| First Nations
Courtenay’s history begins with the Pentlatch people. They lived from Kye Bay to Deep Bay, and gathered clams and oysters from Denman and Hornby Island. Though they lived in peace, they were the victims of smallpox and other marauding tribes from the north. In the early 1800’s they retreated upriver to the area northwest of Lewis Park. For the next half-century, their numbers decreased considerably, and by the mid 1800's there were only a few survivors left. They were forced to abandon their settlement after one final attack.
The Lekwiltok people displaced the Pentlatch and Island Comox people from almost all of their territory, and they consolidated their settlement in Comox Harbour. Chief Joe Nim Nim, born sometime before 1870, was the last member of the Pentlatch people. He spent most of his life with the Comox band, and for many years the Pentlatch vilage site, the Puntledge Reserve, was empty. Chief Joe Nim Nim and his wife moved back to the original Pentlatch territory near Condensory Bridge in the 1920’s. He was well known in Courtenay, and served as a link between the ways of his ancestors and the new European settlers.
The earliest European settlers often owed their survival to the local first nations. Many of these newcomers were not prepared for the harsh conditions they were to encounter. The members of the Comox band provided them with food, shelter and canoe transport. Mutual curiosity existed between these two cultures, particularly over each other's customs and possessions. Local knowledge of food sources were indispensable. Food resources were shared with the newcomers.
The settlers noted the abundance of native plants, beach foods and fish enjoyed by the band. Reginald Pidcock noted the annual salmon run.
"We saw hundreds of salmon leaping out of the water and sporting about seeking some of the numerous small rivers which run into the sea all about here, in order to deposit their spawn. Some years when the run of salmon is good these rivers stink with the number of dead salmon floating about which are either wounded by the Indians in spearing them or exhausted in their efforts to ascend the stream."
Land of Plenty, p. 33
There were many difficulties resulting from the establishment of European settlers in the area. The band's land and timber were eyed for use by settlers, and their fishing rights were becoming controlled by an ever-increasing bureaucracy. Individual bands were frustrated by large government agencies that bypassed traditional tribal laws in favor of provincial or federal statutes. The residents of the Comox band could no longer move freely through land that had previously been their territory, as it became private property. Their rituals and ceremonies were eyed with suspicion and often outlawed, and their labour was most often sought in activities that would serve the settlers.
Heritage Commission • c/o City of Courtenay • 830 Cliffe Avenue • Courtenay, B.C. • V9N 2J7