While back in Canada I managed to get in a couple of trips up to Desolation Sound with my parents on their boat. As a kid so many of my summers were spent up there that I think there might have been some years where I spent more time afloat than on dry land!
This time we stopped in for a few days at Refuge Cove, a co-op settlement on West Redonda Island somewhere between a hippy commune and a buccaneer’s hideway. Accessible only by boat or seaplane service, Refuge Cove offers boaters one of the few opportunities to fuel up and buy necessities like food, gear, or beer before an extended adventure in the Sound.
Refuge Cove has a few year-round residents and a seasonal population which partly relies on the seasonal tourist “boom” lasting on average from July 18th until August 18th, give or take – or so I’m led to believe. A few houses dot the hill behind the store or as the locals call it “Downtown”, with more houses stretching up and away past “Uptown” – where the bakery and art gallery are, a distant 30 metres from the store. A combined Laundromat/washroom/shower building fills the gap between Uptown and Downtown. You can even get postal service in Refuge Cove. I sent my roommates in Trier a postcard, and I spent a good 5 minutes flipping through the ancient book of stamps with the young long-haired fellow standing behind the counter at the store. The book had to have been at least 15 years old and full of stamps far larger than any I’ve ever seen, and all covered with animals rather than Her Majesty. I asked buddy where I could post it, and he casually replied, “Oh, Uptown, but I’ll take care of that for you.” What a nice chap. And the card arrived, even before I did!
In recent years visitor numbers have dropped due in large part to fuel prices. The old burger stand tucked away behind the Laundromat has long since closed down. The owner told me that he used to only have a good 4 weeks of business or so, but had done it out of fun. Now though it’s just not worth it. Instead he’s converted it over into an Honour System library, with a collection of books with little cans to put your money in.
So after all these beautiful pictures you may wonder where the name “Desolation” comes from for such a beautiful place. Well, it’s no joke – it was given by Capᵀ Geo. Vancouver, charged with exploring what would become British Columbia’s west coast and the Salish Sea in 1792. He entered Desolation Sound on a dreary grey day, with the rain falling and the misty clouds choking out the mountain tops – it’s an image any west coaster is familiar with, and likely loves. Like most newcomers however Vancouver was not too happy. The deep fjords and bays made anchoring almost impossible, they could identify little food, and his surveying parties came back without discovering significant routes inland nor potential areas for large-scale settlement. His men had come across a few “abandoned” villages, including the infamous Flea Village. In all likelihood however these villages were not abandoned, but rather temporarily uninhabited as the local indigenous peoples were likely harvesting food elsewhere as part of their normal seasonal migrations. A devastating small pox epidemic ten years previous also played a part in local depopulation. Vancouver had no idea of this however, and to him the entire Sound appeared empty, useless, and devoid of any comfort.