Two new mooring buoys have been installed in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve at D’Arcy Island, between Sidney and Victoria in Haro Strait.

D’Arcy Island Marine Park is a tiny 83-hectare park that was once used as a leper colony, and now invites visitors ashore to explore its interesting but sad past. The new mooring buoys will enhance access as anchoring is difficult due to rocks and kelp, with tidal currents and winds complicating matters. Day visitors may tie up free of charge while visiting. For overnight use, the cost is $14 per night from May 15 to Sept 30 and the maximum number of days per calendar year is 14. Day use is free.

The park offers seven wilderness/walk-in campsites, picnic tables and a pit toilet. All services are available in nearby Sidney. Little D’Arcy Island to the east is private property, please respect it. 

The BC Marine Parks Forever Society (MPFS) funded the project, which has been fulfilled by Parks Canada. MPFS has existed for 30 years and has contributed to the acquisition of desirable anchorages that have expanded the wonderful system of marine parks in BC that many boaters enjoy today. Additionally, MPFS has enhanced environmental protection and improved safety.

History of D’Arcy Island

D’Arcy Island is a part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is one of Canada’s newest national parks. The park protects a portion of British Columbia’s beautiful southern Gulf Islands — a landscape of rocky headlands, forested hills and shorelines studded with colorful tide pools. The park resembles a patchwork quilt of protected lands scattered over 15 larger islands, and many smaller islets and reefs.

From 1894 until 1924, the island was used as a leper colony. Many tried to escape, but few survived. Although the buildings were demolished, ruins of the facilities are still visible. In 1961, D’Arcy Island was established as a marine park.

The island’s infamous legacy began when Victoria’s police and health officers conducted one of their routine sweeps through Chinatown in 1891. Hidden in a small shack behind a store on Fisgard Street, officials found five huddled men bearing obvious signs of leprosy. Victoria’s municipal government responded by quickly gaining provincial support to expropriate D’Arcy Island and turn it into a leper colony.

For the next 33 years the tiny islet was used as an isolated colony for 49 people, all men, and all but one Chinese. The city constructed a six-unit rowhouse for them to live in, and later, some of the leper residents erected separate shacks of their own.

Their only contact with the outside world was a visit from a supply ship. Every three months it dropped off food, clothing and other supplies — including coffins. They fetched water for their homes from about 70 meters away and cleared and planted a garden about one acre in size. The Chinese had a cultural organization and a structure that allowed them to live in a co-operative way and care for each other right up to the time they died and were buried.

D’Arcy Island finally ended as a leper colony in 1924, when the federal government shut it down and moved the remaining residents to Bentinck Island near Race Rocks, and closer to medical quarantine facilities, which operated until 1957. In the 1960’s the federal government sent workers to D’Arcy Island to burn the remains of the leper’s houses.

Editor’s note: Information courtesy of BC Marine Parks Forever Society and Feature image courtesy of Parks Canada