A Brief History of Gibsons

THE SHISHALH:

As was the rest of the Sunshine Coast, Gibsons was originally inhabited by members of the Squamish Nation, with territory covering Port Mellon to Roberts Creek (From Roberts Creek through Sechelt and Sechelt Inlet the region was the territory of the Coast Salish shishalh tribe, from which the town of Sechelt took its name. First Nations population in the Gibsons area was concentrated around Chaster Creek and along the coast from Williamson's Landing to the Town of Gibsons. Sacred sites were discovered at what is now called Gospel Rock.

FIRST EXPLORERS:

Evidence of a Chinese sailing expedition has been found near Hopkins Landing, although it is generally considered to be British Captain James Cook who first recorded the area in 1778. Maps of the coastal area drawn by Spanish Captains Galiano and Valdes date from 1792. Several local place names (Juan de Fuca Strait, Lasqueti and Texada Islands) were given by the Spanish. British Captain George Vancouver soon followed to settle conflicting land claims by the British and the Spanish. The precise journals kept by Vancouver suggest he went ashore near Chaster Creek.

GEORGE GIBSON:

The first European settler to the Gibsons area (almost one hundred years after initial exploration) was George Gibson, a dour ex-British naval officer. He moved to BC from Ontario where he had been a successful market gardener and claimed the first Sunshine Coast pre-emption in 1886. The area became known as Gibson's Landing (later simply Gibsons) after George and his family. Within two years, Gibson had built a two-storey house, planted 100 fruit trees and cultivated four acres of his land, enough to ship his produce to Vancouver to sell. Gibson's son-in-law George Glassford claimed the pre-emption to the north of Gibsons.

George Gibson was the first Post Master c 1892 when mail was delivered here addressed "Howe Sound" & the Post Office was located at the wharf near his home. Later Canada Post opened a second one up the hill for easier access to the residents there and that address was "Gibson's Heights". Howe Sound was later changed to Gibson's Landing, then Gibsons. - this paragraph comes from Lola Westell, past President & Curator of the Elphinstone Pioneer Museum.

LOGGING & OTHER INDUSTRY:

The mainstay of employment for the early pioneers was related to logging and shingle bolting. Shingle bolts were four-foot lengths of straight, knot-free timber, usually cedar, used to make shakes or shingles. Originally logging was done by hand, with horse- or oxen-drawn carts pulling the logs on skid roads to the nearest waterway. Flumes were built where carts were not practical, and later the railroad contributed to the removal of most of the old-growth forest in the entire region.

Between 1900 and 1930, there were three lumber mills at the head of Chaster Creek (then Payne Creek), a charcoal manufacturing effort in what is now the Hillcrest subdivision and a factory producing sawdust for use as a household fuel. Fishing was as lucrative a venture as logging. Gillnetters were thick in the Rivers Inlet area, and almost every Vancouver fish company had a subsidiary camp in Gibsons Harbour.

The area grew so fast, it was necessary to build a temporary log-cabin school in 1889. The following year, a school district was organized and a permanent school was constructed on the present site of Gibsons Elementary. The first classes were held on January 19, 1891 with teacher Mrs.Lucy Smith presiding over her 23 students.

A land-clearing fire got out of hand in the hot, dry spring of 1906 and burned nearly all the standing timber as far as West Howe Sound, over five miles away. For these early pioneers, the disaster was welcomed as an easy way to clear a lot of land in a few hours. After the fire, new settlers began to arrive in increasing numbers.

OTHER GEORGES:

Two other famous Georges to settle the Gibsons area were Irishman George Henderson Hopkins, who bought a 160-acre site in 1906 that later became Hopkins Landing, and George Grantham, a Vancouver businessman, who built a summer cabin on an 800-foot stretch of waterfront in 1909. He added roads, a water system, a floating wharf, plank sidewalks and 25 cabins on the beach, attracting boat loads of summer vacationers. He called his resort Howe Sound Beach, but after a government wharf was built there, it came to be known as Grantham's Landing. The locals sold much of their farm and dairy produce to the resort.

FINNISH PIONEERS & THE SOCIALIST MOVEMENT:

An influx of Finnish immigrants moving from Malcolm Island made an impact on the Gibson's Heights area. They enthusiastically farmed the flat land on the bench above the waterfront and organized two community halls (the Workmen's or Labour Hall and the Socialist Hall) and a co-op store. They also introduced their neighbours to the luxury of the sauna bath. There was some tension in the community between these "foreigners" with their socialist views and the more staid old-guard pioneers. The local Methodist minister, John Shaver Woodsworth, found himself swayed by the Finn's socialist, pacifist philosophy. Woodsworth's restructured position became the basis for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation which later evolved to the New Democratic Party.

Gibson's Landing's first doctor was Frederick Inglis, who held a degree in both medicine and divinity from the University of Manitoba. With his wife Alice, a nurse, and six children, he built Stonehurst, his home and clinic overlooking the harbour. For the next 33 years, except for a brief period during the war, he was the only medical practitioner from Port Mellon to Halfmoon Bay. He served his patients by rowboat, horse and Model T Ford. Inglis was also an enthusiastic supporter of socialist beliefs. At one point, he took Mrs. Woodsworth and their six children to live with his family at Stonehurst when John Woodsworth was forced to relocate to Vancouver because of his political stance.

Englishman William Winn was one of those vehemently opposed to the socialist movement and was instrumental in Woodsworth's resignation from the ministry and eventual move from the community. Winn was not successful, however, in his attempts to have Mrs. Woodsworth fired from her job as senior teacher. Winn helped form the West Howe Sound Farmers' Institute. In 1918 they held the first Institute Fall Fair in the Socialist Hall, with displays of choice produce and livestock. Winn operated a store, post office and telegraph agency (in the building that is now Molly's Reach restaurant) and later opened the area's first moving picture showhouse.

A number of younger men also supported the pacifist aspect of the socialist platform, and therefore refused to be recruited into the army. In 1917, with the introduction of the Military Service Bill which included conscription, these men chose to become draft evaders. They went into hiding on Mount Elphinstone where they lived in log cabins and had supplies smuggled to them by family members and friends. They remained undetected until the end of the war.

HOWE SOUND CANNERY:

Much of the area's prime farmland at this time was dedicated to growing raspberries, strawberries and other lucrative crops. After the war, there was a glut of berries on the market. The West Howe Sound Cannery Association was formed and later the Howe Sound Cannery was opened to process the abundance of fruit. Over 150 shares were sold at $25 each to start the successful enterprise, which remained in operation until 1952.

HOWE SOUND PULP & PAPER:

The British Columbian Wood Pulp & Paper Company was established in 1908 by Captain Henry Mellon at the mouth of Rainy River at Port Mellon. The mill changed ownership several times during the century, in 1927 becoming Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Mill, still in operation today. To divert the hard-working mill men and other holiday makers, Seaside Resort was built by Charles Henry Cates on the other side of the river from the mill. The resort, and a once-thriving company town at the mill site, have now dwindled to a few scattered dwellings and a tiny public garden.

ISLAND SETTLEMENT & THE FERRIES:

Gambier Island was first settled by Henry Ross in 1886, more than a year before George Gibson landed on the mainland. Settlement at Langdale was started by Robinson H. Langdale and his family in 1893. It remained a small farming and fishing village for years. In 1951 ferry service was begun from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons by the Black Ball Ferry Company, making the Sunshine Coast far more accessible. In 1955, the ferry terminus was moved to Langdale, forever altering its quaint, quiet atmosphere. BC Ferries took over the service from Black Ball in 1962.

Information in these pages was gratefully gleaned from the following sources:

  • The Sunshine Coast: From Gibsons to Powell River by Howard White, Harbour Publishing
  • Bright Seas, Pioneer Spirits: The Sunshine Coast by Betty C. Keller and Rosella M.Leslie, Horsdal & Schubart Publisher
  • Sunshine and Salt Air: The Sunshine Coast Visitors' Guide edited by Peter A. Robson, Harbour Publishing
  • Helen Dawe's Sechelt by Helen Dawe, Harbour Publishing
  • the excellent series Technical Background Report, produced by the Sunshine Coast Regional District for each area in their jurisdiction, including Roberts Creek (Area D), Halfmoon Bay (Area B), West Howe Sound (Area F), Elphinstone (Area E), and Pender Harbour, Garden Bay and Egmont (Area A
  • the helpful folks at Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives