The History of Oyster River

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The area of Oyster River has been occupied by the Indigenous for thousands of years. Archeological digs in the area have found an extensive village and fishing site that was used for centuries. The land was primarily the territory of the Island Comox people and the Coast Salish. During the 17th century, the Kwakwaka-wakw people began to migrate in and establish themselves, leading to conflict with the Comox.

It was in this environment that Captain George Vancouver arrived in 1792 aboard his ships the Discovery and Chatham. The channel between Oyster River and Quadra Island was called Discovery Passage in honour of one of those ships by Vancouver.

Archibald Menzies, who was on the ship, met with a local group of Indigenous numbering 350 who spoke the Salish language. This would be the only European contact with the Indigenous of the area apart from the occasional visits by Spanish and English fur traders, but these visits were few and far between.

It was not until 1859 that the HMS Plumper arrived to chart the area.

At this point, European settlement began to increase as the logging industry of the area started to thrive in the 1860s. The logging camps were temporary to start as loggers came in and cut the trees close to shore before moving on. It was only after the logging along the shore had been exhausted that more long-term camps started to pop up, and with them, logging mills.

Oyster River itself originates in the mountains of the Forbidden Plateau on Vancouver Island. It drains an area of about 376 square kilometres into the Strait of Georgia. For the most part, there was little recorded history around the river beyond some people who panned for gold there, and were able to get a nuggets in the river. Eventually, with little luck in getting gold out of the river, gold mining dried up as an industry. Where gold is found, it is in the Oyster River potholes that accumulate downstream. In those potholes, nuggets of up to 2.5 grams have been found.

One of the first men to settle in the area was James McKivor, who came to the Oyster River area in 1887 by accident. Unlike others, he had been shipwrecked in the area and began to wander the area and started to work for others as he saved his money to buy his own land. His first cabin was a crude hut, and his second cabin was a solid square house made with logs and mortar. By 1940, that house was still standing but smoke from half a century had blackened its timbers. It was said McKivor had the strength of two men and was famed in the area as a local Paul Bunyan. As he helped build roads and bridges, he was paid the wages of two men for the level of work he completed. Once, when the bodies of three sailors washed up near his home, he carried all three bodies on his back for 25 kilometres to Courtenay.

The most famous citizen of Oyster River isn’t actually a person, but the fabled sea serpent that has been named Caddy by locals. Percy Elsey, who owned a hotel in Oyster River, first reported seeing the creature near Oyster River in 1933. He fired his rifle at it, apparently wounding it.

He would say,

“Immediately the middle of the creature’s body came up out of the sea like a huge hump. Joe figured his body was five feet in diameter and the belly was orange-colored. He did not see the head, but the tail came out of the water and the flukes were each about six feet long.”

The sea serpent was said to be a Cadborosaurus,

Nettie Ross of Brandon Man. took this shot of what area residents say is their famed sea serpent Cadborosaurus. 1963 *** Local Caption *** Nettie Ross of Brandon, Man., took this shot of what area residents say is their famed sea serpent Cadborosaurus. 1963

From 1933 to 1950, 500 people reported seeing the creature including sea captains and a judge. Every last person stated that the creature was real and alive. Their estimates put the creature at 35 to 110 feet in length with a head like a camel.

Most scientists were convinced though that Caddy was nothing more than three or four sea lions traveling in a single file.

Real or not, everybody loved Caddy and many hoped he would never be caught, killed and stuffed. Through the years of The Great Depression and the Second World War, it was said that Caddy always appeared when the locals needed to be cheered up. It was said that Caddy did everything but breathe fire.

Jack Nord said,

“He was about 100 to 110 feet long. His body was about two and a half feet in diameter. His head was as large as a draft horse’s, hut it looked more like a camel’s. He had fangs in his mouth, six to eight inches long. His eyes seemed to roll in their sockets, changing from a reddish color to green. He had whiskers under his jaw and a kind of mane from his forehead to the back of his head, looking like the teeth of a dragsaw. A fin on his back was raised to about three feet. From the water to the top of his head would be about seven feet. He was an ugly thing”

Sightings of Caddy would continue for decades, although as time has gone on, sightings have been few and far between.

If you would like to explore the beauty of the Oyster River area, then the Oyster River Nature Park should be your first stop. The park is heavily forested and has trails that lead to the mouth of the Oyster River. The park’s network of trails will take you throughout the area, covering 12 acres in all. Mountain biking, birdwatching, swimming and sightseeing are all popular activities in the park.

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