The birthplace of British Columbia is the small community of Yuquot, also known as Friendly Cove, the site of the first contact between Europeans and First Nations people in British Columbia.
The internationally historic site of Yuquot – where the wind blows in all directions – was the summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people for generations, housing approximately 1,500 natives in 20 traditional wooden longhouses.
First Nations people came to magnificent Yuquot over 4,000 years ago, drawn by the rich sea life and natural resources, the mild climate, and the beautiful surroundings. Those same qualities still draw visitors to this magical place today, as there is so much to see and experience.
In March 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy became the first European to set foot on British Columbian soil when he visited Friendly Cove on Nootka Island. While anchoring in Resolution Cove on Bligh Island, across from Friendly Cove, the natives hollered “itchme nutka, itchme nutka”, meaning “go around” (to Yuqout), but Cook misinterpreted their calls, believing the name of the area to be Nootka.
A Spanish trading post, Santa Cruz de Nutka, and Fort San Miguel, the only Spanish fort ever established in Canada, was maintained here between 1789 and 1795, with Nootka becoming an important focal point for English, Spanish and American traders and explorers.
The Nootka Convention was held in nearby Tahsis in 1792 to resolve the dispute between Spain and Britain over trading rights with the people of Yuquot. The talks between Captain George Vancouver and Captain Juan Francisco de la Quadra were facilitated by Chief Maquinna. The Canadian government declared Friendly Cove a National Historic Site in 1923, with recognition of the significance of the First Nations history following in 1997.
Historically, Bligh Island, a few miles to the northeast of Yuquot, has been used extensively by the Mowachaht First Nations people, and still remains part of their traditional territory. Large Bligh Island is named for a much-maligned British Navy Captain who sailed here with the equally well-known Captain James Cook in 1778. Resolute Cove on Bligh Island is named after Captain Cook’s ship, where a cairn on the southeast cove of the island commemorates the landing. The area subsequently became a major centre for international fur trading.
On March 22 1803, while anchored in Nootka Sound, the trading vessel Boston was attacked by Nootka Indians. Twenty-five of her twenty-seven crewmen were massacred, their heads “arranged in a line” for survivor John R. Jewitt to identify. Jewitt and the other survivor, John Thompson, became two of some fifty slaves owned by Chief Maquinna. The fascinating book White Slaves of Maquinna is John Jewitt’s narrative of his capture and confinement at Nootka (1815).
Today, members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations conduct history tours that include a visit to the traditional gathering places of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, the site of San Miguel, and opportunities to see spectacular old-growth forest, whales, otters, and other marine life. Visitors also have an opportunity to meet some of the friendliest, most hospitable people anywhere! Few tourist destinations in the world can offer the amazing cultural, historical and natural experience that awaits visitors to Yuquot.
Population: Fewer than 20
Location: Yuquot is located on the southwest tip of Nootka Island, a large island in Nootka Sound, off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Access to Yuquot is by boat or floatplane. Closest access points by boat are Gold River and Tahsis, departure points for the MV Uchuck 111 to Yuquot.
The Captain Cook monument, a brass plaque set in concrete, is said to mark the exact location of the cannon at the old Spanish fort of San Miguel.
The original Roman Catholic Church in Friendly Cove was built by Father Brabant in 1889. The cornerstone of the church bears an inscription commemorating the spot on which John Meares, a retired lieutenant of the Royal Navy, built and launched the schooner Northwest America, the first European vessel built on the northwest coast of North America.
Whaling: For hundreds of years, a great whaling society flourished in Yuquot – a society that would produce one of the most culturally significant artifacts in Canada, the Whaling Shrine. The shrine currently resides in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It depicts 92 carved human and whale figures and contains 16 human skulls. It was used in whaling rituals for centuries. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht are looking forward to having their shrine returned home.
Visit the Yatz-mahs “walk around” trail that weaves through forests and along beaches toward the lagoon Tsa’tsil, “where the tide comes up and goes into the lagoon”. The more strenuous section leads you through old-growth forest and up to Aa-aak-quaksius Lake.
Every August, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht pay tribute to all peoples’ heritages with a traditional salmon barbecue and celebration.
The Nootka Lighthouse, built in 1911, is one of the few remaining manned lighthouses on the coast of British Columbia.
Explore the historic waters and stunning scenery of Nootka Sound from Gold River aboard the MV Uchuck 111, a converted minesweeper that carries 100 passengers and up to 100 tons of freight. With a comfortable wood finished lounge, coffee shop and upper deck seating, it is the perfect way to spend a relaxing day on the West Coast. Arrangements can be made to wet launch kayakers in a convenient location along the route. Day trips operate from Gold River to Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer (June to September).
Hiking: The Nootka Island Trail rambles between Louie Bay on the north side of Nootka Island and Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on the south. Along the way, the trail crosses exquisite beaches and tidal shelves, as well as leading inland to bypass rocky headlands and deep river mouths. This 35-km trail is gradually becoming a choice hiking destination, however, the trail is poorly marked and infrequently maintained. Be prepared to bushwhack around fallen trees brought down by the frequent, savage winter storms that pound this section of coast. The First Nations charge a landing/hiking fee per day.
Bligh Island Marine Provincial Park sits at the mouth of the Muchalat Inlet, to the east of Nootka Island, and encompasses the southern portion of Bligh Island and part of the Spanish Pilot Group of Islands. The park protects mature coastal forests and delicate marine ecosystems, and there is much to explore in this group of six islands. The 4,455-hectare park (1,584 hectares upland and 2,871 hectares foreshore) is a favourite boating and fishing destination amongst local and visiting yachtsmen. Sea kayaking tours to the Nootka Sound are available, or kayakers can arrange to be dropped off near the island by the MV Uchuck lll as it plies between Gold River and Yuquot. The park has no facilities, other than a pit toilet at Charlie’s Beach.