Galiano Island: A Historical Sketch

Galiano Island is a 25 km long, narrow island bordering the southwestern side of the Strait of Georgia, Britich Columbia, Canada. Rocky shores offer few shelters against winter storms, but a few protected bays welcomed aboriginal settlement and hosted clam beds whose long-lasting food bounty is attested by thick shell middens. Signs of settlement over 3,000 years old have been found in Montague Harbour.
University of BC archaeologists have also excavated the remains of a 1,500 year old village near Porlier Pass, perhaps an early focus of salmon fishing and sea-lion hunting activities.

In the decades between the explorations of Dionisio Galiano and George Vancouver (1792) and the establishment of Fort Victoria (1843),
Galiano and the nearby Gulf Islands were part of the traditional territory of Hul'qumi'num speaking populations based on Kuper Island and in the Cowichan Valley. Enthusiastically embracing European religion and technology, but already decimated in the 1780s by a small-pox epidemic, the First Nations tried in vain to resist the pressure of European settlement and, by the 1860s had been forcibly dispossessed of their lands by military might.

Many of the early pioneers took Indian brides and pursued a life-style close to that of their aboriginal relatives, living off the bounty of land and sea, and thus providing some cultural continuity and links of kinship that survive to this day.

In 1859, Galiano Island acquired its modern name, bestowed upon it in honour of the Spanish navigator, by Royal Navy hydrographer Capt. Richards. A pioneer farming community was developing on the shores of Plumper Pass (officially renamed Active Pass by Richards). Some settlers, such as Scotty Georgeson, a Shetland Islander who married a Fraser Valley Sto:lo woman and became the first lightkeeper on Mayne Island, held land and had family on Galiano but were also active on Mayne.

Galiano Islanders - remittance men, gold seekers, refugees from crowded countries - felled timber, fished Gulf Island waters, and farmed the valley bottoms for produce to sell to the growing cities of Victoria and Vancouver.

Japanese settlers also came to live on Galiano Island in the late 1800s. They were active in the fishery and operated salteries at the north end of the island until the late 1930s. Traditional charcoal pits, dating from the 1890s and typical of those used in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, have recently been excavated at the south end of the island.

Water transportation has always been a topic of crucial interest to Galiano Islanders. Even today, life on the island keeps in tune with the ferry schedule. As transportation became more reliable in the 1950s, people from the city discovered the beauty of the Gulf Islands. They first came for summer holidays, acquired property, and sometimes retired on the island.

Official recognition of the value of Gulf Islands landscapes led to
the creation, in 1974, of the Islands Trust, an agency currently in charge of overviewing local land use. The Trust plays a prominent role in the political life of islanders.

Today, Galiano residents include a mixture of old families, reaching back to the pioneers of the nineteenth century; a contingent of artists, writers and refugees from the big city, attracted by the beauty and peace of the island; and a large group of seniors living off their pensions in quiet surroundings. Social life on Galiano flourishes through a plethora of volunteer organizations running the recycling depot, the community
halls, the fire departments, the museum, the library, the Lions, the health care centre, the concert society, etc.. in a widespread spirit of community and self-reliance.