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Irrepressible Howe Sound

An enigmatic fjord swirling with the after-effects of industrial activity and shining with remarkable comebacks of nature



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Traditionally used for subsistence gathering and fishing activities, Howe Sound played a vital role in the lives of the Squamish people.

"The acknowledged border between the two peoples (Sechelt and Squamish) is at Roberts Creek," says Anderson, "so this in effect makes Howe Sound a Squamish Nation "lake" — so there were not only seasonal camps but permanent settlements around the perimeter of Howe Sound."

He adds that the story of Howe Sound as far as human use is concerned is one of movement.

"In pre-contact time and right up to 100 years ago, there were summertime and wintertime movements of the Squamish people," Anderson says, noting that because Howe Sound was a travel route, there are countless stories connected with places dotted along its shores.

After the spring eulachon fish harvest in northern Howe Sound, the Squamish people would move south to Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River where — after setting up secondary dwellings and taking part in the Fraser River eulachon and then sockeye fisheries — they would then return to Squamish for the winter.

This way of life was forever altered in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver entered the sound and named it after Admiral Earl Howe.

"The colonial administrators always used to speak about the Squamish people's roving ways. And they wished they would curb their roving ways," says Anderson, adding that the Squamish people never did fully conform to their demands.

But they did adapt, he noted, and when the saw-milling industry evolved in Burrard Inlet in the 1860s, Squamish Nation men specialized in ship loading activity and the women worked in canneries.

Boom times

According to Anderson, Howe Sound plays host to several ghost towns.

He is referring to a scattering of towns, which, in their heyday, hosted communities of thousands of workers and their families.

One of these towns is Britannia Beach.

In 1888, copper was discovered in the mountains around Britannia Creek, just south of Squamish. Large-scale mining began in 1905, and by 1929 Britannia Mine was prized as the largest copper mine in the British Empire.

The mine closed in 1974. Today approximately 300 residents call the town home and the mine itself is now a thriving tourist attraction.

Woodfibre was also a prosperous community for most of a century.

Originally called Britannia West, Woodfibre is located on the west side of Howe Sound and in 1912 a mill opened at the site where Mill Creek empties into the sound. The town site of Woodfibre was soon constructed at the remote location, which was accessible only by boat. Until the 1960s, families lived, worked and played at Woodfibre. At that time, the town site began to be demolished, and families moved to nearby communities. After operating for 94 years, the mill finally shut its doors in March 2006.