information.