Quatsino is a small community located on Quatsino Sound on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The community is about 5.5 miles (9 km) west of Coal Harbor and 11 miles (18 km) north of Port Alice and is accessible only by boat or floatplane. Quatsino Sound is a complex of coastal inlets, bays, and islands, and is the northernmost of the five sounds on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The Quatsino First Nation is part of the Gwat’sinux subgroup of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, based in the Quatsino Sound region and primarily in the community of Coal Harbor. The community of Quatsino was originally settled by Norwegian farmers from North Dakota who arrived via steamship in 1894 to homestead farms of 80 acres (32 ha) offered free through Crown Grants. Soon freight service to Victoria was established, along with a post office, a customs office, and a government wharf. In 1897, a chapel was built called Saint Olaf’s Anglican Church and is now considered one of the oldest buildings on the island. The village is also known to have one of British Columbia’s only public one-room schoolhouses, a two-story wooden building built in 1935. The village grew as resources were developed and the area boasted numerous mines, canneries, general stores, rental cabins, a hotel, a saloon, a telegraph office, and an Imperial Oil fuel station. The village was a thriving community up until the 1940s.
Prehistorically and historically, the Kwakwaka’wakw were fishers of Dentalium in Quatsino Sound. Dentalium refers to tusk shells from scaphopod mollusks. The name “dentalium” is from the scientific name representing 19 different species all in the Dentaliidae family. Dentalium shells were used by Inuit, First Nations, and Native Americans as an international trade item along the west coast of North America from the Arctic to Southern California. The shell was used as an item of personal adornment, as decorative elements on clothing and utilitarian items, and was used in various ceremonial contexts. Traditionally, the shells were harvested from deep waters around the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, especially off the west coast of Vancouver Island in Quatsino and Nootka Sounds. The shells were widely used and circulated by coastal groups, traded with western Athapaskan groups in the boreal forests, Arctic coastal groups extending to the MacKenzie River Inuit, and with the prairie plains groups including the Blackfoot and Hidatsa as far east as the Great Lakes. Read more here and here. Explore more of Quatsino and Quatsino Sound here: