Destination Cortez Island

Cameron, June. Destination Cortez Island: A sailor’s life along the BC coast. Surrey: Heritage House, 1999. ISBN: 1895811686

DestinationCortez

A memoir by June Cameron about her family’s experience on Cortez Island, plus anecdotes about other early pioneers from the area. Cameron’s maternal grandparents, Alfred and Florence Hayes, arrived on Cortez in 1917, with the plan to establish an orchard and nursery to support their family of nine children. Despite Alf’s horticultural training, this proved to be an insufficient means to make a living, and had to be supplemented in a variety of ways. The Hayes family were not alone in their struggles. Other pioneers had also settled in the area with farming ambitions, and the lack of a reliable means of transporting perishables up and down the coast proved to be an insurmountable challenge for some.

Despite the difficulty of eking out an existence, Cameron’s grandparents remained on Cortez.  Beginning in the 1930s, Cameron spent every summer of her childhood there, the early ones living on her parents’ 36-foot wooden boat moored nearby. Her parents eventually pre-empted their own piece of land on the island, and the family built a one room house on the property. They continued to summer on Cortez, away from their school year home in Vancouver.

June Cameron was not only a competitive sailor, but also a prolific nautical writer and artist. She had many articles published in the magazines Pacific Yachting and Western Mariner, and specialized in boat portraits and coastal landscape painting. Her love and knowledge of boating and the coast in general are obvious in her writing, but as a landlubber, I found the jargon and technical details about boats, engines, and fishing somewhat daunting.

I did however appreciate a very early explanation of the Cortez versus Cortes spelling. It was something I had been wondering about prior to even starting the book. There are thousands of islands on the B.C. coast, I wasn’t entirely sure if Cortez and Cortes were the same island or not. I was glad to have my question answered right out of the gate. As Cameron explains in the introduction: the island was originally named by the Spanish explorers Galiano and Valdes in honour of Hernando Cortes, conqueror of Mexico. “While that spelling [Cortes] has survived on most Canadian Hydrographic Service Charts, many of the pioneers anglicized the name and referred to the tranquil island west of Desolation Sound as Cortez.” True to her pioneer roots, Cameron never strays from the ‘ez’ spelling. Apparently, the pioneers even had their own way of saying their island’s name, pronouncing it “Cor-teez”, a speech pattern that Cameron also adopted.1

June Cameron passed away in July 2016, her last words: “I’m almost ready to go back to Cortez.”2 Before she went on that final journey, she left behind an enjoyable read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the island her family loved, or about the lifestyle of those who settled the B.C. coast.

Cameron compares her book to a stew, made up from sources both old and new, with bits and pieces contributed from her own experiences, and those of her friends, family, and neighbours. I felt this was an apt description. Cameron wrote the book in tribute to the pioneers of the area, mixing their stories with hers to produce a book that is not only her own memoir and the story of her family’s experience on Cortez, but also the story of the larger coastal community.


Notes

1. Jordan, L. (2016, November 22). June Cameron. Cortes Island Museum and Archives [blog]. Retrieved from https://cortesmuseum.com/june-cameron-by-lynne-jordan/

2. (2016, July 24). June Cameron. Campbell River Mirror [obituary]. Retrieved from https://www.campbellrivermirror.com/obituaries/june-cameron/

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