Savary Island


South Shore, Gary Sim linocut

Savary Island is one of those places in British Columbia that remains somehow unknown to the average person. Perhaps it is the island's isolation - accessible only by boat or seaplane, lurking a mile offshore from the end of a coast highway that is itself only accessible from Vancouver after two ferry rides and a lot of driving on curvy coastal roads. Perhaps it is the discrete way of reference to the island used by the locals - they have a place "up the coast", not anywhere specific.

Front cover of marketing brochure, c 1910.

A watercolour of Mace Point by Maud Sherman.

Mace Point, Gary Sim photo

I once worked with an architect in an open-plan office, and for years I unavoidably listened to him talking on the telephone organizing numerous expeditions to his vacation cabin, cabin rentals to others, absentee repairs, propane tank re-fillings, and the like, without my ever finding out where it was that he was talking about. Years later I found out it was Savary.

(arbutus tree, Savary Island), Museum and Art Notes, March 1931

It used to be far easier to get to Savary Island than it is now. Until the Union Steamship Company ceased operations in the 1950s, you could board one of their ships in Vancouver, lounge on deck or in cabins, between frequent meals served by waiters, and arrive refreshed at the Government wharf located towards the east end of the north shore of Savary Island. People, baggage, and freight would be unloaded and loaded in a hubbub of activity, until the steamship cast off and backed away from the wharf. As the ship slowly moved away, the new arrivals on the island would begin to carry their possessions off the wharf and towards their dwellings, and the silence of an off-shore West Coast island would descend.

The Spanish were perhaps the first Europeans to see Savary Island. In 1791 an expedition of two ships led by Francisco de Eliza reached a point in the Inside Passage just north of Texada Island. It was the northern-most point of exploration in the Inside Passage by Europeans to that date, and the furthest north that that expedition would travel. They drew a map of the voyage map showed an island at the very north end of the sheet, beyond Texada Island but not looking like Harwood, in the correct location and orientation to be Savary Island. That map, believed to have been drawn by the Spaniard Jose Maria Narvaez, was copied a number of times, and used by two expeditions the following year: those of Captain George Vancouver and of Captains Galiano and Valdes, who together and separately used the map as a guide to their explorations of the Inside Passage in 1792.

On that voyage they went beyond the previous extent of European exploration, and discovered, among other things in the area, Savary Island, Captain Vancouver giving the island its current name in passing. The island was also sketched for the first time, if only in plan view on a nautical chart. Galiano and Valdes continued northward, becoming the first Europeans known to have circumnavigated Vancouver Island - thus becoming the first to know for certain that Vancouver Island was indeed an island.

Green's cabin, courtesy City of Vancouver Archives

The island was mostly passed by for the next hundred years, until a man named Green settled on the island in 1886, and opened a small general store at the east end of the island. A few years later he was murdered, and the case became quite famous locally. The murderers were tracked down in Seattle by the British Columbia Police, arrested by local authorities, and found guilty of the crime. The east end of the island is named Green's Point after the storekeeper. The island enjoyed a brief notoriety, and some pictures remain showing Green's cabin and the crime scene.

The Ecology of Savary Island, 1931

In 1892 R.S. Sherman saw Savary Island for the first time while surveying on the mainland at Powell River. He borrowed a boat in Lund and rowed over to the island to have a better look. He must have liked what he saw, because he became very involved with the development of Savary Island in the early 1900s.

He returned to the island between 1900 and 1910, vacationing with members of his family. His daughter Maud Sherman, first visited the island in 1908 when she was eight. R.S. Sherman became a director of a company that purchased and subdivided the island. The Shermans bought lots, and also interested their relatives and neighbours in buying lots. One of the roads on the island is named Sherman Walk after the family. R.S. Sherman became the island's first Postmaster, although he apparently never actually fulfilled the position on the island, instead appointing Harry Keefer as the Assistant Postmaster. Harry's daughter Frances ("Frankie") became an artist and painted many early watercolours of the island, possibly inspired by her good friend Maud Sherman.

Traumerei, R.S. Sherman cottage on Savary Island

From about 1910 onwards Savary Island was visited regularly by artists. W. Cotman Eade painted there at that time, one of his oil paintings being used to illustrate a real estate marketing brochure for the island. Soon afterwards, Margaret Wake and Anne Batchelor rented a cabin and painted on the island. Maud Sherman painted watercolours, drew in pen and ink, and sketched in pencil on the island, leaving many artworks behind from her time spent there, and in the vicinity. Spencer Perceval Judge, a founding member of the B.C. Society of Fine Arts also painted there.

The Witch Trees, Maud Sherman watercolour

(Savary Island), Maud Sherman watercolour

Miss E. Batiste exhibited four sketches of Savary Island at the monthly exhibition of the Vancouver Sketch Club in October 1920. A few years later two paintings of Savary Island ("Old Wharf, Savary Island" and "Savary Island") by Thomas Fripp were included in a special exhibition of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Watercolour by C.H. Scott of Fred Amess and B.C. Binning.

In the early 1930s the island was "discovered" by the Vancouver School of Art, and for many years staff and students would take the steamships up to Savary to have their summer sketch camps. They would usually stay at the Royal Savary Hotel at Indian Point, at the west end of the island. The students wrote and published (by mimeograph) a daily newsletter called The Savary Pudding in which they gossiped and discussed their doings.

(Lonesome Pine, Indian Point), pencil sketch by unknown artist

Many students painted on the island, but few painted so many scenes of Savary and became so prominent as E.J. Hughes. His 2003 retrospective exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery included numerous drawings, etchings, and paintings of Savary Island. Charles H. Scott, Director of the art school and a regular visitor to the island, painted a series of watercolours on Savary and exhibited them at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1935 in his solo show The Spirit of Savary. He also had at least two pen and ink drawings of Savary in his 1932 limited edition art folio Drawings of the B.C. Coast.

Artists who painted the island include:

Amess, Fred
Aspell, Peter Lawson
Batchelor, Anne
Batiste, E.
Bell, Dorothy
Binning, B.C.
Carter, Margaret
Cheney, Nan Lawson
Eade, Wallace Cotman Eade
Foster, Hilda Vincent
Fripp, Thomas W.
Gray, Gwendoline Gertrude
Griffin, Helen W.
Hanlon, Robert
Hughes, Edward J.
Jack, Marion E.
Judge, Spencer Perceval
Kelk, Mona
Kluckner, Michael
Lamb, Harold Mortimer
Lamb, Mollie
Mahon, Lilette
Macdonald, J.W.G. (Jock)
McNair, Rowena
Meilleur, Peter
Melvin, Grace
Munro, Gordon John
Onley, Toni
Parker, Florence Mary
Porter, Irene Catelle
Reid, Irene Hoffar
Scott, Charles Hepburn
Sharp, Barbara
Sherman, Maud Rees
Sherman, Ruiter Stinson
Sim, Gary
Twizell, Robert P.S.
von Ustinov, Plato
Wake, Margaret E.
Wonder, Ruel

The Art School no longer visits the island for summer camp, the Union Steamships no longer ply the waters of the Inside Passage delivering vacationing families and artists. A few artists now live full time on the island, others have summer homes and visit occasionally, but the island has now largely slipped back into a discrete anonymity that seems to suit its quiet nature.


SAVARY ISLAND PARK issued by The Savary Island Park Association
      Sales brochure for lots on Savary Island c1918
      Includes photographs and text extolling the virtues of buying land on the island
      R.S. Sherman is listed as Chairman & Trustee of the Association.

      March 1931; 42 pages, illustrated black and white
      Published by the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver
      Includes article by R.S. Sherman on Savary Island
      Pen & ink illustration by Maud Rees Sherman on page 12.

SPILSBURY'S COAST - Pioneer Years in the Wet West, by Howard White & Jim Spilsbury
      1987, Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.; ISBN 0-920080-57-X
      Reminiscences of the west coast, including Savary Island

SPILSBURY'S ALBUM - Photographs and Reminiscences of the B.C. Coast, by Jim Spilsbury
      1990, 176 pages; Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.; ISBN 1-55017-034-1
      Photos, paintings, and reminiscences of the west coast, including Savary Island

SUNNY SANDY SAVARY: A History of Savary Island 1792-1992 by Ian Kennedy
      1992, Kennell Publishing, Vancouver; ISBN 0-9696291-0-9
      188 pages, paperback, illustrated black & white; index, bibliography
      Includes references to Maud Sherman, R.S. Sherman, the Herchmer family,
           Frankie Keefer, Helen Griffin, visiting artists, art school students & staff.

MAGNETIC ISLE - Gladys Bloomfield's Savary
     2005; ISBN 0-9739209-0-4; 146 pages, illustrated in black and white
     Edited by Conde Landale; published by Savary Island Heritage Society
     Includes references to R.S. Sherman, Maud Rees Sherman, Laurencia Herchmer.

     2010, Savary Island Heritage Society/Tony Griffin, Vancouver, BC
     Editor Tony Griffin, ISBN 978-0-9739209-1-8 (n.p.)
     2 ltd. ed. coil-bound volumes in slipcase, illust. colour/b&w
     "A selection of sketches, paintings and notes from her time on the island, 1947 - 1983."

SAVARY REFLECTIONS - Twenty-six Islanders Share Memories
     2020, Savary Island Heritage Society, Whonnock BC
     Editor Ruth White, ISBN 978-0-9739209-2-5
     134 pages, paperback, illustrated colour and black & white, includes index
     A nice collection of stories, memories, and family photos depicting many years of happy summer living on the island.


"Savary Island. July 4, 1912. We came here Sunday morning about 4 or 5 o'clock. We had a splendid trip, the waves were lovely and rough. The Cheslakee was so loaded down, that our groceries had to be left on the wharf at Vancouver. We have been having a great time and the cottage is lovely. We have a rowboat, and then the canoe we found 2 yrs ago. Freda Lister that used to be was on the Cheslakee. She got off at Buccaneer Bay. Shes married now."
      From "The Diary of Maud Rees Sherman 1907 - 1915" (private collection)

"May 19, 1913. Then there was the hard winter. A good many tugs were wrecked, the Rosine was a total loss, the Cheslakee sank but is in the docks now being repaired. The Cheslakee was always a little too high for her length but it wasn't enough to hurt. The way it happened was she was going up on her regular trip, and just when she was in the middle of the passage between Powel River and Van Anda she got into such a heavy sea that they put back to Van Anda. She always tipped a little in making a turn but this was nothing if they hadn't left the ports open. But the ports had been left open so she heeled over to port, she couldn't go to starboard her usual direction when listing on account of the wharf so heeled to port and went down on her beam ends and sank. My stateroom the last time we went up on the Cheslakee was on the port side and would be the first to fill. Two girls where drowned in papa's and mama's. While she was being repaired a great big boat the Chelhosin of the outer passage was put on. We went up on her at Easter. Shes almost exactly the same as the Camosun same size and everything she's a beauty. It was kind of rough going up but you'd never notice it, that boat slid through the waves as though she didn't know they were there. She looked splendid with her big black hull and long rows of cabin windows. They kept her clean too with white decks and shining brass. When she hit Savary Island wharf she broke two or three piles. Its a monstrous wharf too. If it had been a small one it would have collapsed like a lot of shavings. We came back on the Cowichan another big boat. On her I experienced the first and and I hope last experiment of standing against the funnel of a big steamer when whistling. We have a summer hotel on the Island now also a post office is to be opened on the Twenty Fourth. Papa's postmaster."
      From "The Diary of Maud Rees Sherman 1907 - 1915" (private collection)

"June 4 1913. We go to Savary on the twenty eighth of this month. We are going on the old Cassiar. It will be nice going on her again. My only objection is that she is too slow. Mama doesn't want to go on her but papa says it will either be the Cassiar or Cheakamus (Cheslakee) and mama absolutely refuses to go on a boat that has once been down to the bottom of the sea. The Cheakamus is safer than the Cassiar though. The Cassiar is nearly as old as Vancouver, and Vancouver is twenty-seven years old. Then whenever she gets a fresh hole in her bottom they fill it up with cement. So by now she is nearly all cement. We have been having fine hot weather lately. My I wish I was at Savary."
      From "The Diary of Maud Rees Sherman 1907 - 1915" (private collection)

"Nursing Sister Beatrice McNair of Vancouver is enjoying a very well-deserved rest at the cottage of her sister, Mrs. J.L. Turnbull. Miss McNair was one of the first nurses to leave for the front where she has had some thrilling and interesting experiences. Besides being torpedeoed on board ship and bombed in hospital, she arrived in Paris on leave the very day "Big Bertha" first started operations. Miss McNair was decorated by King George for conspicuous bravery under fire."
      From "Savary Island"
      Vancouver Province, September 5, 1919

"Savary Island, nearly 100 miles from Vancouver, discovered and named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792, though well known as a seaside resort, may be said to have been rediscovered, artistically speaking, during the past two weeks by half a hundred or more artists from the city which bears the great explorer's name. (continues)"
   Vancouver Province, June 30 1933 page 41

"This year Charles H. Scott, director of the Vancouver Art School, has chosen Savary Island for the third annual summer session, and pupils will leave June 9, returning to Vancouver on June 20. Savary Island lies eighty-five miles northwest from Vancouver and has the reputation of being "a South Sea Island set in the Gulf of Georgia." Accommodation has been secured at Royal Savary Hotel and every facility is offered for indoor and outdoor recreations. Special arrangements have been made for small costs for the ten days' camp, Mr. Scott states, but accommodation is limited."
      From "In The Domain of Art"
      Vancouver Province, May 5 1934