Settlers created lasting ties at Hardwicke Island
By Thelma Silkens
Museum at Campbell River
Hardwicke Island lies in Johnstone Strait, 80 kilometres north of Campbell River.
The island’s homes and a cluster of logging camp buildings are spread along its western shoreline, facing Kelsey Bay and the village of Sayward on Vancouver Island.
Settlement at Hardwicke began in the early 1900s. Several bachelors occupied Crown Grants, and the Kelsey family were homesteading there when a steam-powered tug pulled five large floats into the bay in 1918. Aboard the floats were buildings, logging equipment, crew members and Hans and Gertrude Bendickson with their young family, six sons and one daughter, aged from one and a half to eleven years old.
Originally from Norway, the Bendicksons and their mainly Norwegian crew had already lived at other coastal locations while logging timber licences. At Hardwicke they set down roots; clearing land and raising livestock while continuing to log.
Soon after the Bendickson camp moved ashore, Hans Bendickson and William Kelsey built a small schoolhouse on a rise of land between their two homes. During the 1920s and 30s a succession of young woman teachers presided over a handful of pupils.
The Kelseys moved across the water to what became Kelsey Bay, but among the families that came to the island in these early years, the Eriksons and Edwards also established long-lasting ties. The Edwards and their neighbours the Thompsons lived several miles from the bay, but the children walked in every kind of weather to attend school.
As the Bendickson children grew up, they took an active part in homesteading and logging, and helped build a large family home. The eldest son, Arthur, married Enda Cuthbert, who had come to Hardwicke on her first teaching job. Later, one of her pupils, Hazel Anderson, became the wife of the youngest son Jim. The first wedding, however, was that of the Bendicksons’ only daughter Lilly, to Olaf Hansen, the eldest son of the Hansen family at nearby Port Neville. The long friendship between the two Norwegian families was further strengthened when Lilly’s brother Harold married Olaf’s sister Edith.
George (who never married), Arthur, Harold and Jim continued the logging business begun by their father. During the 1940s they, their wives and children and other young families lived on a float camp which they moved to various logging sites. The other two Bendickson brothers Barney and Fred, who served during World War II in the Air Force and Army respectively, lived in Vancouver. Barney owned Bendickson Towing with a fleet of tugboats and Fred was a shipwright.
In 1949 Bendickson Logging moved back to Hardwicke Island. The houses were pulled ashore and a land based camp was established. Across from the northern tip of Hardwicke, tiny, rocky Yorke Island had been a strategic military fortification during World War II. Now the fort was being dismantled and the company purchased a number of its former buildings. Several became bunkhouses; one became a new, larger schoolhouse, and a small building was converted into the ‘Teacherage’, a little house for the teacher
At the one-room school, many of the pupils were the children of those who had attended the first school. Others, more used to town life, came to join their fathers who were working at the camp. Crew members were encouraged to bring their families to Hardwicke, in order to create a stable workforce, increase school enrolment and build up a community.
The community thrived. As another generation grew up, there were sports days, Christmas concerts, dances, a Friday night movie, baseball games, picnics, fishing trips. A breakwater was created to protect the boat harbour, and as was the case for other coastal settlements, a freight boat stopped regularly with groceries ordered from Woodwards of Vancouver.
Vegetable and flower gardens flourished. Kids played and swam in the frigid salt water while their mothers sat and visited on the beach. A party-line telephone connected the houses, each place identified by the hand-cranked number of long and short rings.
The passing years brought inevitable changes, but the ties that were forged by Hardwicke’s early residents have remained strong through succeeding generations of their families.
Nearly a century later, descendants of the Bendicksons, Eriksons and Edwards have homes at Hardwicke today.