Local historian Bill Merilees said he feels lucky to be so close to Newcastle Island, not only because of its rich history but because it continually offers the opportunity to learn new things.
Merilees, author of Newcastle Island: A Place of Discovery, said that while touring the island on Saturday with the Archeological Society of B.C. he gained even more significant insights into its colourful past.
On Saturday, the Nanaimo branch of the Archaeological Society of B.C. held its annual general meeting on Newcastle Island, and during the guided field trip Merilees said he made some new discoveries.
He and historian Parker Williams took the group off the trail during their guided field trip, and went by Mallard Lake to have a look at an old rusting steam engine. While looking it over, they found a stamp in the metal that revealed it was built in 1901, in England, which created a bit of a mystery.
"All coal-mining had ceased on Newcastle at that time, so what was it over there for?" said Merilees. "The time of the engine doesn't fit any contemporary works that are on the island."
The engine, used for its ability to generate steam power and weighing multiple tonnes, would not have been brought over for no reason, said Merilees.
The group brainstormed and came to the conclusion that because of where it was located, the engine may have been utilized in the construction of a sewer line that ran from Nanaimo to Rainbow Channel, out in the ocean.
"It was a collaboration that brought the material together," he said. "The whole story just opened up for us. This happens once in a while."
In addition to being a place of discovery, it is also an island with a future.
Last month the Snuneymuxw First Nation, managers of the park, announced they are moving forward with plans to develop amenities and interpretive tourist attractions at the provincial marine park.
Those plans continue this month as the tourist season begins. Cultural co-ordinator and elder Geraldine Manson said next week she will be making trips over to the island to
share her historical and cultural knowledge of the area with those working in the park over the summer.
"Newcastle has a richer history than Stanley Park in Vancouver by a country mile," said Merilees.
Other historical data that the Newcastle Island Society, of which Merilees is secretary-treasurer, plan to explore is finding what he calls the "ground truth" behind an 1875 photo that shows approximately 20 buildings in Midden Bay on Newcastle. Merilees said the society would like to host a community round table to discuss the significance and importance of the park.
"Newcastle is almost the elephant in the room," said Merilees.
"I was down talking to one of the fellows who runs the ferry, and he was talking about Newcastle, and how frustrating it is that he hears prominent people within the city talking about the cruise ship terminal and busing people to Coombs Market, and Qualicum Beach, but we've got an incredible attraction here in Nanaimo."
With features such as a rich ecology that includes an unusually large population of rare blond raccoons, Newcastle has a lot of potential as a hotspot for tourism.
It is this potential that the SFN aim to highlight in the coming months and years.
The SFN signed an agreement to co-operatively manage the provincial marine park, which is part of their traditional territory, with the City of Nanaimo and the province in a precedent-setting agreement in 2007.
The Snuneymuxw have been studying the possibility of an interpretive cultural centre that takes in the full history of Newcastle. A comprehensive plan is expected at some point in the next few months.
"I will be going over there to be with the young men who are going to be . . . talking to the tourists about the significance of the whole island itself, giving an overview of the significance of the sites, traditional names, ecological sites, the presence of First Nations going back in time, the traditional medicines on the island," said Manson. "Just sharing with them so they can be more comfortable sharing that with the tourists on-site."
Manson said they will also be looking at the facilities on-island and how they want them to look from a First Nations perspective. "Because Newcastle is one of the smaller islands, we do have many sites of significance that have storylines that go along with them," said Manson.
The island is considered a sacred place by the Snuney-muxw, and was traditionally used not only for spiritual training but for herring fishing, gathering clams and other shellfish and gathering berries, ferns, and medicinal plants for thousands of years.
- The island is accessible by Nanaimo Harbour Ferry, leaving from Maffeo-Sutton Park, near downtown Nanaimo.
- The dance hall at the pavilion is one of the few places left in Western Canada with a sprung dance floor.
- Newcastle Island became a provincial marine park in 1961, when the City of Nanaimo granted it to the province of B.C. after having acquired the island from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1955
SOURCE: WWW. NEWCASTLEISLAND.CA
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