Located in Northumberland Channel off the east coast of central Vancouver Island, De Courcy Island was named after Michael de Courcy, captain of the H.M.S Pylades, a vessel that charted these waters from 1859 to 1861.
De Courcy Island is about 300 acres in size and is heavily forested in most areas, except for a small private farm on the northwest side of the Island. There are several middens on De Courcy Island that indicate native use of the land going back over 3,000 years.
Between 1943 and 1957, the island was owned by a Swiss brother and sister, Paul and Anna Wyff. They farmed the island communally with a number of other people, living a simple and self-sufficient lifestyle. De Courcy Island Estates purchased the land in 1965 and subdivided it into approximately 160 lots. Today, De Courcy has around 40 residences built on the island, most of which are used on weekends or during the summer months.
Recent history of De Courcy Island records the drama played out in the late 20’s and early 30’s when the island was home to the Aquarian Foundation, a religious cult led by the “downright evil” Brother Xll. Believing himself to be the Twelfth Master of Wisdom who would usher in a new age, Brother Xll convinced 8,000 followers to hand over their worldly possessions and follow him to De Courcy Island.
The amount of money donated to the foundation is legendary – people would give their entire life savings in support. The land purchased included De Courcy Island. A settlement was built on the north end of the island, with stories of having gun fortifications and rock shelters. Any excess money was said to have been converted to gold coins and sealed into glass jars and placed into cedar chests. Facing trial in Nanaimo in 1933 on a bundle of charges, Brother Xll and his cohort disappeared on the colony’s boat. The couple and the colony’s fortune were never seen in these parts again.
Like many of the Gulf Islands, De Courcy Island contains an interesting mixture of plants – some coastal, and some more typically found in the dry interior of BC. Rocky Mountain Juniper, satin flower and poison oak are all species that are much more widely spread in the interior than they are on the coast, but they thrive here in the dry summers of De Courcy Island.
Location: De Courcy Island is located in Northumberland Channel, between Nanaimo and Valdes Island, 16 kilometres southeast of Nanaimo. There is no ferry service to De Courcy Island, and access is by private boat only, from Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
One of the Gulf Island’s most popular marine parks, Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park is located on the southeast corner of De Courcy Island. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike the 4-kilometre trail or explore the sandstone beaches and caves. As would be expected, swimming and kayaking are popular activities at Pirates Cove, called Gospel Cove by the Aquarians. The 31-hectare Pirates Cove offers walk-in campsites, a magnificent all weather anchorage, and a variety of opportunities for wildlife viewing.
Beachcombing: The east coast of De Courcy Island offers great beachcombing for those looking for washed-up treasures.
Gabriola Island, known as Petroglyph Island because of its wealth of ancient stone carvings, lies immediately north of De Courcy Island, reached by a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Nanaimo to the BC Ferries terminal at Descanso Bay. In a pleasant rural setting of forested parks and quiet beaches, picturesque roads lead to sensational ocean views, and the sandstone shoreline can be walked almost indefinitely. The Isle Of The Arts boasts many artist’s studios, galleries and delightful shops.
Nearby Nanaimo serves as a major ferry terminal linking Vancouver Island with the B.C. mainland. BC Ferries operates a scheduled ferry service between Departure Bay in Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay on the north shore of Vancouver, and from Duke Point in Nanaimo to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, south of Vancouver.