Foch Lagoon, Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park

Foch Lagoon, Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park

by | Jun 25, 2022

Foch Lagoon is about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and extends for 5 miles (8 km) northwest from the western shore of Douglas Channel in Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park and Protected Area, about 60 miles (97 km) southeast of Prince Rupert and 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Kitimat, British Columbia. The lagoon is one of the largest and most remote lagoons on the coast with unique tidal narrows at the entrance that create treacherous rapids. The origin of the name ‘Foch’ is not well documented but dates to 1923 and is most likely for Ferdinand Foch, 1851-1929, who was a French general and military theorist who served as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War I. The Haisla name for Foch Lagoon is Mesgalhi, which is written as Miskatla. Foch Lagoon is connected to Foch Lake by Foch Creek, which is part of the Haisla Fish Clan stewardship area. Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park and Protected Area includes 150,954 acres (61,089 ha) of rugged coastal terrain and includes pristine freshwater drainages bordered by steep rocky slopes covered with old-growth forests, numerous waterfalls, tidal estuaries, unique tidal narrows, and windswept coastline. The name Gilttoyees is from the Haisla word meaning ‘long and narrow stretch of water leading outward’. The park is part of a historical First Nations travel route between the Douglas Channel and the Skeena River with the remainder of the route in Gitnadoiks River Provincial Park to the north. Douglas Channel is part of a complex network of fjords formed during the westward-movement of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. The Douglas Channel fjord system extends from the Pacific coast to the town of Kitimat located 93 miles (150 km) inland, and has a maximum depth of 2,264 feet (690 m). The fjords are within the Kitimat Ranges, one of the three main subdivisions of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia, the others being the Pacific Ranges to the south and the Boundary Ranges to the north.

In 1788, British Captain Charles Duncan on Princess Royal engaged in the maritime fur trade may have been the first European to enter Douglas Channel but did not venture far before turning and making for Haida Gwaii. In 1792, Spanish Captain Don Jacinto Caamano on the Aranzazu anchored near the southern end of Hawkesbury Island and then sent Second Pilot Martinez y Zayas up Douglas Channel in a longboat. Martinez y Zayas traveled about 54 miles (87 km) and saw only one Native fishing canoe. In June of 1793, Captain George Vancouver anchored HMS Discovery and sent a cutter and a launch under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey and Robert Barrie deep into the fjords of the mainland. Whidbey’s party included the surgeon and naturalist Archibald Menzies and they explored Douglas Channel, made contact and were treated well by the indigenous X’aisla of the Kitamaat people. The Kitamaat are a combination of at least three pre­-European contact bands including the Nalabila, meaning dwellers upriver on the Kitimat River, the X’aisla, meaning dwellers farthest downriver on the Kitimat River, and the Gilda­lidox, who were inhabitants of Kildala Arm. Sometime before the first white settlement, the three branches began to winter together at the village of the X’aisla, located just upstream from the mouth of the Kitimat River at the head of Douglas Channel. In 1893, the Methodist missionary George Raley established Kitamaat Mission on an old village site on the east shore of Douglas Channel about 5 miles (8 km) from the X’aisla village. Christian converts moved there and by the early 20th century virtually all the Kitamaat (now Haisla) had undergone at least nominal conversion and migrated to Kitamaat Mission. The natives returned to the old X’aisla village site to potlatch out of reach of the missionary and Indian agent. Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park adjoins the Gitnadoiks River Provincial Park to the north, providing a contiguous protected corridor between the Douglas Channel and the Skeena River. The corridor was historically used by First Nations as a trade route between the Skeena River and the Douglas Channel. It was reputedly called a ‘grease trail‘, the grease being valuable fish oil derived from eulachons, an anadromous fish once plentiful in Douglas Channel.

Drumlummon Bay is situated at the entrance to Foch Lagoon and is named after the nearby historical Drumlummon Mines established in the early 1920s. In 1898, the Golden Crown mine was operated and developed east of Minette Bay at the head of Douglas Channel by James Steele and John Dunn. There were also the smaller Copper Queen, Mighty Dollar, and Kitamaat Gem mines. However, the largest and most expensive conventional shaft mining operations were the Drumlummon and Paisley Point gold, silver, and copper claims just north of the entrance to Foch Lagoon. The mining operation included the construction of a dock at the creek mouth in the small bight north of the entrance to Foch Narrows. The SS Coquitlam was built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1898, and then disassembled and shipped to Coal Harbour, British Columbia, and reassembled for service in the Union Steamship Company. In 1917, the ship was approaching Drumlummon Bay while attempting to deliver mining equipment when the ship was caught in the powerful outflow from Foch Lagoon’s tidal race and crashed into a rock face causing flooding of the hull. Fortunately, emergency repairs and pumps enabled the ship to limp south to a drydock in Victoria. The mining project also included an aerial tramline with metal buckets used to transport ore to a  railway 0.6 miles (1 km) long with cars that transported the ore to a shoreside stamp mill for refining and then to the dock. The mine site was about halfway up the slope to the timberline and consisted of thousands of feet of tunneling with the main tunnel entrance under a waterfall. The mine was one of the many victims of the stock market fluctuations in the 1920s, and the owners announced bankruptcy in 1923. Much of the mining equipment was abandoned, and remnants of pile-driven posts that elevated the tram line are still evident in the creek bed near where the dock and mill were situated. Read more here and here. Explore more of Foch Lagoon and Foch-Gilttoyees Provincial Park here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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