Comox Harbour History

COMOX HARBOUR (or PORT AUGUSTA) for centuries has provided shelter for ocean travelers and marine explorers. It has been known by many names, but it was best known as “THE LAND OF PLENTY” by the local Komoux natives, who lived here for centuries before European explorers arrived. The well-known “Beaver” was one of the early exploration ships that made marine history.

The boats and ships came to the Comox Valley for many reasons; to explore, to trade, to survey, to work, and like many today, to rest and enjoy the beauty of the area.

This partial summary of the Marine History Events that helped shape the development of our communities is not intended to be complete. Want to see YOUR marine history pictures up here? We are always interested in old photos of ships, boats, or local scenery to put up on our pages for all to enjoy. Please contact us by phone or e-mail.

Comox Harbour Marine History

1790’s Capt. Vancouver & the “Discovery” explore the Inside Passage. Two Spanish Capt.’s, Galiano and Valdes investigate the Comox area and meet Capt. Vancouver near Texada Island.
1837 The Hudson Bay Company’s “Beaver”, built in 1835, searches the South and East coast of Vancouver Island for suitable locations for new Trading Posts. The “Beaver” is the 1st steamboat to be used on the coast, but keeping up steam for 3-4 days travelling, meant 26 cords of wood had to be cut by her 13 woodcutters.

Beaver at the Comox Dock, British Columbia.

A replica of the Beaver
Courtenay Museum

1848 Courtenay River named for Capt. Courtenay of the HMS Constance from Esquimalt, one of the vessels that first used Augusta Bay and Goose Spit for Gunnery practice.
1852 HBC sends Joseph Wm. McKay to Comox to look for Coal deposits by canoe.
HBC commissions the “Otter”, which arrives from England in 1853, and becomes the 1st propeller driven steam boat on the BC coast.
1853 Governor James Douglas visits the Comox area on the Beaver, and sees the agricultural potential of the area.
1858 The British frigate “H.M.S. Tribune” is in the area as a territorial presence.
1860 Capt. George Henry Richards aboard the “H.M.S. Plumper” surveys the Baynes Sound area, reporting enthusiastically of the potential for a settlement, and the safe anchorage.
1861 Governor Douglas issues a land and settlement proclamation designed to lure settlers to other areas of the coast than Victoria.
1862 First wave of European settlers arrive in Comox aboard “The Grappler”.
Wm. & James Robb take title to the area on the shores above Augusta Bay, which becomes known as “The Landing”. The rest of the settlers stake areas on the prairie along the Courtenay River.

The Grappler at the end of her career

The Grappler at the end of her career. Courtenay Museum

The Grappler at the end of her career
Courtenay Museum

1863 First shipment of cattle arrive in Augusta Bay, aboard the schooner “Douglas”. To unload they are pushed overboard and herded to the shore by canoes.
British Navy Gunboats and the Hudson Bay Co are expected to supply regular boat service of mail and supplies to the area.
In fact, service to the area is better measured in months than weeks.
Settlers campaign to get regular schooner service for mail & supplies to Comox.
The “Beaver” is leased by British Admiralty and begins extensive charting of the Inside Passage.
1864 Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition and Dr. Robert Brown, survey the Puntledge, Courtenay and Brown’s Rivers, who confirms coal is plentiful and of high quality.
1865 H.M.S. Sutlej, Elias, & Sparrowhawk come to Comox to resolve problems with whiskey trading.
1868 The screw steamer “James Douglas” commences regular service to “Port Augusta.”
Hudson Bay Post opened, supplies, trade goods and A.G. Horne, manager, brought by the “Otter”.
1870 A.G. Horne recommends the HBC Post be moved closer to the anchorage, this idea is ignored by his superiors.
Salt cured salmon becomes an export product of BC.
1871 British Columbia joins Confederation.
1874 A wharf is built at ‘The Landing’ for $3,337. It consists of a pier 1035 ft. long and 12 ft wide, and the wharf head is 50 X 60 ft across.
This allows freight and passengers to be landed without needing transfer to smaller boats for delivery to shore.
1874 Joseph Rodello buys lots on Wharf Rd, building a store on one side and eventually the Elk Hotel on the other.

Looking South toward the dock at Comox Harbour, BC

Wharf Road & Dock
Courtenay Museum

1875+ ‘The Wharf’ has become central to the surrounding community, providing a link to the rest of the coast and the world.
Before roads connected the various small communities; canoes, rafts, and row boats delivered goods and people through out the area. The ‘Royston-Comox Taxi’ delivered men to and from the Elk Hotel, and eventually the Lorne Hotel for evenings.
Mail delivery by boat to Comox is still proving unpredictable.
1876 The “Maude”, built in 1871, begins mail service to Port Augusta, with Capt. Joseph Spratt. She is the first of a number of vessels to undertake the Mail contract.
Goose Spit becomes a Royal Navy training base.

Sailboat at the Wharf

Sailboat at the Wharf giving good view back to Comox town.
Courtenay Museum

1877 Joseph Rodello builds the 1st Elk Hotel across from his store on wharf road.
Cariboo & Fly, also owned by J. Spratt services Comox & Union to Nanaimo. Loading freight on the Comox Dock (Click to enlarge)
Cariboo & Fly Loading Freight
Courtenay Museum
1878 Hudson Bay Post closes; unwilling to compete with Rodellos’ store and the other steamer service, this further reinforces ‘The Landing’s’ as the center of commerce.
Lorne Hotel built by John Fitzpatrick.
Elk Hotel at the base of comox Dock (Click to enlarge)
The Elk Hotel
Courtenay Museum
1880 Rodello’s first store burns, he rebuilds within 2 years.
1882 The “Beaver” is towing logs from the Trent River to Vancouver Mills as her career wanes.
1883 Princess Louise begins regular service to the Valley.
1884 Mail Contract goes to the “SS Robert Dunsmuir” which also later delivers supplies to Comox.
1885 Salmon Hatcheries begin in 4 locations in the province, the first year they rear 1.8 million fry.
1888 Coal seams opened at Cumberland, and the lumber industry develops to supply the coal mines, and the growing community.
1889 James & Alexander Dunsmuir launch the 1st single purpose tow boat built in BC. “The Lorne’s” 3rd inaugural trip was an overnight celebration to Comox. She was to return to the area frequently in years to come.
1889 The “Isobel” begins 2 trips a week to Comox & Union Bay, bringing miners and supplies, this run continues till 1892.
Steam Dredge clearing away the silt in Comox Bay (click to enlarge)
Early dredge clearing away the silt
Photo From Mrs. P. Currie
1895 SS Joan, built in 1892, begins service from Nanaimo to Comox & Union Bay, for E & N Shipping. She continues until mid 1907, when she burns at the Vancouver dock. Telegraph Offices open at Comox & Union Bay.
View of Comox Bay dock with SS Joan (Click to enlarge)
SS Joan in Comox Bay
Photo from Mrs. P. Currie"City of Nanaimo" at Comox Dock (Click to enlarge)
Sister Ship, “City of Nanaimo”
Courtenay Museum
1896 ‘The City of Nanaimo”, built in 1891 and sister ship to “Joan” changes routes with her, and stays in service to Comox till 1911.
The Royal Navy are to become frequent visitors to Port Augusta, Goose Spit and Comox.
“Flora”, “Grafton”, “Bonaventure” “Egeria”, “Algerine” and “Shearwater” being only a few of the many RN ships that will come to Comox to rest & train.
Egeria in Comox Bay, BC.(Click to enlarge)
Egeria in Comox Bay
Courtenay MuseumShearwater in Comox Harbour, Vancouver Island, BC (Click to enlarge)
Shearwater in Comox Harbour
Painting by Bill Maximick
Shearwater & Algerine in Comox Harbour, British Columbia (Click to enlarge)
Shearwater & Algerine
Courtenay Museum
1898’s J.B. Holmes, builds the Port Augusta Hotel, which also operates as a store and occasionally a church.
1908 “SS Otter”(2), built 1900, begins a scheduled run which includes Comox for the CPN.
1909 “SS Cowichan” stops in Comox as part of Union Steamships scheduled service.
SS Cowichan of Union Steamship Line, Marine History (Click to enlarge)
The Cowichan
Courtenay Museum
1910 “H.M.S. Rainbow” is at the Spit for training.
The road from Nanaimo to Courtenay is completed, 47 years after it was promised in 1863.
Left to right, James Davies, sailor, sailor, George N. Davies (2nd), David Davies. Photo has two crew from the “Rainbow”.
Side note: George, James and David Davies were sons of British Columbia’s first fulltime lighthouse keeper George Nicholas Davies 1st and his wife Rosina Warner (British Columbia’s first female light keeper). They arrived in British Columbia aboard the Grecian ship in 1860, having departed from London, England, and worked at both the Fisgard and Race Rocks lights. Photo taken in the 1800’s when Joyner Studio existed in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
Courtesy Joy Davies. Added March 2004.
1911-1912 CPR begins service to the area with the “Princess Mary” with overall length at 210 feet.
Jack Martin begins rebuilding the Elk Hotel.
Note the Comox Glacier in the background....Warships in Comox Bay -- (Click to enlarge)
Warships in the Bay
Courtenay Museum
Marine history -- "SS Mary" in Comox Bay, B.C. (Click to enlarge)
SS Mary pulling out
Photo from Mrs. P. CurrieMarine History -- CPR's "Charmer" at the dock in Comox Harbour, Vancouver Island, B.C. (Click to enlarge)
Charmer at the dock
Photo from Mrs. P. Currie
1912 “The Mary” is changed for “The Charmer” by CPR. “The Charmer” was launched in 1887 as “The Premier”.
“The Charmer” is converted to oil in 1924 & stays on this run till 1932.
1914 The mail is coming daily from Nanaimo on the E & N Railway.
1916 “Princess Charlotte” steams away from Comox, taking the 102ND Battalion, with many local sons & lovers to serve in WW1 in their ranks.
Prohibition begins in Canada, closing the local hotels as well.
1920 The Lorne & Elk Hotels are renovated & reopened when Prohibition is repealed in BC.
The new owner of the Elk, d’Esterre has an idea that begins Tourism.
1922 d’Esterre includes upgrading of the Annex (Old Port Augusta) and advertises in Vancouver & Victoria. His ads boast of Tennis Courts, Golf, Boating, Swimming, Hunting Tyee Fishing, a new Dining room and Electric lights.
Following in the footsteps of the Terminal Steam Navigation Co, d’Esterre added Comox to the holiday destinations of the day.
Comox Bay becomes known as a Tyee Salmon Fishing Spot bringing visitors from all over the world.
1926 The Annex to the Elk Hotel is destroyed by fire.
1931 “The Mary” returns to the Comox run after conversion to oil and remains in the area till the 1940’s.
1932 The Comox King Salmon Club is formed, One of their main objectives; to build a dock for members to tie up their small row boats.
R. Filberg donated the logs to build the docks.
Comox Valley Marine History -- Dayboat -- (Click to enlarge)
Day boats in Comox
Courtenay Museum