Shack Island- today we were lucky to be invited to a cabin on Shack Island located off Nanaimo. These cabins have been enjoyed by generations of the families of Nanaimo fishermen dating back to the early 1900’s. I had no idea that this piece of island history existed, it was a lovely day spent in the midst of stunning scenery.
The history below comes from the city of Nanaimo parks information.
The current cabins on the island find their roots in the 1930s, arising as people struggled with the Great Depression. But Shack Island’s full history dates back a little earlier than that. In 1907, the Pacific Whaling Company set up a factory in Pipers Lagoon (known then as Page Lagoon). Humpback whales frequented the coast at the time, following the herring runs through the Salish Sea. In one year, the factory caught close to a hundred whales, and it’s believed to be responsible for their near complete population wipe-out in the area. Pipers Lagoon had a short history as a whaling station, and the factory was soon dismantled and sent north to Rose Harbour, located on Kunghit Island, Haida Gwaii. But Shack Island was not yet done as a key location for those making their living from the sea.
As the Great Depression took hold of Canada in the ’30s, the small collection of islands became a key fishing spot for those willing to take their catch back into town to sell. With property taxes becoming harder and harder to pay as the economy struggled to rebuild, those fishers that frequented the area began building shelters and lean-tos on the small spit of land. A seasonal rotation formed, with life on the sea somewhat perilous in wintertime. The higher tides, thick algae, and harsh winds would force residents back into Nanaimo to wait out the colder months. Come spring, repairs would be made, supplies would be ferried out for the new season, and the island would once again come to life.
Life on and near the sea is always tuned to the tides. But residents of Shack Island are especially knowledgeable of the change, as the rising of the tide cuts the island off from the rest of Nanaimo for part of the day. In the island’s early years, supply runs timed up with the lowering of tide. Bundles of goods, small children, and even beloved pets would be carried over the oyster-laden ground as the waters receded. As kids got older, and explored farther and farther from home, the tides became the curfew point. Be home before late tide came in or be stranded on the lagoon’s beach, trying to calculate whether you could swim back home and dry off before your mother noticed your late arrival.
The cabins are kept quite original with only minor improvements and repairs to structure as needed. There is a no fresh water on the island so composting toilets and ocean swims in lieu of a shower are in order. If a cabin burns down or is destroyed by weather it cannot be rebuilt, nor can they be sold, they must stay with the descendants of the original fishermen. A modern day squatters rights situation. These cabins are a sampling of time honoured ways, each generation of children exploring the same tidal pools and rocky bluffs that thier ancestorsexplored in earlier days.