Gabriola's History Timeline


About 40 million years ago, Gabriola was formed by rising sea beds of sedimentary rock. The Island was later scoured by glaciers and battered by eons of wave action that sculpted the sandstone into the amazing shapes seen today.

Gabriola is part of the traditional territory of the Snunéymuxw First Nation. Once thousands of people lived here in coastal villages; the largest near False Narrows on the southwest shore. Snunéymux petroglyph rock carvings, believed to be thousands of years old, can be found across the Island.

In 1791, Spanish explorers Narváez, Galiano and Valdés landed on Gabriola. They were followed a year later by British explorer George Vancouver. But it was the discovery of coal on nearby Vancouver Island that sparked European settlement on Gabriola in the 1850s and 60s.

By 1874, seventeen settlers, many of whom had married First Nations women, were working the land and supplying food to Nanaimo. Later settlers quarried Gabriola’s abundant supplies of sandstone for use as millstones in pulp mills, and for construction in cities from Vancouver to San Francisco. From the 1890s to 1952, the Gabriola Brickyard was producing up to 80,000 high quality bricks a day, while the sheltered waters of Silva Bay were home to a fishing fleet, a lumber mill and a thriving shipyard that was the Island’s largest employer in the 1960s. In 1950, Gabriola had fewer than 400 fulltime residents. Today the island is home to more than 4000, with many more residents in summer.

Gabriola Island Timeline



—— Gabriola Island was home to the Snuneymuxw Nation for thousands of years.
1791 Spanish explorers arrived on the Canadian west coast
1792 The Spanish sailed up the north side of Gabriola and around Orlebar Point, anchoring in what is now Pilot Bay
1862 Scot Thomas Degnen and his First Nations wife Jane Jeameya moved to Gabriola
1872 There were 18 families living on Gabriola. The first school was located at “The Maples” near the present Community Hall. There were 15 school-age children.
1882 Land was donated by the first settlers for a community cemetery.
1883 John Silva, a Portuguese sailor, settled on Gabriola with his Lyaksen First Nations wife Louise Hoiowaaat.
1884 Mail service officially began on Gabriola.
1887 Sandstone quarrying commenced on Gabriola, and ceased in 1936.
1888 The first federal voters’ list was compiled for Gabriola. It listed 47 men, 34 of them farmers.
1910 A multi-party telephone service was established, with 30 subscribers.
1911 Brick manufacturing began on Gabriola and continued until 1952.

The first community hall was built with free labour and materials, on land donated by the Shaw family, at the site of the present hall.

Sunrise Lumber Company began operations in the Silva Bay area, but it was destroyed by fire in 1925.

1925 The log church at Silva Bay was dedicated.
1931 The first subsidized vehicle ferry, the Atrevida, began servicing Gabriola. Capacity was 6 cars.
1938 The “big fire” burned for more than three weeks, destroying more than 2,000 acres of forest.
1945 Withey’s Shipyard began building various water craft, until 1974.
1948 Gabriola population was 300.
1955 Hydro-electric power came to Gabriola.
1960 Gabriola Sands Provincial park was established.
1971 Drumbeg Provincial Park was established, approximately 50 acres of land.
1974 Islands Trust was created by the Province of BC.
1978 Gabriola’s first Official Community Plan was adopted.
1981 Gabriola’s first Zoning Bylaw was adopted.
1988 Sandwell Provincial Pard was dedicated.
1992 Folklife Village was established.
1995 The new building for the Gabriola Museum opened.
1996 Gabriola’s population was 3,479.
1997 Petroglyph Park opened on the Museum grounds.
2004 Gabriola residents voted 87% against incorporation as a municipality on Nov.20
2006 Gabriola’s population was 4,050.
2008 Elder Cedar Nature Reserve was established.
2009 Quamichan First Nation potlatch with Degnan descendants

15th Anniversary celebration of the Gabriola Museum’s completion.

707 Park was established


Construction of a new community health clinic began, built entirely by volunteers.

Gabriola’s population was 4,045.

2012 Gabriolans voted 57% in favour of constructing a new firehall.