Tl’ches, or “the Islands” (more recently known as the Discovery and Chatham Islands off of Oak Bay), are a culturally and ecologically rich place of exquisite beauty. In this article Connell visits Skingeenis/Discovery Island and observes some of the recent changes that had taken place on it’s ancient shores.
From the Victoria Daily Times, May 13, 1933-
Last Saturday I spent some hours on Discovery Island by the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont. Their pleasant home looks out on Rudlin Bay, named after one of the old sea captains of the coast who commanded in turn the Yosemite, Islander, and Charmer.
The Beaumonts gifted their house and land on Discovery Island to the province, which became Discovery Island Marine Park in 1972. Their house (bottom left) was designed by local architect Samuel Maclure, who extended the previous cottage on the site that had been built by explorer/writer Warburton Pike decades before. Today all that remains are the foundations and few loose bricks (right).
Between the house and the anchorage a broad pathway runs through the woods where the gale outside was only apparent by the whistling in the tree tops. In an opening in the woods close to the house and protected from the wind is a very charming spot whose chief feature is a rock garden where are gathered plants both native and exotic. Here for example is to be seen in full bloom Gentiana acaulis, or gentianella, whose large deep blue flowers are scattered over the soil by the dozen almost concealing their small clusters of leaves. Masses of bright pink mark the presence of our native valerianella or sea-blush which here culture has had the effect of enlarging not the flowers but the plants, which grow to an unusual height.
Taking another trail we come out on Pike Bay, named after the late Warburton Pike of “Barren Lands” fame, who first settled on this island. Here the characteristics of the island shore are well seen. The rock is diorite-gneiss cut by dikes of aplite, and the archipelago is a continuation geologically and geographically of the Cadboro peninsula. The surrounding waters are shallow, and islets and reefs rise here and there in the waterways.
The greater part of the island lies about twenty feet above the sea, but at the east end above the lighthouse Pandora Hill rises to 125 feet. On the west side there is a good deal of low land with swampy ground where the wild crabapple flourishes exceedingly well. The alders are short and stockier than they are on the main island where they are usually absent from equally wind-swept places. The principal trees are Douglas fir, grand or balsam fir, yew, lodgepole pine and arbutus. The trees show the effect of the prevailing winds in their manner of growth.
On our way round the island we passed the little Indian village. One of the inhabitants was busily engaged in sheep shearing as we passed. The raising of sheep is the chief economic activity on the island and everywhere you come across the results of the necessarily close grazing with its destruction of the native ground-flora. Practically no wild flowering herbs are left on the island. As I saw the sheep and their pasture I recalled the very similar islands I saw as a boy on Arran.
Just beyond the village on the edge of a piece of swamp grows a lodgepole pine of curious shape. From a short central trunk about three feet high spring a dozen or so of what one might call secondary trunks, rising upwards to a height of about thirty or forty feet. The effect is that of a willow or alder rather than that of a pine. Some other trees in the vicinity have somewhat similar form. The lodgepole pine is in fact a chameleon among trees in its adaptation of form to environment. Along the coast here on Discovery Island or over in the neighborhood of Gonzales Hill and Oak Bay gold links it lives up to its botanical names of Pinus contorta, the twisted pine, but in the thick grove on the shore of Lost [Blenkinsop] Lake its trunks grow upright and slender and it justifies its name of lodgepole pine.
In this swamp by the village we saw a killdeer plover and had the pleasure of watching its camouflage tactics. It is a singularly handsome bird with black, white and rust color as its distinctive color scheme. Across the upper part of the white breast are two black bands, the upper one the wider, and above the bill between the eyes is a white band. We had a dog with us and the attention of the bird was chiefly concentrated on it. After a short flight it settled on the ground, displaying the rusty yellow of rump and tail in such a manner as to suggest at once that it was suffering from injury, but as soon as an attempt to approach was made the bird was off on lightsome wing. Again and again this tactic was repeated until both we and the dog were once more entering the woods.
If flowering herbs are rare, flowering shrubs are common enough. The flowering currant is frequently met with, though I thought the clusters of blossom smaller than usual. Wild crabapple I have already spoken of; its flowers are always a delight to look at and smell. The arbutus is already displaying its pyramids of yellowish white bloom.
A rather interesting thing was pointed out to me at the Indian village. Around one of the houses is a thick row of white narcissi. They stand out very conspicuously, because everything about them is eaten down to the ground. They alone remain because the sheep will not eat them. Now the bulbs of the narcissus are dangerously poisonous, and even the scent of the flowers causes in some people the symptoms of poisoning, headache and vomiting. Probably the leaves have some unpleasantness of taste and smell that serves as a warning signal to animals.
Above the rocks along the shore as you look across the many small bays you can see the level lawns that mark the old beach levels, silent witness to the slow uprising of the land from the sea. Against the recently emerged shores the waves of course hurl themselves with greatest violence, and the island is by no means without its marks of last winter’s storms. The ruins of wharf and trail are more than paralleled by the great bar of shingle built up into the lagoon, and by the immense addition of new driftwood added to the beaches. Across the island the storms have brought destruction to standing trees, uprooting them or snapping off their trunks.
The effect of wind and sea on the vegetation and on the coastline, the sweep of the gale, the three-mile stretch of water that separates the island from Cadboro Bay anchorage; all these are attractions to lovers of the sea and of the wildly picturesque. No scenery changes so frequently and rapidly or so dramatically as the waves do in their endless extent. We speak of “the earth” as if dry land were the world, but it is the sea that by right of magnitude and wealth of life makes the true terrestrial scene. Of all things nothing is so difficult to picture in words as the sea, and even artists content themselves as a rule with certain phases. Perhaps it is when the love of it goes deeper than our words and colors that we long to see it directly and daily, and an island home becomes of all things the most desirable, a “precious stone set in the silver sea”.