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Saving the Wrecks

The West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail stretches for 80 kilometers along a treacherous section of southern Vancouver Island’s west coast. Now loved by hikers, it was originally built between Port Renfrew and Bamfield to assist shipwreck victims.

The trail cuts along a stormy and unforgiving coastal region that has claimed countless ships and the lives of many. Some of Canada’s most notorious shipwrecks happened there, including the Valencia. Sadly, making it to shore alive was no guarantee of survival, for if you managed to survive the horror of the wreck and the breakers, you still faced an impenetrable rainforest and a cold desolate beach obscured by fog.

Often the only help for survivors were local First Nations people who would provide passage to one of the three lighthouses in the area. The lighthouses were connected to the Bamfield telegraph line that ran to Victoria. This was often the only way of summoning much needed supplies and medical attention.

By 1907, the public outcry about the dangers of this coast was enough to force the Federal Government to act. After the terror of the Valencia wreck was revealed in an inquiry, the Coast Guard created life saving shacks along the shoreline at intervals of 8 kilometers, following the telegraph line. Each station was equipped with access to the line and written instructions on how to use it in several languages. Blankets and other provisions and directional information were also provided.

Today, the West Coast Trail is part of the Pacific Rim National Park and recreational divers often explore the remains of the infamous wrecks along this stretch of living history.

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