The Southgate Group lies close to the BC mainland, at about the spot where the wide open and treacherous waters of Queen Charlotte Sound meet the only-slightly less exposed waters of Queen Charlotte Strait. With huge waves often pounding in from the Pacific Ocean, these islands provide a bit of welcome protection for boaters along this stretch of coast.
On a cloudy, calm summer morning, we kayaked from our nearby anchorage to the Southgate’s furthest edges, to explore its outer reefs. As you can likely tell from the photo, it was low tide, and there was just enough room to squeeze our little boats between the steep walls of the islands.
Now, imagine the tide rising by 16 or 18 feet, as it does in that part of the coast. Visualize the water rising all the way up to the lowest branches of the trees, and you’ll realize how different these islands are at high tide. Each one is reduced to an isolated little chunk of rock, with a towering topknot of vegetation that looks bigger than the islet itself – while the outer reefs vanish entirely. It can be hard to believe you’re in the same place, from one stage of the tide to another.
About the name:
I had thought that maybe the Southgate Group was named for its location. After all, the islands seem like natural gatekeepers, lying just south of the narrow channel that leads to Nakwakto Rapids, the entrance to the massive inner waterways of Seymour Inlet, Belize Inlet and eventually, Alison Sound. But it turns out that like so many places on the BC coast, the islands were named for a British mariner – in this case, James Johnson Southgate.
Southgate arrived in Victoria in 1858 and became a prominent merchant and elected representative in what was then the government of Vancouver Island (a separate colony until 1866, when it joined British Columbia). The Southgate Group was named in his honour by Royal Navy Lt. Daniel Pender, who carried out hydrographic surveys along the BC coast in the famous paddle steamship, the Beaver.
Pender and his ship were also immortalized in geographic names. At least 10 places along our coast were named for Pender, and many others have “Beaver” in their name – not surprising, since during the 53 years that the Beaver operated (first as a trading ship, then as a survey vessel, and finally as a towboat and freighter), the plucky little ship seems to have travelled virtually the entire coast, as far north as Alaska.