Coal Harbour was named for a number of coal outcroppings in the area. site of a Scandinavian settlement. Three of the residents (Nordstrom, Bergh and Evenson) registered mineral claims on Yreka and Jeune copper claims around 1897. Other settlers, including the Ildstadts, Holes and Varneys set up small farms and businesses.
Coal Harbour became a small, quiet community and the starting place for any activity in the Quatsino Sound area. Mail and goods brought from Port Hardy across the Coal Harbour trail were occasionally carried by small boat to Quatsino.
Temporary notoriety came to the town in 1907, when a 70 year old local resident, John Sharpe claimed that he was really William Clarke Quantrill of Quantrill‘s Raiders. Quantrill had been the head of a group of outlaws that raided Unionist communities, farms and robbed mail coaches during the American Civil War. Outlawed in 1862, he had formally joined the Confederate army and was given the rank of captain. There is controversy over his reported death. Some account believe that he was fatally wounded near Taylorsville in May of 1865 while others believe that he escaped to B.C. to quietly until 1907. Soon after claiming to be Quantrill, he was murdered.
In 1920, the trail from Port Hardy to Coal Harbour became a road. Although there was continued interest in mining prospects, fishing and lumber became the primary activities during the 1920’s and 30’s.
During World War II, the community became the site of a seaplane station and military base. Today remnants of the buildings and bunkers remain in the area and sea planes still take off almost daily over the Holberg Inlet.
In 1948, the Western Whaling Corporation began operating a whaling processing plant in some of the WW II buildings. Bought out by B.C. Packers Limited in 1949, the whaling fleet eventually grew to six vessels. The whaling season ran from April until September however, the operation was not a profitable one. From 1950 until 1957, the company killed and processed over 4,000 whales and lost over a million dollars.
During the 1960’s the whaling station was revitalized by a partnership of B.C. Packers and the Taiyo Gyogyo Company of Japan. An emphasis was placed on whale meat and 85% of the production was exported mostly for human consumption. By 1964, only two ships remained in operation and the whaling station was closed.
Mining became an important employer in the area when the Utah copper mine opened. This mine eventually became the deepest open pit mine in the world. When it was closed, the mine was opened to allow the ocean to fill the excavation area. Exploration for copper may again come to the area.
Today the community of Coal Harbour still operates as a starting place for activity on the Quatsino Sound. Fishing charters, fish farms and logging companies operate in the area. The Holberg Inlet is a quiet, almost wilderness area where eagles, heron, sea otters, seals and wildlife abounds. It is a perfect place to enjoy the wilderness with the comforts of home.
From information supplied by
Port Hardy Museum & Archives
Thank you Ms. Hutton
Photo above is of a 6 meter jawbone of a
Blue Whale. This artifact is a reminded that
Coal Harbour was the last
whaling station in Canada.