A History of Ucluelet 1899-1954

Ucluelet 1899-1954 by E.A.Hillier

Ucluelet, about fifty miles from Port Alberni, is on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, at the westerly entrance of Barclay Sound. it is not a new settlement by any means. In 1899, there were about fifteen whites and two hundred Indians living there.

When Mr. H.J. Hillier left Victoria for Ucluelet, he was told that it was a good move, that the road was going that way, and that there were years of work ahead. On arriving in Ucluelet April 9th 1899, aboard the CPR steamship Willapaw, which sailed from Victoria four times a month, he found Mr. J. Sutton with wife and family – owner of the store and also part owner of large tracts of timber and land. He also met Mr. George Fraser, a botanist who had started his gardens about 1895. Mr. Fraser’s wonderful rhododendrons, azaleas, heather, and roses with their varied crosses made his gardens world famous for about 45 years, until his death.

Sealing was at it’s height in these days. two schooners were outfitted from the Ucluelet Reservation every year with a crew of thirty Indians each. These sailed out for a month or so to the sealing grounds. In winter and fall, the Indians and their wives fished for dogfish in their canoes. They extracted the oil from their livers and traded it to the store keeper. In return they received a stick marked in gallons at $.25 per gallon. They then traded the stick back for goods.

Mr. Melvin Swartout, who was an Indian missionary and teacher in Ucluelet for many years, went around Barclay Sound in his sailboat to other reservations. When he failed to reach Ucluelet in 1904, his boat was found adrift and later his body washed up on Long Beach. Years after a coastal missionary boat was named after him.

Other settlers in the good old days were Mr. Kivarno who became policeman. Mr. W. Thompson and Mr.C.Binns (who opened a store for a while) Mr. H.Lyche, Mr. E.Lee, Mr. R.Brown, Mr.G Fraser,,Mr.A. Jansen, and Mr. Maargatysh, some with wives and families.

In 1900, black gold bearing sand was discovered on Wreck Bay, so the settlers of Ucluelet formed a company. Practically everyone bought shares and staked claims on the beach. These claims were worked for two years. Since then, men have often staked claims, washed for gold, enjoyed the beach, and then gone again.

Dr. MacLean and family arrived in Ucluelet and settled near the reserve to attend to the Indians. He also doctored the white people for approximately twenty years.

A whaling station was built at Seshart, about fifteen miles from Ucluelet in 1903. The first boats were the Orion and St.Lawrence. These whalers took in up to ninety whales, which was processed for oil and fertilizer, from the inside the sound the first winter. Other boats were added to the fleet and they were often tied up in Ucluelet until the weather cleared.

An old shingle mill in Ucluelet, owned by Mr.Sutton was reopened by Mr.Wingen to cut lumber and shingles for he settlers who lived in Ucluelet and around Barclay Sound. The wage in those days $2 for a nine hour workday.

Since there had been several wrecks on the coast near Ucluelet about 1903/04; the Passofmelford at Amphitrite Point and the Velentura nearby, the residents of Ucluelet sent the government a petition asking for a lifeboat. Capt. Lyche took charge and it was manned by a volunteer crew. Years later, a motor boat was built and sent up to take the place of the rowboat. This was captained by W.L.Thompson.

In the early days, all trolling for salmon was done from canoes by Indians. A few white men used dories for halibut and cod, but there was no market, except when a big boat came up from Victoria and bought a load a t $.06 per pound for salmon and $.03 per pound of halibut. Cod was practically thrown in. It was not until much later that scows with ice were anchored to buy in  Ucluelet’s Spring Cove.

In 1902, Mr. H.J. Hillier became a lineman who lived at Curvin beach on Barclay Sound. He travelled by canoe from Ucluelet to Effingham Inlet attending to his line which ran along the beach. A small open boat with an engine called Rosa, named after his wife, replaced his canoe when he was transferred to Ucluelet as operator and lineman to years later in 1905. He claims to have caught the first spring salmon inside the harbour from a power boat.

About this time, Mr.Jansen took over Mr.Sutton’s store and a short time after, Mr. Lee opened a store on the other side of the harbour. Mr.Jim Fraser grew strawberries for shipment to Victoria.

Ucluelet had grown a lot and a school had been started with nine pupils. The schoolmistress was Mrs. Lyche. Children from across the bay rowed over each day in a big canoe.

The Queen City had been on the run from Victoria to the coast for some years and was soon replaced by the Tees.

About 1910, a small saltery was started for herring. These were for Japanese trade. Two small boats with seines caught the fish inside Ucluelet and Toquart harbours. They were the Ucluelet No.1 and the Tofino.Dan,Billie, and Johnny  Bain and Jim Barnes; four Scotch fishermen straight from Scotland did the fishing.

The settlers of Ucluelet started the Development League to encourage settlers to come to the coast and also in hope that the road from Port Alberni would come through. At this time. Mr.Robert Brown was local road foreman. The Thornton Brothers owned a nice launch called the Trent used for passenger runs to and from Port Alberni. A mailboat service started twice a week from Alberni. It was run by Captain Stone and Sons.

The Rural Telephone company was formed with all the settlers buying shares and having phones. This was the first charter of it’s kind in Britsh Columbia. This line replaced a line that had been in operation to connect three homes around the harbour.

in 1911, the land from Ucluelet to Tofino was opened for premption and the road started. Settlers flocked in, taking up every section between the two villages. Some families came straight from England. There were many with families on every quarter section between Wreck Bay and Long Beach on the west and Kennedy Lake on the east. Hope was held high for the Alberni Highway that year. Meanwhile, the men were all able to get a little road work on the Ucluelet – Tofino road which was slashed out and cleared and partly corduroyed for several miles.

Some families brought in horses and cows, but were unlucky or else the country was too hard for them, for they got mired, hung up, or wandered away. It was a common thing to call everyone together to rig up a hoist and pulley to try and rescue an animal. Owls and mink killed the chickens. The odds seemed all against the people who came with high hopes of making homes and spent their all and gave to much hard work to try and live in the outskirts of Ucluelet. The men packed everything on their backs into the woods and worked every hour of daylight at clearing land for gardens and trying to improve their homes with hand split boards and shingles. Many nice homes were built and big gardens worked for two years. Then came the time when all savings were gone and no road work and no hope of the Alberni Road, as war had been declared in August 1914. Many left the country. Those remaining were Mr.Fletcher (now the lighthouse keeper), Mr.C.Hughs, Mr Bonnetti, Mr.Saggers, Mr. Karn.. These men and their families moved to the Ucluelet waterfront.

The head of the Ucluelet Arm became a separate place called Stapleby with it’s own post office, with Mr.Grant in charge, and a store which operated for a short while. A school was opened with many more children than Ucluelet’s school. These children walked for miles along planked walkways.

South of Ucluelet the same thing had happened. Settlers had taken up all the land along the shore of Barclay Sound. Their hopes that the Alberni Highway would partly follow the coast. When the war started, they either left or moved to Ucluelet. Mr.Jacobs, Mr.Soderlund and Mr.Whipp still being with us. Mr William Fraser was customs officer at that time.

Ucluelet sent her fair share to the First World War and all but three returned home safely. These were Hamish Maitland-Dougal, Charlie Homewood and William Booth. During this time Mr.H.J.Hillier received a news bulletin every night and giving an emergency telephone ring would repeat war news to the whole settlement.

Timber cruisers and surveyors often made trips through this country and there was talk of timber changing hands and operations starting, but years went on and nothing happened.

A cemetery company had been formed with Mr.Sutton giving land on the roadside about five miles from the present settlement. Mr.W.Williams, a settler who lived nearby became the president, and sadly he and his little girl were the first to be buried there.

In 1915-16 some Japanese fishermen arrived with good boats. Soon more came with wives and families. They built little houses where ever they could and settled. More white men and Indians bought boats, as scows with ice came to buy fish, and so by 1930 the fishing fleet had reached hundreds of boats and tons of fish were iced and shipped in a steady run of packers.

This went on until the Second World War when Japanese were all shipped away from the coast (to internment camps). Their boats were taken from here and sold, their homes and possessions were also sold.

Many local men were in the services during WWII and all returned safely.

Local fishermen, White and Indian, still kept the markets going. Many have bought new boats or improved their boats until all have up to date equipment, including radios, iron mikes etc. These were serviced for many years by the Ucluelet Engineering Works which was owned and operated by Mr.J.L.Thompson from 1925 to 1946. These boats run off-shore for hours before starting to fish which means leaving home at two or three in the morning. The larger boats sometimes take ice and stay on the fishing grounds for several days. They often follow the fish up the coast to the north of the Island. It is a great sight to se the fish being unloaded at a scow: big silver fellows being weighed and flipped over until everywhere is full up. Prices now are highest they have ever been.

Pilchard and herring fishing has been going on for years, boats getting larger all the time with all the latest inventions for finding fish. Often in stormy weather there are twenty or more of these big seiners tied up at Ucluelet docks. Each one worth at least $40000 with it’s nets and equipment.

A cannery and reduction plant runs for about eight months of the year on the east side of Ucluelet Harbour. This is a little town in itself called Port Albion built on the same site as the old mill of 1903. It is a pretty place with the plant and cannery building painted red and the cookhouse, bunkhouse and homes painted grey and green. A large ice plant has been added.

Boats come and go to Ucluelet and Port Albion with freight, canned fish oil, fertilizer and machinery.

The Princess Maquinna, which has had the coast run for over twenty years, now comes from Victoria with freight and passengers four times a month. Often in summer the Princess Norah takes the run too, both carrying tourists. these boats go over to Port Albion after leaving Ucluelet Government Dock as does the mail boat M.M.S. Uchuck, which runs from Port Alberni three times a week.

When WWII started there was great activity in Ucluelet, Mr. Kivarno’s land was bought by the government and turned into an airport. Hundreds of men lived and trained here. It was a seaplane base. As the war went on another larger base was built at Long Beach for land planes. All this caused the road between Ucluelet and Tofino to be finished at last and kept in A-1 condition. It took a war to do it. Hundreds of soldiers guarded our shores during those tense days. Small stations sprang up in various places, also radar detection.

Artillery was placed on the rock in front of Hillier’s home which commands a full view of the mouth of the harbour. These big guns would practice shots at rocks outside the harbour and keep us all in suspense.

The population grew fast during war years and there was serious talk of the road to Port Alberni having opened up in case of evacuation. The telegraph lines were put through that way and the road to Kennedy Lake planked so linemen with jeeps could get through. After the war ended, so many folks left and Ucluelet seemed to settle back for a breathing spell, and was aroused again by an unexpected development.

About two years ago, Mr.H.C.McMillan arrived and leased land from Mr.Thornton, who was still living on the property he and his brothers had taken in 1910. The North Coast Logging Camp was started, employed up to 150 men. It is now the Kennedy Lake Logging Co. and has vast timber holdings.

The logs are brought down by trucks and dumped into the water. Small tugs sort and tow them down to the loading works where they are loaded into small flat booms. Tugs from town come in and tow these out to sea every few days.

Ucluelet Village has grown considerably, as many loggers with families live near the school. All available houses are occupied and the company has turned some army huts into very nice duplex homes. wages are high and Ucluelet is a fairly modern village.

This is all a long way from 1904 when Mr.H.J.Hillier and Mr.W.L.Thompson had logged two booms of logs of a hundred thousand feet each and sold them to the Ucluelet Mill for $6 per thousand, which was a good price then.

Mr.H.J.Hillier, his four sons and eight grandchildren and one great grandchild still ive here and I am his daughter-in-law who came from England in 1911 and lived in Premton. My Mother; Mrs.Karn, and her seventeen descendants also all live in Ucluelet.

1952 – Now we have more stores, a hotel and cafe, shoe repair shop, bakery, wood shop, two oil stations, all sorts of cars and trucks,a bus service from Tofino three times a week, and also o Chamber of Commerce. It is too soon to ask for a road to Alberni?

Ucluelet in 1954 has changed considerably. There are many nice homes, and a new modern school with four classrooms, a large gymnasium,industrial arts room, all the latest equipment and teacher’s room. This is now the Elementary Junior High School.This year a new elementary school has been built and will open shortly. Seven teachers are now employed with an attendance of about 160 children and as many more under school age.

A very beautiful little Catholic Church has been completed on the main highway and a new Anglican Church, St. Aidan’s on the Hill, which is nearly finished, stands on the corner of two roads, overlooking the harbour.

The Ucluelet Athletic Club now has 140 members and A.W.A. As has 42. Army Navy and Air force is a large club with it’s W.A as have he two churches. The shantymen hold services and Sunday School here and the Jehova Witnesses also have a large following.

A large youth group has been formed under Scout Master,George Sherman (Customs officer). Headed by the group committee, it embraces the Scouts, Guides,Cubs an Brownies and is very active.

the Ucluelet Lodge is a large modern building, including a beer parlor with a cafe adjoining. The government telegraph office has been on the west side of Ucluelet for the last 17 years with Mr.W.L.Hillier as telegrapher and Mr.R.Matterson os government lineman, until recently. Four telephone girls are now employed in the office and there was two linemen.

A barber shop and pool room owned by Mr.R.Payne is situated beside the cafe. A large modern machine works, replaces the old shop(under the name of Ucluelet Marine Service).

Over a hundred cars are now on our roads. Ucluelet, a municipality, has had street lights for the past year.

The fishing Industry is streamlined and modern. Hundreds of beautiful boats, Whites, Indian and Japanese form the fishing fleet of Ucluelet. Scows, Canfisco and Todds are buying fish. large seiners are all fully equipped. Tugs are too busy towing away large booms and rafts of logs from Kennedy Lake Logging Co. Miles of roads have been built up around Kennedy lake. A matter of a few more miles would link us up with Sproat Lake and the Albernis.

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