British Columbia’s Portland Island is a much-loved location in the Southern Gulf Islands for both boaters as well as kayakers. The island is a wonderful destination for a day trip or multi-day boating and camping adventures with a pair of protected moorages and three campgrounds available. Portland Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada.
First Nations people utilized Portland Island going back 3,000 years as is verified from the middens that can be found on the island. These middens are classified as archaeological sites and are protected legally. As such these middens must not be disturbed. Subsequently the island ended up being inhabited by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants and was utilized primarily for farming purposes. An eccentric owner in the 1920’s was Frank “One Arm” Sutton, a retired British army officer. Frank Sutton acquired the island with funds he had won gambling on horse races within China. The plan was to raise & train thoroughbred race horses on the island. All evidence of the old horse racing track and a golf course have now vanished.
In 1958 the island was presented as a gift from the Province of British Columbia to Princess Margaret to commemorate her visit to the province. It was apparently expected that the princess would accept the island and immediately return it but apparently she had other ideas for the next 9 years! Princess Margaret finally returned the island to the province of British Columbia in 1967 to be used as a park and it became known as Princess Margaret Marine Park. The Canadian Government bought the island from the Province of British Columbia and it became known once again as Portland Island and became a portion of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada.
Portland Island is located around 4.5 kilometers from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island making it a well known day destination for kayakers and boaters. Even though it is not a very lengthy crossing, it may occasionally get quite rough during poor weather conditions so plan your trip accordingly.
3 campsites are available on the island; Shell Beach Campsite is situated on a gorgeous shell beach directly across from Brackman Island (Brackman Island is an ecological reserve and visiting isn’t permitted). The beautiful shell beach is partially sheltered by Brackman Island and does not get hit directly by ferry wake. Arbutus Point Campsite is located on a small peninsula on the northeast end of the island and provides excellent views of the surrounding islands. The beach for the campground is situated on the north side of the peninsula. Princess Bay campsite is situated above the bay and has a wonderful view of the scenic bay, the most used overnight stop for pleasure boaters. Pit toilets can be found at each of the campsites on Portland Island.
In addition to Princess Bay, boaters have an option of staying on the northern end of the island at Royal Cove.
BC’s first artificial reef, the sunken freighter G.B. Church, is situated off the northeast shore of Portland Island. The scuttled ship now serves as a haven for marine organisms and is an attraction for divers from around the world.