Newcastle Island nominated for historical status

NANAIMO – Newcastle Island Society nominates island to be recognized as landscape of national significance.

Newcastle Island could be on its way to becoming recognized as a national historical site.

The Newcastle Island Society submitted its nomination, which took about 18 months to prepare, to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in late November, to hopefully earn the island the same status granted to the Pacific Biological Station in 2011.

Bill Merilees, society secretary, said the society asked for five letters of support from the B.C. government, Nanaimo Historical Society, the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, which endorsed the proposal, and the Snuneymuxw First Nation from which a letter of support is still pending.

The society did not contact the Canadian Pacific Railway, which purchased the island to create a resort in 1930. The company sold the island to the City of Nanaimo in 1995, which in turn sold it to the province in 1960.

Newcastle Island today is a provincial marine park.

Merilees said a national historical site designation doesn’t really give it any additional protections or other status, other than there will likely be a plaque placed on site, similar to one found at the Pacific Biological Station and other sites in Nanaimo, to explain the island’s cultural and historical significance.

“It doesn’t convey any formal development,” Merilees said. “There’s no money attached to this. It’s simply giving it recognition that this has merit as a national historical site.”

The nomination application included a detailed 34-page report chronicling the island’s historical significance to the Nanaimo region before and after the arrival of European settlers and could take about two years before the official designation is granted.

Merilees said Newcastle Island has major cultural and historic significance to the development of Nanaimo and Canada’s West Coast.

Archeological surveys on Newcastle Island have even pinpointed the location of a Hudson Bay Company village created in the early 1850s, prior to settlement in Nanaimo.

“The discovery of coal was incredibly important,” Merilees said. “It forced the Hudson Bay Company to change their model of dealing in furs only.”