HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO A boardwalk lines ‘downtown’ Winter Harbour providing an upclose view of the harbour and inlet.

Winter Harbour: survival on edge of Vancouver Island

BIG READ: one of the Island’s most remote communites to focus on eco-tourism as industry leaves

They dot the history books as afterthoughts and the back roads of Vancouver Island like the smoke of an extinguished fire.

Holberg, Granby, Leechtown — once vital Island communities built around gold, coal and the heat of the cold war, diminished to memory and shadow as their raison d’etre evaporated to the whims of the economy and the vagaries of the time. None of these communities have vanished entirely, but what they are and how they are perceived has certainly been changed by factors largely outside their control.

Will Winter Harbour suffer a similar fate?

Most Vancouver Islanders have heard of Winter Harbour, few have visited. A quaint Island outpost located at the mouth of Quatsino Sound, it is brief respite of humanity along one the Island’s most isolating stretches of coastline — literally and metaphorically, a port from the storm.

It has carved a lengthy existence as a way station for vessels passing along our northwest shores, for sport and commercial fishermen chasing their catch, and for loggers leapfrogging rugged mountainsides for their harvest. It offers shelter, food and fuel in the remote wild.

And it has reason to question its future.

The 2016 census marks Winter Harbour as having just five permanent residents down from the 20 listed in 2011. It also lists 59 private dwellings, an indication of the transient nature of the community. Few live in Winter Harbour. More visit for while. Or at least they have.

First the fishing boats dwindled, a victim of the decline of the commercial fishery in the 1990s. The village used to see roughly 1,500 boats come throughout the season and was home to a multitude of fish buyers. But after reductions to the commercial salmon allowable catch, the industry completely disappeared.

Then, last September, the economy struck another blow: the loss of W.D. Moore Logging, a family-run business that had been operating in Winter Harbour for more than 90 years. About 25 lost their jobs.

RELATED: How will Winter Harbour survive?

“Winter Harbour is in quite a transition right now with us downsizing the camp,” said Jon Moore, whose great-grandfather Albert Moore founded what became W.D. Moore Logging in the late 1920s.

“The Moores will always remain up here, we will have houses up here, but as far as business is concerned, that is sort of done for now. We have been a big part of the community for a long time.”

Jon’s grandfather Bill Moore was a notable fixture in the logging industry as former president of the Truck Loggers Association and founder of a non-profit organization called the Festival of Forestry. He even financed three ‘Downtown Winter Harbour Music Festivals’ in 1967, 1969, and 1971, bringing his love of jazz to the village during its heyday.

But the closure of the firm he nurtured, and the impact of recent changes to the Fisheries Act which reduced sport fishing size quotas and allowable catches, have Winter Harbour wondering what’s next.

“The town itself has revitalized substantially over the last 15 years via the sports fishing industry supported by the logging industry,” said Greg Vance, a part-time resident, and co-owner of the general store, marina, and fuel dock known as the Outpost at Winter Harbour.

Despite the challenges the community is facing, the Outpost remains open, especially for the 2018 season, providing access to food, fuel, accommodation and moorage.

“The harbour is continuing to survive and operate as normal, despite major changes and challenges,” said co-owner Andrea Vance, Greg’s wife.

Mike Lawrence has been doing maintenance work in Winter Harbour for the past 15 years. But the loss of income from W.D. Moore makes doing any maintenance work on the village nearly impossible now.

“I’ve been building docks and trying to keep up to a little bit of it here, but you just can’t keep up to it all,” said Lawrence. “It’s a sad thing because it’s such a beautiful place.”

Like many Island outposts hit by the erosion of a resource-based economy, Winter Harbour may try to capitalize on its natural beauty.

“I think what Greg and Andrea want to do, and the people who are trying to hang on here, is getting some tourism of some sort back into Winter Harbour,” Lawrence said. “We have beaches up and down the outside of the coast, surfers come here, kayakers, divers, fisherman — lots of fishermen.”

“The store is still open here, it’s a great place to view wildlife and whale watch, there is a museum people can go to, and there is a beautiful boardwalk that lines the whole harbour,” said Sarah Moore.

Jon’s wife, Sarah remembers a honeymoon partly spent in Winter Harbour. They watched a humpback whale teach its baby how to feed for a week straight.

“It was doing full breaches out of the water and everything,” she said.

Jon said he sees new life being breathed into the place as one of the local guides has purchased a set of cabins and increased his operations, and that there is still a lot for people to see and do in the area.

“If you like the outdoors, this is the place to come,” he said.

One of the more popular activities for tourists to do is paddle the Mackjack River to Raft Cove.

WATCH: Raft Cove Mackjack River adventure on Vimeo

Normally to access Raft Cove, tourists have to hike for an hour to get to the beach, but a five-minute walk from Winter Harbour allows tourists access to the river where they can instead canoe or kayak there.

“It’s like a meandering stream down old growth forest,” said Sarah. “It’s probably one the best things I’ve done in my life.”

Sarah noted with year-round accommodation and close proximity to many beautiful beaches like Grant Bay, hikers can easily stay in Winter Harbour and extend their West Coast day trips into longer adventures. Her greatest hope for Winter Harbour is to see the infrastructure brought back to life.

Jon said he hopes that people continue to keep visiting, but he also hopes people continue to respect the industry that built the community.

“The only way you are getting here is by logging roads, and the main thing you are coming to do here is fish,” said Jon. “I think this is the kind of place that people come and still understand that.”

“There is so much history here,” Sarah added. “We need a little boom of people and we need the new generation to come visit.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

HANNA PETERSEN/North Island Gazette Jon and Sarah Moore, the fourth generation of the W.D. Moore Logging family, pose with their baby daughter on their back deck in Winter Harbour.

HANNA PETERSEN North Island Gazette The view from Jon and Sarah Moore’s residence in Winter Harbour located in the W.D. Moore Logging Camp grounds.

HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO Old growth tree found on the Botel Trail located near the Outpost at Winter Harbour.

Just Posted

(BC Hydro outage map)
UPDATE: Power restored to more than 3,000 Sooke residents

Two polling stations impacted by outage

The mottled sky, the lights coming on at water’s edge and in Victoria West, and the reflections on the building windows make for a scenic sunset photo in Victoria’s Selkirk neighbourhood. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Sunset on the Selkirk in Victoria

Send your photos to editor@vicnews.com for a chance to see them in the paper

Christopher Mauro, right, assistant manager of the Sidney Save-On-Foods, and Nick Luney, youth initiatives director for the Victoria Pride Society, celebrate the success of a pandemic fundraiser for the local Pride Society. (Courtesy Save-On Foods)
Grocery managers across the Island pull together for Queer youth

With Victoria Pride Parade and Festival cancelled, Save-On-Foods staff found a way to raise funds

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read