Early Coast History
The southern Sunshine Coast is an area rich in history, with evidence of Chinese and European explorers and, of course, the shíshálh people, the region’s first inhabitants.
Early “land seekers” settled in a number of Sunshine Coast communities and contributed to early development, crop production and waterfront construction, (including wharfs and commercial businesses), allowing others to easily reach and remain in the area. George Gibson was the first European settler to make the Sunshine Coast his home, acquiring land in the region now known as Gibsons in 1886. His action was duplicated by many others who became namesakes for present day communities; Henry A. Mellon built the first pulp-producing plant in what is now Port Mellon, George Hopkins settled in the area now known as Hopkins Landing, Charles Irvine completed early development in Irvines Landing and Harry Roberts commercialized Roberts Creek, building a wharf, general store and post office that catered to the early tourists that ventured to the area for summer holidays.
The community of Sechelt was named after the shíshálh people, though Thomas John Cook, his wife Sarah and infant daughter Ada were the first Europeans to settle permanently in Sechelt in 1894. He was the first Justice of the Peace, helped open the first school, donated part of his land for the building of St. Hilda’s Anglican Church and cemetery and generally helped his pioneer neighbours and the shíshálh people. Commercial development began in the late 1800’s when the Whitaker family came to the area. The family is credited with developing two hotels, the first general stores and spearheading the construction of the Trail Bay and Porpoise Bay wharfs to accommodate the Union Steamship Company, which had been servicing BC’s coastal communities from Vancouver since 1890. Sechelt eventually branched out to include the communities of Wilson Creek, Davis Bay, West Sechelt, Porpoise Bay, Sandy Hook and Tuwanek.
The Halfmoon Bay region was not connected to the rest of the Sechelt Peninsula by road until 1928. By 1933 two main plank roads extended from the present site of the Halfmoon Bay government dock - the west road followed Halfmoon Creek, the east road followed Milne Creek and joined the main motor road (presently Highway 101) at the north end of Trout Lake. Sargeant Bay was another hub for a network of logging roads, following Kenyon and Colvin Creeks.
Smuggler Cove takes its name from the infamous pirate William Kelly, the King of Smugglers. He transported illegal Chinese immigrants from Vancouver across the US border by sea, for the hefty fee of one dollar each. He evaded arrest by hiding in Smuggler Cove. During the Prohibition of the 20’s, the cove was used to store bootleg liquor enroute from the stills on Texada Island to the rum-running boats heading to the States.
A legend persists that the first non-Native to occupy the Pender Harbour area was a Chinese man who began a fish saltery at the mouth of what became Irvines Landing. An Englishman known as Charlie Irvine (for whom the Landing is named) is more commonly recognized as the first settler. Irvine built a log trading post at the Landing, then joined the excitement of the Klondike gold rush. He sold his property in 1904 to an enterprising sailor and fisherman, “Portuguese Joe” Gonsalves, who really developed the area. They built a deep-sea dock, general store, post office and hotel/saloon at the head of the wharf. The Union Steamship Company made this a regular stop, the beginning of Pender Harbour’s real presence on the map.
Egmont, the northernmost settlement on the Sechelt Peninsula, was founded in 1880 by a legendary half-Scottish, half Portuguese seaman and trader named Joseph Silvia Simmonds. He had worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, prospected in the Cariboo and built a saloon in Vancouver before arriving in Egmont where he married a Native woman, Lucy Kwatleematt. Simmonds later dropped his surname and used the name Silvey. His descendants still live in the Egmont area.
At the start of the 20th century, hundreds of settlers had claimed land on the Sunshine Coast and steamships were making regular trips, bringing mail, supplies and visitors who had heard news of this beautiful, emerging region. It wasn’t until 1952 that a paved road finally connected the communities of the southern Sunshine Coast and regular ferry service ensued.
Today, the Sunshine Coast continues to develop and there is still a strong connection to its past through First Nations story telling, museums and archives and historic architecture.
Information submitted by
The Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives