Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tyee Spit, Campbell River

Another post in the Campbell River series.

At the north end of the city of Campbell River, the river of the same name empties into Discovery Passage, named in 1792 by Captain Vancouver for his ship, the HMS Discovery. Over millenia, the river has brought floodwater and glacial meltwater to the ocean, carrying sand and gravel from the interior mountains. At the delta, as the fast-flowing river met the slow turn of the tides, the gravel sunk and formed a long, protective spit, now called the Tyee Spit, for the salmon traditionally caught there.

For a narrow strip of gravel with water on three sides, the Spit has an impressive history.

Looking southwest over the delta at high tide, from Tyee Spit. Elk River Range mountains in the distance. On the bar in the centre, flocks of geese, gulls, and ducks congregate.
Another view of the delta. The Campbell River mouth opens at the left. Eagles roost in the taller trees.

At the end of the eighteenth century, shortly after Captain Vancouver and his mapping crews left the area, the Spit and the estuary were home to the Weweakam people, a remnant of the Salish nation, seeking refuge after a massacre by a competing tribe. Here they lived and prospered, fishing the delta for salmon, picking salmon-, salal-, and huckleberries in the bush, to dry for the winter. There were deer and bear in the forest, abundant trout in the river.

In 1896, when a visitor from Britain published a description of the 70-pound salmon he had caught here, he started a rush of visitors from far afield; by the 1920s, tourist fishermen lived in tent colonies on Tyee Spit. Now, almost a century later, at the entrance to the spit, we see a trailer park, the 21st century equivalent to the tent colony.

1920 saw also the arrival of a belly-flopping airplane*, the first the locals had seen. Bill Boeing had his Boeing B-1 flown in so he could go fishing for trout in Campbell Lake, just a few kilometres upriver, but a difficult hike.

More planes followed, until in 1951, BC Airlines set up a float plane base on Tyee Spit, which was to become, by the '70s, "the busiest in the world", serving the logging industry on the entire West Coast. Although times have changed, small planes still tie up there.

Pontoon planes, in the Tyee Spit basin.

Another plane landing in Discovery Passage, on the east side of the Spit.

Taxiing around the tip to the dock.

The fisher folk now have the choice of resorts, motels, campgrounds, B&Bs, hotels, and more, in and around town. The logging operations have moved on; commercial airplanes now have an airport inland. Only a couple of buildings and the trailer park remain. Most of the spit has been tidied up and turned into grassy parkland, with paved walkways, benches, and well-trimmed lawns.

"Spot" With gumweed, on the shores of the Spit.

Tidy, gravelled beach area, still too new to have developed much life. Except for dogs.

At the entrance to the park, they have erected a plaque. It reads:
 "Tyee Spit Float Plane Base, 1970s: In the 1970s this seaplane base was reputed to be the busiest in the world. Aircraft transported supplies, equipment and replacement parts, provided lifesaving medivac services and shuttled crews in and out of hundreds of logging camps. In the 1980s changes in the forest industry saw an end to large scale logging operations. This, coupled with improved road and ferry access, the development of high speed water taxis and crew boats, and the growing use of helicopters in the forest industry, contributed to a decline in the float plane business, though these aircraft still play an important role in our coastal economy."

Gumweed, all gummy.

Google maps view of Tyee Spit, before the cleanup. From the Waterdrome north, there is nothing now but an observation platform and park.

More information about the area's aviation history, here.

* More sedately, but less descriptively, called a Seaplane or a Flying Boat.

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