Strategically located north of Hardwicke Island, at the south end of the Johnstone Strait, Yorke Island was established as a coastal fort to protect Vancouver during the Second World War.
In 1938, after Canada’s Department of National Defence gave the green light for a garrison to be established on the island, guns, searchlights, examination vessels (to examine any passing marine traffic) and approximately 60 buildings were built on the island to support military personnel. The guns included two 4.7-inch Quick firing guns, which were later replaced by two six-inch MK7 guns, a Hotchkiss examination gun, and anti-air defence in the form of two 40-millimetre Bofors guns at two different sites on the island.
There were a few challenges with establishing a garrison on Yorke Island, the most major being a lack of drinking water. At first, water was supplied with Union Steam ships while construction materials were being delivered, but this wasn’t a long-term solution. Instead, a 50,000-gallon cement water tank was built on the island and filled with drinking water from Hardwicke Island.
The other issues with establishing a garrison on Yorke Island included the isolation and a lack of action seen by the military men. This led to more than a few disciplinary issues, nicknamed “Going Yorkie.”
As the war winded down, the garrison was decommissioned and the fort abandoned in 1946.
Today, Yorke Island is a conservancy protected under BC Parks. Recently, groups of volunteers have organized a major clean up on the island. There are trails to explore, and there are still bunkers, gun emplacements and buildings to see.
Yorke Island is not easy to get to, unfortunately. The safest access is in Courtenay Bay, and explorers are warned not to land on the island just anywhere. Much of the island is still surrounded in barbed wire from the long-ago war days.
If you’re a war or history buff, Yorke Island should be on your list of places to explore. The Vancouver Gunners group has several historical photos of Yorke Island on their website. Visit https://www.vancouvergunners.ca/yorke-island.htmlto check them out.