Looking down from an aircraft to a house and treed island below

Sightseeing on the Discovery Island Mail Run

According to Luke, the pilot, there are usually sightseers on board when CorilAir delivers the mail in the Discovery Islands.

A man from Campbell River and his sister-in-law from Ontario were on the plane when it picked me up at Cortes Bay, on Wednesday, March 23rd. Neither of them had made the trip before, and they were busy taking pictures throughout the trip. So was I. Everything looks much different when you are sitting hundreds of feet up in the air!

I also took a recorder along and have an excellent recording of the plane’s engine, but abandoned the attempt to conduct any interviews after listening to the thunderous roar that a slight breeze can make.

That was in Refuge Cove, where the only person we saw was a local resident named Dave. He said that the general store, café and all the shops are closed during the winter months. The odd boat will fill up at the fuel dock once or twice a month. 

This will change when the tourist season begins. 

There are about a dozen year-round residents, but in the warmer months the population swells to about 20 families with hundreds of boaters stopping by every day.  

“Everything goes crazy in the summer,” said Dave, who regaled us with tales of long line-ups and impatient customers.

We donned our face masks and climbed back into the ‘de Havilland Beaver’ for the flight to Read Island. Squirrel Cove, the Klahoose village and ‘Secret Cove’ spread out below us. There was a sailboat anchored in Von Donop Inlet and a dock-like floating aquaculture bed near the mouth.

Crossing over Sutil Channel, we observed our first clearcuts on Read Island and neighbouring Quadra.

The scenery throughout this area is still spectacular. 

The postmistress met us at the dock in Surge Narrows, on Read Island. According to Canadian Stamp News, this floating post office also serves 

Maurelle, Sonora and Rendezvous Islands. In addition to the post office, the postmaster sells artwork, t-shirts and has two shelves of used books that are free for the taking. 

There are about 65 full time residents on Read island and the postmistress said there are around 50% more people during the summer. 

As there is no local store, bulk grocery purchases are made at Save On Food in Campbell River every two weeks and delivered by water taxi.

We flew north over the Octopus Islands and through the ‘Hole in the Wall” that separates Sonora and Maurelle Islands. 

One of the headlines on the Sonora Island Resort’s homepage is ‘the ultimate in Wilderness Luxury.” There are blocks of vacant condos, houses and recreation facilities that could easily have been transported from Whistler. We circled around this ‘village’ to where the 68’ foot long charter vessel Columbia III (with 6 staterooms) lay at anchor. 

Across the waters, Big Bay on Stuart Island is another example of the degree to which the local economy depends on tourism. According to the postmistress, there are a dozen full time residents, but the population grows to a thousand during the warmer months. Of that dozen that live on Stuart year round, she and her husband run the store and the rest are caretakers. CorilAir brought a shipment of swag for the summer. Aside from that, she said most of her stock currently consists of liqueur!

We picked up another passenger at Big Bay. He was a French landscaper who had just finished his ten day work shift and was about to start his ten days off. A camper was waiting in Campbell River. He likes to fish and mostly explores northern Vancouver Island during his days off, but has some friends in Vancouver and occasionally visits Victoria. 

Our last official stop was Blind Channel on West Thurlow Island, where the Richter family has owned and operated a resort since 1970. Their website boasts ‘delicious food, creative artwork, and outstanding customer service.’ 

A zodiac from Wild Waterways Adventures was tied up to the dock. One of the guides, Jenefer Smalley, subsequently told me that they saw 15 ‘Biggs’ (mammal eating Orcas) as they were passing Marina Island on the way home. (She also said they pick customers up on Cortes Island.)

Tourism has been one of the three economic pillars of the Discovery Islands, but there were reminders of the other two pillars on the flight back to Campbell River. Clearcuts became a commonplace. Many sites had a fringe of trees close to the water to help conceal the logged off areas from passing boats, but not from aircraft passing overhead. The BC Salmon Farmers Association recently informed Cortes Currents that there were no longer any active Fish farms in the Discovery Islands, so the two we flew over must have been dormant. 

I had a visual demonstration of how differently things can look from the air, when we returned to Cortes Island. I really haven’t explored Carrington Bay, but I must have driven Cortes Bay Road at least a hundred times. Just as I was wondering which island we were passing over, the plane banked and some familiar landmarks came into view. 

Thus, a little over two and a half hours after setting out, we returned to Cortes Bay. That’s where I got out. Everyone else flew on the CorilAir’s base in Campbell River. 

Top photo credit: Looking down at Bird Cove on Read Island – Photo by Roy L Hales

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