Beach on Denman Island.

(Margie Gang photo)

Denman Island

Culture & History

Step into the 1912 Denman Island General Store and take a driving tour past 19th century farmsteads when exploring Denman Island's history.

The Denman Island Museum in the Seniors' Hall is open in July and August or by appointment. The island's single best history is the anecdote-laced My Ain Folk Revisited: Denman Island 1875-2000 by J.P. Kirk (who updated Winnie Isbister's original book of the same name). Abraxas Books & Gifts in the village centre has copies.

First Nations

Beginning at least 5,000 years ago, the region's first people would visit Denman Island by canoe to fish, dig for oysters, clams and roots, and embark on spirit quests. The Pentlatch band of the Coast Salish maintained a summer village at Henry Bay near Denman's northern tip while spending their winters along the Puntledge River near Comox. Shell midden beaches are evidence of their continual presence. Today the K'ómoks First Nation has territorial claims.

European Exploration & Settlers

Denman was first charted in 1791/92 by Spanish explorers aboard the schooner Santa Saturnina. The Pentlatch were devastated by smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans. Circa 1864, the surveyor George Richards named the island on his charts after Joseph Denman, a Rear Admiral in the regional British fleet.

The first wave of European immigrants landed in the early 1870s. Logging was profitable as the land was cleared and a sawmill operated for a time, but farming was the mainstay occupation for most islanders. Cattle, sheep and poultry were shipped to Vancouver Island markets along with vegetables, fruit, milk and cream. The Denman General Store and the Community Hall, both built circa the First World War, were the hub of island life.

Apples became Denman's best-known export. Large orchards were planted below the escarpment along Lacon Road or in the island's warm heartland on Denman Road. Some of these "veteran" trees continue to produce fruit to this day. Prune plums, sour cherries, pears, gooseberries and quince were also grown.

In the 1930s, beaches at Denman's north end were seeded with Japanese oysters and the harvests grew into a million-dollar business by the 1970s. For a time Denman hosted the "world oyster shucking contest," a short-lived event that drew a few too many visitors to an island that treasures its peace and quiet.

Private ferry service from Buckley Bay began in the early 1920s with the BC government stepping in to provide regular sailings in 1954.