Historical drawings of Nanaimo by Heyward Seton-Karr

"Stopping to Coal at Nanaimo, Vancouver's Island" Heyward Seton Karr 1886

Heyward W. Seton-Karr (1859 – 1938) was an explorer, artist and soldier, who made these observations of Vancouver Island in his book “Shores and Alps of Alaska” during the year 1886:

“The island of Vancouver, named after George Vancouver, is 275 miles long and 85 miles broad, with mountains rising to 6000 feet. The settled portions and those fit for agriculture lie around Victoria and Nanaimo Mines, the great coaling place.”

The book was published in London the following year. After crossing Canada among the very first passengers of the “new Canadian Pacific Railway,” Mr. Seton-Karr arrived in Vancouver just days after the fledgling city was burnt to the ground. Taking a steamer to Victoria, Mr. Seton-Karr was apparently pleased at what he saw:

“The railway from Victoria to Nanaimo will very soon be completed. Westward of Victoria lies the splendid harbour of Esquimault, used as a naval station by Her Majesty’s ships. Victoria Harbour itself is small but excellent.”

In addition to his extensive notes, he made several drawings of Departure Bay and Nanaimo Harbour.

"Departure Bay looking east" Heyward Seton Karr 1886

Around this time, Departure Bay was the home to the Snuneymuxw First Nations. It was here that Seton-Karr made several sketches in his journal, most of which were never published in his book.

The National Legislative Library gave a copy of “Alps and Shores of Alaska” to the University of Toronto in 1980 and it was digitized in 2010. Seton Karr’s journal remains in Alaska and parts of it have been digitized.

On another point of interest, Seton-Karr was a renowned collector of flints. The British Museum has seven of his flints he found in Somaliland in 1898. Flints of this kind had previously been found in Europe and Asia but never in Africa. According to Seton-Karr the flints he found in Somaliland supplied the ‘missing link’, alluding to the idea that the course of human civilisation proceeded westward from its early home in the East.