Refuge Cove

Heather Harbord, author of Desolation Sound, referred to West Redonda as the “Social Centre of the Sound.” West Redonda had two settlements – Refuge Cove and Redonda Bay.  Of the two, Refuge Cove has always been bigger, and today is still a hive of activity, at least in the summer months.  Nestled in a large bay at the southwest corner of West Redonda Island, facing Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island, Refuge Cove is only accessible by boat or by float plane.  Boaters love the eclectic and charming community, where you can stop for an espresso and a cinnamon bun, fuel your boat, and browse the well-stocked general store.

Having just returned from his adventures in the Klondike, George Black obtained a Crown Grant for 63 hectares of land in Refuge Cove in 1913.  He drained swamps adjacent to the lagoon to create farm land, and built a dam at the narrow entrance to the lagoon to help with moving logs.  The community developed quickly, and had enough children to warrant opening a school by 1914.  The Blacks alone had seven children.  The first teacher, Miss G.H. McGregor, hired at a salary of $60 per month, fared well and stayed in the community for seven years.  The second teacher, Donna Jackson Murphy, did not appreciate the community as her predecessor did, and described her 10 month tenure there as “the most miserable 10 months of my whole life”.  The school closed in the early 1920s, not reopening again until 1949 when there were 9 pupils in attendance.

One hundred years ago, in 1918, the Refuge Cove General Store first opened.  It was initially named the Donley Trading Company, after its operator Robert Donley.  The shop sold hardware and groceries, kerosene, gas and oil, and functioned as a fish-buying station. Eventually, a post office was also added. 

In the 1920s it certainly earned the title “Social Centre of the Sound” as settlers from all around would converge on Refuge Cove for the Saturday night dances held in the dance hall behind the general store.  People would come from as far as Owen Bay, a distance of approximately 19 nautical miles as the crow flies, longer of course navigating the islands and channels.  Sunday mornings the Union Steamship would arrive with the week’s mail, and residents would gather around in anticipation of receiving their mail and supplies.  By 1931 J.R. Tindall had bought the store and the population of Refuge Cove had reached 200 people.

Tindall sold the Refuge Cove Store in 1946 to Norman & Buster Hope.  When the Hope’s arrived, the community mostly consisted of float homes strung together in rows along a boom stick with cable and chain.  The store’s selection had been expanded to include logging equipment for the many hand loggers in the area.  Other additions included being measured for a suit that would be ordered from a tailor in the city, and ammunition and even contraception were available from the stash under the counter.

When Ripple Rock was detonated in April 1958, things began to change for Refuge Cove.  Marine traffic that had previously come through Lewis Channel to avoid the dangers of Seymour Narrows and “the Devil beneath the sea” began to change their course and make their way south between Quadra Island and Campbell River.  The store struggled with the decrease in the number of mariners stopping in.  In 1968 disaster struck –the store burned down.  They managed to save the cash box, but everything else was lost.  The store reopened soon after on a twenty six meter long barge docked at the government wharf, which was later pulled up to a permanent spot on land. 

The 2016 census puts the population of Refuge Cove at 6.  The store has been able to stay open by servicing the many recreational yachters that flock to Desolation Sound during the summer months.  On a hot summer day, engaging in some friendly banter as you wait on the fuel dock for your turn at the pump, it isn’t too big a stretch to picture this community as the social centre of the Sound. 

Article appeared in the Campbell River Mirror in 2018. Written by Erika Anderson.

Museum at Campbell River respectfully acknowledges the Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation, on whose traditional lands we work to preserve, interpret and share the collective human history of North Vancouver Island. The Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ First Nation is comprised of the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations. Our closest neighbors are the Coast Salish Xwemalhkwu, Klahoose and K’ómoks First Nations.

These nations have close connections to the land where Campbell River is located today.

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