For us, an ideal cruising destination combines solitude with a chance to explore new territory. We seek places that are little covered in the cruising guides and where few people go. Besides an appealing anchorage, we are always on the lookout for interesting side trips, such as a trail to a view or a lakeside perch, or a lagoon to explore in the dinghy or kayak. We’ll periodically post locations that for us meet this criteria under the “Secret Coast” category. Some are documented in Cruising the Secret Coast, while others are beyond the scope of the book, such as in the south Puget Sound or the northern central BC Coast. We’ll start with Suquash.
By boat, Suquash is thirteen miles southeast of Port Hardy, opposite the western tip of Malcolm Island. The Suquash Coalfield is the reason that nearby Fort Rupert—which offered the closest shelter—was established in 1849 by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) of Great Britain. Mining was halted in 1852 when a superior coal source was found near Nanaimo, but the HBC continued to operate Fort Rupert due to their investment in the outpost.
In the early 1900s, a private company deemed the Suquash Coalfield worth mining. This time, it was a major operation that anchored an on-site settlement large enough to support a school, post office and regular steamship service. It closed before the Second World War, but much of the equipment was abandoned in place. It is an easy walk from the beach at Suquash to see the ruins, and they are extraordinary. The first ones we found were huge shovels, perhaps four metres high. Farther along was a metal wheel with one-meter spokes.
To the south, and closer to shore, were the ruins of the foreman’s house. Two intact river-rock chimneys soar skyward, blending into the second-growth forest. Inshore and south was a narrow concrete and stone structure, about seven metres high, with an archway through the centre. We couldn’t guess its purpose. Beyond was the mine shaft itself, where a massive steam engine rests on a concrete bed. The engine ran a huge spool of cable to raise and lower a carriage through the mine shaft. The shaft is said to extend across Queen Charlotte Strait nearly to Malcolm Island. Legend has it that miners could identify ships passing overhead by the ships’ vibration signatures.
For more detail on Suquash, directions and anchoring advice, see chapter eight, Fort Rupert, in Cruising the Secret Coast.