The Story of an Island

The history of Hornby Island is to be found in the soil and in the sandstone and conglomerate sedimentary rocks, in the pebbles on the beaches, and in the basement rock on which the Island rests. It is also seen in the remnants of snake fences, and in the derelict orchards, in the blackened shell-flecked soil around the shores, and in the indigenous trees and shrubs from which the first people took their sustenance.

An island is created...

The rocks of Hornby Island are part of the island arc Wrangellia, which started its life south of the equator three hundred and fifty million years ago as molten lava. This arc, the result of one ocean plate meeting another, journeyed north on the back of the Pacific Plate, gathering limestone as it travelled. On reaching the latitude of present-day Mexico, about one hundred and seventy million years ago, another set of volcanic eruptions added more volcanic rock to the terrain.

Toby Island

From these two major geological events came the Island's basement rock, and later, 65 to 70 million years ago, most of the ingredients for the Island's sedimentary rock, the pebbles in the conglomerate and the eroded rock from the tumbling hillsides, came from the recycled substance of Wrangellia's earlier geological history. Today fossils of sea creatures and pieces of petrified wood from ancient trees are found in the sedimentary rocks laid down at that time.

Continuing tectonic plate pressure first folded and then faulted the layers of sedimentary rock. The movement of glaciers and the rising and falling of seas in the interglacial periods, scoured the rock and then padded the dips and valleys with clay, sand, and glacial till. Some of the boulders and cobbles were brought from as far away as the Coast Range Mountains.

First people...

Ten thousand years ago, three thousand years after the last glacier retreated, the receding seas started slowly to reveal Hornby Island with much the same shape that it is today. Vegetation started to grow and by five thousand years ago people from Deep Bay were visiting the Island gathering the Island's bounty and fishing from its shores. Hornby Island and its surrounds, immediately prior to the advent of western civilization, was the territory of the Pentlatch, a people belonging to the Coast Salish group of West Coast people.

They and their ancestors, being semi-nomadic, used the Island seasonally and cyclically nine months of the year and became part of the Island's ecosystem. The island could provide for nearly all their needs.

Helliwell Provincial Park

In 1791 A.D., the Spaniards named the Island, Isla de Lerena but in 1850 the British renamed it Hornby Island, after Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby, at that time Commander of the Pacific Station. Ten years later Mt. Geoffrey and Phipps Point were named after the Admiral and his son, Captain Geoffrey Hornby of HMS Tribune. The officers of his ship had their names immortalized in other Island promontories.

By 1850 there were practically no Pentlatch left. Sickness, slave raids, the movement of people into their territory from the land further north, and the collapse of their world from the compounding of these misfortunes, finally wiped out the people to whom the natural life of Hornby Island was a part.

During the 1860's Hornby Island was virtually empty of people. It was the sight of the Island on fire at the end of the decade that decided George Ford, one of the earliest recorded settlers, to move from his settlement in Comox to Hornby Island. Fires made clearing land easier. Other settlers followed.

In 1870 a whaling company moved its base of operations to Hornby Island, but in less than two years it went into liquidation and one hundred acres at Whaling Station Bay with wharf, sheds and other buildings were auctioned off.

The beginnings of a community...

The early settlers were able to choose land which was sheltered, amply provided with water, and having deep fertile soil. By the turn of the century Hornby had become a fairly prosperous farming community. Many who came to farm found the sale of logs from the clearing of land more profitable than the farming itself.

A Fall Faire bounty.

Hornby Island, like all islands, promised a dream. The Island challenged, dared, and offered an escape. Not everyone who came succeeded and even those who did succeed, often found their children seeking dreams elsewhere.

By 1960 most land had changed hands several times. Families had come and gone. Some orchards were derelict and many fields were overgrown. The 150 people on the Island were made up of fishermen, subsistence farmers, resort owners, their children and one or two retired intellectuals.

Towards the end of the sixties developers discovered the Island and three farms were turned into small lot residential subdivisions. To avoid more indiscriminate carving up of the Island, the Province introduced a ten-acre minimum lot size. This coincided with the arrival of the "counter culture people" and the Island flowered with artists, artisans and academics seeking a more meaningful life.

The community flourishes...

In 1974 the Islands Trust was formed to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands against inappropriate use and development. The year-round population steadily grew. Farming, fishing and forestry occupations began to be replaced by art and crafts (Hornby and Denman now have the third largest concentration of artists in Canada). Construction boomed with the growing demand for summer homes. The service sector increased to address the needs of a larger resident population and the increasing number of summer visitors.

Heron Rocks Campground

There was little in the way of regular employment. Islanders supported themselves through various combinations of part time jobs, art or crafts, growing food, building homes, catering to visitors and off-island work. The vitality of the community was reflected in a new school, Co-op store and community hall. The Joe King ballpark and the New Horizons seniors facility became active social centres.

Islanders have taken great pride in meeting their own social needs and in caring for the natural environment. Health care and life-long education are addressed through community-built centres. "The Village" provides pleasant and affordable rental housing for seniors. The Residents' and Ratepayers' Association manages community functions through a dozen committees with almost fifty elected positions.

The Recycling Depot, one of the first in North America, showcases the community's commitment to conservation and innovation. Residents have worked to protect the Island's special places (about a third of the Island is now protected) and its vulnerable groundwater aquifers.

The huge volunteer commitment extended to providing a rich cultural life including theatre, dance, music and homespun entertainment. Regular events such as the Hornby Festival, Celtic Festival, Blues Festival and Bike Fest (now discontinued) have kept enthusiasts coming back to the Island.

Challenges and vision...

A Hornby Bath

Ironically, the success of Hornby Islanders in protecting the natural environment and in creating unique amenities is now threatening the community itself. Once coyly described as an undiscovered island, Hornby and its charms have been praised in articles in major publications. Residents, dependent upon incomes from providing services or creating art, cannot compete in the real estate market with "baby boomers" at the peak of their buying power who are seeking second homes. Now, over 60% of properties are owned by non-residents. Year-round rentals are hard to find as more and more dwellings are used to accommodate summer visitors.

Hornby's resident population has decreased by 25% from its peak of about 1,200 in the late nineties. School enrollment has dropped from a high of almost 150 students to around 50. It is hard for young families to put down roots. Businesses are having trouble finding workers and the fire department is worried about whether it can recruit future volunteers.

Can a diverse community centred on simple life-styles, art and self-reliance survive in these circumstances? In 2002 the community, lead by the Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Community (HICEEC), engaged in an intensive process to develop a collective vision of how various aspects of community life would look in the year 2020. This was followed by an Economic Renewal process to identify ways to strengthen the economic vitality of the community. The real Hornby project emerged from this process.

real Hornby...

The real Hornby Island is a place that nurtures creativity, cherishes nature and harbours an innovative community. Many organizations and groups, with countless volunteer hours, are working hard to sustain this special place and the community's vitality. The real Hornby project recognizes that we can strengthen and perpetuate our assets and values by sharing them with the many people beyond the island who appreciate Hornby's authentic character.

The goal of real Hornby is provide a way for those who feel a strong bond with this special place to stay connected with island creations, island experiences and the people who make them happen.