D’Arcy Island Marine Park is a tiny 83-hectare island park in Haro Strait, east of the Saanich Peninsula, off Vancouver Island.
From 1894 until 1924, the island was used as a leper colony. Many tried to escape, but few survived. Although the buildings were demolished, ruins of the facilities are still visible. In 1961, D’Arcy Island was established as a marine park.
Fishing, snorkelling and kayaking around the island provide hours of entertainment. The public wharf in Saanichton Bay provides an alternate starting point for canoeists and kayakers heading for D’Arcy Island. Numerous rocks and reefs surround the island and boaters should exercise caution on approaching.
Little D’Arcy Island to the east is private property, please respect it. The park offers 7 wilderness/walk-in campsites, picnic tables and a pit toilet.
All services are available in nearby Sidney.
D’Arcy Island is a part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is one of Canada’s newest national parks. The park protects a portion of British Columbia’s beautiful southern Gulf Islands – a landscape of rocky headlands, forested hills and shorelines studded with colourful tidepools. The park resembles a patchwork quilt of protected lands scattered over 15 larger islands, and many smaller islets and reefs.
History of D’Arcy Island
Island’s infamous legacy began when Victoria’s police and health officers conducted one of their routine sweeps through Chinatown in 1891. Hidden in a small shack behind a store on Fisgard Street, officials found five huddled men bearing obvious signs of leprosy. Victoria’s municipal government responded by quickly gaining provincial support to expropriate D’Arcy Island and turn it into a leper colony.
For the next 33 years the tiny islet was used as an isolated, segregated dumping ground for people with leprosy. Forty-nine people in total, all men, and all but one Chinese, were shipped to the leper colony. The city spent the money to build a six-unit rowhouse for them to live in, and later, some of the leper residents erected separate shacks of their own.
Their only contact with the outside world was a visit from a supply ship. Every three months it dropped off food, clothing and other supplies – including coffins. People were literally stockpiled to die there, in conditions that must have been horrible. The disease strips feeling from the extremities and skin as it eats away the extremities. People with leprosy often suffer injuries and sores because they can’t feel when something is wrong.
Nevertheless, the lepers of D’Arcy Island would fetch water for their homes from about 70 metres away. They cleared and planted a garden about one acre in size. The Chinese had a cultural organization and a structure that allowed them to live in a co-operative way and care for each other right up to the time they died and were buried.
D’Arcy Island finally ended as a leper colony in 1924, when the federal government shut it down and moved the remaining residents to Bentinck Island near Race Rocks, and closer to medical quarantine facilities, which operated until 1957. In the 1960’s the federal government sent workers to D’Arcy Island to burn the leper’s houses.
In October 2000, the island’s sad history was recalled when Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe unveiled a small plaque near the spot where the lepers lived. The plaque bears the name of 13 men, all Chinese, “and four others – names unknown” who died on the isolated island.
Nearby Regions & Towns
Parks Canada – British Columbia
Box 129, 23433 Mavis Avenue
Fort Langley, BC, V1M 2R5
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
2220 Harbour Road
Sidney, BC, V8L 2P6