A walk on the ancient whiteshell beach at Montague Harbour is perhaps the best single history lesson on Galiano Island.
The Galiano Museum Society continues to raise funds to build a permanent home for its archival treasures and photographs. Dianne Laronde's colorful, information-saturated A Historical Map of Galiano Island (originally produced for Islands in the Salish Sea, the region's award-winning community atlas) is available in local shops.
Dionisio Point, Montague Harbour and Sturdies Bay were seasonal fishing villages for the Coast Salish First Nations. Arriving by canoe and settling in for the summer, the Salish hunted sea lions and fished for salmon. Archeological excavations have found remains dating back at least 3,000 years, and wet digs offshore from sheltered Montague Harbour (where the water has risen over the millennia) suggest the island was a waystation for nomadic visitors long before this. The Penelakut Band have a reserve at the northwest tip of the island.
Galiano is named after Spanish naval captain Dionisio Aleala Galiano, dispatched from Mexico in 1792 to chart what is now the BC coastline aboard the vessel Sutil. In the late 1850s, British surveyor George Richards of the H.M.S. Plumper honoured the Spanish officer – who died in combat at the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars – by naming the island after him.
The Cariboo gold rush brought many grizzled dreamers to the west coast in the decade prior to Canadian Confederation in 1867. While neighboring Mayne Island developed more quickly, early Galiano settlers cleared the forest, established farms and fished local waters. Henry and Sofia Georgeson, who built a cabin in the early 1860s at the edge of what is now Georgeson Bay, were among the first arrivals. Other notable pioneers included Jeremiah Chives, Charles Groth, and Edward Winstanley.
Neighboring Mayne Island's post office, tavern, and steamship wharf offered good reasons to row across Active Pass. The 1903 Burrill Brothers General Store in Sturdies Bay (now home to the Grand Central Grill) was the island's first grocery outlet, and within 20 years communities in the north, central and southern ends of Galiano had their own small schools and stores.
Like Mayne Island and Pender Islands, Galiano had a community of Japanese settlers who fished for herring and cod, established salteries and manufactured charcoal. This vibrant local economy was silenced when Japanese residents were packed off to mainland internment camps early in the Second World War.
The island's population grew slowly as a succession of steamships, sidewheelers, and ferries such as the Princess Mary and Lady Rose provided regular service to Sturdies Bay prior to BC Ferries taking over in the 1960s. The tourist trade grew and a new wave of back-to-the-land artists, urban exiles and tie-dyed hippies arrived to give Galiano a bohemian character that it retains to this day.