The first contact between Europeans and Natives north of California took place here in 1774, when the Spanish ship Santiago encountered the Nuu-chah-nulth on the west coast of the Hesquiaht Peninsula. The Spanish soon built a fort on Nootka Island. However, their claim to these shores was quickly contested by the British, resulting in a dispute that nearly led to war in Europe.
Meanwhile, American merchants saw opportunities in the fur trade. In 1791, the crew of the Columbia wintered at Adventure Cove and constructed the first ship to be built in the region. In 1803 an American ship was captured by the Mowachaht at Nootka, and two of its crew were kept as slaves of Chief Maquinna for two years. Only a few years later, in 1811, Tla-o-qui-aht sacked the Tonquin, with only one survivor gradually making his way back to Astoria bearing vague tales of the ship’s demise.
Following the loss of the Tonquin, sailors kept clear of this coast for half a century.
Over those fifty years, the fledgling countries of the United States of America and Canada signed an accord about an international border, allocating these territories to Canada. As Canada’s written history came to be dominated by narratives from the east, focusing on the roles of the British and French in the founding of the nation, the early influences of Spanish and American explorers here faded from memory.
We will be able to re-visit the historical events that took place on the Secret Coast first-hand, as our route will have us pass by sites of:
1774: Homais Cove, the first contact between Europeans (the Spanish ship Santiago) and Nuu-chah-nulth
1778: Yuquot/Friendly Cove, first arrival of Captain Cook and meeting with Mowachaht (later, the Spanish fort of Nutka, and locus of disputes between Britain and Spain)
1791: Adventure Cove, Meares Island, site where the crew of American ship Columbia overwintered and built the first ship to be constructed on this stretch of coast
1803-1805: Enslavement of John Jewitt by Chief Maquinna at Yuquot
1811: Conflict between American traders and Tla-o-qui-aht which resulted in the blowing up of the Tonquin, and multiple deaths on both sides (the site of the shipwreck was discovered in 2003).
1869: Shipwreck of the John Bright, where the BC government acccused two Hesquiaht men of murdering the survivors and hanged them. (BC British Columbia government issued a statement of regret for these actions in 2012, and Hesquiaht descendants erected a totem pole at the site in their ancestors’ honour.)
1915: Legendary homesteader Cougar Annie settles at Boat Basin.
1942: Shelling of Estevan Lighthouse – the only WWII shelling on the coast (unsure to this day whether it was by Japanese or a hoax by the Canadian government to encourage conscription).
And of course, since time-immemorial… we will pass by numerous Nuu-chah-nulth villages and village sites, some of which have been continuously occupied for millenia, and some which are either seasonal or no longer occupied.