Discovering Denman Island

The sun shone brightly, as the lightest touch of wind swayed the treetops of Buckley Bay. Crossing Baynes Sound, it dawned on me that this was a morning borne of dreams. The distant barking of sea lions echoed from the shore, several herons fished silently in the shallows, and almost inevitably, an eagle swooped overhead. It was then that I noticed the leaves of trees had just begun to turn those bright colours of autumn. We were riding the cable ferry to Denman Island, a place that, up until that moment, had only lived in my imagination.

Autumn shores of Baynes Sound
Directions to Denman Island
On the cable ferry to Denman Island, looking back at Buckley Bay with the Beaufort Range behind

The plan was to camp at Fillongley Provincial Park, then spend a couple of days discovering what the island had to offer. I had speculated that midweek in October might just be the quintessential time for a visit, avoiding summer vacation crowds. Fillongley only has space for about a dozen campers, and finding yourself a spot in primetime is by most accounts quite challenging. To note, other accommodation is limited to a handful of bed and breakfast locations, and there are no private campgrounds on Denman Island.


Driftwood on Fillongley Beach

Denman Island, for the uninitiated, lies just off the east coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, which is on Canada’s west coast. It was named by Captain Richards of the British Navy in 1864 for Rear Admiral Joseph Denman, who commanded the Pacific station from 1864 to 1866. The island, by its indigenous name, is known as Sea-dai-aich, and is part of the traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation  .

Fillongley Provincial Park

In the late 1800s, it was a largely undisturbed oasis of towering rainforest and deserted beaches. Today? Well, the island has changed since then, but much of what made it so alluring to early visitors still remains. The permanent population is now just over a thousand people, more in summer, and there are adequate amenities to support both the community and the needs of tourism. The pace of life on Denman is more measured during the fall season, when much of the community revolves around the simpler things. If you want to experience that flavour, just strike up a conversation, hang out at the general store, or drop in on one of the quality small businesses. On the other hand, you really can’t go wrong simply wandering the beaches and parks!

Towering Douglas fir right across from our campsite

The land that comprises Fillongley Provincial Park was donated to the province of British Columbia in 1954 by George D. Beadnell, an Englishman who settled on Denman Island in the late nineteenth century. Not only is the park noted for its old growth forest, but he also planted numerous imported tree species and wildflowers that make the park a highly unique destination. Few signs of Beadnell’s old homestead still remain, but there is a site dedicated to his memory.

Shoreline forest
Hornby Island across the Lambert Channel. It can be reached by another ferry that departs from the southern end of Denman Island

As it happened, the campsite was nearly deserted on the two nights we were there, making our stay very peaceful. The trails nearby were spectacular, with tall stands of old growth forest just waiting to be scouted. I’d been told that the park contained Douglas firs as old as five centuries, and the forest certainly did not disappoint. My son and I spent quite some time exploring the ancient trees and keeping the local Downy Woodpeckers company.

Downy Woodpecker…image from Wikipedia
Douglas fir snag
Twin towers
Western Red Cedar
The understory of this very biodiverse coastal temperate rainforest was very impressive
My son with the monarch of Fillongley’s forest, a Douglas fir around eight feet wide and likely five hundred years old!
The deeply channeled bark of ancient Douglas firs is always compelling

There is, of course, that expansive beach to walk that overlooks the Lambert Channel. Late afternoon hours were spent exploring the beach, which we seemed to have entirely to ourselves. We enjoyed seeing the Coast Mountains, Texada Island, and nearby Hornby Island across the Salish Sea.

Panorama of the Coast Mountains of the Powell River area behind Texada Island
Gorilla (on Rainbow ridge) just to the right of Twin Peak. Rainbow West on the far left with Beartooth in behind. Rainbow East on far right…Peak identification with thanks to Jason Addy

We saw quite a variety of marine life during our stay, if not the whales we had hoped for. California Sea Lions, Steller Sea Lions and Harbour Seals were frequent visitors. Bird life, too, was very abundant, with Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, Pacific Loons, Surf Scoters, and Buffleheads in attendance, just to name a few. In spring, Fillongley Beach is usually alive with a very vibrant herring run, which draws hundreds of Sea Lions to its bounty, not to mention pods of Orcas!

Sunset view of the Coast Mountains. From the left: Slide, Baldy, Beartooth, Twin , rainbow peaks and the massive glacier on Mt Alfred…Peak identification with thanks to Jason Addy (Jason, I hope I got this right!)
A tranquil end to a perfect day. Mt Arrowsmith at right in this photo

It didn’t take me very long to figure out that the east side of Denman Island is well known for its sunrises, which suited me just fine because I always seem to wake early on camping trips. There’s something unsullied about the outset of new days, always giving you that chance for new beginnings.

Canada Geese taking off
Such a wide range of colours!
Overnight, the tide had come in, and receded again
The geese really do love this place!
What a way to begin the day!

After breakfast, we drove down to Boyle Point Provincial Park  so that we could hike the trail, which gives you a view of Chrome Island Lighthouse, sitting just off  the southwest end of Denman Island in Baynes Sound.

Boyle Point protects a fair sized tract of forest which has remained mostly intact over the years, and also serves as habitat for many different species of birds

The forest was alive with the calls of birds as we made our way to the point. Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks are the standouts of this forest, as well as some very secret locations within the many cliffs of the island’s southernmost reaches. I managed also to find several massive Arbutus trees, always attractive with their peeling reddish brown and yellow bark, twisting trunks, and bright green leaves.

Douglas firs in morning light
If you didn’t know the twisting and leaning growth patterns of the Arbutus tree, this cross section of the forest might appear to be quite chaotic
Giant Arbutus that grows along the western cliffs of Boyle Point
And there it is, Chrome Island, with Vancouver Island as a backdrop
A closer look at the popular lighthouse complex

Boyle Point is strictly a day use park where camping is not permitted, but it would be easy to spend an entire day there. Should you walk directly to the lighthouse viewpoint, don’t forget to check out the loop trail to Eagle Rock Viewpoint on your way back!

Eagle Rock Viewpoint. It’s possible for most experienced hikers to explore this area, but we left it for another day this time
Douglas fir near Eagle Rock Viewpoint
The forest floor was covered in Salal
The orange fungus above is called Witches Butter, and below it is a cluster of Bleeding Tooth.

Having tasted the south end of Denman Island, it was time to head north. Along the way, we stopped in at Ima’s Kitchen to pick up a loaf of very fresh whole wheat sourdough bread, which I savoured for the next two days! Eventually, we arrived at Morning Beach Park, where I decided to hike down to the beach while everyone else had lunch.

Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 12.04.16 PM
The map calls it Morning Side Park, but when you get there you’ll discover the signs read Morning Beach Park.


You can’t say they didn’t warn you!
The well constructed stairs that lead down to the beach
It was a welcome place to be!

I’d heard that if you were fortunate enough to reach the north point of Denman Island , that it was possible to walk out to Jáji7em and Kw’ulh Marine Park (aka Sandy Island Marine Park), as long as the tide is low. The park includes several small islets and Sandy Island, which locals also refer to as Tree Island. As I’d not checked the tide charts, I wasn’t able to reach the islands, but the joys of walking the beach left a lasting impression on me.

The seas were as calm as could be
This kayaker was as alone on the water as I was on the beach
This is why you should not  hike along the edge of the Komas Bluffs
Massive collection of driftwood
Well, that’s Sandy Island out there, so I wouldn’t be visiting it today, but I’ll be back someday!

Since I did not meet a single soul on this hike, it seemed as though I was alone in the world, free to take in the nuances of a truly special place. The sandy bluffs, ancient trees, and the towering peaks of the Coast Mountains to the east all added to the experience. Reluctantly, I retraced my footprints in the sand and climbed the stairs up to the bluffs again. Rejoining my family, we all hiked some of the trails above the bluffs, and then I convinced everyone to visit the beach.

Not visible here was the curious Harbour Seal that followed me as I walked the beach
A second visit to the beach for me? Why not?

The second night at Fillongley proved as inspiring as the first. Eagles constantly chattered from the treetops as the day faded toward sunset. The croaks of Pacific Tree Frogs were a constant source of amusement, though try as I might I wasn’t able to locate one of the elusive creatures. Meanwhile, ever raucous Canada Geese were continually landing and departing until the last light finally disappeared. A starry night beside the campfire completed a most enthralling day.

Back at Fillongley Beach in late afternoon
Hornby Island
Afternoon shadows
Time to explore
The park’s beautiful totem
Buffleheads at dusk
October sunset vibes
Looking northeast
Birds and mountains
Finally, the end of another perfect day!

For the second day in a row, I woke early, heading to the beach for sunrise. It was one of the more extraordinary mornings I have taken in since moving to Vancouver Island. The sun rose dramatically over Hornby Island, while a glance to the southwest revealed the shadow of Mt Arrowsmith in all its glory. Meanwhile, the Coast Mountains glittered, far across the Salish Sea. I was glad to have donned gloves and a warm jacket, as the October winds added a wintry bite to the morning air!

The sunrise show begins…
With every minute or two it seemed to intensify
Hornby Island was the centre of attention
Almost abruptly, the colours changed again!
Just to capture the whole show, I had to take two landscape shots and stitch them together as a vertical panorama
Meanwhile, I captured this colour above the trees on distant Texada Island
Last but not least, Mt Arrowsmith took the lead with this display. I could not believe what I was watching!

Returning to camp for a much needed cup of coffee and breakfast was next on the agenda, and after that, a stroll on Fillongley’s Homestead Trail. I had to know what history awaited me there, and at the very least, I wanted to pay my respects to George Beadnell. To leave such a fine piece of land he had nurtured so well for the enjoyment of others was a fine and gentlemanly gesture, and one which I will always appreciate. In keeping with tradition, the land was sold to British Columbia for the princely sum of one dollar, on the condition it would be made a provincial park.

Another fine Douglas fir
Candelabra Cedar vertical panorama
Gazing into the tree canopy
Forest along Beadnell Creek. There is a healthy salmon run here that often draws the interest of hungry River Otters

After briefly wandering, I happened upon the sign that commemorates the park’s dedication. Nearby, as well, is the benefactor’s final resting place. I have to think he’d be more than happy with the location.

The Homestead Trail
Beadnell Creek
Autumn in the forest
There are a number of beautiful park signs on Vancouver Island created by this particular artist, whose identity is unknown to me
George David Beadnell (1869-1953), a life well lived.
This very unusual multi trunked cedar lurks nearby. I wondered if Mr Beadnell had a hand in creating it

We took our time breaking camp while mulling over what time was ideal to catch the ferry back to Buckley Bay. We were reluctant to leave Denman Island and our campsite, but it was nice to know that it would always be less than two hours from where we live. Heartening too, was the thought that a man of Beadnell’s vintage chose to be a conservationist in an era where such things were often met with disdain or indifference. It might be part of why Denman Island retains its charms to this day, but whatever the reason, I’m certain we’ll return. George Beadnell had seen to that sixty five years ago!

Beadnell Creek estuary

*******Author’s Note*******

If you’re interested in the wildlife and the ongoing efforts to preserve of nature and land on Denman Island, more information can be found at the Denman Conservancy Association

6 thoughts on “Discovering Denman Island”

    1. Thanks Erika, perhaps I could have phrased some of that better, since the accommodations are all smaller bed and breakfast operations, so I edited the wording appropriately. Thanks for the information re the Denman Conservancy Association too, much appreciated, and thanks for taking the time to comment on the article.


  1. Hey Mick, Seems our forest paths are crossing again. Shoot me an email before coming to Denman again. Hopefully we’ll cross paths in the Beaufort Range someday soon. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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