“Bay of Rest’ is the loose translation for the name of the most familiar bay on the island to most Gabriola residents. The MV Quinsam pulls into Descanso Bay 16 times a day, and residents around Descanso Valley make good use of the beach access there at the foot of Harrison Way. Much of the land in that area was owned by one of the original settling families here – the Easthoms.
One local historian and anthropologist theorized that some of the first humans to come to Gabriola landed in the little inlet next to the ferry, since it offered shelter, water and food, and was close to Vancouver Island. It is a nice little spot on a hot day – or a windy one, and those waiting in the ferry line often wander down to the shady little bay with their dogs.
For many years, there was a public dock in that little bay – just next to the ferry dock. It was the only public dock on the entire North end of the island and was used regularly by locals and by visiting boaters from Nanaimo. As the story goes, a ‘storm’ took out the dock one windy night – although reliable sources suggest that is indeed a story, and it was the ferry that crashed into the dock during a particularly bad landing. All that remained of the old dock were the pilings that held it in place, and when a local man applied to the federal government – under a harbour renewal program – to replace the dock, a new ‘float’ was built by Canada Works. It made perfect sense to have a public dock there, for boaters safety and for the convenience of islanders when the ferry was out of service. It was built and ready to be installed, when BC Ferries got wind of the plan and hired a pile-driving company from Nanaimo to come and pull out the pilings that were to hold the small new float in place. Apparently they did not want to risk running into the dock again, and removing the dock was easier than using due care and attention when docking the ferry. Since the federal funding was not sufficient to replace pilings, the new float was never installed, and languished in Degnan Bay for years. Eventually another dock was installed – for emergency service use only. It should be for public ‘transient’ use just as it was for many years.
Looking at charts and maps (and Google Earth now) it is hard to imagine that the name ‘Descanso Bay’ was given to a large stretch of Gabriola’s shoreline – from the point at the end of Eastholm Road all the way to Malaspina Point. Between those two points there are several bays and inlets and coves and points – all with their own local names – names that may not show up on mainstream maps.
When the Regional District ended up with some beautiful land – including the former Credit Union Campground – they didn’t bother to consult the locals about the name of the bays or points included in the park, or even check their records to see which generous Gabriola pioneer (McDougall is the name I found) had originally given the land to the Credit Union – with the intention of it becoming park. Neither did they consider that Descanso Bay is universally perceived to be where the ferry lands – over 2km away! With two beautiful coves, many other fine features, and a colourful history, the park was named ’Descanso Bay Regional Park’. (Well…it is in the region of Descanso Bay…) Perhaps a local initiative will someday correct this typically careless bureaucratic misnomer. As it is, many locals still refer to the park as ‘the campgrounds’. Regardless of the name…it is a very nice place to explore, from the bays and beaches to the biking/hiking trails across Taylor Bay Road.