One of the Gulf Island’s most popular marine parks, Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park is located on the southeast corner of De Courcy Island, 16 kilometres southeast of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
There are several middens in the park that indicate native use of the land going back over 3,000 years. The largest of these shell refuse heaps underlies the present campground. Today, this rich intertidal area is still abundant with clams and oysters, but of greater excitement is the large number of sand dollars to be found.
De Courcy Island was named after Michael de Courcy, captain of the H.M.S Pylades, a vessel that charted these waters from 1859 to 1861.
Recent history of De Courcy Island records the drama played out in the late 20’s and early 30’s when the island was home to the Aquarian Foundation, a religious cult led by the “downright evil” Brother Xll. Believing himself to be the Twelfth Master of Wisdom who would usher in a new age, Brother Xll convinced 8,000 followers to hand over their worldly possessions and follow him to De Courcy Island. Facing trial in Nanaimo in 1933 on a bundle of charges, Brother Xll and his cohort disappeared on the colony’s boat. The couple and the colony’s fortune were never seen in these parts again.
The 31-hectare Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park protects one of the few coastal populations of Poison Oak. The east side stands of Pipsissewa, a low-growing evergreen plant with leathery shiny leaves and pink flowers, are unmatched anywhere else in the Gulf Islands.
Outdoor enthusiasts can hike the 5-kilometre trail or explore the sandstone beaches and caves. As would be expected, swimming and kayaking are popular activities at Pirates Cove, called Gospel Cove by the Aquarians, with great beachcombing on the east coast of De Courcy Island. Pirates Cove also offers a variety of opportunities for viewing wildlife.
This protected harbour offers a magnificent all weather anchorage that is rather crowded in summer. There are two coves in the park, and by far the most popular with recreation boaters is the ‘U’-shaped bay facing the northwest. Kayakers may prefer landing their craft in the quieter south-facing cove.
Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park has 10 walk-in campsites with tent pads in Pirates Cove, located just above the beach. Some of these sites have ocean views and facilities include a cold water hand pump (this water should be boiled, filtered or treated prior to consumption) and composting toilets. A backcountry camping fee is in place; self registration vaults are located near the water pump. Pirates Cove is accessible year round; there is no winter camping fee, however no services are provided.
Pirates Cove is a very popular anchorage. Mooring rings for stern tying vessels are located along the shoreline in the cove. Two dinghy docks are located in Pirates Cove – one on the north side and one on the south side. These docks allow access to the park’s day-use and camping areas. There is no overnight tie-up to the dinghy docks. There is a mooring fee in Pirates Cove.
Middens are archaeological sites protected under British Columbia law, and may not be disturbed.
Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park is located on De Courcy Island, southeast of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Access to Pirates Cove is by private boat only, through Dodd Narrows from Nanaimo.
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