Gabriola Island


Gabriola Island (49˚10'00" 123˚48'00" Just E of Nanaimo, W side of Str of Georgia), Gabriola Passage (49˚07'45" 123˚42'08" Between Valdes I and Gabriola I), Gabriola Reefs (49˚09'00" 123˚39'00" Off E end of Gabriola I), Gaviola Island (49˚09'31" 123˚41'18" One of the Flat Top Is, off E end of Gabriola I). The origin of the name Gabriola is uncertain. It is generally supposed that Spanish naval officer José Narváez, on his historic 1791 exploration of the Str of Georgia, gave the name Punta de Gaviola (Gaviola Point) to the E end of the 59-sq-km island. Gaviola was sometimes written Gabiola (“b” and “v” are often pronounced similarly in Spanish), and became corrupted to Gabriola as the result of a mid-19th-century British mapping error. But what does Gaviola refer to? PNW cartography expert Henry Wagner claims that Narváez had actually named this point Gaviota, Spanish for seagull. More recent research by Nick Doe, of the Gabriola Historical & Museum Society, disputes this notion. Doe points out that Gaviola is an aristocratic Spanish family name and suggests that Simón de Gaviola y Zabala (born about 1577), paymaster of the Spanish naval fleet guarding trade routes to the Americas, was a likely candidate to be honoured with a geographic name. He also argues that it was probably applied by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, not Narváez. Flat Top I was renamed Gaviola I in 1944 to recall the original Spanish designation. Gabriola I was first settled by coal miners from Nanaimo; it was the site of an early brickyard and a source of sandstone for building. In the early 2000s it had a year-round population of almost 3,000 and was popular as a recreation and boating destination. Currents in Gabriola Passage can exceed 8 knots (15 km/h). E

Wave-eroded sandstone formations, such as this one on Gabriola Island, can also be found elsewhere in the Gulf Islands. Kevin Oke photo