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Dodge Cove History 101

There is a wealth of native history in this entire area, and there have been many archeological studies over the years, as evidenced by the many digs still visible. As inhabitants here we respect these historic treasures and do not disturb them. Dodge Cove and immediate surroundings are situated on an ancient site of Kanagatsiyot, a Ts'msyen native village thousands of years old. Txamsem, the Ts'msyen trickster and teacher, in stories told by elders, is said to have been born here. The Canadian Museum of Civilization has published several narratives which chronicle the unique spirit of these indigenous cultures. For more native cultural information visit the Museum of Northern BC in Prince Rupert.

Digby Island derived its more recent name from Henry A. Digby, a Royal Navy Officer on the HMS "Malacca". A modern marine station was built here in 1912. It had a massive 800 ft seawall and the five-acre site also became home to a splendid Superintendent's residence, staff quarters, a mess house, office buildings and several workshops. These buildings still stand today and are private property.

The Cove itself was named in honour of George Dodge who surveyed the Prince Rupert Harbour. In the early 1900's the area was settled by Norwegian fishermen who called their community "Norwegian Village". One of the most significant enterprises taking root here was the Wahl Boatyard shortly after WW1. From simple beginnings, Ed Wahl built up the business through hard work and devotion to building quality fishing vessels and by 1947, he employed 32 men. That year alone, the Wahls (by now he had six sons) built no fewer than 54 boats, ranging from 31 ft gillnetters to boats as large as 47 feet in length. Every Monday a keel was laid, every Friday a hull was launched. In all, the Wahl Boatyards built more than 1100 boats, supplying the northern salmon canneries with entire fleets. The double-ended gillnetter was produced in such numbers that it established Ed Wahl as the Henry Ford of North Coast boatbuilding. When Ed passed away in 1965, the business lost its vital heart, and, while the sons continued building boats, the yard finally closed in 1981.

In 1912 a three-story quarantine hospital was built on Dodge Island, (popularly known as 'Hospital Island') a stone's throw from Dodge Cove. It was built by the Department of Immigration, in anticipation of a great influx of settlers to the region following completion of the Grand Trunk Railway reaching its western terminus of Prince Rupert. As things turned out, the hospital admitted only 1 patient (a sailor with a head cold) during its 2 years of operation. Even during the catastrophic flu epidemic of 1918 which filled hospitals across the continent, this one remained boarded up and the expected wave of immigrants never materialized. The little island became a popular picnic spot in the 20's and 30's. The ruins of the hospital still stand. The ruin of the Doctor's House just south of the hospital, but on Digby Island proper, (apparently never occupied by a doctor) was a magnificent three-story house complete with fireplaces, balconies and dormers, is also still standing. The massive wood bridge giving the doctor access to the hospital has been dismantled.

By 1938, 40 homes had been erected at Dodge Cove. Some of the residents created a small, new industry, that of cultivating strawberries which the local stores bought for 50 cents for a large basket. Many of the men in the families made their living as fishermen, of course.

The CBC has a presence here as well in the form of a repeater station, built around 1943, still there today atop CBC Hill, which offers a magnificent vista of Prince Rupert Harbour, Chatham Sound and the mountains. Various caretaker-couples have resided in the little bungalow at the site. At one point in time, after a short hiatus of caretakers there, a serious drop in antenna power was noted. Upon investigation it was discovered that some copper cable was missing……9 miles of it had been stolen! It was never recovered and the decision was made to replace it with cable made of a less "attractive" metal.

In the early sixties the Canadian government agreed that Digby Island would be the best site for an airport serving Prince Rupert. Costs would be high, but the field was ready for use in 1961. It is still the airport serving the city and passengers reach the airport by ferry.

There are plans in existence for the construction of a massive bridge linking Digby Island to Prince Rupert. Our residents take comfort from the government promise that it will not be close enough to disturb the tranquility of Dodge Cove. Meanwhile, the "bridge plan" serves as a fine amateur personality test: when asked if he or she thinks the bridge will ever be built, the pessimist will respond: "Not while I'm breathing", and the optimist is already making plans to build a garage.

Copyright © 2015 (Dodge Cove Community Website) Cheryl K. Ypma. All rights reserved.