THE EMERALD OF THE DISCOVERY ISLANDS
YOU’LL FIND A STAY ON CORTES ISLAND A DELIGHT LIKE NO OTHER. IT SITS AS A GATEKEEPER TO THE FJORD-LIKE WATERS OF DESOLATION SOUND, LONG RENOWNED AS ONE OF THE WORLD’S PREMIER BOATING GROUNDS. THE ISLAND WAS NAMED IN 1792 DURING THE EXPEDITION OF GALIANO AND VALDÉS, PRESUMABLY AFTER HERNÁN CORTÉS, THE SPANISH CONQUEROR OF MEXICO. There are three communities on the island: Manson’s Landing is the main island settlement, and is comprised of a post office, the island museum and visitor information centre, the community hall, a natural food store and cafe, and the island’s main food market. Manson’s (as it’s known locally) is also home to the island health clinic; the island’s only motel is situated a kilometer north of the community. Apart from the motel, the island is also home to many B&BS and several fishing lodges, as well as a luxurious retreat and lecture campus (Hollyhock Farm). The Gorge Harbour Resort is a full service marina, and includes a store and gas dock, and is home to one of the island’s fine restaurants. The tiny settlement of Whaletown, whose name commemorates a whaling camp situated there briefly in the late 1860s, is also home to the BC Ferries dock, which connects you with Vancouver Island.
The Squirrel Cove community is home to the Squirrel Cove Trading Co., and is equipped with a high-tide-accessible gasoline and diesel pump and dock (as well as a government dock), and includes another of the island’s fine restaurants, known as The Cove, and the Flying Squirrel Take-out (both for summers only). The general store includes a liquor agency, a post office, a selection of groceries (fresh and dry goods), an excellent summertime ice-cream bar, and a very good hardware section, including many boating goods and supplies. Their clothing and dry goods boutique is also sure to yield a memento or two of your visit to the Cove.
There are many public access beaches scattered around the island, and a freshwater lake next to Manson’s Landing (Hague
Lake). Access to the island is provided by BC Ferries, connecting the island via adjacent Quadra Island to the city of Campbell River on Vancouver Island’s east coast.
The area between Cortes and Campbell River is well-known for its salmon fishing, and boaters can usually find at least a rock cod or two with a bit of patient jigging.
Live music appears often on Cortes, with groups playing at either Manson’s Hall or at the Gorge Hall, beside the Marina. The Gorge Hall holds movie nights through the summer, too, (their booking schedule depends on distributor availability.)
Occasionally, one of the restaurants will invite musicians, poets and writers to present an evening of entertainment, and summer festivals usually include a musical group or two for the crowd’s pleasure.
Tideline on-line magazine is the best way to read about these events, and you can plan your pleasures accordingly. You can count on there being a festival at the Gorge Marina or at Manson’s Hall on Victoria Day, Canada Day, midsummer day (June 23, 2017), and at the Squirrel Cove Sunday market.
Manson’s Hall is home to the weekly Friday market from noon until three in the afternoon (year-round); there you’ll find homemade breads and pastries, soaps, perfumes, knitted goods, pottery, and occasionally, imported fabric goods brought home by Cortes islanders from their winter travels, usually to the Southern Hemisphere. We residents of the rainforest need our winter sun-breaks!
You’ll also find a similar line-up of goods and diversions at the Squirrel Cove Sunday market (July and August, including Labour Day, 12:30 pm ’til 3 pm). Wherever baked goods are mentioned in this article, add a note to yourself: Go early! Island bakers are VERY good, and they do jam, too; they’re soon sold out.)
Sleepy though the island appears, life on the island has its pleasures and delights.