BC waters offer a wealth of historical stops of interest, Hənʎəmdᶻi Məkola/Yorke Island being one of them. You can sail around blissfully and enjoy the many marine parks and various stops, but if you start to read a little about where you are you’ll probably be surprised on the history of where you’ve been.
I will admit I’ve only sailed up to the Broughton Archipelago’s once, but I loved it. Sailing north of Stuart Islands can take a little more time than your typical summer holidays allow for. I did do some research on the area before we went, but I knew nothing about Yorke Island!
Yorke Island is approximately 96 acres is just at the north tip of Hardwicke Island in Johnstone Strait. Prior to and during WWII, Yorke Island played a role in Canada’s National Defence. During WWII, Yorke Island was used as the important gun emplacement guarding Johnstone Strait, and the back entrance to Vancouver Harbour.
Construction of around 60 buildings as well as docks on the island began around 1937 and stopped in 1945. If you’ve ever been sailing past Hardwicke Island you can appreciate how isolated someone would feel posted to the island during the war. The island didn’t have a water source to meet the needs of the Fort, and use to gather water from Hardwicke Island to fill a tank on Yorke Island.
With the Fort established in such an isolated area, two nicknames were use for the island, “Little Alcatraz” and “Going Yorkie”.
Throughout it’s term is had a number of guns, ranging from 4.7” Quick Firing guns, 6” Mk7 guns, 6pdr Hotchkiss “examination gun”, and 40mm Bofors for anti-aircraft defence. There was also a vessel for examinations nicked “Gumboot Navy”.
When the war ended the buildings on the island were essentially left as they were. In 2007 Yorke Island was established as a BC Park, and many organizations have been involved in trying to preserve the island, with all of its buildings and paths. For details on the conservation plan for the island have a read through the conservation plan for the island.
The location of the island definitely makes it a little challenging to explore. The currents in that area can be quite strong, so going ashore to explore will take a little planning to do it safely. Courtenay Bay is supposed to be the safest entrance to the island, and it’s not recommended you enter just anywhere. Since it is an abandoned fort, the island has various barbwire around it so you can’t just go ashore from any point.
While it’s always important to stick to trails and minimize our footprint when we go ashore to explore, this is one island where you really want to stay on the trail. Not only do we want to help preserve the island, but knowing it was once a fort for you own safety you’ll want to stick to the trails. In 2014 a hiker left the trails and fell through a hole in the top of a bunker. The island is only at the early stages of it’s conservation plan, so it truly is a place you need to be careful.
The next time you’re in the area don’t forget about Yorke Island. Take some time to plan out a dinghy adventure to see part of our great history in BC, and a glimpse into the history of WWII. If you’d like to learn a little more, Catherine Marie Gilbert wrote a book for a light read and more insight into the island.
If you want a glimpse into the island before you’re next trip, check out this YouTube video by Catherine Marie Gilbert!