HISTORY OF JENNIS BAY
The following is a very brief history of Jennis Bay gathered from various sources. We hope to update this page regularly as new, interesting and often exciting facts are uncovered. A lot of this information comes from those who were a part of this history and experienced at least some of it first-hand.
The Gwawaenuk First Nation Indian band has a long history with Jennis Bay and the Drury Inlet areas, visiting and sometimes living in the region. There are many sites of cultural significance but none more so than what locals call the “Indian Island”. An incredible shell and historic fish harvest midden near the salmon spawning stream – right near the center of Jennis Bay. Many years ago a cabin was erected on the island but today the remnants of that cabin have been long lost to time and vegetation.
Sir Frances Drake was rumored to have made a small expedition through the
Stewart Narrows in 1579. Although there is no known document to add veracity to that story it would certainly have been possible. Drake explored the Broughtons during his ‘Pacific and west coast of America’ voyages from 1579–80, during which he went all the way up to Alaska and back again.
It was another 200 years before another European officially explored the British Columbian coast. Captain James Cook landed on the east coast of Vancouver Island in April 1778 and made extensive explorations in and around the Broughtons on his way up to Alaska and back again.
However, it was Captain George Vancouver whose many expeditions in and around the Boughtons from 1792 to 1795 uncovered the beauty and value of the area. He is credited with at least one trip though Stuart Narrows, past Jennis Bay and up as far as the entrance to Tsibass Lagoon. An unbelievable journey, considering the boats and knowledge of the time. So officially – and probably true – Captain Vancouver – or at least some of his crew – were the first white men (other than anonymous trappers and explorers) to see Jennis Bay between 1772 and 1795.
Fast forward another 100 years to the late 1800’s and large logging crews were working out of Jennis Bay and constructing roads to the magnificent Huaskin Lake. Trestled roads and railroads were constructed from the two outlets of Huaskin Lake to the ocean. One from Embly Lagoon and the other to the shorter easier outlet at the far west end of Huaskin Lake, where it drains by way of a beautiful waterfall into the entry of Tsibass Lagoon.
Jennis Bay was originally a site for several big logging operations, with surveys dating back as far as the late 1800s. There are still many visible remnants of what was once a wooden or corduroy road, made in the 1930s for transporting logs from the nearby Huaskin Lake to the ocean with large hard-tired logging trucks. Much of the old logging structures can still be seen in the Embly Lagoon headwaters on Huaskin Lake. It’s a fascinating history that can still be explored today. We have photos of many of these locations that you can see by clicking here.
A ‘very’ formal camp was built in the late 1940s and ‘50s in Jennis Bay by the Welwood Logging company. Over 35 buildings were erected and they housed more than 80 people. With its stately water tower, main electric generating plant, street lamps, cookhouse, motor pool, worker’s quarters, family housing and executive cabins, the camp quickly began to resemble a town of the time. What they left behind were 10’s of thousands of pieces of fallen cedar logs, undesirable, and left to drift aimlessly around the lake. Cedar was often just wood that got in the way while logging the prime timber of the time, fir and spruce.
It was in 1975 that Jerry Major stepped in with the vision of securing the abandoned property at Jennis Bay and begin salvaging the abandoned cedar logs in Huaskin Lake. He accomplished this by setting up a shake-block and sawmill facility at the lake landing site. The processed cedar shakes and blocks were then shipped to the Vancouver markets. Parts of this 1970s operation is documented in the book, Flights of the Coast Dog, by floatplane pilot Jack Schoefield. A book that you can still find at many book and gift shops along Vancouver Island. Jack relates well about the entourage of the Jerry and Kay Major family, which consisted of 9 children plus dogs and cats.
During the 1970s, and especially after the untimely death of Jerry Major in April 1983, the Jennis Bay Logging camp was slowly disassembled by the directives of the British Columbian Provincial Government in a bid to return the site to its original pristine condition.
While the era of logging giants is over, BC Timber Sales has periodically offered sufficiently re-grown blocks for bid by smaller companies, such as Olsen’s logging Camp. Alongside the traditional logging operations, we have Jim Turnbull’s Helicopter Logging Salvage operations. Jennis Bay has continued to be a staging area for the lumber industry and where there once stood a large loading dock, there is now a “log sort” of crushed rock, complete with two ramp areas for delivery of equipment by barge.
1980s – 1990s
By the time the 1980s rolled in, there were only two cabins remaining on the point, both inhabited by a prawn fisherman, Milan Pessika, and his family. Milan was Jerry Major’s partner for a time and he was the first to secure the official “License of Occupation” for the purpose of running a commercial resort.
Milan’s daughter, Rebecca, has become a renowned artist, famous for her paintings of the serene Jennis Bay. Her artwork is sold in several galleries in British Columbia. Rebecca still visits Jennis Bay every year during prawning season, to keep an eye on her family’s prawning business, which she’s taken over since her father’s retirement.
The resort licenses were ultimately sold in 1994 to June Schultz, the prior operator of the Dalewood Inn Restaurant in Port McNeill. June was the first to begin the official resort operations in Jennis Bay, allowing boat moorage, cabin rentals, restaurant dining and Huaskin Lake excursions for guests.
In 2000, the cabin that housed June’s restaurant was devastated by a fire. In 2002, June tragically died and the Jennis Bay Resort Licenses and assets were sold by her estate.
The principals of the new company that took over the licenses from June lived on a seasonal basis at Sullivan Bay, a floating resort about 25 kilometers east of Jennis Bay. They held the licenses for just a few years and after much consideration they sold the Licenses of Occupation to Allyson and Peter Major.
2004 – 2011
Since the passing of Jerry Major in 1983, his children had longed to return to Jennis Bay, a place that still holds enchantment, adventure and a proud family legacy.
When the licenses came up for sale in 2004, the Major family were quick to purchase them. With a combined effort and generous financial backing from the eldest son, Peter, some of his friends and the youngest child, Allyson, as well as her employer Carol Stephan, the deal was closed on December 6, 2004.
A few months later, on 16 May 2005 (Peter’s Birthday), Allyson relocated her whole family from Kellogg, Idaho to begin building, managing and taking care of Jennis Bay and all its visitors.
During the summer of 2005, the family established a tradition, a reunion that has taken place every summer since. Jerry’s wife, Kay and many of the children returned to Jennis Bay to visit and reminisce about the past and dream about the possibilities of the future. Often these dreams took root as an integral part of this pristine holiday destination.
Allyson and her family developed and managed the marina from 2005 to 2011. Allyson’s sister, Kim and her husband, Kent, took on the responsibility of managing the marina from September 2011 through to September 2014.
Jerry Major was born in Manitoba, Canada on 29 December 1926 to Ukrainian and Prussian immigrant parents. His family moved to New Westminster BC in the early 1930’s. Jerry grew up there and spent most of his teens and 20’s working at various logging camps and sawmills in the southern British Columbia area.
In 1954 he met his future wife, Kay, while he was visiting Seattle. Barely 2 weeks later they were married and living in a logging camp back in the forests of British Columbia. Over the next 6 years Jerry and Kay had 5 children before moving to Kellogg, Idaho, Kay’s home town in 1961 where Jerry began a construction and eventually a mining business.
The couple had 4 more children in Kellogg. But in 1976 Jerry came to Jennis Bay, where he lived and worked until his death in early April 1983, his talented and vibrant life cut short by advanced cancer.
His time in Jennis Bay (1975-1983) touched many lives, not only those of his immediate family, but also the boaters who visited and the loggers and locals he met along the way. His lively character and enthusiasm, his unbelievable energy and woodsman and artistic skills will be remembered, not only by his family, but as an important part of the history of Jennis Bay. His love, passion and contribution towards Jennis Bay will be shared with all who pass through these waters.