D’Arcy Island, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

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D’Arcy Island, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

by | Dec 15, 2019

D’Arcy Island is about 205 acres (83 ha) in Haro Strait, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Sidney Island, and 3.9 miles (6.3 km) east of the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The island is named after John D’Arcy who was a mate on the HMS Herald in 1846 when together with HMS Pandora they conducted a survey of the coast of British Columbia after the boundary dispute with the United States. The island name in the local Tsawout language is Ćteseu, meaning “arrive” this being where the salmon first arrive when heading for the Fraser River to spawn.

The island was used as a leper colony for Chinese immigrants from 1891 to 1924. This infamous legacy began when Victoria’s police and health officers conducted a routine sweep through Chinatown and found five huddled men bearing obvious signs of leprosy hidden in a small shack behind a store on Fisgard Street. Victoria’s municipal government responded by quickly gaining provincial support to expropriate D’Arcy Island and turn it into a leper colony. For the next 33 years, the tiny islet was used as a lazaretto where 49 people in total, all men, and all but one Chinese, were kept in isolation. Their only contact with the outside world was a visit every three months from a supply ship with a doctor. The lepers cleared and planted a garden about one acre in size and had a cultural organization that allowed them to care for each other. D’Arcy Island finally ended as a leper colony in 1924 when the federal government shut it down and moved the remaining residents to Bentinck Island near Race Rocks, and closer to medical quarantine facilities, which operated until 1957.

D’Arcy Island’s proximity to the United States border was exploited from 1920 to 1924 by famous American bootlegger Roy Olmstead in the smuggling of Canadian liquor, primarily whiskey, to Washington State. His operation would transport the liquor from Victoria, British Columbia, to islands in Haro Strait, including D’Arcy, for later pickup by smaller craft that would move the contraband during rough weather, making it more difficult for the Coast Guard to detect them. D’Arcy Island was declared a marine park in 1961 and included as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in 2003. Read more here and here. Explore more of D’Arcy Island here:

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