Around the World in a Dugout Canoe: The Untold Story of Captain John Voss and the Tilikum

This book review was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue (53.3) of British Columbia History, a quarterly magazine published by the British Columbia Historical Federation. I’d like to thank the magazine’s editors for giving me permission to share it here.

With their new book, Around the World in a Dugout Canoe: The Untold Story of Captain John Voss and the Tilikum, maritime historians John M. MacFarlane and Lynn J. Salmon have attempted to set the record straight about one of the west coast’s most misrepresented seamen, Captain John Voss, whose reputation as a master mariner has been questioned for over a century.Book cover image of "Around the World in a Dugout Canoe."

Setting sail from Victoria in 1901, Voss spent the next three plus years and 40,000 miles completing an epic journey around the world in the Tilikum, a converted Nuu-chah-nulth cedar canoe. Covering the Tilikum’s voyage from Victoria to the Pacific Islands, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, and finally to England, this book is an opportunity to step on board with Voss and his revolving door of first mates as they adventure around the world.

While Voss and the Tilikum were greatly admired by contemporary followers, the damaging allegation that Voss murdered the second of his mates in a drunken fight has been a shadow on his legacy that even time has had trouble erasing.

This book is an effort by MacFarlane and Salmon to counter the existing body of inaccurate and distorted information about Voss and his voyage, and to present a more complete account of what really happened. The authors drew from years of careful and critical research, during which they consulted newspaper accounts from around the world, as well as archival material, photographs, and testimonies to piece together as much information as possible about the Tilikum’s journey. Their research also included close readings of both John Voss’ and Norman Luxton’s (Voss’ initial first mate) books about the voyage. Details from these contradictory accounts are carefully considered, compared, and questioned by MacFarlane and Salmon.

Around the World in a Dugout Canoe sails smoothly from opening background chapters about Voss and Luxton to ones on the Tilikum’s preparation, departure, and major stops. A significant number of pictures from a variety of sources thoughtfully highlight the text, and the book is written in such a way that even landlubbers are able to wade through the nautical jargon – especially with the help of a glossary found in the back of the book.

MacFarlane and Salmon have done an excellent job of taking readers along on the Tilikum as Voss and his mates face multiple challenges. We experience the panic of getting down to the last few gallons of water, the hunger felt by Voss and his crewman as the food supplies run low, the endless monotony of the open sea, and the unpredictable and extreme weather conditions. The fragility of a journey that could have come to a tragic end at any moment is conveyed, while the constraints of the extremely limited space and the burden of constant companionship are easily understood. It’s no wonder that while Voss was dedicated to his goal of circumnavigation, he spent significant amounts of time onshore throughout the journey.

Not only was it fascinating to read about the celebrity status Voss and the Tilikum achieved at ports of call around the world – drawing in huge crowds to see their arrival, hear Voss’ lectures, and watch their departure – but it was also interesting to learn more about how Voss was a forefather of challenge-based long-distance recreational sailing. Throughout the years, journeys like the Tilikum’s have inspired countless individuals to attempt record setting voyages.

In one of the concluding chapters of the book, we leave Voss behind in England, and we follow the Tilikum herself through her descent into disrepair and her eventual repatriation to Victoria. After being carefully restored, the Tilikum was showcased proudly in her home province – first in Thunderbird Park starting in 1941, and then from 1965 to 2015 in the main gallery of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

While the Tilikum is currently in storage at the Ogden Point passenger terminal in Victoria, the media is reporting that the Maritime Museum of British Columbia has a plan to relocate to a new home in Langford. One hopes that the new location will mean that the Tilikum, an important piece of the province’s nautical history, will once again be accessible for the general public to enjoy in all her glory.

In the meantime, anyone interested in learning more about the Tilikum and Captain Voss will certainly enjoy reading this book.

Cedar By The Sea: 1890-1970

A new, ultra local read! I first learned about the booklet, “Cedar By The Sea: 1890-1970” compiled by Roger Prior in the fall newsletter of the Nanaimo Historical Society. Since I live in Cedar myself, and I also like to support the creative work of fellow NHS members, it was a definite must-have! Only a limited number of copies have been produced, so I’m happy to have one to add to my always expanding local history library.

In his NHS newsletter article, Prior expressed that he felt that the history of Cedar’s early settlers was not well-known (I’d agree), and that he hoped that his “modest little booklet might help to recognize the endurance and vision of [Cedar’s] pioneers.” It’s so easy for stories to get forgotten if they aren’t recorded in any way. Local history matters, and I’m happy to see someone else writing about the history and development of the often overlooked small communities that surround Nanaimo.

The first and most lengthy section of the booklet features the Fiddick family, who moved to the Cedar area in 1872. Samuel and Elizabeth (Grandam) Fiddick pre-empted 250 acres on the west side of the Nanaimo River, building a home at the corner of Wilkinson and Akenhead Roads. Their son Charles later purchased 120 acres near Dodd Narrows, a property that was uncleared and included a quarter of a mile of waterfront. Charles Fiddick developed the land and moved his family into a house there in 1904, and descendants of the Fiddick family still live in the immediate area today.

Next there is a brief section in the booklet about the Long John Silver subdivision, which was developed by the realty company of Nanaimo’s pirate mayor Frank Ney on land purchased from the Fiddick family in 1963.

The next section features the Thomas family that first pre-empted land in Cedar in 1884. The Thomas family section is particularly focused on long time Cedar resident Ivor Thomas who lived in the area from his birth in 1889 to his death in 1981.

The final section of the booklet is about the Aquarian Foundation property. It was nice to see that Prior did not spend a lot of time on the mysterious (but sometimes over-embellished) tale of Brother XII that’s been covered at length elsewhere. Instead, the property itself is the focus in the booklet and what happened to the land and different buildings after the foundation dissolved and Brother XII and his followers dispersed.

I really appreciate the effort that goes into producing this kind of local history resource: peering at old newspapers, sorting through albums and boxes of photos, conducting interviews with neighbours, and exploring the resources of the Nanaimo Community Archives. As I contemplate my own writing ideas, I was pleased to read that Prior found his project to have a community building element. He shared that he “used the project as an introduction to even more neighbours and locals who added more of their memories.” The idea that neighbours can be brought together in the spirit of local history project is definitely one that I can get behind and something I will be thinking about in the future.

Colonial Nanaimo: Charles Bayley & William Hughes

Two new ultra-local reads! I purchased both of these books directly from the authors, which I was happy to do in theses strange COVID-19 times. Each book is biographical, following the life and times of a different yet contemporary white, male, colonial pioneer who spent time in Nanaimo.

McDowell, Jim. Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869). Richmond, BC: JEM Publications, 2018.

Davidson, Carole. Early Nanaimo 1857-1876 from the Diary of William J Hughes. Victoria: Rendezvous Historic Press, 2020.

Picture of the two books

Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869) was published by Jim McDowell in 2018. I recently learned about it when it was briefly profiled in the books section of the Summer 2020 issue of British Columbia History magazine. McDowell is a BC historian with several titles to his name. He only self-published a very small number (12!) of limited edition, full colour copies of Pluck, Luck and Grit, and I feel lucky to have one. The book follows the life of Charles Bayley, who came to Vancouver Island with his parents in 1850 aboard the Tory. The ship had been chartered by the Hudson’s Bay Company “to carry a few ‘settlers’ and numerous labourers around the horn of South America and north in the Pacific Ocean in order to start colonizing the Pacific Northwest Coast for Great Britain.”1 The Bayley family settled three miles from Fort Victoria, where Charles’ father Thomas was contracted by the HBC to manage a farm. Charles Bayley went on to become one of Vancouver Island’s earliest schoolteachers, working first in Victoria and then later in Nanaimo. According to the book’s dedication, McDowell’s mother was Charles Bayley’s “grand niece-in-law,” and her brother, McDowell’s uncle, was married to a granddaughter of Bayley. This connection likely gave McDowell access to Bayley’s memoirs, quotes from which are included in the text, adding Bayley’s own voice to the narrative.

Early Nanaimo 1857-1876 from the Diary of William J Hughes by Carole Davidson was just published this year and follows Hughes’ life as depicted in his daily (only one line per day) diary. Nanaimo history fans may be familiar with Davidson’s earlier book, Historic Departure Bay…Looking Back, which was published in 2006. Hughes and his Indigenous wife Mary Salacelowitz settled on a piece of land at Departure Bay in 1861, where they farmed, gardened, and generally seemed to work hard to earn their living. Mary, who was from the Cowichan Tribes, followed the traditional ways and annual seasonal patterns of her people. She frequently spent time away from home and took the children with her, while William’s days seemed to be mostly full of never-ending chores and work to support their family and property.

If I come away from a book about Vancouver Island having read one thing I didn’t know already, I’m usually pretty happy, and that certainly was the case for both of these books which cover some of the Island’s early settler history. For example, Davidson’s book explains how the land at Departure Bay where Robert Dunsmuir built his coal shipping wharves for the Wellington Colliery was originally part of William Hughes’ 150-acre pre-emption. Having read a lot about Dunsmuir, it’s not hard for me to imagine the canny Scot bullying Hughes into entering a lease agreement which gave Dunsmuir access to tidewater through Hughes’ land. Surprise, surprise, not only did Dunsmuir apparently go ahead and build a road and wharves on William Hughes’ land before sorting out the details of the lease agreement, but he also petitioned the Legislative Assembly to be allowed to appropriate even more of Hughes’ land for his use:

“The original lease granted Dunsmuir a strip of land thirty-three feet wide from the mine to the sea with one acre of land at the waterfront. The new petition asked for sixty-six feet of land from the mine and five acres of land at the seafront. William makes no comment in his diary to indicate his feelings about this second intrusion on his land, but one can assume he wasn’t happy as under these new terms his house was separated from the rest of his land.”2

What a guy! Robert Dunsmuir sure didn’t become one of the richest men in the province by playing nice with the neighbours. His “robber baron” label certainly seems to fit in this case. In her biography, Robert Dunsmuir: Laird of the Mines, local historian Lynne Bowen looked at the range of ways in which Dunsmuir was described after his death. A claim that he was “a man who knew what he wanted and took the shortest route”3 seems to perfectly describe how Dunsmuir dealt with Hughes.

A wonderful, trivial fact about Victoria is shared in McDowell’s book. Because of how his hotel was built on the corner of Government and Yates Streets, Charles Bayley left a lasting mark on the city. Apparently, there is what McDowell calls a “jog” in Yates Street, where Bayley “inadvertently built his hotel [in 1857] without allowing for a setback from the street line. Instead of relocating what was then Victoria’s finest building, surveyors simply shifted their measuring pegs, and created a slightly dysfunctional, unattractive ‘jog’ along the entire block which still exists.”4 McDowell goes on to suggest that “this engineering oddity deserves recognition by a modest, amusing historical marker,”5 and I can’t say that I disagree with him!

It was interesting to read these two books together. While they both cover relatively the same time period, in relatively the same place, the lives of Bayley and Hughes, two white men of a similar age, are significantly different. Bayley’s days in Nanaimo, which was called Colviletown at the time, were spent teaching the children of the settlement’s miners and HBC employees. “The census [of 1854] indicated Bayley had 29 (apparently all male) students,”6 and because a proper schoolhouse had not yet been built, he used a single room in a small, wood-frame cabin as his schoolroom. Bayley received a salary and his board (at the home of his future wife’s parents) was also paid. It seems like Bayley must have enjoyed a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, as by the end of 1856, after just three years of teaching in Nanaimo, he had enough of a nest egg to enable him to change careers and cities. “Tired of the monotony of the sedentary life of a teacher and having saved a few thousand dollars, [he decided to] embark on a more active life as a trader [in Victoria].”7 Bayley’s cash flow wasn’t always so stable, and in 1868, he took out an advertisement in Victoria’s British Colonist claiming his time was not “fully occupied” and he was looking for work he could do. As McDowell puts it: “One can sense how humiliating it must have been for a man…to be forced to publicly beg for work behind the thinly-veiled pretense of simply having too much time on his hands.”8

In contrast, Hughes certainly didn’t lead a life of comfort or one where he found himself sticking much money aside for future plans. When he died in 1876, “the value of his effects was less than $820.”9 The “monotony of life” for Hughes meant day after day of work. “He worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week to feed his family, and to improve his land and living conditions.”10 Unlike Bayley, who could change occupations on a whim out a desire for something more fulfilling or lucrative, Hughes seemingly took any job that he could in order to just survive.

Although living markedly differently day-to-day lives, both men experienced instability. Charles Bayley moved from England to Victoria, to Nanaimo, back to Victoria, and then to San Francisco in the space of two decades. During the first years of his diary, Hughes moves around so much that Davidson isn’t actually able to determine where he really lived. He does eventually settle and file a pre-emption for land in Departure Bay in 1861, but even after that, he still spends time going back and forth to Newcastle Island, and also making fairly regular trips to Nanaimo, Victoria, and to St. Ann’s in Duncan where his children attended school.

Bayley shuffled from career to career, apparently not finding success or contentment with any one thing. After teaching for a few years, he went on to become a hotelier and storekeeper, next a gentleman farmer, and then a politician. He also tried to make money by investing in mining goods and equipment then hiring someone else to take the supplies in a pack train to where they could be resold for a profit. Bayley sent a pack train to Williams Creek (outside of Barkerville) to capitalize on the Cariboo gold rush, and he later funded a similar venture bound for the Leech River (outside of Sooke) where a gold bonanza happened briefly in 1865. McDowell describes Bayley as “a venturesome fellow who knew how to seize a new opportunity or meet an unexpected challenge when it appeared.”11

Hughes also moved from one job to the next, all of them apparently temporary. He seems to have made a large portion of his living by periodically crafting tool handles, selling fish oil he’d rendered down from dogfish livers, and through his farming ventures. Davidson proposes that he may even have been running one of Vancouver Island’s early nurseries, based on the large number of fruit trees he cared for. “The number of young trees produced seemed to be many more than he would use himself which leads one to suppose that he grew them for resale.”12 Hughes also tried his hand at gold mining outside of Yale, spent time at the quarry on Newcastle Island, and carried out small building projects. His diary reflects a life of constant chores and hard work with little room for luxury, rest, or frivolity.

I’m pretty sure the two men would not have been friends or even friendly acquaintances. McDowell frequently makes note of the stereotypes that Bayley upheld. He didn’t think much of the labouring classes, which Hughes certainly would have belonged to. “Bayley’s condescending references to a ‘medley of various characters’ and ‘incorrigible’ country folk in steerage indicate stereotypes and biases about labouring class people that aspiring ‘squires’ [like Bayley and his family] brought with them.”13 Bayley also had little respect for the Indigenous Peoples of the land, and at times apparently didn’t even acknowledge them. “Bayley’s unspoken, but obvious exclusion of Indigenous people from his estimate of the town’s population count rendered this group non-existent.”14 While Bayley might have summoned the respect to acknowledge Hughes in his store or on the streets of Nanaimo, he likely wouldn’t have looked favourably on Hughes’ choice of an Indigenous woman for a partner, and in all probability, he wouldn’t have treated the mixed-raced children of the Hughes union in the same way he treated the children of the white settlers of the community. I appreciated how McDowell wasn’t shy about critiquing the condescending and racist references in Bayley’s memoirs, and how he notes how Bayley’s views reflected a “narrow-minded 19th century colonial socio-cultural perspective [that] would remain largely unchanged in British Columbia for more than 100 years.”15

Like many self or community published titles, both of these books could have benefited with some additional editorial oversight, as they each include an assortment of minor spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors as well as some inconsistencies in font and format choices. But overall, I enjoyed reading both Davidson’s and McDowell’s latest books, and I will certainly look forward to anything they might publish in the future about the history of Vancouver Island.


  1. Jim McDowell, Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869) (Richmond, BC: JEM Publications, 2018), 11.
  2. Carole Davidson, Early Nanaimo from the Diary of William J Hughes (Victoria: Rendezvous Historic Press, 2020), 103.
  3. Lynne Bowen, Robert Dunsmuir: Laird of the Mines (Lantzville: XYZ Publishing, 1999), 141.
  4. McDowell, 53.
  5. McDowell, 53.
  6. McDowell, 41.
  7. McDowell, 47.
  8. McDowell, 71.
  9. Davidson, 131.
  10. Davidson, 59.
  11. McDowell, 75.
  12. Davidson, 90.
  13. McDowell, 21.
  14. McDowell, 36.
  15. McDowell, 36.

Reading Capi Blanchet

A flotilla of coastal cruising books! I just read The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet, and immediately following in its wake, I read the biography Following the Curve of Time: The Legendary M. Wylie Blanchet by Cathy Converse. Despite living on an island, I really don’t have any experience with boating, yet I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the marine adventures of Muriel Wylie “Capi” Blanchet that took place during the many summers she cruised the B.C. coast with her children in the 1920s and ’30s.


After her husband’s sudden and unexpected death, Blanchet loaded her five children into the family’s 25-foot boat, Caprice, and for year after year they spent from early June to late September adventuring in the coastal waters of British Columbia. The living and storage space aboard the Caprice was very small and was strictly organized out of necessity. I can’t imagine telling my own brood that they could only have one change of clothes, a set of pajamas, and a bathing suit for an entire summer! The book Blanchet wrote about the family’s years of summer cruising, The Curve of Time, has “become one of the classics in British Columbia literature.”1

At times pensive, while at other times quite humorous, I enjoyed Blanchet’s writing style. Her love and concern for her children comes through clearly in her prose. As a parent myself, my eyes raced across the page as Capi frantically returned from her foray into the forest to where her children played alone on the beach:

“‘Coming – coming!’ I shouted. What was I going to rescue them from? I didn’t know, but how desperately urgent it was! I finally scrambled through to the beach – blood streaming down my legs, face scratched, hands torn – blood everywhere. Five wondering faces looked at me in horror. The two youngest burst into tears at the sight of this remnant of what had once been their Mummy. ‘Are you all right?’ I gasped – with a sudden seething mixture of anger and relief at finding them alive and unhurt.”2

What parent hasn’t had a sudden flash of intuition that something was wrong with the children, followed by an urgent panic to check that everything is alright!?

Reading Converse’s biography about Blanchet gave me meaningful context and answered a lot of my questions. At no point in Blanchet’s book is the reader told what had happened to Capi’s husband, only that he had recently died before Capi and the children started taking their summer journeys. After finding out in Converse’s biography that Geoffrey Blanchet disappeared while out alone on the Caprice, I was even more amazed at Capi’s courage and strength.

For a woman to face grief head on like that, on the very boat that her husband disappeared from, really drove home for me what a strong person Capi was. I have to say, if I was in the same position, I find it very unlikely I would embrace boating as a pastime when my spouse had died doing that same activity. And I certainly wouldn’t find myself living on the same boat that he had disappeared from. But as Capi wrote, “Destiny rarely follows the pattern we would choose for it and the legacy of death often shapes our lives in ways we could not imagine.”3

Converse’s biography also outlines Blanchet’s life before her Caprice days. Growing up on the St. Lawrence River and summering in Cacouna, Quebec, she developed a love of water from an early age: “It was in Cacouna that Capi explored and honed her skills as an observer of the natural world, and this would set the tone and direction of her life in British Columbia.”4

Reading The Curve of Time in 2019, I was uncomfortable with the Blanchet family’s intrusions into several First Nations villages on the B.C. coast. The Blanchets not only wandered into abandoned villages, handled, photographed, and even removed some artifacts that they found there, but Capi also ignored locks and warning signs.

Converse explains to readers that during the time period of both when the Blanchets were adventuring and when the book was originally published in 1961, attitudes and practices were different than today: “There are now legal protections against the removal of indigenous property, but in Capi’s time no such regulations existed and cultural sensitivities were discounted.”5

While Converse’s reminder does help to situate the Blanchets’ actions in a time period when settler behaviours and attitudes served to damage traditional First Nations cultures of the B.C. coast, the sections about the Blanchets’ explorations of First Nations villages still sat uneasily with me long after I put The Curve of Time down.

Blanchet explains the family’s rationale: “We had made up our minds to spend part of the summer among the old villages with the big community houses, and try to recapture something of a Past [sic] that will soon be gone forever.”6 The thing is, at least some of the villages the Blanchets visited likely weren’t ‘old’ in the sense that they were abandoned. And the inhabitants’ lives weren’t something of the past. The people who lived in some of the villages likely just happened to be away at the time of the Blanchets’ uninvited and most likely unwelcome visit.

In her exploration of colonial women’s travel writing regarding contact with Indigenous peoples, author Dr. Nancy Pagh explains how Blanchet has employed a myth common to literature of the time period: “When Blanchet constructs Native people as the embodiment of ‘the Past’ [sic], she refuses to allow that these very real people are her contemporaries, alive and working in the summer fishery while she is fantasizing about them from their winter villages.”7

Capi trespassed and took things that weren’t hers, and in her book, she doesn’t seem to show any regret or remorse in doing so, even though The Curve of Time was written many years after her summer cruises. She even goes so far as to recount how in one empty First Nations village, the Blanchet family, “played with their old boxes-for-the-dead, trying to see if we could fit in.”8 Knowing that The Curve of Time still serves as a key text for those cruising the B.C. coast, I hope that anyone reading the book today isn’t encouraged to act in a similar manner in the event of finding an Indigenous artifact during their own adventures.

As her children grew, some of them no longer joined Capi for the family summer holiday, and the early 1940s and World War II brought the last cruise aboard the Caprice. In the biography, Converse outlines the remainder of Capi’s life on Curtesis Point on the Saanich Peninsula, and briefly summarizes the later lives of the five Blanchet children.

Overall, I found it meaningful and interesting to read the books together as a pair. Once I knew more of Capi Blanchet’s story than she revealed in her own writing, I was quite intrigued by this enigmatic woman from Vancouver Island, and I was curious to read more about her. As well as being mentioned in Pagh’s book, At Home Afloat: Women on the Waters of the Pacific Northwest, Capi Blanchet is profiled in Eve Lazarus’ book, Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens, as one of five legendary women of Victoria. Author and historian Rosemary Neering, whose many books have focused on western Canada, includes a section about Blanchet in her book, Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels. And in The Strangers Next Door, Edith Iglauer, a leading chronicler of Canadian life and culture, devotes a chapter to Blanchet, which originally appeared in Raincoast Chronicles, the well-loved journal of the Canadian west coast.

Converse adeptly covers much of this same material in the biography, but it was still interesting to read other authors’ takes on Capi. Lazarus includes a quote from Blanchet’s daughter-in-law that reminds us that The Curve of Time is after all an “account” of the Blanchets’ cruises, one that “is neither a story nor a log”9: “When I read The Curve of Time when it was first published, my governing thought was this was not the woman that I knew, because Capi comes across much more tender and sensitive in that book than she appeared to me.”10

How much did Capi Blanchet blur the lines between fact and fiction in The Curve of Time? Converse reveals that the Blanchet children were not necessarily in agreement about the accuracy of Capi’s writing: “When Elizabeth, who became an accomplished writer in her own right, first read her mother’s book, she remarked, ‘A lot of what is in that book is bunk. I ought to know, I was there.’ Some of the others chose not to read it or did not comment on it.”11

So much of Capi Blanchet’s life remains a mystery, including what her real motivation was for packing her children aboard the Caprice for those long summer cruises. Did she just need the money she received from renting out the Blanchets’ Little House over the summer? Was it the pull of adventure? An act of defiance and confidence building when her family expected her to go back east after her husband’s sudden death? Or was it just that she loved being out on the water, cruising and exploring, and she wanted to share a pastime that she enjoyed with her children? We’ll never really know, but I definitely enjoyed reading about Capi Blanchet, a remarkable west coast woman.


  1. Iglauer, Edith. “‘Capi’ Blanchet.” In The Strangers Next Door (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1991), 222.
  2. Blanchet, M. Wylie. The Curve of Time (Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1996), 3.
  3. Blanchet, 161.
  4. Converse, Cathy. Following the Curve of Time: The Legendary M. Wylie Blanchet (Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions, 2008), 29.
  5. Converse, 143.
  6. Blanchet, 45.
  7. Pagh, Nancy. At Home Afloat: Women on the Waters of the Pacific Northwest (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2001), 114.
  8. Blanchet, 52.
  9. Blanchet, xv.
  10. Lazarus, Eve. Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens (Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2012), 35.
  11. Converse, 67.

Destination Cortez Island

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


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.


1. Jordan, L. (2016, November 22). June Cameron. Cortes Island Museum and Archives [blog]. Retrieved from

2. (2016, July 24). June Cameron. Campbell River Mirror [obituary]. Retrieved from