For centuries the Salish from Comox had summer camps on Denman and as with many of the other Gulf Islands, traces of their presence can be found in middens, petroglyphs, and earthworks. The extensive Jessup Expedition in 1906 reported two petroglyphs within a few feet of the Yellow Island Light House on the island’s southern shore, and shell heaps and cairns at Longbeak Point on the narrow northern tip of the island.
European settlement began in the 1870’s., with many settlers arriving from the Orkney Islands in Scotland. A school, post office, and Methodist church followed shortly thereafter to service a total population that stood at 100 by 1894. A few years later, a community hall rounded off the settlement.
Early industries included a sandstone quarry which employed 30 men at its height but closed in 1915, the year the Farmer’s Institute was formed. Logging, agriculture and fishing were also important industries.
The island was named after the commander of the H.M.S. Sutlej, who was on this coast in 1864 when he received orders to pursue and to punish the perpetrators of the Matilda Creek Massacre of the sloop, Kingfisher, in which all aboard were murdered. The subsequent pursuit by Admiral Denman destroyed nine native villages, killing 15.
Off Boytle Point, on Denman’s southernmost point, the steamer Alpha was wrecked in 1900, drowning nine sailors.
Denman Point was the site of the fiery death of the steam tug Vulcan in 1925.