COMOX HARBOUR (or PORT AUGUSTA) has provided shelter for ocean travellers and marine explorers for centuries. It has been known by many names, but it was best known as “The Land of Plenty” by the local K’ómoks First Nation, 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 Comox’s marine history is not intended to be complete. If you have some marine history pictures or stories to add, we are always interested in old photos of ships, boats, or local scenery to add here for all to enjoy. Please contact us here if you have any available!
We would like to thank the Courtenay Museum and Mrs. P Currie for the use of images in this timeline!
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.
The Beaver Steamship at Comox dock
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.
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.
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 – 1858
Governor James Douglas visits the Comox area on the Beaver, and sees the agricultural potential of the area.
The British frigate “H.M.S. Tribune” is in the area as a territorial presence.
1860 – 1861
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.
Governor Douglas issues a land and settlement proclamation designed to lure settlers to other areas of the coast than Victoria.
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
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. Service to the area is better measured in months than weeks. Settlers campaign to get regular schooner service for mail and supplies to Comox.
The “Beaver” is leased by British Admiralty and begins extensive charting of the Inside Passage.
1864 – 1865
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.
H.M.S. Sutlej, Elias, & Sparrowhawk come to Comox to resolve problems with whiskey trading.
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 – 1871
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.
British Columbia joins Confederation.
Looking down Wharf Rd. towards the dock
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.
Joseph Rodello buys lots on Wharf Rd, building a store on one side and eventually the Elk Hotel on the other.
‘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.
Sailboat at the Wharf in Comox Harbour
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.
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.
At Cariboo & Fly loading freight
A view of the Lorne Hotel
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.
1880 – 1885
Rodello’s first store burns, he rebuilds within 2 years.
The “Beaver” is towing logs from the Trent River to Vancouver Mills as her career wanes.
Princess Louise begins regular service to the Valley.
Mail Contract goes to the “SS Robert Dunsmuir” which also later delivers supplies to Comox.
Salmon Hatcheries begin in 4 locations in the province, the first year they rear 1.8 million fry.
1888 – 1889
Coal seams opened at Cumberland, and the lumber industry develops to supply the coal mines, and the growing community.
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.
The “Isobel” begins 2 trips a week to Comox & Union Bay, bringing miners and supplies, this run continues till 1892.
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.
SS Joan in Comox Bay
Egeria in Comox Bay
‘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 and train.
Shearwater and Algerine
Shearwater – painting by Bill Maximick
1898 – 1909
J.B. Holmes, builds the Port Augusta Hotel, which also operates as a store and occasionally a church.
“SS Otter”(2), built 1900, begins a scheduled run which includes Comox for the CPN.
“SS Cowichan” stops in Comox as part of Union Steamships scheduled service.
Left to right, James Davies, sailor, sailor, George N. Davies (2nd), David Davies. Photo has two crew from the “Rainbow”
“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.
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 supplied by Joy Davies.
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.
“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.
The SS Mary pulls out to sea
Warships in the bay
1914 – 1916
The mail is coming daily from Nanaimo on the E & N Railway.
“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 – 1922
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.
d’Esterre includes upgrading of the Annex (Old Port Augusta) and advertises in Vancouver and 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 fishing spot bringing visitors from all over the world.
The Elk Hotel and the Annex
Day boats near the Comox Wharf
1926 – 1932
The Annex to the Elk Hotel is destroyed by fire.
“The Mary” returns to the Comox run after conversion to oil and remains in the area till the 1940’s.
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.