Naming The Straits
We gaze upon them, we sail upon them, we dump sewage into them, and yet few Victorians know how the bodies of seawater outside our door got their names. The Strait of Juan de Fuca was reportedly discovered by Apostolos Valerianos, a Greek mariner who was in the service of Spain in the 16th century. (He was also known as John Phokas, which the Spaniards translated as Juan de Fucas.) In 1592 Valerianos sailed up from Mexico to find a northern passage around the continent, and claimed he found a broad inlet and inland sea with many islands. Since he was prone to exaggeration, his tale was ignored until 1787 when a British captain at the entrance to the strait recognized its similarity to Valerianos’ description.
Everyone refers to Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne et al. as the “Gulf Islands.” But where’s the gulf? The Strait of Georgia was originally named The Gulf of Georgia, in honour of King George III, by Captain Vancouver (portrait at right) when he sailed through here in 1792. It was properly retitled a strait by a hydrographer in 1865, but Vancouver’s collective naming of the Gulf Islands has remained intact. If you want to learn more about the good captain, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia is holding an international conference about him, from April 20 to 22.