Malaspina Galleries c. 1920
A taste of life on the island
This overview is a taste of the past – an approximation of life on the island.
Gabriola’s stories motivate us today to be committed keepers of nature and heritage.
Gabriola has an intriguing and inspiring history. In recognition of this, the Museum honours the First Peoples who lived with and cared for the land from the beginning (from approximately 8000 BCE and who helped the new settlers who came here only 170 years ago.
We also honour the original settlers for their challenging work and hardship, from first habitation to now, for their part in giving us today’s life on our beautiful island.
See the Museum’s books, exhibits and archives for more information and interesting, often comical, personal anecdotes.
First Inhabitants (Approximately 8000 BCE)
8000 BCE or earlier
Early Explorers (1780s to 1792)
British and Americans started the maritime fur trade in the area, acquiring furs of sea otters, beavers, bears and other animals from Indigenous peoples.
Early Settlers (1850s to 1860s)
The North School (now the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Hall) was opened. This school burned down in 1926 or 1927 and was rebuilt on the same site.
The Next Wave and Early Industry (Late 1880s to late 1950s)
The first federal voters’ list was compiled for Gabriola. It listed 47 men, 34 of them farmers. (Women couldn’t vote federally until 1917, and indigenous women only if they gave up their status and treaty rights.)
The Sunrise Lumber Company began operations in the Silva Bay area but fire destroyed it in 1925.
The East School was built behind the Little Log Church.
The Gabriola Agricultural Association Cooperative built the first Agi Hall on land donated by Richard Easthom.
Chinese Canadians lived on Gabriola and worked in the Brickyard.
The South School became Saint Paul’s Anglican Church.
The first annual Salmon Barbeque was held.
Land Development and Hippies (1960s to 1970s)
Governance and Infrastructure Era (Mid 1970s to Now)
Gabriola resident, Donna Wilford, and a small group of volunteers started the Gabriola Island Recycling Organization (GIRO). Del Horn was one of the original GIRO board members, and his wife, Kathy was a supporter. Donna applied for the startup grant and approached Tom Harris in Nanaimo to donate the first ever truck and its insurance. A depot manager was hired to carry out the recycling operations. Merv and Annette Sweeney donated the land on Tin Can Alley. The centre opened in 1991.
Gabriola’s population was 4050.
The land for the Coats Marsh Regional Park was acquired from the Coats family.
Elder Cedar Nature Reserve was established.
Quamichan First Nation held a potlatch with Degnan descendants.
The Gabriola Museum celebrated its 15th anniversary.
The 707 Community Park was established.
Gabriola’s population was 4045.
Reconciliation (2015 to now)
Islands Trust Council officially adopted a declaration of Reconciliation.
Gabriola’s population was 4033.
The Snuneymuxw, the main first peoples of Gabriola, renewed its relationship with the provincial government through a land transfer agreement of more than 7410 acres of Crown lands near the City of Nanaimo at Mount Benson and Mount McKay.
Japanese Canadians on Gabriola Timeline
Eight Japanese lived on Gabriola as loggers and fishers (none continued to live on the island).
Yoshimatsu Schinde built the Sunrise Sawmill on land leased from early John Silva (operated until 1925 when fire destroyed it).