Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History General

Desolation Sound

A History

by (author) Heather Harbord

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
May 2007
General, Post-Confederation (1867-), Western Provinces
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2007
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 15
  • Grade: 10


Beautiful Desolation Sound, 150 km north of Vancouver, has for many years been the most popular cruising destination on the BC coast, but is today almost as devoid of local occupants as it was in 1792 when the dyspeptic Captain George Vancouver gave it its misleading name. It has not always been this way. Thick clamshell middens in remote bays, rotted pilings on silent estuaries, ambitious stone terraces on vacant hillsides, overgrown fences around deserted fields, even abandoned railroads--all contribute to an impression that this is an area full of ghosts, an area with a storied past.

In Desolation Sound, author Heather Harbord details that remarkable past and brings those ghosts back to unforgettable life. We meet Mike Shuttler, the Homer-quoting hermit who figured in famous books by Stuart Edward White and M. Wylie Blanchet. We meet his illiterate neighbour Phil Lavigne, who said, when Shuttler died, "All dem words, and 'e 'ad to die like all de rest of us!" We meet "the Cougar Queen of Okeover Arm," who said, "Living in the bush like I do, a gun is as much a part of my household tools as a vacuum cleaner is in the city." We visit Baloney Bay, a sprawling Depression-era logging camp where human life had so little value they piled accident victims in a heap and didn't bother moving them until the end of the working day. We meet Sliammon chief Joe Mitchell, whose ancestors had an aboriginal city with buildings 200 feet long in now-deserted Grace Harbour. Harbord assiduously tracks down all the old legends that cling to the shoreside trees like Spanish moss, debunking some, confirming many.

Desolation Sound is a captivating book full of great characters, heroic deeds, humorous anecdotes and well-researched fact. It fills a crucial hole in the history of the BC coast.

About the author

Heather Harbord set off on a world voyage from England in 1963. By boat and road, she explored British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and neighbouring parts of the US before settling in BC in 1977. She has written four previous books, including Sea Kayak Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast. Texada Tapestry: A History received an Honourable Mention from the BC Historical Federation's Competition for Historical Writing for 2011 as well as and Honourable Mention from the BC Genealogical Society for the 2011 Family History Book Award. Heather Harbord lives in Powell River, BC.

Heather Harbord's profile page

Librarian Reviews

Desolation Sound: A History

This is a comprehensive and lively history of Desolation Sound, a remote wilderness and recreational area 150 kilometres north of Vancouver. Harbord describes the flora and fauna and the Sound’s original inhabitants—the Sliammon First Nation. We meet Chief Joe Mitchell, who passes on the oral history of his people, and then the first explorers such as Captain George Vancouver, who gave the Sound its ominous name. Harbord describes the influx of European settlers from the late 19th century, who sought out a life of solitude as well as those who later came to fish and log. Characters described include the Cougar Queen of Okeover Arm and Mike Shutter, a Homer-quoting hermit. A combination of legend and fact, Desolation Sound is a valuable addition to BC’s history.

Harbord has also written kayaking guides including Sea Kayak: Desolation Sound and Sunshine Coast.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2007-2008.

Other titles by Heather Harbord

Related lists