Sea Kayak Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast

Rocky Mountain Books. 2005. ISBN 1-894765-53-2

Excerpt –


          Prideaux Haven is the name given to a complex of coves including Laura Cove, Melanie Cove (Pronounced Ma-lay-ni by the pioneers), Roffey Island etc. First Nations dug clams here, individualistic pioneers logged, fished and farmed here, and now boaters vie for places in the popular anchorages.

          The route

          From the Curme Islands, head for the narrow opening between Otter Island and the mainland. On a high tide, you may be able to follow the coast and paddle between Eveleigh Island and the mainland. If not, paddle between Eveleigh and Mary Islands turning into Prideaux Haven between Lucy Point and Oriel Rocks before passing Scobell Island. Melanie Cove is straight ahead and west. For Laura Cove paddle west if it’s mid to high tide, otherwise, retreat and go in again by Copplestone Point.

           In July and August the Prideaux Haven coves are full of expensive yachts some of which are serviced by aircraft.  It’s quite a sight but don’t swim there. In February, you can have it to yourself just as Mike Shuttler and Phil Lavigne did when they settled in Melanie and Laura Coves respectively in the early twentieth century.

          Mike Shuttler, also known as Andrew, lived for nearly forty years in Melanie Cove arriving around 1890. He was born and worked as a logger in Michigan where a knife fight scarred half his face and left him near death.

          “I decided then,” he told M. Wylie Blanchet, author of The Curve of Time who met him in the 1930s, “that if that was all there was to life, it wasn’t worth living; and I was going off somewhere by myself to think it out.” Armed with a small library of ancient philosophers, he built a snug cabin and set out to live in harmony with nature. Visitors were always welcome to come for a chat.

          Blanchet tells of their first meeting when Mike rowed out to visit. Like many hand loggers, he stood up in the boat facing forward, pushing on the oars rather than pulling. He invited the Blanchets to come ashore to pick windfall apples. They found he had built terraces enclosed by an eight foot cedar fence to keep the deer out. Inside, he grew apple trees and vegetables. For meat, he had chickens, goats, and deer plus fish and clams. The Palmer logging camp in Deep Bay (Tenedos Bay)  and the Refuge Cove store, where he and other Desolation Sound settlers went for mail, were glad to buy his excess.

          When Stewart Edward White wrote his novel Skookum Chuk, he based the character of Tim in Chapter VII “The Adventure of the Transcendental Hand Logger,” on Mike. There is a detailed description of how Mike felled a huge tree exactly where he wanted it and then used jacks and patience to slide it down into the ocean. When he had gathered enough logs for a boom, a tug towed it to Vancouver where his wood was used to build some of the shipyards.   

                  Mike was in his 70s when Cortes pioneer Ingrid Cowie, then a small child, met him.  “His windows were darkened by grape vines with big white spider webs in between them,” she said. “He used to drop flies in their webs saying: ‘These are my friends.’ His floors were covered with scraped but otherwise untanned deer hides. Above them a layer of fleas bit anyone with bare feet like mine.” She didn’t like visiting him but her father, Jens Andersen, who had known Mike for 20 years often took her there.           

          Today, Mike’s cabin is gone but you can still see traces of his terraces and a few tangled fruit trees. There is a trail between the head of Melanie Cove and Laura Cove where his neighbour Phil Lavigne lived. Another trail goes to Unwin Lake. 

          Phil Lavigne, who was reputed to have killed a man in Quebec, settled in Laura Cove sometime in the early twentieth century. He bought a fishing license in 1924 and when Francis and Amy Barrows visited in 1933,  he was already in his seventies and receiving $20 a month old age pension.

          “Phil always took the Sunday paper,” said Maria Christensen who as a child lived in Roscoe Bay in the 1930s and 40s. “He couldn’t read but he enjoyed the funnies.” After Mike died, Lavigne built shelves around his bunk and transferred Mike’s book collection to them.

          “All dem words, and ‘e ‘ad to die like all de rest of us!” Lavigne told Blanchet.

          Roffey Island hides the most famous place of all – Vancouver’s flea village. Concealed from Haida slavers, the Sliammon people had a small, fortified village on the rocky peninsula behind the island. When Captain Vancouver and his men visited Roffey Island on June 30th 1792, they mistakenly thought the village had been abandoned.

          “My grandfather said our people had the original mobile homes,” said Murray Mitchell who runs Ajoomixw Tours in a traditional canoe.“Planks were lashed to posts and taken with them when they moved.” Vancouver’s men saw the posts but didn’t realise that the people had taken the planks with them for use elsewhere. The men also noticed that a cantilevered deck in front of the houses made scaling the cliff impossible. Mitchell said that when the villagers were in residence they would have piled rocks and heavy branches on the deck ready to hurl down on invaders. The small village at Lund had similar fortifications.

                 As Vancouver’s men poked into piles of “filthy garments and apparel of the late inhabitants” they were attacked by a multitude of fleas. Although they jumped into water “up to their necks,” they were unable to get rid of the creatures until they had boiled all their own clothes.

           The people hadn’t fled,” said Mitchell. “They had just been transformed into the fleas which Vancouver’s men found there. The village was called Mah choh sah yee  – meaning flea village.  It was not used for long.”

Unfortunately, this book is out of print but you may find a copy you can borrow from a library.