In 1862, early settler Isabella Robb likely spent more time looking at the flank of a dairy cow than gazing at the empty Comox harbour.
Unfortunately, her husband James Robb was a visionary. This meant while Isabella milked and churned, James bore the derision of fellow settlers who had pre-empted the easy open Valley fields to farm instead of the Robbs’ heavily treed rocky slopes around what was then called Augusta Bay. James Robb had a dream.
To catch a glimpse of what Robb saw, imagine a supply vessel sitting in the harbour without a dock: “The cattle were pushed overboard … and steered to shore by men in canoes” (Land of Plenty, Isenor, McInnis, Stephens, Watson). This inelegant point of entry was called The Landing, and it was here where Robb’s dream of subdividing his land around the harbour into townsite lots was grounded. A survey to the Victoria government works department reported that Comox harbour was the “only possible location in the Valley for a wharf at which steamers could tie up, as it was sheltered by a long sand spit from the prevailing south-easterly winds, and had good depth of water at all stages of tide … whereas the shallow bay farther up, into which the river discharged, was completely exposed at all winds” (The Wilderness Profound, Richard Somerset Mackie). Finally, in 1874, a contract was awarded, and Robb saw the dream he was looking for in the Comox harbour: an extended wharf.
Today, the Comox harbour is chock full of dreams. The parsing by docks and four separate marinas have fixed the number of boats we can squeeze in between the breakwaters and the beach. Those boats are separate dreams. In the decades that followed the first wharf, side-wheelers and steamers brought us corporate dreams that served to link the Comox Valley to other coastal communities and Vancouver and Victoria. From the 1890s to 1951, as the area population grew, vessels like the Maude, the Joan, Princess Louise, Princess Mary, and the Charmer, provided regular and vital service to the Comox Valley. Over some of those years, my great-aunt, Madge Risley, worked as a purser on the Canadian Pacific Railway coastal Princess fleet. I like to imagine that she would have looked up from her chores to gaze across the Comox harbour circled by the parceled town lots of Robb’s dream.
Barb Thomson is a boating enthusiast and a regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record