Cortes Island slowly reopening.

Cortes Island Slowly Reopening

There were four tables when Mansons Friday Market reopened, on May 29th. Last week there were seventeen. They spilled outside the hall and throughout much of the parking lot. There were a lot of new faces: some covered by masks, but mostly not. This was only one of many examples of Cortes Island slowly reopening.

Eva Marie performing at the Fireside Patio – Courtesy Gorge Harbour Marina

People From Off Island

“Our phones are still ringing off the hook and there is big demand to visit Cortes, possibly more than in the past due to people staying closer to home. Though we have cancelled over half of our camping sites and a third of our moorage, the ferry traffic does not seem to have been affected at all,” said Bill Dougan, manager of Gorge Harbour Marina.   

Curt Cunningham, from the Squirrel Cove General Store, said he is probably seeing about half as many tourists as last year. 

Eric Hargrave, from the Cortes Natural Food Co-op, added, “They’re definitely here. If I had to guess, I’d have to say more like 60-70% but maybe it’s only half.”

“We’re definitely seeing the second-home owners here.  Many have been here for months, but there are more coming now.  I suspect all of the second homeowners (excluding Americans) will return this summer for some amount of time.  We know them well.”

There wasn’t enough room in Masons Hall parking lot during the Friday Market Roy L Hales photo

The Stores

“The cafe is doing better than we were expecting.  It looks like we’ll be able to stay open 7 days a week at this point.  But perhaps we’re doing better just because we’re open; the take-out is closed and Toki Bap is only open once a week,” says Hargrave.

“The store is busier than we were expecting – again in terms of sales instead of number of customers.  At this point, I’m cautiously optimistic that this summer isn’t going to be a total bust.  We’ll have to see; we’re accustomed to a slow build until the first or second week of August – the usual peak.”

Although I live just up the hill from the Squirrel Cove General Store, prior to COVID, we did most of our grocery shopping whenever we went off island. Now we head down to the local store once or twice a week. The sign on the door says only three customers at a time, but there are often more than that. Moving inside is usually dance-like, always six feet apart. A masking tape line tells you how far to stay back from whoever is paying for groceries. No one enters an aisle, if it is occupied. 

Despite these measures, actually knowing the person you buy from is special. It is also satisfying to know you are building the local economy up, rather than giving money away to off island stores.  

Take out food from the Hollyhock kitchen – courtesy Hollyhock


The Hollyhock store and kitchen both reopened on July 4th. They started accepting tentsies and limited self contained rentals the following day.

“We actually had only four guests here at the time.  Our first guests of the season were a lovely respectful couple from the mainland.   They loved the quiet Campus and the beauty of Cortes so much they booked a return trip this summer!” emailed Andrea Fisher.

People were visiting the garden everyday and, as of July 9th, Hollyhock has been offering weekly garden tours.

Though fewer tourists are coming, “community engagement has filled our tours, maxed out our meals and we’ve had a lot of local traffic through our Store.”

“We are planning to continue our current initiatives for July and August.  We’re also having a team brainstorm this week around hosting some outdoor wellness activities and live music in a safe way this summer.”

Photo from the July 5 walk – courtesy the Cortes Children’s Forest Trust.

The Children’s Forest

For close to a decade, groups of children have been taking guided tours through the first Sunday of every month.  During the COVID shutdown, the Cortes Children’s Forest Trust adopted a social distancing model that encouraged families to continue individual trips out into the forest. (Weekly themes and suggested activities were posted on the Tideline.) On July 5th, the Children’s Forest resumed its monthly walks.

“For many of our Cortes youth these regular walks into a wild and vibrant part of our island have been a formative experience. These kids (some are now young adults) have developed a sense of wonder at the magnificence of our natural environment, and a sense of connection to a very special untamed place.  We increasingly hear from psychologists about the importance to children’s mental health of getting off line and out into nature, and  when you see the kids coming back from one of these walks, sometimes caked in mud from head to toe but with their faces and eyes shining underneath all the dirt, you know that these walks are doing wonders for these children’s well being,” said Andrew Smyth, a board member of the Children’s Forest Trust. 

Approximately 12 youth and 5 adults participated in the first forest walk of the season. The split into two groups. Many people proceeded to the log jam at Carrington Bay and around the Lagoon to Grandmother Grove. A much smaller group followed James Creek to Grandmother Grove. 

Smyth adds, “Most of the group had a long swim in the lagoon.  it has to be one of the most glorious swimming spots on the island. The water was warm, the sun was shining, the scenery as always spectacular and the kids emerged excited, shivering and energized after the swim.”

Poster courtesy Cortes Island Museum an Archives

The Cortes Island Museum

The Cortes Island Museum reopened on Canada Day: Wednesday, July 1, 2020. 

A sign beside the door instructs visitors to wear a mask. Anyone who did not bring their own, can purchase a mask from the museum for a donation.

This is the first time I have ever worn a mask while interviewing someone. Jane Newman, Managing Director of the museum, sat about six feet distant and also wore a mask. 

“The first day we were open, nobody but board members came. (The board members love this place.) The next day a few people trickled in, then by Friday and Saturday, we were consistently busy. We do have a capacity load of six people, so it doesn’t take much to feel busy,” she said.

When I dropped in, there were five visitors, Jane Newman and the museum’s summer intern (Maëve Leduc) in the building.

“I would say that everyone who visited the museum, with the exception of one or two people who brought friends, is from off island. They’re from Parksville, Qualicum and Victoria. The furthest away was North Vancouver, so all regional visitors” said Newman

“It is great, lots of curiosity about a place that’s open. Some of it is tourist information and it is really interesting to see how busy Cortes has become over the last ten days.”

Misty Isles Adventures

A July 5th Museum excursion to Mitlenatch Island, on board the Misty Isles, had to be rescheduled because BC Parks was not ready.   

“Many of the stewards are in the high risk category. They really had to check the safety plan and could not reopen in time,” said Newman.

Now the Mitlenatch cruise will take place on Saturday, July 25th.

“I believe there are a few registrants, but I have an email out to Amy (Bockner) right now and have not heard back yet. They are probably just ramping up and very busy. We also have three other trips (on board the Misty Isles) this summer.” 

  • Saturday, August 8 – Desolation Sound
  • Sunday, August 23 – Sutil Channel (new)
  • Saturday, September 5 – Desolation Sound

“Those trips are opportunities to see whales, swim off the boat and various other great things. They have their safety plan in place too. So only 8 people can go on trips this year, not the normal 12.”  

You can book your own trip on board by phoning Misty Isles Adventures 250-935-6756, or filling in this online contact form.  

The rope, marked at two metre intervals, used Gumbooting in Masons Lagoon July 4, 2020 – Courtesy FOCI

Activities At Linnaea Farm

“The Wild Cortes exhibit is reopening at Linnaea farm. I’m crossing my fingers, because it is (run by) volunteers, but they are going to be open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 Am to 3 PM. The same hours that the library is available for book drop-off and book pick-up,” said Neuman. 

I didn’t realize the Cortes Library was open again! Going to their webpage, I read “Takeout service starting June 26!”

Driving past Linnaea Farm, I notice their parking lot is almost full. Of course most of those people are probably there for other things than the library.

slowly reopening ecological tours
One of the things they found Gumbooting at Mansons – Courtesy FOCI

Gumbooting in Mansons Lagoon

“We’re not going to have many programs this year, but Helen Hall, from Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI), and I decided ‘We can do gumbooting and keep safe,’” said Newman. 

“It was so great. I had learned a lot about Mansons Lagoon’s historical aspects from Lynne Jordan. She wrote a script, so I could really dig and learn some of the stories from the area and then marine biologist Deb Cowper came over from Quadra and the two of us delivered the tour. Low tide in the lagoon is fascinating.”

Helen Hall had more details. 

Prior to the event, “We figured out where the risks were and took precautions. It took a bit of thinking, but it worked well.” 

Seven people turned out, which is close to capacity. Two were cyclists from Vancouver. The rest were local. We laid out a rope, with 2 meter markings to show people how far apart to stand, at the first stop – but found this unnecessary.

“There was a lot of space for people to spread out on the beach,” she said. 

FOCI normally schedules about 10 activities, but there will only be two more this year. 

“We’ve got one coming up at the beginning of August, paddling through Hauge and Gunflint lakes with Misty Isles Kayaks. That’s a small group and we feel quite comfortable socially distancing.  Then we have another ‘Gumbooting the Lagoon’ planned for August 31st.”

Craft Shop Co-op

The Craft Shop Co-op opened in Squirrel Cove on July 3rd and can be accessed from 11 AM -4 PM, every day but Monday.

Five tourists were there during my brief visit. The three wearing masks were from Richmond. They left only seconds before I entered. A couple from Kelowna remained inside, making “the biggest purchase of the day.” (Mind you the Co-op had only been open for half an hour.)

The attendant, one of my neighbours in Squirrel Cove, told me that each of the artists mans the store in turn. This year is shorter than usual, being only July and August, and she normally looks after the shop three times a year.

Gorge Hall

Gorge Hall is closed until further notice (but hopes to reopen this Fall).

slowly reopening live music
Michael Keith playing in the Fireside Patio – Courtesy Gorge Harbour Marina

Concerts In The Fireside Patio

Gorge Harbour Marina started hosting local concerts in the Fireside patio again on Canada Day. Bill Dougan writes that, so far, at least 50% of the audience is local residents. Providing it doesn’t rain, the concerts take place from 7:30 to 9:30 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and most Saturdays. Check the calendar on the Tideline for specific dates and details. 

This week’s line-up is: 

  • Monday, July 13 – Dana and Garden
  • Thursday, July 16 – Scotty & Shelly 
  • Friday, July 17 – Michael Keith

Mansons Friday Market

The first thing that struck me about Mansons Friday Market is the number of booths. There were ten around the borders of the parking lot. Many faces familiar from other years were back: Anne & Sam, Susana Vijia and Tanya Krahn. There were also new venders, like Cora, Anu & Falen and (inside the hall) the Boharts.  

While the crowd seemed sparse, a number of people mentioned that sales were good.

slowly reopening the markets
Sarah selling produce from her garden at the Friday Market – Roy L Hales photo

Mansons Hall

The first reference I could find to anything happening inside the hall again, apart from the Market, was on June 10th. The Women’s Centre reopened for two hours a week, Wednesdays between 2-4 PM. 

“We can have 5 people in the space at a time. Please use hand sanitizer at the door.”

On July 7th, Mansons Hall announced it was open for short term rentals again: 

  • “The Pioneer Room can have 8 people and Om Studio can have a maximum of 7 people.”
  • “The main hall has a maximum capacity of 22 people for sit down events, and 12 people for yoga or dance classes.”

That last figure illustrates the impact of physical distancing. Cortes Radio used to pack 120 people into the hall for Lip Syncs, but this year’s event was cancelled.    

Most of this story was written on July 13th, the segments about the Craft Shop Co-op and Children’s Forest were added July 14 and 15, respectively.

Top photo credit: Looking out from the CKTZ booth at Mansons Friday Market – Roy L Hales photo.

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