250.935.6716 frances@twincomm.ca

Cortes Island Real Estate Info

Compliments of Frances Guthrie ~ Your island real estate agent

Cortes Island Information

Compliments of Frances Guthrie


Cortes Island is located in the northern reaches of Georgia Strait and is part of the Discovery Islands chain. Other Discovery Islands include Quadra, Savary, Hernando and Redonda Islands. These islands form the gateway to the well known Desolation Sound Marine Park. Cortes is one of the most beautiful of the Discovery Islands. It lies about 12 miles off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, roughly opposite the city of Campbell River and is approximately 105 air miles from the city of Vancouver.cortes6

Cortes Island’s irregular shape is due to its many bays and lagoons. It is approximately 16 miles long and 6 miles wide and is shaped roughly like a kite.

Cortes Island offers an interesting geographical diversity in its topography. The south western corner of the island offers glacial deposits in the form of fine white sand and gravel beaches at Hague lake, Manson’s Lagoon, Manson’s Landing and Smelt Bay. In 1973 the 117 acres Manson’s Landing Marine Park was formed to protect the freshwater beach at Hague Lake and the sand beaches of Manson’s Lagoon and Manson’s Landing. A forty acre provincial class A park at Smelt Bay includes 4,000 feet of beach facing Marina Island. There are also marine parks in Von Donop Inlet and Carrington Bay plus a lovely forested regional park with hiking trails between Gunflint Lake and Hague Lake.

cortes2By contrast, the part of the island north of Manson’s Landing is much more rocky and precipitous and the jagged shoreline provides boaters with many bays, coves and enclosed harbours. The highest point on the island is on its northernmost tip, Bullock Bluffs, once used by the Coast Salish as a lookout point to warn of approaching enemy tribes.

On the west side of Cortes Island near the middle is Gorge Harbour. This large enclosed harbour is accessible by a small opening bracketed by towering rock bluffs. There are still petroglyphs on the rock walls and it is said this area was protected by throwing large rocks on to the canoes on the water below.

The southernmost tip, at Sutil Point, is a low, constantly shifting coastline of sand and a large reef of boulder encrusted shallows extending almost a mile further southward.

P1050279Cortes Island has one of the drier climates on the B.C. coast. The ecological environment attests to the climate with open rock bluffs of Arbutus, Manzanita and Juniper surrounded by coniferous forest of Fir, Cedar and Hemlock. The weather patterns, like the land features, vary according to the location. The south western portion of the island receives a moderate south easterly a good portion of the year. A winter time “wet southeaster” will tend to bring strong winds, rain and heavy seas. Areas around Squirrel Cove and Seaford on the eastern side of the island seem to experience winds from every direction as a result of local topography. Generally speaking the south of Cortes Island is drier than the west and the west is drier than the east side. The northern one third of the island is noticeably wetter and cooler. It should be noted that Cortes Island marks the northern limit for dry climate vegetation such as Arbutus trees and Manzanita. These trees prefer a hot dry climate near the ocean.

Settlement patterns seem to reflect the weather patterns with the bulk of the population around Manson’s Landing and Smelt Bay. Gorge Harbour and the Whaletown area have the next largest population. There are sparser populations around Squirrel Cove and Seaford.cortes3

The original inhabitants of Cortes Island were the Coast Salish who occupied both the east and west coasts of the island. They suffered at the hands of raiding tribes and were almost eliminated by the smallpox epidemic of 1862. Today the Klahoose Salish live at Squirrel Cove, having arrived on Cortes from Toba Inlet after some of the coastal villages were flooded in the 1800’s.

The explorers, the surveyors and the whalers came and went. The miners came, staked claims and left. Japanese loggers came with horses and left. Then came the settlers. The first white settler on Cortes Island was Michael Manson, who arrived in 1866, pre-empting land the following year and receiving his crown grant in 1913.

cortes8With Michael came his brother John and a friend, George Leask, both of whom pre-empted land in 1888. At that time there were no roads, no buildings and no steam ship service to or from civilization. There were no gas engines and transportation was by rowboat or dugout canoe. John Manson did a phenomenal amount of rowing in those early days, taking meat orders to logging camps. He also rowed 100 miles each way to the head of Knight Inlet and back to bring out two school girls to board at the Manson’s home to raise the number of available pupils to the number required to open a school on Cortes Island.

At the turn of the century there was a population rush on Cortes Island consisting mainly of hand-loggers who often worked in one place just long enough to make a stake and move on somewhere else. After that there was a slow but steady influx of homesteaders. The population reached a zenith in the 1920’s then dropped off again due to the rigours of isolation, the economic depression and the high cost of transportation. The Union Steamship was the main tie to the outside world at that time. There are still reminders of those long gone settlers in the form of twisted fruit trees in long abandoned orchards.cortes7

Population figures picked up again after the 16 car ferry, Cortes Queen, began its regular run to and from Quadra Island in 1969. Electric power and wide spread telephone service arrived in 1967. The population has gradually increased over the years and the roads are now all paved and the size of the ferry has increased making it easier to get here and get around on the island.

The number of seasonal residents increased as has the number of work at home professionals. Today the island is an intriguing mix of the old and new. Along with the early settlers and their descendants there are the more recent ‘settlers’, people of all ages and backgrounds who have come here in search of a more independent and casual lifestyle free from many of the troubling complexities of modern existence. There is no resident RCMP on the island and to date crime rates are low.

The island now has a public school, a medical clinic, a museum, a mini bus service to Campbell River, a dentist and many other services.



cortes4Cortes is reached by a ferry starting with a 15 minute trip from Campbell River to Quadra Island. A 10 minute drive across Quadra Island takes you to Heriot Bay where you board the ferry ‘TENAKA’ or ‘TACHEK’ for the 45 minute ride to Cortes. The ferry docks in Whaletown Bay. From the ferry dock you can look across the bay at the ‘settlement’ of Whaletown with its general store, post office, library and dock.


Three general stores serve the needs of islanders: Gorge Harbour Marina, Squirrel Cove and Cortes Market in uptown Manson’s. There is also a natural food co-op in uptown Manson’s.

Automotive fuel is available at Gorge Harbour Marina and Squirrel Cove Store. Marine fuel is available at Gorge Harbour Marina & Squirrel Cove.

Propane is available at Gorge Harbour and Squirrel Cove.
All 3 general stores have small liquor outlets.


There are two community halls, the Whaletown Community Club is located in the Gorge Hall on Robertson Road and the South Cortes Community Club is located in Manson’s Hall on Sutil Point Road and Beasley Road (uptown Manson’s).There is also the Klahoose New Relationship Building at Squirrel Cove.


There is a post office in Manson’s Hall and one in Whaletown plus at Squirrel Cove Store. Service is provided three days per week. (Mon. Wed. Fri.)


There is an organized play school plus Public School from K through grade 9. Home schooling is a popular choice for many island families.


There is an ambulance service on Cortes that is part of the B.C. Ambulance Service and trained attendants are on duty 24 hours a day. There is a doctor on the island and a very nice medical clinic on Beasley Road behind the museum.


There are two fire halls on the island. One at Manson’s on Beasley Road and the other in Whaletown. Both are manned by trained island volunteers.


Church services are advertised in the local fliers with churches at Cortes Bay, and Whaletown.

Bus service to Campbell River on the Cortes Connection.

Restaurants: seasonally the Float House at Gorge Harbour Marina and the Cove Restaurant at Squirrel Cove, mail days at Manson’s Hall Cortes Cafe, deli at the Cortes Market and Market Take-out in the summer next to the Cortes Market.

Cortes Island Motel located near Hague Lake plus rooms at the Gorge Harbour Marina, B&B’s and Cortes Island Vacation Rentals.

The thrift store is open mail days in Manson’s Hall.

The Free Store is open at the recycling center (check for open times)

Museum on Beasley Road next to the Fire Hall

Skate board park on Beasley Road behind the community hall.

Hollyhock Retreat Center on Highfield Road

Cortes Craft Co Op at Squirrel Cove

Plus many personal services provided by island residents. Check the little Cortes Phone Book for a full list or visit www.cortesisland.com


DSCF3732Cortes Island: named after Hernando Cortes, the Spanish conqueror of Mexico.

Sutil Point: formerly Reef Point because of a mile long reef that lies off it, it was renamed in 1945 after the Spanish schooner.

Smelt Bay: named after the capelin fish which used to swim ashore in the thousands to spawn.

Manson’s Landing: named after Michael Manson, the first white settler on Cortes.

Whaletown: named for a whaling station established there by the Dawson Whaling co. from 1869 to1870.

Von Donop Inlet: named after a midshipman on H.M.S. Carybdish.

Carrington Bay: named by Cpt. Pender after an Admiralty draughtsman.

Marina Island: named after a beautiful slave captured at San Juan de Ulloa by Cortes. She eventually became his mistress and aided him in his overthrow of the Aztec Kingdom.

Many of the Discovery Islands were named by a Spanish mapmaker, Valdez, who charted these waters in and around 1793. Although the Spanish did not settle the islands, the islands kept most of their original given names.