Fishing Cowichan Bay

Even though Cowichan Bay was known for its lumber shipping it was a great place for fishing. We were actually a destination long before Campbell River. Our close association to Washington State brought many famous people. John Wayne used to keep his boat there. He was probably the most frequent famous fisherman seen in the area. His chums, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and others all came up here to fish with him. They frequented the Buena Vista Hotel, on the hill overlooking the harbour.

The Buena Vista was a grand sprawling old wood hotel. The view was fantastic; the bar was the biggest and best in town. But it had a very strange demise. The word was out that it was full one weekend, no reservations were being taken. That weekend it caught fire and burned to the ground. What started the suspicion was that the owner was seen removing the cash register just before the fire happened. The hotel was empty at the time.

The building we now know as the Masthead started life as a road house for the narrow trail down to Victoria. In those days it was a couple of days trip up the island (or more). However new transportation in the form of the E&N Railway took its toll. It was then owned by Giovanni Ordano. He built the Cowichan Bay Shipyard next door and turned out row boats to rent to fishermen. His boat house was down on the docks behind it. With the closing of the road house the place was converted to a fishing tackle store. The Stewart family had a dock where they also rented out boats. The present location of the Ocean Front Grand Hotel was the Cowichan Bay Inn. It was the absolute height of luxury. It had an outdoor swimming pool, shuffleboard court and a few cottages for summer rentals. And, it rented fishing boats.

On the subject of celebrities and fishing; one of the old time residents, Al Fault, tells the story of working on the log booms. A group of folk were on the shore making home movies. They waved him over and one of them identified himself as William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy for you old timers). They wanted him to do a fall into the water for them. He never did admit to me if he did, but he did say that from that day on when he fell in the water he shouted “Geronimo”.

Fishing in The Bay has been closed for a number of years. When it closed the anglers went north to Campbell River. But at its peak Cowichan Bay was the place to be. The Premier at the time, James Dunsmuir, an avid fisherman and founder of Ladysmith, builder of Hatley Castle, suffered a fatal heart attack right in the middle of Cowichan Bay in 1920 at the age of 68.

Thomas Wagner is now retired and is a historical researcher, writer and photographer living in Cowichan Bay. His E-Book on Cowichan Bay is possibly one of the first electronic publications recognized by the Canadian Library and Archives. He enjoys digging up history and looks forward to hearing any good stories. Click here for the ebook