Truth is Stranger than Fiction in the Georgia Strait
Vancouver Island on British Columbia’s fabled West Coast has its fair share of strangely-named places: Point No Point, Duntze Head, Active Pass, Fanny Bay, Buttle Lake, Foul Bay, Pacific Rim, Whiffin Spit…
But name aside, nowhere is quite as strange, mysterious, uncanny, even, as the Gulf Islands. At a glance, the beautiful, green island-chain (most often sees on the ferry-ride between Victoria and Vancouver), seems like any other Pacific Northwest paradise. That is, until a map becomes involved. That’s when the inevitable question arises: “Where exactly is the Gulf that these so-called Gulf Island call home?” Short answer?
There is no Gulf. Due to inaccurate presumptions made by the region’s early explorers, the now correctly named, Strait of Georgia was once called the Gulf of Georgia… until some astonished mariners shot out the backside of it.
Unfortunately, the Gulf Islands never got the memo. And today, this island-group of over a dozen still bears the label of this ancient misnomer.
The Gulf Islands are the Canadian portion of an island group that includes the American San Juan Islands. The Canadian islands include Gabriola, Kuper, Mayne, Saltspring, Saturna, Thetis, Valdes, Denman, Hornby, Lasqueti, Texada and North Pender and South Pender Islands, as well as hundreds of smaller isles.
“…(the) Strait of Georgia was once called the Gulf of Georgia… until some astonished mariners shot out the backside of it..”
Don’t let the organic, arts-and-crafts culture of the Gulf Islands fool you. This fairytale, Mediterranean-sequel chain between Vancouver Island and the Mainland has a fascinating and colourful history, from being the secret sanctuary for hundreds of American draft-dodgers during the Viet Nam War to being the choice second home location for the world’s elite.
But the two strangest, most bizarre tales to originate here are way weirder than simply being named after an imaginary gulf…
THE PIRATE CULT LEADER
After World War II, the destitute public were more susceptible than usual to anyone offering a message of hope for a better future. This was the climate in which young Edward Arthur Wilson found himself. No surprise that when the young baggage-handler from Victoria received ‘visions’ that people stopped and listened.
Founding the Aquarian Foundation and renaming himself Brother Twelve, Wilson journeyed to England and buying a sailboat, travelled back to the West Coast via the Panama Canal, allegedly making many enemies of locals and customs officials en route. The sailboat eventually arrived on Vancouver Island’s shores with a motley crew of well-financed devotees from both the Old Country and the United States.
At first, the group started a farming commune in the area of Cedar, near Nanaimo, but as their numbers grew, the entire community moved to a 700-acre compound on DeCoursy Island, a small isle just off the coast of Nanaimo which Brother Twelve had coerced one of his followers into buying. By 1930, it became clear to the public and the authorities that the Aquarian Foundation was a militant group with a cult-like leader whose delusions and need for control were beginning to incite rumours of armed kidnappings, sexual interference and even murder by Brother Twelve.
As people began ‘disappearing’ from DeCoursy Island, brave members of this ‘free love cult’ started levelling lawsuits against its leader, who at this point, had begun calling himself Amiel De Valdes. Eventually, the court rulings went in favour of the prosecuting ex-cult members. Strangely though, when the authorities arrived on the isle, the compound was deserted and destroyed. The houses were wrecked and the sailboat had been sunk by a hole blown in its hull. Brother Twelve and his companion, Zura De Valdes, had completely vanished. Most importantly, the sizeable wealth the cult had accrued was nowhere to be seen.
Brother Twelve was eventually discovered living in Switzerland. In 1934, he died at age 56 of a heart attack. With time, the cult completely dispersed. Yet even today, this eerie little Gulf Island isle with its aptly-named Pirate’s Cove, attracts dozens of treasure hunters, looking for the missing bounty that once belonged to the ‘Devil of DeCourcy Island’.
THE SEA MONSTER
National Geographic Magazine describes Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. Home to hundreds of species of marine-life, you’ll run into more than just Turn-of-the-Century shipwrecks in these blue waters. But even a brush with the local giant Pacific octopus would pale in comparison with what could be sharing the waters of Strait of Georgia with you…
The Cadborosaurus, one of the most popular sea monsters in history, inhabits the deep waters of North America’s Pacific coast with hundreds of sightings that go back over 200 years. (the name comes from Victoria’s Cadboro Bay, a common sighting location.) Various sighting have been described as everything from an infant Cadborosaurus able to survive in a bucket to a 27 meter-long Leviathan. Most reports, however, agree on a creature with a horse-like head, long neck and narrow, undulating body with small flippers in the front and large flippers in the back.
In 1937, the discovery of a strange, decomposed carcass found in the belly of a sperm whale renewed the hope that some kind of tangible proof would prove the existence of Caddy (as the Victoria locals had affectionately named it). However, due to an ‘unlucky’ event, the carcass was disposed of before the crypto-zoologists got their hands on it.
“…everything from an infant Cadborosaurus able to survive in a bucket to a 27 meter-long Leviathan.”
Oddly enough, one of the most famous sightings occurred in Pirate’s Cove near a certain DeCoursy Island…
After touring the Gulf Islands with his family, Captain Hagelund was anchoring his yacht just off the coast of Nanaimo one night when suddenly, something began making splashing sounds from starboard. He was astonished to discover a unfamiliar, 16-inch long creature staring up at him from the water. The family pursued it by dingy and with a small net, managed to get it into a large bucket of seawater. This was unlike anything they had ever seen – armoured plates, elongated snout, flippers, yellow down fuzz…
According to the Hagelund’s report, the Captain, at some point realized that the agitated creature might not survive the night in a bucket and released it back into the water before the Nanaimo Fisheries Department could identify it.
“What is Caddy?” the answer remains as elusive as the creature itself. But whenever locals see something moving in the water, they always look twice. Most times, it’s just a harbor seal or a killer whale.
But sometimes, it isn’t.
Enjoy the Gulf Islands. You never know who… or what you might meet.