Savary Island

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The south shore of Savary Island.

Savary Island is an island in British Columbia, Canada. Located in the northern part of the Strait of Georgia, it is 144 kilometres (89 mi) northwest of Vancouver. It is approximately 0.8-1.5 km wide and 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) long. It has a permanent population of 100.

Geology and soils[edit]

Southern Savary Island, seen from a floatplane

This island is composed mostly of unconsolidated material such as glacial till, marine clay, and sand. This comes primarily from the Pleistocene era as material deposited by meltwater streams from glaciers which advanced southward through the Strait of Georgia over 20,000 years ago. The Ice Age materials are overlain by Holocene (Recent) era deposits; their features include sand dunes. Bedrock is exposed only at the eastern end around Mace Point. Most of Savary's soils are sandy, with brown podzolic and podzol profile development.

Since deglaciation (approximately 10,000 years ago), continued erosion under the general influence of prevailing south easterly storm waves, has caused the disappearance of much of the "original island". What remains today is very much in flux as the twin forces of erosion and accretion gradually move or shift the boundaries of the island. As one study described it, "With no exterior sources of sediment, the Island will continue to cannibalize its south coast."

Climate and its effects[edit]

In the rainshadow of Vancouver Island, Savary receives between 950 and 1,300 mm of precipitation annually, with maximum amounts in late fall through mid-winter. No permanent streams exist on the island, but at least one spring may be found mid-island called Indian Springs. The dry warm summers and erodible soils condition distinctive ecologic settings and surface processes (including wind erosion and deposition). In addition, storm waves, which are predominantly from the southeast, have important erosion and sediment transport effects along the south shore of Savary. It is this unique combination of "ecologic settings", "surface processes" and "transport effects" which gives rise to the wonderful beaches of Savary.


Common trees are Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, lodgepole pine, grand fir, red alder, bigleaf maple and arbutus. It is claimed that one of the largest arbutus trees in the world is on the island. A few western white pine are present. A tiny population of Garry oak occurs at the eastern end — the northernmost natural occurrence of this species along the coast. It has splendid beaches, arbutus groves, meadows, and sand cliffs. Salal is the most plentiful shrub in the forest understorey. Red huckleberry, evergreen huckleberry and red flowering currant are among the other shrubs present. Many of the open areas have been conquered by alien species such as Scotch broom, gorse and Himalayan blackberry.


The animal population includes birds (bald eagles, owls, belted kingfishers, cliff and northern rough-winged swallows, seagulls, sandpipers, and herons), mammals (black-tailed deer, mink, harbour seals, sea lions, otters, bats), reptiles (garter snakes and possibly northern alligator lizard), and numerous invertebrates. Surprisingly, the raccoon is absent; its failure to become established on the island has allowed ground-nesting birds to maintain their populations. Mink is the only native predatory mammal on land and has many mice to prey on.


Savary Island water taxi.

Sometime after the end of the glaciers, First Nations peoples arrived in the region. Archaeological evidence documents the occupation by Coast Salish peoples in this area of the Strait of Georgia for 4,000 years. They gave the island the name "Áyhus", meaning 'double-headed serpent'. The island was within the territory of the Tla'amin (Sliammon) first nation. Shell middens (including a midden near Indian Springs), a former camp or village site by a small bay, a signal site atop the high south-southwesterly crest of the island, and ancestral remains reflect life in the pre-contact era.

It is possible that European ships were in the vicinity of the island in the mid-18th century. Tla'amin (Sliammon) First Nation oral history records the destruction and sinking of a “trading” ship (well known for pirating) in their traditional territory in that period. In 1791 José María Narváez commanded a small schooner, the Santa Saturnina, on an expedition to chart the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia. He reached Jervis Inlet and was able to determine that Texada Island was in fact an island. In the distance to the north he saw a couple points of higher land, one probably Cape Mudge on Quadra Island, and another to the east, of unclear identity.[1] In June 1792 the Spanish ships Sutil and Mexicana, under Galiano, and the British ships Discovery and Chatham, under Vancouver sailed by the island on their way to Desolation Sound. On or about June 25, 1792, Vancouver gave the name "Savary's Island".[2] In early July a boat survey team led by Peter Puget and Joseph Whidbey charted Savary Island and spent at least one night on shore, meeting a group of indigenous people at island's eastern end. Puget did not refer to the island as Savary, instead simply calling it "Indian Island".[3]

Permanent European settlement on the island did not begin until well into the 19th century. In the 1870s the government subdivided the island into lots for homesteading.

Jack Green, the first non-Aboriginal permanent resident, was an early settler who built a cabin and store in or about 1886. Green Point (now known as Mace Point) was named for him. In or about 1893 Green and his friend and business partner, Taylor, were murdered on Savary, during a store robbery. Strangely, the events of the robbery and murder mirror the robbery by the Flying Dutchman in Union Bay. Green's murderer, Hugh Lynn of the Lynn Valley clan, was eventually captured in a muli-thousand mile, multinational chase and sent to the gallows.

By the turn of the 20th century, CPR coastal ships and Union Steamships called in, popularizing the place. Savary has always been a popular island for clamming and swimming owing to the sandy beaches.

A government wharf was built near Green Point, close to Dinner Rock and Lund. In 1910 Savary Island was subdivided into over 1400 lots. Savary became a favourite summer cabin location. Further subdivision resulted in a total of over 1700 (mostly 50 foot) lots on Savary. Roads were built and cabins established.

The first hotel seems to have been "The Savary", built in 1914, near the Government Wharf. This hotel remained in operation until 1932 when it was destroyed in a fire. At the other end of the island, the Ashworth family built the Royal Savary Hotel at Indian Point.

Gradually, private boats and water taxis from Lund provided the most common access to the island. The steamship services ended in the 1940s (Union Steamships) and 1950s (Gulf Steamship Line).

For a brief time an airstrip was operating on the island, but it was later closed due to safety concerns[citation needed] (two children were killed while riding on ATVs[citation needed]). The main air access to Savary has been by seaplane and boats that come from Lund, a nearby town. In the summers, many island commuters from away come and go on seaplanes, especially on Friday and Sunday evening flights.

Over the years there have been several shipwrecks (including the Union Steamship Steamer Capilano in 1915) and aircraft crashes (including a small single engine crash in Seaweed Bay in the 1960s). The incidents include: an RCAF Hurricane fighter that crashed off Savary in 1943; lone survivor (12-year-old Fred Ilott) of the PowRivCo Tug Teeshoe sinking who washed up on Savary in the 1950s (Teeshoe: A Powell River Story by Filmmaker Jan Padgett); a Cessna on the airstrip; two fishboats, one in the Gulf and one in Malaspina Strait, each with loss of life; and a Gulf ship that sank on Dinner Rock in 1947. There have also been swimming and pleasure boating incidents over the years.

In the 1960s human remains were found on Savary and these were transferred to the Laboratory of Archaeology at UBC[citation needed]. These ancestral remains were returned by UBC to the Tla'amin (Sliammon) first nation in a repatriation ceremony for burial at Sliammon in June 2006.

In 1982 the Royal Savary Hotel was demolished and, for many, this was the end of an era. Since then several B&Bs have opened on the island.


For the longest time, there was no government to speak of on Savary. Although the island fell under the jurisdiction of one entity or another, island politics and political activity remained in the background. Eventually, Savary Island became part of the Powell River Regional District. In the late 1990s, the Regional District set down the long path to establish an official community plan for the island.

Draft OCPs were prepared in 2001, 2002, and 2006.

On February 22, 2007, the Savary Island Official Community Plan, Bylaw No. 403, 2006 was adopted by the Powell River Regional District. The principal aim of the OCP is to maintain Savary Island's unique character and rustic island lifestyle while protecting the island's ground water resources, its sensitive ecosystems, and its unique biophysical characteristics.

Art and artists[edit]

Savary Island has inspired a great deal of creativity; artists whose work features Savary include Stephanie Aitken, Helen Griffin, Charles Hepburn Scott, Anne-Marie Harvey, David Burns, Sheldon Heppner, Toni Onley, E. J. Hughes, Keith Pepper and Michael Kluckner.


  1. ^ McDowell, Jim (1998). José Narváez: The Forgotten Explorer. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company. p. 58. ISBN 0-87062-265-X.
  2. ^ "Savary Island". BC Geographical Names.
  3. ^ Roberts, John E. (2005). A Discovery Journal: George Vancouver's First Survey Season - 1792. Trafford Publishing. pp. 144–147. ISBN 978-1-4120-7097-3.

Coordinates: 49°56′21″N 124°48′48″W / 49.93917°N 124.81333°W / 49.93917; -124.81333