The indigenous residents of Cortes, The Coast Salish, suffered great loss of life during the smallpox epidemic in 1862. A subsequent new band from north of the island helped swell the numbers and today the Klahoose people live and thrive in Squirrel Cove.
Whaling was the first important industry here as elsewhere in Desolation Sound and the northern Gulf Islands, and in 1869 at present day Whaletown, a station was established. Business was so brisk that in only two years the whale population had diminished to the point that the industry was no longer profitable and the station closed down.
Michael Manson from the Shetland Islands was the first settler to arrive in 1886. He soon established a trading post at what is now called Manson’s Landing, and traded the Salish provisions which he shipped in from Nanaimo for dogfish oil which he then sold to the Nanaimo coal mines where it was used for lubrication. An enterprising entrepreneur, he went on to operate a steam tug which provided freight and passenger services to logging camps in the area.
In 1893, the first post office opened, servicing the island’s 40 residents. A few years later a schoolhouse was built for its first 12 students.
Ferry services came later to isolated Cortes, connecting it to Quadra and hence to Vancouver Island in 1969. One year later, electricity followed.
Sheep raising, fruit growing, and logging continue to be important industries on Cortes.