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Saturna Island Family Estate Winery vineyard
(Andrea Johnson photo)

Saturna Island

Culture & History

Shell beaches are more than fragmentary evidence that First Nations people have inhabited Saturna Island for thousands of years.

A warmlands climate and easy access to offshore waters rich with marine life – seals, sea lions, shellfish, salmon, and halibut – made the island prime seasonal hunting ground.

Today the Tsawout and Tseycum bands of the Coast Salish have territorial rights to reserve lands in the East Point area near Fiddlers Cove. The Salish call the island Tekteksen (long nose) because its eastern tip points into the Strait of Georgia.

European Contact

East Point was the first corner of Saturna spotted by Spanish explorers not long after the American and French revolutions. It is still home to a modern variation of the coal-burning lighthouse erected in 1886. The Fog Alarm Building, built here in 1938 to alert passing ships to the treacherous coastline, is being developed as an exhibition space by the Saturna Heritage Committee.

European discovery

Bragging rights for first charting the island go to the crew of the schooner Santa Saturnina, which trailed a name in its wake as it sailed by on June 15, 1791. A plaque at East Point honours the ship's captain José María Narváez y Gervete.

Several geographical features are named after English crew aboard the survey vessel SS Plumper (1858/59). Pride of place goes to ship doctor David Lyall, memorialized by Lyall Harbour and Mount David. Brown Ridge on the island's vertical south face gets its name from the ship's paymaster William Brown.

Pioneering Settlement

Following some uneasy relations between settlers and First Nations people (notably the death of several newcomers at Murder Point), the first permanent resident arrived in 1869 when Peter Frazier stepped ashore. A decade on, Charles Trueworthy developed a large acreage near Croker Point at Saturna's southwest corner (home of today's Saturna Vineyard). The first post office and store were established here at Pike's Landing (Saturna Beach). Many settlers raised sheep and planted apple orchards.

Economic Pursuits

A sawmill at Boot Cove, sandstone quarry at Taylor Point and coal mine on Tumbo Island reveal the diversity of economic pursuits here in addition to forestry, farming and fishing. Rumrunners reputedly utilized Fiddlers Cove and Little Bay on the east shoreline to hide bootleg hooch during the prohibition era.

A plaque marks the site of the first schoolhouse, built in 1919 near the Saturna General Store. The Community Hall in Lyall Harbour was the hub of social life with dances and events. Saturna's famed annual lamb barbeque was first held on July 1, 1950 as a school picnic at Saturna Beach.

Leading families on the island included the Paynes (who in 1892 built what is today the Breezy Bay B&B), Bradley Dynes, Moneys, Campbells (known for their cattle and sheep farming below Brown Ridge) and Ralphs. The family histories of the latter two clans are available at Boot Cove Books near the ferry terminal.