Before any European had set eyes on North America, the native people came to this area, year in and year out, to add to their food supplies. It was said you could walk from present day Campbell River to Quadra Island on the backs of the salmon.
In 1792 , in the ships Discovery and Chatham, Captain Vancouver came from Desolation Sound, on the mainland and anchored a half mile from Cape Mudge. Upon going ashore and climbing the cliff Captain Vancouver and his botanist, Menzies, discovered a village of about 350 people. These people resided in 12 wooden quadrangular houses, with several families in each house. They were identified as members of the Salish speaking tribes.
In the mid 19th century before Europeans had settled the area the Salish lost their land to the Lekwiltok branch of the Kwakiutl. The Lekwiltok came south from Johnstone Strait with guns obtained from Europeans and travelling in large war canoes. Around this time logging communities were beginning to be established in the area.
It is believed that Campbell River was named for Dr. Samuel Campbell, the surgeon on the HMS Plumper which was mapping the coast. Settlers began arriving as the logging camps became established. In 1896, Sir Richard Musgrave wrote about the wonderful salmon fishing in a London journal and now, 100 years later, Campbell River is still known as the "Salmon Capitol of the World".
In 1924 the Tyee Club of British Columbia was formed by sportsman concerned about the dwindling stocks of the large salmon. To gain membership you will have to catch a salmon of over 30 lbs., using test line of well under that weight, and following several other well established rules. The largest was caught by, Texan, Walter Shutts on August 6, 1968 and weighed in at 71 1/2 lbs.
1948 saw the building of the John Hart Dam at Elk Falls. This was followed, in 1952, by the completion of the Elk Falls Pulp & Paper Mill and a boost for the local economy. In 1956 the area was the sight of one of the worlds first mega media events when the top of Ripple Rock, twin peaks coming from the depths to near the surface of Seymour Narrows and having claimed 114 lives, was blasted away using 2,756,000 pounds of explosives. This is still the worlds largest man-made non-nuclear explosion.
A new addition to Campbell River's history is the artificial reef that is coming to life because of the planned sinking of the H.M.C.S Columbia. The Columbia was an antisubmarine destroyer which served Canada from 1956 to 1974. Campbell River's waterfront is also the sight of the world's first public fishing pier. And if you like legends then there is the Big Rock.
Found just south of the 50th parallel entering Campbell River, this 30 foot high rock could be a remnant of the Ice Age. But one legend has it that a boastful grizzly bear turned to stone after not heeding the Great Spirits advice and just failing to complete his attempt to jump from the mainland to Vancouver Island. The tide was high and his back foot touched the water and as the Great Spirit warned the bear turned to stone. Grizzly bears are plentiful along the mainland coastal inlets but none are found on Vancouver Island.