first influx of settlers occurred around 1900 as immigrants began to buy plots
of land for agricultural purposes in the community and other surrounding townships.
The success of these early settlements was largely hampered by the lack of good
agricultural land along with bad weather and rugged topography. Attempts to
develop farming communities at Cape Scott, San Josef Bay, and Sea Otter Cove
proved to be dependent on overland connections to Holberg, which would serve as
the primary point of entry to these communities from the south and the township
of Holberg grew in population.
In 1938, logging started to take off and soon after the first logging camp was
built, the Canadian military selected Holberg as the sight of a new radar
base. Holberg supported a military base with over 1000 residents during
the 50s. Both forestry and military needs would combine to finally justify large
scale road building in the region. By the 1970's, a paved road linked Holberg
with Port Hardy. But the road came too late for those North Island settlers who
were forced to endure seventy years of isolation. Cape Scott, San Josef Bay, and
Sea Otter Cove had ceased to exist as viable communities. All that remained was
the town of Holberg, which itself was on the decline. In 1991 the Radar base was
finally closed down, the logging and forestry operations around Holberg had
already been reduced big time. Today, Holberg is little more then a gas station
and general store on the road to Cape Scott Provincial Park.
Vancouver Island North of Nanaimo remained unsettled by white immigrants up
until around 1881. After the 1884 Land Titles Act, optimistic immigrants began
to stake claims over plots in various regions of the North Island. The settlers
could choose any vacant 160 acre plot , as outlined by government officials. The
first group of immigrants to settle in the Holberg district were the Danes. The
sight was named after Baron Ludwig Holberg, a figure from Danish literature. It
was situated in section 5 of township 32. Four other townships to the Northwest
were set aside for settlement as well. These sites would turn into the
communities of Cape Scott, Sea Otter Cove and San Josef Bay.
At the time of initial settlement, Holberg was extremely isolated. Local travel
was limited to short distances on
forest footpaths. In 1896, the government completed a road connecting Port Hardy
to the southern island. After 1896 Settlers could sail down Holberg Inlet to
Coal Harbor and then clamber 45 km over a rugged pack trail to reach Port Hardy
on the east coast. The coastal communities of Cape Scott, Sea Otter Cove and San
Josef Bay lacking quality harbors for cargo vessels were pleased with this new
shorter route to bring in supplies. Now the flow of goods was primarily overland
to Coal Harbor from Port Hardy and then by ship to Holberg and finally north
on pack trails to the northern communities. At the turn of the century, the
trails connecting these settlements were roughly hewn from the mountainous
countryside, making them impassable by wagon.
The Promise of a Road
During the summer of 1909 a wagon road from Holberg to Cape Scott was started. A
steam donkey engine was off-loaded at the new Holberg wharf and was used to
clear logs from the roadway over the following years. In the fall of 1908 the
first post office was established at Holberg. In 1910 the government began to
install telegraph lines along the trails connecting Holberg, Cape Scott, San
Josef Bay, Sea Otter Cove and Shushartie Bay.
The road building, telegraph installation and creation of post offices created
jobs and brought an influx of hopeful settlers to the region. Settlement spread
outwards form the roadway into the valleys surrounding Holberg and San Josef
The idyllic dream of an agricultural Eden at the northern tip of Vancouver
Island never materialized. Immigrants were faced with too many obstacles from
Mother Nature. Average rainfall is over 400 cm per year and winter storms
frequently pound the coast with winds up to 150 km. By the late 30s, there were
few families left and the land was being reclaimed by nature.
Large Scale logging operations began in the Holberg area in 1938 under the BC
Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd. out of Vancouver. Hemlock, Spruce and Balsam were
harvested from company land surrounding Holberg Inlet and transported by boom to
a large BC Pulp & Paper mill at Port Alice, on the southeast arm of Quatsino
Sound. In 1942 the first floating housing buildings were towed into camp. At
this time Holberg had only a combined post office/general store that serviced
the handful of trappers and settlers who still populated the region.
The company camp was built entirely on floating wooden structures. This
construction method allowed segments to be constructed elsewhere and towed by
tugboat into Holberg Inlet. Sections could be easily added or removed in
response to the changing needs of this remote logging community.
By 1948, over 250 men, women and children lived in the Holberg camp, which at
the time made it the largest floating town in the world. The camp was over a
quarter of a mile long with 50 detached buildings. Electricity, hot water, fire
hall, pool hall, store, blacksmith, carpenter, warehouse, cold storage and a
large community hall with seating for 260 were all provided to residents
courtesy of BC Pulp & paper. A camp superintendent took the place of a major.
The nearest police detachment was two hours away in Port Hardy. Gradually the
floating structures became dilapidated as the weather took its toll. Camp
operations began to move ashore in the 1960?s with the building of new
warehouses and bunkhouses for workers. The site of these structures was chosen
near the post office on a tree farm license where little flat land existed.
war threat of air attack from the USSR prompted the federal
government to invest in construction of a radar installation
base at Holberg in 1950. The station was declared operational on
25 April 1954. Up until the road to Port Hardy was completed in
the 1970s, the station was only accessible by Navy ship. Various
small navy vessels plied the waters up and down Holberg Inlet,
transferring supplies and passengers to this military outpost.
Still, the base managed to support a population of 850 people at
its peek. This small community was tight knit. As many amenities
as the government could justify were provided to residents, from
a large community hall to a small library. In 1991, the base was
The 20th century brought some permanent settlement to the region
courtesy of forestry and the military. Transient workers have
moved in and out of the region based on the growth of forestry,
mining and military needs. Roads were built linking Cape
Scott and the San Josef Valley with Port Hardy through Holberg.
Resource extraction and the staple trade proved to be the push
for road building. Though the road now exists, the area remains
Holberg is a great place to set out on a west coast adventure.
There numerous trails that head out in many directions, trails
to Shushartie bay, san Joseph bay and cape Scott, and the
kayaking from here will give you more than you could ever ask
for. The potential for eco tourism in this area is immense and
is just beginning but you just wait, this place will become a
mecca when it gets known more, this could be a good thing for
those who live there but it will bring in more people and
Holberg will lose its privacy.
Wilderness Garden can be found in the forests near Holberg,
Vancouver Island. The gardens were started in 1910 by Brent
Ronning who was attracted to the region by its beauty and of a
promise by the government to build a road that would connect
Port Hardy to Cape Scott. The road was never built and many
settlers pulled up stakes and left the area, but not Brent
Ronning, he continued to live on the property until the early
Brent Ronning cleared over 5 acres of land and planted a
beautiful wilderness garden on these acres. He created this
garden from seeds and clones of exotic plants and trees that
he ordered from all around the world.
He earned his living working as a fisherman and trapper, even
sometimes as a camp cook. But his passion was his garden which
later became known as Ronnings Garden. As the years past, the
garden continued to grow in size and variety. Often people would
stop in to visit while on route to Cape Scott or Raft Cove just
to marvel at the garden.
In the 1970s, Brent passed away and the garden was left
unattended, years of neglect allowed the west coast brush and
trees to grow over the gardens. Eventually the hundreds of
flowers shriveled away and Ronnings Garden almost disappeared.
Some of the locals relished what was happening to the garden and
took up the challenge to bring the gardens back to health again.
Now the gardens are beautiful again, the trails are all cleared
and Brent's legacy is thriving. Check the gardens out when you
visit here and think of the work that was put in to create this
wonder. Some of the locals, after seeing this treasure beginning
to decay, stepped up and began to bring the gardens back to
life. Some of the highlights of Ronnings Garden is the twisted
Monkey Trees. The trees mark the entrance to Brent Ronnings
home. The trails are cleared and meander throughout the historic
way into Holberg, on the east side of Kains Lake, there is an
old Cedar tree snag covered in shoes. It is known as the Shoe
Tree, it was started by hikers who placed their worn out boots
and shoes after hiking to Cape Scott.