Nootka Sound

Nootka Sound is a sound of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, historically known as King George's Sound. It separates Vancouver Island and Nootka Island.[1] It played a historically important role in the maritime fur trade.

Nootka Sound NASA
Nootka Sound, marked by a red square on a NASA map of Vancouver Island
Man of Nootka Sound
John Webber's Man of Nootka Sound


A Native of King Georges Sound
John Webber's "A Native of King George's Sound", drawing published in a 1783 book about Captain James Cook
John Webber's 'The launching of the North West America Ships of Meares at Nootka Sound in 1788
'Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, oil on canvas painting by John Webber, c. 1788, Te Papa
John Webber's 'Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, c. 1788

The inlet is part of the traditional territory of the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth people. They called it Mowichat.[2] John R. Jewitt is an Englishman who describes the area in some detail in a memoir about his years as a captive of chief Maquinna from 1802 to 1805.

European exploration and trade

On August 8, 1774, the Spanish Navy ship Santiago, under Juan Pérez, entered and anchored in the inlet. Although the Spanish did not land, natives paddled to the ship to trade furs for abalone shells from California.[3] Pérez named the entrance to Nootka Sound Surgidero de San Lorenzo. The word surgidero means "source". When Esteban José Martinez arrived in 1789 he gave Nootka Sound the name Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nuca. The Spanish establishment established at Friendly Cove he gave the name Santa Cruz de Nuca.[4]

In March 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy landed on Bligh Island and named the inlet "King George's Sound". He recorded that the native name was Nutka or Nootka, apparently misunderstanding his conversations at Friendly Cove/Yuquot; his informant may have been explaining that he was on an island (itchme nutka, a place you can "go around"). There may also have been confusion with Nuu-chah-nulth, the natives' autonym (name for themselves). It may also have simply been based on Cook’s mis-pronunciation of Yuquot, the native name of the place.[5] The earlier Spanish and British names for the Sound swiftly went out of use.

At the time, the Spanish monopolized the trade between Asia and North America, and had granted limited licenses to the Portuguese. The Russians had established a growing fur trading system in Alaska. The Spanish began to challenge the Russians, with Pérez's voyage being the first of many to the Pacific Northwest.[6] The British also became increasingly active in the region.

The next European to visit Nootka Sound after James Cook was the British trader James Hanna in August 1785. Hanna traded iron bars for furs. He sold the furs in China for a handsome profit,[7] beginning an era of the Maritime Fur Trade.

Nootka Crisis

Starting in 1774 Spain sent several expeditions to Alaska to assert its long-held claim over the Pacific Northwest which dated back to the 16th century. During the decade 1785–1795 British merchants, encouraged by Sir Joseph Banks and supported by their government, made a sustained attempt to develop British fur trade in the area, despite Spain's claims and navigation rights. The endeavours of these merchants did not last long in the face of Spain's opposition. The challenge was also opposed by a Japan holding obdurately to national seclusion.[8] In 1789 Spain sent Sub-Lieutenant Esteban José Martinez, commanding Princesa and San Carlos, to enforce Spanish sovereignty and defend its claims. He arrived in February 1789 and established a settlement and built Fort San Miguel. The ship Iphigenia Nubiana, under Captain William Douglas and owned by John Meares, was impounded[9] and two other British ships, including Princess Royal, were seized by the Spanish Navy. Two American ships in the area were allowed to sail as the United States was Spain's ally (Spain had helped the US in its War of Independence). However, the American ship Fair American, under Thomas Humphrey Metcalfe, was seized and taken to San Blas, before being released. The capture of the British ships led to the Nootka Crisis and near war between Britain and Spain. The British challenged Spanish claims to allegedly "un-colonized" land on the Pacific coasts of North and South America. The first Nootka Convention (1790) gave both countries the right to settle along the Pacific coasts, interrupting the Spanish monopoly for the first time in over two centuries. The British quickly sponsored the Vancouver Expedition of exploration. Difficulties in implementing the terms led to a second, and then a third Nootka Convention (1794).[10]

The Nootka Sound controversy also played a part in the French Revolution. The Spanish Bourbon monarchy asked for French support in the dispute in the event that it led to war between Spain and Great Britain. The French Bourbon king Louis XVI wanted to back Spain against Great Britain, but his right to enter France into an alliance on his own prerogative was disputed by the National Assembly. The Assembly maintained that the King's right to determine foreign policy and declare war was subject to the sovereignty of the people. Eventually the Assembly ruled that a proposal for a declaration of war could be initiated by the king, but had to be ratified by the Assembly; this was a major blow to the monarchy.

Thomas Muir

The Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir had been banished to Port Jackson in Botany Bay in Australia for 14 years for the crime of sedition in 1793. He managed to escape having only spent 13 months there, on board the American merchant ship Otter. After a highly adventurous voyage across the as yet largely uncharted Pacific Ocean to Vancouver Island, Otter finally dropped anchor in Nootka Sound on 22 June 1796.

In conversation with José Tovar, the piloto (master) of Sutil, a Spanish vessel at anchor in the Nootka Sound, Muir learned to his dismay of the presence in neighbouring waters of HMS Providence, the British sloop-of-war under William Robert Broughton. This vessel had visited Port Jackson in Australia shortly before Muir’s escape and, since Broughton had almost certainly become acquainted with the captain or members of the crew, his life was now in real danger.

To be captured while under sentence of transportation meant immediate execution. Once again Muir’s extraordinary luck held out. While a student at Glasgow, he had acquired a fluent command of Spanish and he was now able to persuade Tovar to break his regulations regarding the admission of foreigners into Spanish territory. Changing vessels he sailed with Tovar down the Pacific West Coast to the port of Monterey in Spanish Las Californias.

The chronicles of Pierre François Péron describe Muir's escape from Australia and the voyage across the Pacific to Nootka Sound, and then as far as Monterey, California.

Nootka Sound has not been the scene of any major international disagreements in modern history.[9][11] It is mentioned in the former unofficial national anthem of English-speaking Canada, "The Maple Leaf Forever", to represent the western extent of Canada's "fair dominion".

In popular culture

Nootka Sound is referred to in the fictional 2017 BBC One drama Taboo.

See also


  1. ^ "Port Cox". BC Geographical Names.
  2. ^ Naish, John (1996). The Interwoven Lives of George Vancouver, Archibald Menzies, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget: The Vancouver Voyage of 1791–1795. The Edward Mellen Press, Ltd. ISBN 0-7734-8857-X.
  3. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-88894-279-6.
  4. ^ Tovell, Freeman M. (2008). At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco De La Bodega Y Quadra. University of British Columbia Press. pp. 14, 202. ISBN 978-0-7748-1367-9.
  5. ^ Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, translated by John Black, Vol. 2, London, Longman, 1822, translator’s note, p.322.
  6. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-88894-279-6.
  7. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. p. 13. ISBN 0-88894-279-6.
  8. ^ Robert J. King, "'The long wish'd for object' — Opening the trade to Japan, 1785–1795", The Northern Mariner / le marin du nord, vol.XX, no.1, January 2010, pp.1–35.
  9. ^ a b "The Nootka Incident". Canadian Military History Gateway. 2005. Archived from the original on October 18, 2006. Retrieved 2005-03-25.
  10. ^ Robert J. King, “George Vancouver and the contemplated settlement at Nootka Sound”, The Great Circle, vol.32, no.1, 2010, pp.3–30.
  11. ^ "Timeline of Nanaimo (PDF)" (PDF). City of Nanaimo. 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
  12. ^ Environment CanadaCanadian Climate Normals 1971–2000, accessed 12 August 2012


  • Harboard, Heather. Nootka Sound and the Surrounding Waters of Maquinna. Surrey: Heritage House Publishing Company Limited, 1996. ISBN 1-895811-03-1.
  • Jones, Laurie. Nootka Sound Explored. Campbell River: Ptarmigan Press, 1991. ISBN 0-919537-24-3.
  • Manning, William Ray. The Nootka Sound Controversy. Part XVI of the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1904, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905, pp. 279–478. Reprint: Ann Arbor: University Microfilms Inc., 1966.
  • Jewitt, John Rodgers (1896). The adventures of John Jewitt: only survivor of the crew of the ship, Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the Indians of Nootka Sound in Vancouver Island. Clement Wilson.Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection
  • King, Robert J. "'A regular and reciprocal System of Commerce' — Botany Bay, Nootka Sound, and the isles of Japan", The Great Circle (Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History) vol.19, no.1, 1997, pp. 1–29.
  • King, Robert J. "William Bolts and the Austrian Origins of the Lapérouse Expedition", Terrae Incognitae, vol.40, 2008, pp. 1–28; presented at the Canadian Nautical Research Society Conference, Churchill, Manitoba, 2–7 August 2007.

External links

Coordinates: 49°41′N 126°33′W / 49.683°N 126.550°W

Ehattesaht First Nation

The Ehattesaht First Nation or ʔiiḥatisatḥ činax̣int is a First Nations government based on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra, or simply Esteban José Martínez (1742–1798) was a Spanish navigator and explorer, native of Seville. He was a key figure in the Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest.

Fort San Miguel

Fort San Miguel was a Spanish fortification at Yuquot (formerly Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island, just west of north-central Vancouver Island. It protected the Spanish settlement, called Santa Cruz de Nuca, the first colony in British Columbia.

Francisco de Eliza

Francisco de Eliza y Reventa (1759 – February 19, 1825) was a Spanish naval officer, navigator, and explorer. He is remembered mainly for his work in the Pacific Northwest. He was the commandant of the Spanish post in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, and led or dispatched several exploration voyages in the region, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.

Gold River, British Columbia

Gold River is a village municipality located close to the geographic centre of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. In terms of the Island's human geography it is considered to be part of the "North Island", even though it technically is on the Island's west coast.

James Colnett

James Colnett (1753 – 1 September 1806) was an officer of the British Royal Navy, an explorer, and a maritime fur trader. He served under James Cook during Cook's second voyage of exploration. Later he led two private trading expeditions that involved collecting sea otter pelts in the Pacific Northwest of North America and selling them in Canton, China, where the British East India Company maintained a trading post. Wintering in the recently discovered Hawaiian Islands was a key component of the new trade system. Colnett is remembered largely for his involvement in the Nootka Crisis of 1789—initially a dispute between British traders and the Spanish Navy over the use of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island that became an international crisis that led Britain and Spain to the brink of war before being peacefully resolved through diplomacy and the signing of the Nootka Conventions.

Due to Colnett's central role in the initial incident that sparked the international crisis, Colnett's account of his second fur trading voyage, including the events at Nootka Sound in 1789, was published in 1940, as part of the Champlain Society's General Series. His first trading voyage journal remained unpublished until 2005.

John Meares

John Meares (c. 1756 – 1809) was a navigator, explorer, and maritime fur trader, best known for his role in the Nootka Crisis, which brought Britain and Spain to the brink of war.

Luna (killer whale)

Luna (September 19, 1999 – March 10, 2006) also known as L98 or Tsu'xiit, was a killer whale (orca) born in Puget Sound. After being separated from his mother while still young, Luna spent five years in Nootka Sound, off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Although Luna was healthy and his presence in the area delighted tourists and drew a large number of paparazzi, there were concerns that his behavior was endangering people. After years of debate, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) authorized an effort in June 2004 to capture Luna and place him in captivity. However, the plan was ultimately thwarted by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations, who said they believed Luna was a reincarnation of a former chief. The orca was killed by a tugboat in 2006. His story is told in the 2011 documentary film The Whale, the 2013 book The Lost Whale, and the 2016 podcast "Our Americana: Gold River, BC".


For the underwater mud volcano, see Maquinna (volcano).Maquinna (also transliterated Muquinna, Macuina, Maquilla) was the chief of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Nootka Sound, during the heyday of the maritime fur trade in the 1780s and 1790s on the Pacific Northwest Coast. The name means "possessor of pebbles". His people are today known as the Mowachaht and reside today with their kin, the Muchalaht, at Gold River, British Columbia, Canada.

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations are a First Nations government on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations are a member nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which spans all Nuu-chah-nulth-aht peoples (incorrectly known as "Nootka") except for the Pacheedaht First Nation.

Their main reserve is at Gold River, British Columbia but the Mowachaht are originally from Yuquot on Nootka Sound, known to history as Friendly Cove, scene of the Nootka Incident and, later, the negotiations and eventual implementation of the Nootka Conventions between Britain and Spain, hosted by the Mowachaht chief Maquinna.

Nootka Convention

The Nootka Sound Conventions were a series of three agreements between the Kingdom of Spain and the Kingdom of Great Britain, signed in the 1790s, which averted a war between the two empires over overlapping claims to portions of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. The inhabitants of the region were not consulted by either European kingdom.

Nootka Crisis

The Nootka Crisis, also known as the Spanish Armament, was an international incident and political dispute between the Spanish Empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the fledgling United States of America triggered by a series of events that took place during the summer of 1789 at Nootka Sound in present-day British Columbia, Canada. Spanish coastguards seized some British commercial ships engaged in the fur trade at an uncolonized coastline area to which Spain claimed ownership. Britain rejected the Spanish claims and used its greatly superior naval power to threaten a war and win the dispute. Spain, a rapidly fading military power, was unable to depend upon its longtime ally, France, which was in the throes of the French Revolution.

Nootka Sound is a network of inlets on the west coast of Vancouver Island, today part of Canada's British Columbia. The crisis revolved around sovereignty claims and rights of navigation and trade. Between 1774 and 1789, Spain sent several expeditions to the Pacific Northwest to reassert its long-held navigation and territorial claims to the area. By 1776, these expeditions had reached as far north as Bucareli Bay and Sitka Sound. Territorial rights were asserted according to acts of sovereignty – customary of the time.

However, some years later, several British fur-trading vessels entered the area to which Spain had laid claim. A complex series of events led to these British vessels being seized by the Spanish Navy at Nootka Sound. When the news reached Europe, Britain requested compensation, and the Spanish government refused. Both sides prepared for war and sought assistance from allies. The crisis was resolved peacefully but with difficulty through a set of three agreements, known collectively as the Nootka Conventions (1790–95). British subjects were then enabled to trade up to ten leagues from parts of the coast already occupied by Spain and could form trade-related settlements in unoccupied areas. Spain surrendered to Britain many of its trade and territorial claims in the Pacific, ending a two hundred-year monopoly on Asian-Pacific trade. The outcome was a victory for the mercantile interests of Britain and opened the way to British expansion in the Pacific. Spain no longer played a role north of California and transferred its historic claims to the United States in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819.

Nootka Island

Nootka Island (French: île Nootka) is an island adjacent to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is 510 square kilometres (200 sq mi) in area. It is separated from Vancouver Island by Nootka Sound and its side-inlets, and is located within Electoral Area A of the Strathcona Regional District.

Europeans named the island after a Nuu-chah-nulth language word meaning "go around, go around". They likely thought the natives were referring to the island itself. The Spanish and later English applied the word to the island and the sound, thinking they were naming both after the people.In the 1980s, the First Nations peoples in the region created the collective autonym of Nuu-chah-nulth, a term that means "along the outside (of Vancouver Island)". An older term for this group of peoples was "Aht", which means "people" in their language and is a component in all the names of their subgroups, and of some locations (e.g. Yuquot, Mowachaht, Kyuquot, Opitsaht etc.).

Nuchatlaht First Nation

The Nuchatlaht First Nation is a First Nations government based on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Princess Royal (sloop)

Princess Royal was a British merchant ship that sailed on fur trading ventures in the late 1780s, and was captured at Nootka Sound by Esteban José Martínez of Spain during the Nootka Crisis of 1789. Called Princesa Real while under the Spanish Navy, the vessel was one of the important issues of negotiation during the first Nootka Convention and the difficulties in carrying out the agreements. The vessel also played an important role in both British and Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. In 1790, while under Spanish control, Princesa Real carried out the first detailed examination of the Strait of Juan de Fuca by non-indigenous peoples, finding, among other places, the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait (the entrance to the Strait of Georgia), Esquimalt Harbour near present-day Victoria, British Columbia, and Admiralty Inlet (the entrance to Puget Sound).

Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest

Spanish claims to the West Coast of North America date to the papal bull of 1493, and the Treaty of Tordesillas. In 1513, this claim was reinforced by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean, when he claimed all lands adjoining this ocean for the Spanish Crown. Spain only started to colonize the claimed territory north of present-day Mexico in the 18th century, when it settled the northern coast of Las Californias (California).

Starting in the mid-18th century, Spain's claim began to be challenged in the form of British and Russian fur trading and colonization. King Charles III of Spain and his successors sent a number of expeditions from New Spain to present-day Canada and Alaska between 1774 and 1793, to counter the threat of Russian and British colonizers and to strengthen the Spanish claim. During this period of history it was important for a nation's claims to be backed up by exploration and the "first European discovery" of particular places.


Tahsis is a village municipality on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, about 300 km or 185 miles (by air) northwest of the provincial capital Victoria at 49°55′33″N 126°37′16″W. As of 2011, the Canadian census listed 316 residents, a decline from the 2006 Census count of 366 residents. The Village of Tahsis economy used to be dependent on forestry, but after the closure of the local sawmill in 2001, the economy became heavily dependent on sport fishing for salmon and halibut, outdoor recreation and tourism.

The village is situated at the head of the steep-sided Tahsis Inlet (part of Nootka Sound). The inlet is protected from Pacific storms by its geography, making the docking facilities a valuable asset.

In Tahsis' heyday the population was roughly 2,500. With the closure and dismantling of the mill the population declined to 892, according to the 2001 census.

Vancouver Expedition

The Vancouver Expedition (1791–1795) was a four-and-a-half-year voyage of exploration and diplomacy, commanded by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy. The British expedition circumnavigated the globe and made contact with five continents. The expedition at various times included between two and four vessels, and up to 153 men, all but six of whom returned home safely.


Yuquot , also known as Fort San Miguel or Friendly Cove, is a small settlement of around six people - The Williams family of the Mowachaht band, plus two full-time lighthouse keepers, located on Nootka Island in Nootka Sound, just west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It was the summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht (Nuu-chah-nulth) people for generations, housing approximately 1,500 natives in 20 traditional wooden longhouses. The name means "Wind comes from all directions" in Nuu-chah-nulth.

The community is located within the Strathcona Regional District but like all Indian Reserve communities is not governed by nor represented in the regional district. The Mowchaht/Muchalaht First Nations are rather part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which unites the governments of the indigenous communities of the Island's West Coast.

The Canadian government declared Friendly Cove a National Historic Site in 1923, with recognition of the significance of the Spanish colonial settlement that was once there and First Nations history following in 1997.

Climate data for Nootka Lightstation
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18.5
Average high °C (°F) 7
Average low °C (°F) 3.3
Record low °C (°F) −6.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 438.1
Source: Environment Canada[12]
Coastal features
Former colonies and territories in Canada
English and

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