The island's first inhabitants, the Pentlatch band of the Coast Salish, fished and hunted some 5000 years ago.
And in the late-1700s, Spanish explorers began to stake claim. Since then, Hornby Island has evolved into a community dedicated to environmentally healthy and sustainable living.
Approximately 5,000 years ago, the region's First Nations people would visit Hornby Island by canoe to fish, dig for clams and roots, and embark on spirit quests. The Pentlatch band of the Coast Salish knew the island as "Ja-dai-aich" (outer island). Shingle Spit, on the island's sheltered eastern shore, was the site of one of the Pentlatch's seasonal villages. The K'omoks First Nation has territorial claims.
The island was first charted as "Isla de Lerena" by Spanish explorers in 1791 aboard the schooner Santa Saturnina. It was renamed Hornby Island in 1850 after Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby, who at the time was commander-in-chief of the British fleet in the Pacific. His son, Geoffrey Hornby, was posted to Vancouver Island late in the same decade and was in command of the HMS Tribune when such island features as Mount Geoffrey and Tribune Bay were named.
The first settlers arrived in 1863. Trees were cleared and farmsteads established. An orchard was planted at Ford's Cove and whales were commercially hunted for a few years from Whaling Station Bay. The first formal division of land on the island was completed in the early 1870s.
The island's population grew slowly in the wake of the leading pioneer landowners Henry Maude and George Ford. Just 32 people lived on the island at the turn of the 20th century. Early homes still standing include George Heatherbell's barn (Shingle Spit Road) and a circa-1914 log house at Whaling Station Bay.
An influx of settlers arrived in the 1920s. Volunteer efforts produced a community hall. A schoolhouse was opened. And enough visitors were holidaying at Tribune Bay to justify the island's first hotel, the Hornby Island Lodge. It wasn't until the 1950s that scheduled auto ferry service was in place. The Hornby Island Co-op was established in 1955, continuing a collaborative island tradition that dates back to the foundation of the first social club (the Mutual Improvement Society) 60 years earlier.
Hornby Island Today
Its remote location and the failure of some farms made Hornby perfect for a new wave of back-to-the-land visionaries in the 1960s. Young people seeking an alternative lifestyle arrived along with US pacifists who refused to enlist for the Vietnam War. Artists set up shop and families experimented with new models of cooperative living (i.e., the Syzgy Cooperative Community on the Central Road). Hands-on community involvement continues to this day with some 20 volunteer organizations on the island.
The Islands Trust was formed in 1974 as a land use and planning agency. Its role is to preserve and protect Hornby Island and other natural gems in the Gulf Islands. The Hornby Island Residents and Ratepayers Association is also dedicated to slow, sensible growth. Its 2020 Community Vision Statement points to a future built around zero-waste environmental practices, alternative energy, low-impact economic activity (the arts, organic farming) and a welcoming attitude to tourists who "walk lightly on the land."