Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is a jewel in Nanaimo’s harbour where a 10-minute ferry ride delivers nature seekers from the city’s noise and hectic pace and into an oasis of sun-warmed beaches and hiking trails through forests, campgrounds and historic sites. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Newcastle Island is Nanaimo Harbour’s feel-good place

Hiking, camping, photography, swimming, wildlife watching, kayaking and more awaits visitors

Saysutshun in the Snuneymuxw Hul’qumi’num dialect means “training for running.”

For thousands of years, Newcastle Island to the Snuneymuxw people has been and is still Saysutshun, a place where competitive canoe pullers ran the island’s trails to build strength and endurance, where people collected medicinal herbs and a place where their people retreated to recover spiritually and emotionally from life’s traumas.

Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park – Saysutshun – was and is a ‘feel-good’ place, a jewel in Nanaimo’s harbour where a 10-minute ferry ride delivers nature seekers from the city’s noise and hectic pace and into an oasis of sun-warmed beaches and hiking trails through forests of Garry oak, maple, Douglas fir and arbutus, campgrounds and historic sites.

The waters surrounding Newcastle Island’s shores are a mecca for kayakers and scuba divers and each summer dozens of watercraft from B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest tie up mooring buoys in the sheltered waters of Mark Bay or at the island’s docks.

Whether it’s a day excursion to the island, a weekend of camping, a family reunion or company picnic, the island has the amenities to ensure a pleasant stay, thanks in part to legacies from the Island’s 20th century history.

Newcastle Island was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company in 1931 to operate a resort. The dance pavilion the company built still operates a cafeteria, small convenience store for campers and visitors, and is a multipurpose centre for weddings, parties and other social functions.

The island’s 363 hectares encompass a long span of history. First Nations people maintained villages dating back several thousand years. After the arrival of Europeans, Newcastle Island became home to a Japanese herring saltery, shipyard and sandstone quarry that provided construction stone for buildings and grinding stones for pulp mills and coal mining operations.

Kanaka Bay is named for Peter Kajua, a Hawaiian immigrant worker, who was tried and hung for murder and buried somewhere near the bay in an unmarked grave in 1869.

Newcastle Island became a provincial park in 1961 and is now managed by Snuneymuxw First Nation.

In February, the Snuneymuxw purchased the water taxi MV Grey Selkie from Victoria Harbour Ferry Company, which provided ferry service for several years between Newcastle Island and Maffeo Sutton Park in downtown Nanaimo.

The Grey Selkie is part of Snuneymuxw First Nation’s economic development plans to provide more employment for its people and revitalize Coast Salish culture on the island. That will depend, in part, on bringing more people to Saysutshun. Lowering the cost to get there will make the island more accessible, so the per-person water taxi fare to the island has been dropped to $5 this year.

Weddings, school excursions, corporate conferences, meetings, wine-and-cheese events and multicultural tours showcasing Snuneymuxw and Canadian history on Saysutshun are part of the First Nation’s short- and long-term economic development plans.

Camping facilities will likely be expanded slightly to handle peak season overflow and the First Nation is also upgrading its electronic point-of-sale system to improve payment options for park services.

To learn more about what to see and do on Newcastle Island, please visit www.newcastleisland.ca.

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