Dodge Cove, Digby Island

Dodge Cove, Digby Island

by | Oct 31, 2021

Dodge Cove is a small community located on Digby Island, across from Kaien Island on the west side of Prince Rupert Harbour, about 88 miles (142 km) southeast of Ketchikan and 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Dodge Cove was named in 1907 by the Canadian Department of Marine and Fisheries after George Blanchard Dodge, who was a civil engineer and a Dominion Land Surveyor with the Canadian Department of Crown Lands and had surveyed Prince Rupert Harbor in 1906 for the federal government. Digby Island is named for Henry A. Digby, a second lieutenant on the HMS Malacca, a 17-gun sloop of the Royal Navy that was based at the Pacific Station in Esquimalt from 1866-1867. Prior to European colonization, the island was occupied by the Tsimshian First Nation for thousands of years. There were ten historical groups of Coast Tsimshian occupying the lower Skeena River who maintained small villages. These tribal groups harvested the bountiful runs of five species of Pacific salmon. Most of the fish were sun-dried and smoked for transport to their winter villages. Recent archaeology and oral history analysis indicates that the Coast Tsimshian were the original occupiers of Dodge Cove and Prince Rupert Harbour, but were displaced for a century or more around 2,000 years ago by the Tlingit speaking peoples from the north. Other language groups from the interior came down the Stikine, Nass, and Skeena Rivers at various times and were integrated with existing Coast Tsimshian in their traditional territories. Their individual migrations to the coast appear to have been triggered by a variety of natural disasters that affected their food supply, particularly blockages of the upriver migrations of salmon by periodic landslides and are recorded in the oral traditions of each group. There were at least ten villages on Digby Island marked by shell midden deposits, and the primary village may have been Kanagatsiyot at the current site of Dodge Cove. According to Tsimshian mythology, this village was the birthplace of Txamsem, the Tsimshian trickster and teacher who was a cultural hero with supernatural power.

In the early 1900s, Dodge Cove was settled by Scandinavian fishermen who called their community Norwegian Village. Ed Wahl was a cabinet maker from Norway who emigrated to North America at the end of World War I to fish with his brother in Alaska. He returned to Norway to get married and then the couple moved to Quathiaski Cove on Quadra Island, where he worked as a logger. In 1923, the family moved with his gillnetter named Viking to Port Essington, a cannery community at the mouth of the Skeena River, where he fished began building boats for the cannery. His wife Hildur assisted with framing and planking the boats since they couldn’t afford extra labor. The first boat out of the Port Essington boatshed was the Norman which Wahl used personally for gillnetting and to travel to Prince Rupert for supplies. Around 1928 or 1929, the Wahls left Port Essington to join a new fishing settlement that was starting in Dodge Cove. The first boat out of the Dodge Cove boatshed was the Fram and soon the business became a family venture. For years, the Wahls worked only with hand tools, and during the Great Depression, they didn’t even have a bandsaw. In the 1930s, wood was easily obtained with Douglas fir and oak from Vancouver and yellow cedar from Oona River. During World War II, production increased mostly because the Japanese boatbuilders in Cow Bay, Osland, and the canneries were placed in internment camps, while at the same time most canneries were renewing and enlarging their aging fleets to meet the increased demand of the war. Wahls built boats for all the canneries on the Skeena including Nelson Brothers, BC Packers, Canadian Fish Company, North Pacific, and Cassiar. To meet the increased demand, Wahl built his own sawmill in 1946 next to the boat shed. In 1944, the little boatyard launched 47 boats in ten months, including forty gillnetters and 7 halibut schooners. Through the 1950s, modernization of the fishing fleet continued, and Wahl was the premier boatbuilder of the north coast. By the end of the 1950s, there was so much business that the Wahls had to open a second boat shop in Prince Rupert. In the early 1970s, they sold the Dodge Cove shop and in 1976 the Prince Rupert shop was sold. Over the years, the Wahls built between 1,000 and 1,100 boats that were sent as far away as Norway, Kodiak, and Seattle. There are few harbors along the coast of British Columbia without at least one Wahl boat tied up.

In 1912, a three-story quarantine hospital was built on Dodge Island in Dodge Cove with a wood bridge connecting the community. The hospital was built in anticipation of the Grand Trunk Railway reaching its western terminus of Prince Rupert and the potential for an influx of settlers to the region. But the hospital was never used and eventually was removed. By 1938, 40 homes had been erected at Dodge Cove, and most of the men made their living as fishermen. In the early 1960s, the Canadian government agreed that Digby Island would be the best site for an airport to serve Prince Rupert, and today it is still the main airport facility serving the city and passengers reach the airport by ferry. In 2014, a liquefied natural gas storage and export facility was proposed on Digby Island by Aurora LNG, a joint venture between Nexen Energy, INPEX Corporation, and JGC Corporation. The facility would ship 24 million tonnes of liquified natural gas per year from the proposed berthing terminal. The project would feature natural gas storage facilities, power plants, up to three loading berths, a marine offloading facility, a pipeline, and related infrastructure to bring gas to the facility. The liquified natural gas would be shipped out on up to 320 tankers per year. The facility would burn approximately 7 million cubic meters of gas per day to process 97 million cubic meters of gas into liquified natural gas. On September 14, 2017, Aurora LNG and its partners canceled the proposed project citing unfavorable macro-economic conditions. Read more here and here. Explore more of Dodge Cove here:

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