“Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday” – John Wayne.
Sitting just East of Vancouver Island and a few hundred kilometres South of the city of Vancouver, Spieden Island is an elongated, roughly 516 acre, stunning piece of Pacific Northwest history. While mainly accessible by boat today, a landing strip also sits atop the sun-drenched island: a remnant from the 1970s when a hotel and small hanger were built to house American taxidermists.
As the legend goes, John Wayne used to venture to this beautiful island with his Seattle-based hunting pals to stalk ‘wild’ big game on their newly claimed geographic spoil. Many say that giraffe, tigers, and kangaroos were brought to the island by these adventurists as they sought to create an exotic land that was near to home. While the geography and climate couldn’t sustain these majestic creatures, the tale of their short existence still lives on.
The island has yet to host a permanent human population, but today, wild deer from this celebrity-influenced era still live off its grasses. Mouflon sheep from Corsica, fallow deer from Europe, and Sitka deer from Central Asia were brought over and, impressively, managed to sustain themselves on the island after the hunters moved on to their next conquest.
Currently, Oakley cofounder James Jannard owns this history-rich strip of land that runs parallel to the Spieden Chanel. Deer hunting on the island has since ceased because Spieden Island sits just a few kilometres north of the relatively more populated San Juan Islands. The worry of bullets reaching across made certain that continued gaming could not be a safe bet for locals. It’s unknown if Jannard or family still visit, but it has certainly been kept quite serene.
Cruising by, you can still spot the beautiful Asian and European deer grazing in the sun–in rather large numbers. They scatter off if they hear an engine too close, but they’re a stunning sight to see as you approach. A beautiful view from the ocean, Spieden is freckled on the South slope with glacial erratics (boulders) that sit on the barren but grassy hills. Left behind after being picked up by ancient glaciers, it looks almost as though they were placed there strategically, like hand-carved chess pieces. But it was the melting of these glaciers millennia ago left the erratics where they sit today.
Passing by in the spring (just in time for our April-start Zodiac tours!), you’ll spot a purple tone that paints the grooves in the hillside: peppered wildflowers grow in the sun and ocean air. The north side of the island is oddly stark in its inverse: a deep, heavy forest gives it a contrasting hue. This flush in flora is caused by an unusual climate of Olympic Mountain rainshadow, which makes it a popular island for perching Eagles.
Sea lions often bathe in the splashes and salty effervescence of the ocean on the Southeast bay of Spieden Island. They’re large, dignified, and otherworldly. Seemingly unbothered by passing vessels, these eutherians double as both comical to some and unnerving for others. But rest assured: these majestic marine mammals won’t attack humans unless they feel threatened, so watch (or photograph) away; they’re an absolutely heartwarming sight–and rather photographic models!
Many of our Victoria Zodiac tours will venture over to Spieden Island, and, while hopefully this blog has gotten you excited to view these sights for yourself, your naturalists will know all about this rich history themselves, so don’t hesitate to ask: it’s quite the opportune class in our ‘floating classrooms’!
Have fun out there!