History

Straits Lumber MillNatives have lived on the West Coast of North America for thousands of years. Those who settled on Vancouver Island are the coast-dwelling Salish people. An early Nanaimo tribe is well documented, and it appears that a small band broke off to form the Nanoose Band, which nestled in a protected (Nanoose) bay, twenty miles north. The Spanish first explored the Strait of Georgia. Juan de Fuca, whose name is associated with the water south of Vancouver Island, was a Greek, sailing under the Spanish flag, where he found “many islands and a broad sea” thought to be the Gulf Islands and the body of water between Vancouver Island and the mainland. In 1794, the British arrived and explored the B.C. Coast. In 1847, the Hudson Bay Company requested a survey of Vancouver Island, and following that, became a dominant force for development of the area. Regionally, coal was discovered in Nanaimo, motivating commercial activity. The first settler to Nanoose was John Enos. He was born in the Azores, and at the age of fourteenBoarding House Notch Hill, went to sea, arriving in Boston in 1852. He continued his frontier spirit and sailed for British Columbia in 1858. He had a varied career in the area, but became interested in mining and followed the Northwest gold rushes. After many disappointing experiences, he decided to settle on the Nanoose Peninsula in 1862. He cleared the land himself, started to farm and called his new home Notch Hill Ranch after the silhouette of the hill that marks his location from the sea and land. He continued to live in Nanoose Bay for 27 years, farming and welcoming others. The community began to grow and prosper over time. In 1911, the Great Powder Company was founded in Nanoose, which produced dynamite and nitroglycerine for mining, land clearing and ultimately armaments for World War I. About the same time, a brick making plant was set up in what became known as Brickyard Bay; and to this day, tree roots incorporate bricks from that era. A mill, the Straits Lumber Company, was established in “the flats” in Nanoose, which later became known as Red Gap. Ships from all over the world entered Nanoose Bay Harbour to transport lumber, destined mainly for the Japanese market. The mill was productive, supporting many families; interestingly, some with Sikh and Japanese backgrounds, until World War II broke out. Due to the conflict with Japan, the mill was forced out of business. More recently, in 1952, the Canadian government bought the north shore of Nanoose Bay for the Royal Canadian Navy for the establishment of the Military Experimental Test Ranges (METR). Today, it is jointly operated by the Canadian and American navies, and plays a significant role in the identity of the Nanoose Bay community. Presently, the Nanoose Bay Peninsula is composed of a diversified social fabric, including farmers, fishermen, artists and others who enjoy the benefits of rural living. It is also becoming a favoured retirement community, with resorts, marinas, parks, hiking trails and a first class golf course, all set in a tranquil, rural, paradise-like coastal environment for all to enjoy.