The community of Esperanza is located on the north side of Hecate Channel, just north of Nootka Island.
Historically the site of a Nuu chah nulth village, the traditional name for the site was tlawe muxtsoo, or kle-muq-suu which reportedly was a reference to the liver, or purification of the body.
In the 1920s Dr. Herman McLean completed a medical degree and worked for a time in Bella Coola before searching for a new location where he could minister and provide medical services. In the 1930s he met Percy Wills, and the two toured around Vancouver Island in the Messenger II, a vessel owned by the Shantymen Christian Association.
By 1937 the two missionaries met Mr. Peters from Ehattesaht, and decided that the location on the north side of Hecate Channel was the right spot for a mission and hospital. There was a lot of local industry which put working men at high risk for work-related injuries; families who lived there were isolated; and the area had a good source of clean water and was in a bay protected from the prevailing winds.
The settlement, which opened its first buildings in 1937, was originally known as McLean’s Landing, but was soon renamed Esperanza (or Little Esperanza), after nearby Esperanza Inlet. Esperanza means hope in Spanish.
While the Shantymen supported the initiative, they did not want to take on the ownership or liability for the hospital, and so the Nootka Mission Association was formed and faced the daunting task of raising the funds to support the mission. Many of the materials used to build the initial settlement were donated by local sawmills and businesses.
Dr. McLean not only worked at the hospital, he also visited local communities in his boat Dieu Donna (later renamed Donna Dene).
In 1938 a hotel was built adjacent to the mission, and unfortunately became a bit of a focal point for drunkenness and debauchery, much to the chagrin of the mission staff. A number of prayer meetings were held for those participating in the events taking place at the hotel. On more than one occasion people died after falling off the dock or getting into boating accidents while intoxicated. The hotel burned down in 1960.
In its prime the community had a library, school, and community lounge. For a number of years the hospital relied on the hotel’s generator for its power.
In 1948, while on a medical and mission trip with his son, Dr. McLean’s boat hit bad weather on the way back from Kyuquot and capsized. McLean survived the wreck but his son was never found.
After World War II ended, the mission purchased the former military radar station at nearby Ferrier Point. The location was turned into a summer camp.
In 1955 the local post office was relocated from CeePeeCee to Esperanza, and when the cannery closed the mission purchased all of its residences and bunkhouses for $1,000, and transported them to Esperanza.
The hospital started offering a variety of health and addiction services in the 1970s, and today Esperanza still exists as a spiritual retreat and offers a variety of services for youth and community members.
Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.