Cortes Island - Discovery Islands
Cortes is an island paradise, with beautiful lakes, lagoons, forests, and white sandy beaches. Known for its abundant wildlife, delicious shellfish, and self-sufficient people, Cortes offers visitors a wide variety of things to see and do.
The island is situated at the northern end of the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia), on Canada’s west coast, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland.
Cortes Island can be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Quadra Island which in turn is accessed by a shorter 10 minute ferry crossing from the City of Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
A Little History
Cortes was mapped by Spanish explorers in the late 1700s notably Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra a contemporary of the English Captain George Vancouver who first circumnavigated neighbouring Vancouver Island. It was named for Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, infamous as the conquistador of Mexico.
Long before the Spanish and English explorers reached the Pacific coast of North America the region was home to the indigenous Coast Salish First Nation. The Klahoose First Nation’s traditional territory stretches from Cortes Island to Toba Inlet. The Klahoose had winter campgrounds on the island and settled in Squirrel Cove permanently in the 1800s after their Toba village was flooded. The island currently has about 1050 full-time residents, and most live on the southern portion. Cortes is approximately 25 km long and 13 km wide.
Those who enjoy spending time in the outdoors have their choice of numerous recreational activities on Cortes. Hague Lake is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing for an ancient strain of trout (no motor boats allowed). The island’s trails are great for hiking and mountain biking, and there is a campground and beautiful beach in Smelt Bay Park. Cortes is at the gateway to world-famous boating destination Desolation Sound.
The area is a sailing and sea kayaking mecca, and boasts incredible views of the mainland mountains and inlets. Nearby Mitlenatch Island is a Provincial Marine Park protecting a unique eco-system created by the same rainshadow effect Cortes enjoys from the high Vancouver Island mountains. Mitlenatch is an excellent destination to enjoy with a local naturalist/ boat charter. Depending on the time of year there may be sea lions, nesting gulls, cormorants, harbour seals, eagles and abundant blooms of wildflowers, even cactus and swimming garter snakes!
It’s easy to catch sight of wildlife on ruggedly beautiful Cortes. Many species of birds and marine creatures live on the island or off its shores, and the observant visitor will no doubt be impressed by the diversity of life. The island boasts many beautiful beaches and lagoons that are perfect for bird watching.
Arts & Crafts
Cortes has a thriving arts and crafts industry. Drum makers, potters, painters, carvers, and other artisans live and work on the island. Cortes Craftshop in Squirrel Cove, a co-op of island artists and craftspeople, showcases local work. Island galleries and gift shops also sell local art and crafts.
The Cortes Waste Management/Recycling Centre is also well worth a visit. This well-maintained site includes a comprehensive recycling depot and a free store. The Cortes Island Museum is situated on Beasley Road next to the Manson’s Landing firehall. Cortes is home to Hollyhock, Canada’s leading educational retreat centre, world-renowned for life-long learning and skills development programs.
Events and Festivals
There are a number of highlight events and festivals on Cortes Island throughout the year. May kicks things off with the gourmet extravaganza - the Cortes Island Seafood Festival at Gorge Harbour Marina. The Garden & Studio Tour, an annual fundraiser for the Cortes Island Museum, typically takes place in mid-June. Cortes Day, an annual festival held in Smelt Bay Park, is a fun event for the whole family with a parade, competitions, games, and food booths. Another event to watch out for is the Sandcastle Competition held in August.
Cortes Island: Upcoming Community Events
Seafest: Gorge Harbour Marina May 17, 2014
Garden & Studio Tour: Cortes Gardens June 21, 2014
Cortes Island Day: Smelt Bay Park July 19, 2014
Oysters Ale and Authors: TBA August 23, 2014
Shark Spit Regatta: Shark Spit August 25, 2014
Gorgeous Bike Fest: Gorge Harbour Marina September 6, 2014
To find out what events are coming up pick up a copy of the Discovery Islander free throughout the islands or check in online at www.DiscoveryIslander.ca
Provisions and hardware supplies are available at the island’s general stores, and fuel and propane are sold at Squirrel Cove and Gorge Harbour. There is a credit union at Manson’s Landing past the hall. At Manson’s Landing stock up at the Cortes Market or the Cortes Natural Food Co-op which carries organic, natural, gmo-free, fair-trade foods and lots of local crafts and produce for members and non-members.
Cortes has a number of cafes and restaurants to suit a variety of palates.
To truly soak up the island’s atmosphere, it’s a good idea to stay a few days. Accommodation options on the island include campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, holiday rental homes & cottages, plus resorts.
Wharfs & Marinas
Gorge Harbour has a marina, and there are government wharves at Cortes Bay, Whaletown, Squirrel Cove, Manson’s Landing, and Gorge Harbour. Salmon fishing attracts may visitors to the region, and charter boat operators are available for fishing or wildlife viewing excursions.
For a detailed map of Cortes Island
download and print
the Cortes Island map/brochure (PDF)