Cerantes Rocks, San Juan Point

Cerantes Rocks, San Juan Point

by | Nov 20, 2021

Cerantes Rocks is a group of reefs and one large islet situated off of San Juan Point, a rocky headland forming the eastern entrance to Port San Juan on Vancouver Island, about 51 miles (82 km) west-northwest of Victoria and 2.4 miles (4 km) southwest of Port Renfrew, British Columbia. The largest islet was originally named Observatory Rock on British Admiralty charts first published in 1848. In 1946, the name was changed to Cerantes Rock, and in 1948 the form was changed to Cerantes Rocks to encompass the entire group. The name is after Antonio Serantes who was the first pilot on La Princesa, the ship assigned to Salvador Fidalgo in 1792 to establish a Spanish post at present-day Neah Bay on the southwestern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. San Juan Point is mostly sandstone conglomerate rock that has eroded to create a rugged shore of tide pools, sea caves, and pocket beaches adjacent to Botanical Beach at the western extent of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. A Canadian Coast Guard heliport is currently located on San Juan Point adjacent to Cerantes Rocks near the historical location of a Pacheedaht First Nation winter village of eight houses called ‘ʔapsawaʔ’. Port Renfrew is the nearest community to San Juan Point and was originally called Port San Juan after the bay, but early settlers changed the name in 1898 to honor Lord Renfrew who planned to settle crofters there. The names San Juan and Juan de Fuca are for Ioannis Phokas, a Greek maritime pilot and explorer in the service of Philip II, King of Spain in the 16th century. He is better known as Juan de Fuca, the Spanish translation of his Greek name. He is credited for being the first European to explore what he called the Strait of Anián, now known as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and Washington State.

The area is the ancestral home of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Their territory includes the lands and waters along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island between Bonilla Point and Sheringham Point. Pacheedaht people are related by kinship, language, and culture to several other First Nations on Vancouver Island and to the Makah in Washington. According to their oral tradition, long ago Pacheedaht and Ditidaht ancestors lived together as one tribe at a village located on the river whose native name is Diitiida, now called Jordan River. Ditidaht means ‘People of Diitiida’ or people of Jordan River. During the legendary great flood, some of the people living at Diitiida managed to survive by fleeing in a canoe that was anchored to the top of a high mountain in order to escape the rising waters. Afterward, some of the survivors settled at Whyac on the Pacific Ocean coast near the outlet of Nitinat Lake and became the ancestors of the people who today form the Ditidaht First Nation. Other flood survivors returned to the village at Diitiida (Jordan River) and settled once again in their home territory, but eventually moved to a new village at the mouth of a river (San Juan River) in Port San Juan. After this band of the Ditidaht people had been living there for a long time, one day they discovered seafoam in the river so thick that it covered the river banks to about 8 feet (2.4 m) above the level of the river. So they decided to call the river Pacheeda or P’a:chi:da which means ‘sea foam’, and ever since that time, the band has been called Pacheedaht meaning ‘Children of the Sea Foam’.

Spanish naval Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo, in the La Princesa, left San Blas, Mexico on March 23, 1792, and headed directly to the port that Manuel Quimper had named Bahía de Nuñez Gaona (Neah Bay), at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Fidalgo’s mission was to establish a settlement at Neah Bay in preparation for a possible relocation of Spain’s Nootka Sound trading post. The La Princesa was a 189-ton frigate built at San Blas and launched in 1778. She was a three-masted, two-deck warship, carrying 26 cannons. Accompanying Fidalgo were 89 men, including his second in command, first pilot Antonio Serantes. Fidalgo arrived at Nuñez Gaona on the morning of May 29 and selected a spot for the settlement close to the beach where a stream flowed into the bay assuring a fresh water supply. Fidalgo set his crew to work clearing a circular field with a radius of one musket shot. Trees were felled and logs were used to build a barracks for his men, a blacksmith’s shop, a bakery, place of worship, a storehouse, and an infirmary. They also built an oven and a kiln. The roofs were made from grass. A palisade was erected with 4-6 cannons mounted for defense. A vegetable garden was begun with seedlings transported and carefully nurtured in containers ready for planting. The garden consisted of tomatoes, onions, garlic, turnips, radishes, corn, and cabbage. Also constructed was a livestock enclosure with a number of cows, sheep, hogs, and goats they had brought with them. The Makah began trading fowl, fish, and berries with the Spaniards for copper sheeting. But Fidalgo was cautious and issued strict orders that no one was to go any distance beyond the enclosure. On July 2, Fidalgo learned that Serantes the pilot had gone ashore and not returned. Fearing the worst, he immediately sent a party of twenty armed men with dogs to search the thick woods but they found nothing. A few days later, two canoes full of Makah approached the anchored La Princesa and Fidalgo assumed he was being attacked. He ordered the gunners to open fire and six Makah men and women were killed. The next day Serantes’s body was found in a thicket near the outer wall of the fort. The event marked the end of the good relations between the Makah and the Spanish and Fidalgo was eventually forced to abandon the settlement. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point San Juan here:

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