Early exploration of the Island, in a new light

A Perfect Eden: Encounters by Early Explorers of Vancouver Island
By Michael Layland
Touchwood, 240 pp., $39.95
 

Given how many books have been written about the exploration of Vancouver Island and the waters around it, is there really room for one more?

In a word, yes. Michael Layland’s A Perfect Eden is a fine addition to the range of books already published.

A Perfect Eden has compiled the stories of dozens of people who came from afar, looking for riches or the Northwest Passage, or just driven by curiosity. These people came from the 1500s (theoretically, at least) to the 1800s, and helped shape the early knowledge of our Island.

To be fair, as Layland points out, this region was already well-known to indigenous peoples before the European adventurers, explorers and fur traders arrived. They might not have had maps or written records, but they had the knowledge — and that knowledge helped the new arrivals to find their way around and to stay out of harm’s way, for the most part.

The native peoples had their own names for geographic points, and some of those names have survived in some form. Our island also has Spanish and English names, a reminder that two great nations were eager to claim this area as their own.

They also worked together, sharing information and mapping whenever possible. Coupled with the knowledge held by the peoples who had lived here for generations, the result was that the exploration and mapping of the Island was very much a team effort.

Author Layland, who was trained as an officer and mapmaker in the Royal Engineers, was also responsible for the superb The Land of Heart’s Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island. Published in 2013, that book dealt with the cartographic history of the island.

With A Perfect Eden, Layland looks at the people behind those maps — the people who explored the waters around the island, taking knowledge away and leaving behind, in many cases, their names.

Drawn from a wide variety of sources, including first-hand accounts, this book sheds new light on some of the long-familiar stories, with Juan de Fuca at the top of the list. Did this person really exist? If so, did he really spend time in these parts?

There are no definitive answers to those tantalizing questions, but there is enough to keep us interested. The same can be said for the theory that Sir Francis Drake came through as well.

A couple of hundred years later, record-keeping had advanced, as had cartography. So there is no doubt about the arrivals of Spaniard Juan Pèrez, Capt. James Cook of the Royal Navy and the others of that era.

Those men took the exploration of our Island to a higher standard, laying the groundwork for what was to come. They helped to make Nootka Sound one of the busiest seaports of the 18th century.

Layland tells those stories and more, including an account of the selection of a site for Fort Victoria, and the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company presence here. That fort made Victoria the obvious location for a community to supply the gold rush of 1858, and the rest is history.

A Perfect Eden is filled with illustrations, maps and photographs, adding personality and understanding to the stories Layland is telling. This book is informative and highly readable, and no matter how much you have read about exploration of the Island, you will surely learn from this book as well.

Yes, there is room for another book on the exploration of Vancouver Island. A Perfect Eden is that book.

Michael Layland will launch A Perfect Eden at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Munro’s Books on Government Street.

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