Travel Story 

The best of Thetis Island

Page 3 of 4

Donna grew up in the land-locked town of McBride but once she discovered the Coast there was no looking back. She moved to Thetis Island 26 years ago, raised her four children in a house not far from her present home. When she found herself alone in 1992 she acquired the Clam Bay property, convinced a reluctant bank manager to back her, planted gardens, refurbished the old original buildings, and in 1995 the Clam Bay B&B was launched. Since then she has made friends with people from around the world – guests, like ourselves, who keep coming back and stay in touch between visits.

The tide was out on day-two when we started our trip around the island. Leaving the western end of Clam Bay and entering the channel between Thetis and Kuper Islands the water was just deep enough to float our kayaks. Jets of water squirt from clams buried in the muddy banks where tangled clusters of purple starfish wait for the incoming tide.

Like Siamese twins joined at the hip, Thesis and Kuper Islands were once connected by mud flats that dried at low tide. In 1905 work was begun on a controversial channel that would provide a short-cut for boats traveling between Porlier Pass and Vancouver Island. The original specifications called for a low-tide depth of six feet but they were never met. The channel still dries at low tide, but the unfinished ditch is still there – a physical barrier not only between two islands, but also between two cultures with strikingly different histories.

Before the first Europeans arrived Kuper Island was a major Coast Salish settlement with many longhouses and a thriving native economy. But subsequent disputes with early white settlers over land tenure led to a series of conflicts that culminated in 1863 when the British gunboat "Forward" attacked the native village on Kuper Island. The natives responded with musket fire. People were killed on both sides and the colonial government responded by launching the largest military operation in British Columbia history. Outgunned and racked by introduced disease the Salish people, their land alienated and their jurisdiction eroded, were forced to capitulate. In 1890 the notorious Kuper Island residential school was opened by the Catholic Church and generations of Coast Salish children on Kuper Island suffered loss of culture, language and family. Today Kuper Island is a private First Nations Reserve. The 185 members of the Penelakut Band who live there are still healing from their dark historical legacy and visits to the island are by invitation only.

Thetis Island, on the other side of the ditch, was first settled in 1874 by British pioneers who rushed in to buy cheap government land. Unable to cope with the harsh conditions the island was virtually abandoned until a second wave of settlers arrived in the late 1890s. Today Thetis Island is entirely privately owned, mostly rural residences, and many of the folks who live here are direct descendants of the British pioneers who settled Thetis around the turn of the century.

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