Minstrel Island is located just North of Johnstone Strait, near the entrance to Knight Inlet, overlooking Clio and Chatham Channels.
The island is believed to have taken its name from a travelling theatre troupe that travelled through the area in 1876 aboard the HMS Amethyst.
Also on board was Gov. General Lord Dufferin, travelling north to visit the village of Metlakatla.
The ship stopped at many small settlements and the theatre troupe staged performances which included black-faced minstrel shows.
Oscar Soderman and his wife Sydney were the first pioneers to take up residence on Minstrel Island. Soderman, who was also a hand logger, pre-empted a homestead in 1905.
In 1907 a hotel, saloon and store were established on Minstrel Island.
It catered to clientele who came to the area to work in the logging or fishing industries. Minstrel became a scheduled stop on the Union Steamship itinerary, serviced by the steamship Cassiar.
Other industries soon arrived, including a machinist, Clarence Cabeen, who moved to the island with his wife Nellie in the 1920s.
Due to its central location, Minstrel Island became a hub of activity and a centre for trade and transportation in and out of the area during the early 1900s.
On steamship day the population of the small community would boom as people came from nearby communities to meet the ship.
In 1922, the Port Harvey Hotel was purchased and floated to Minstrel Island where it was winched on skids onto the shore.
The building was known as “the hall,” as the lower floor of the building was one large room which was used for dances or other community events.
The upper floor included rooms which were rented out. This building also was the home of the Island’s first post office.
Hood and Alan MacDonald owned the hotel from 1930 to 1963. A brothel also operated in the community.
A new store and a marine ways was constructed by Roy and Georgie Halliday in 1935.
The ways serviced local boats for 30 years.
In 1944 a boarding school was opened on Minstrel Island by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Herbison. Until the 1960s, Minstrel was the centre of the universe for many handloggers and gyppo logging outfits.
People would come to the Island to find work, get supplies, and for travel in and out of the area. The bar at the Minstrel Hotel reportedly went through more beer than any other establishment in B.C., and thousands of beer bottles littered the ocean floor.
Forestry businessman Pearly Sherdahl was reported to have been refused service in the bar in 1963 because he had already ‘had a couple.’ He reportedly flew directly to Vancouver, bought the establishment, flew back to Minstrel, and fired the manager who had refused to serve him. Another story, told by Jim Spilsbury, tells of when the “working girls” at Minstrel decided to take the day off. Irate loggers apparently got out their logging jacks and raised the building up, right off its foundation, relenting only when the girls agreed to again accept clientele.
Brenda McCorquodale is a North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or North Island information that you’d like to share, please e-mail Brenda at firstname.lastname@example.org.