In August of 1982 I made a long promised visit to Nootka Sound which lies about 325 miles Northwest of my home on Vancouver Island. Health problems delayed the writing of this article and in the meantime Ruth Burkholder wrote about her trip (see page 190). Unlike Ruth, I was fortunate enough to land at Friendly Cove even though it was only for an hour.
We camped overnight at Gold River and boarded the M.V. Uchuck III in glorious sunshine for the five hour trip. I was on the bridge when we passed Resolution Cove where Cook himself went on shore with the carpenters to "choose a proper stick" to serve as a new mizzen mast for the Resolution. The skipper was kind enough to make a slight alteration in course so that I could take a photograph of the cove and the plaque that was placed there in 1978, one would have to be in a smaller boat to land here, something I hope to do in the future.
As we rounded the Southwestern tip of Bligh Island the whole vista of Nootka opened up. Ahead was Nootka Island with Friendly Cove a mere speck on the horizon, all around were tree covered islands stretching as far as the eye could see against a background of mountains. One could well imagine that this place must have looked much the same to Captain Cook and his men with one exception, to-day many of the mountains have brown, bare areas where large scale logging has taken place.
Friendly Cove is located on a flat piece of land between the higher ground of Nootka Island and a group of small rocks and islands to the South. In 1778 there was a population of some fifteen hundred Indians who spent their summers in the village exposed to the winds. Others have described it today as being virtually a ghost town. A small Catholic church, a boarded up school, remnants of a fish-oil plant, a handful of Indian agency houses and a lighthouse. Sprawling blackberry bushes block the wayfarer's path, as I was to find out when I landed.
As we approached the wharf I could see the cairn erected to Capt. Cook in 1924 and as I had only one hour this was where I intended to go. There is another monument but at the time of writing I have been unable to find out any information about it.
In my innocence I set out for the cairn being completely unaware that it was located on an island rather than on an extension of the rocky headland as I thought. It is almost impossible to reach at high tide unless one has been through an S.A.S. assault course or some such similar exercise. I fought my way through the brambles and scrambled over rocks until finally confronted by a deep tidal gully with a log crossing it. My heart was in my boots which probably helped me keep my balance as I made my precarious way across this makeshift bridge with the tide sloshing around a couple of feet below.
Imagine my consternation after scrambling over more rocks to find that I was at a dead end and could go no further. Returning to my log I made my way to the other side of the rocks only to be faced by another log "bridge". Can this be the right way? Scurrying across (by now I am getting pretty good at it) I clamber up a rock face and there ahead of me is the cairn, a few more obstacles to overcome and I reach my objective. After ten minutes rest to get back my breath and wonder how many pounds I have sweated off I am able to take stock of my surroundings.
From where I stand I can almost imagine myself at Cook's side viewing for the first time the whole of Nootka Sound. With the ease in which we can travel today (except for trying to reach cairns over impassable rocks) it is hard for us to imagine the feelings of Captain Cook and his men when faced with such beautiful surroundings after harsh months at sea.
The history of the Nootka people has no place in this article except for the way they were named.
When welcoming Captain Cook the Indians gestured all the time telling him "Nootka, Itchme Nootka, Itchme" - meaning "you go round the harbour". The Nootka Indians have oral traditions relating to history which are surprisingly accurate. A more recent descendent has this to say about the naming of these people.
"And they (the Indians) started talking Indian and they told them to go around the Sound, you know. They started making signs and they were talking Indian and they were saying: nu.tka icim nu.tka icim they were saying. That means you go around the harbour. So Captain Cook said, 'oh, they're telling us the name of this place is Nootka.' That's how Nootka got its name".
Tired but happy I returned to the Uchuck for the journey back, I was slightly disappointed in the short time one was able to spend ashore but have since discovered that a friend of mine and her husband run the lighthouse at Nootka and I have an offer to stay with them for a couple of days. There is no post office at Nootka and most contact with the light is by Canadian Coastguard vessel or helicopter from Victoria. I am looking into the possibility of some special covers using these forms of transport.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 350, volume 8, number 2 (1985).
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