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For other uses of the word Nootka, see Nootka (disambiguation).
Nootka Sound, marked by a red square on a NASA map of Vancouver Island.

Nootka Sound is a complex inlet or sound of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Historically also known as King George's Sound,[1] as a strait it separates Vancouver Island and Nootka Island.


John Webber's "A Native of King George's Sound", drawing published in a 1783 book about Captain James Cook
John Webber's 'The launching of the North West America Ships of Meares at Nootka Sound in 1788
John Webber's 'Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, c. 1788
John Webber's Man of Nootka Sound

The inlet is part of the traditional territory of the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth people. They called it Mowichat.[2] John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of chief Maquinna in 1802–1805, describes the area in some detail.

European exploration and trade[edit]

On August 8, 1774, the Spanish Navy ship Santiago, under Juan Pérez, entered and anchored in the inlet. Although the Spanish did not land, natives paddled to the ship to trade furs for abalone shells from California.[3] Pérez named the entrance to Nootka Sound Surgidero de San Lorenzo. The word surgidero means "anchorage". When Esteban José Martinez arrived in 1789 he gave Nootka Sound the name Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nuca. The Spanish establishment established at Friendly Cove he gave the name Santa Cruz de Nuca.[4]

In March 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy landed on Bligh Island and named the inlet "King George's Sound". He recorded that the native name was Nutka or Nootka, apparently misunderstanding his conversations at Friendly Cove/Yuquot; his informant may have been explaining that he was on an island (itchme nutka, a place you can "go around"). There may also have been confusion with Nuu-chah-nulth, the natives' autonym (name for themselves). It may also have simply been based on Cook’s mis-pronunciation Yuquot, the native name of the place.[5] The earlier Spanish and British names for the Sound swiftly went out of use.

At the time, the Spanish monopolized the trade between Asia and North America, and had granted limited licenses to the Portuguese. The Russians had established a growing fur trading system in Alaska. The Spanish began to challenge the Russians, with Pérez's voyage being the first of many to the Pacific Northwest.[6] The British also became increasingly active in the region.

The next European to visit Nootka Sound after James Cook was the British trader James Hanna in August 1785. Hanna traded iron bars for furs. He sold the furs in China for a handsome profit,[7] beginning an era of the Maritime Fur Trade.

Nootka Crisis[edit]

Further information: Nootka Crisis and Nootka Convention

Starting in 1774 Spain sent several expeditions to Alaska to assert its long-held claim over the Pacific Northwest which dated back to the 16th century. During the decade 1785–1795 British merchants, encouraged by Sir Joseph Banks and supported by their government, made a sustained attempt to develop this trade despite Spain's claims and navigation rights. The endeavours of these merchants did not last long in the face of Spain's opposition. The challenge was also opposed by a Japan holding obdurately to national seclusion.[8] In 1789 Spain sent Sub-Lieutenant Esteban José Martinez, commanding the Princesa and the San Carlos, to enforce Spanish sovereignty and defend its claims. He arrived in February 1789 and established a settlement and built Fort San Miguel. The ship Iphigenia Nubiana, under Captain William Douglas and owned by John Meares, was impounded[9] and two other British ships, including the Princess Royal, were seized by the Spanish Navy. Two American ships in the area were allowed to sail as the United States was Spain's ally (Spain had helped the US in its War of Independence). However, the American ship Fair American was seized and taken to San Blas, before being released. The capture of the British ships led to the Nootka Crisis and near war between Britain and Spain. The British challenged Spanish claims to allegedly "un-colonized" land on the Pacific coasts of North and South America. The first Nootka Convention (1790) gave both countries the right to settle along the Pacific coasts, interrupting the Spanish monopoly for the first time in over two centuries. The British quickly sponsored the Vancouver Expedition of exploration. Difficulties in implementing the terms led to a second, and then a third Nootka Convention (1794).[10]

The Nootka Sound controversy also played a part in the French Revolution. The Spanish Bourbon monarchy asked for French support in the dispute in the event that it led to war between Spain and Great Britain. The French Bourbon king Louis XVI wanted to back Spain against Great Britain, but his right to enter France into an alliance on his own prerogative was disputed by the National Assembly. The Assembly maintained that the King's right to determine foreign policy and declare war was subject to the sovereignty of the people. Eventually the Assembly ruled that a proposal for a declaration of war could be initiated by the king, but had to be ratified by the Assembly; this was a major blow to the monarchy.

Thomas Muir[edit]

The Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir had been banished to Port Jackson in Botany Bay in Australia for 14 years for the crime of Sedition in 1793. He managed to escape having only spent 13 months there, on board the American merchant ship Otter. After a highly adventurous voyage across the as yet largely uncharted Pacific Ocean to Vancouver Island, the Otter finally dropped anchor in Nootka Sound on 22 June 1796.

In conversation with José Tovar, the piloto (master) of the Sutil, a Spanish vessel at anchor in the Nootka Sound, Muir learned to his dismay of the presence in neighbouring waters of the HMS Providence, the British sloop-of-war under William Robert Broughton. This vessel had visited Port Jackson in Australia shortly before Muir’s escape and, since Broughton had almost certainly become acquainted with the captain or members of the crew, his life was now in real danger. To be captured while under sentence of transportation meant immediate execution. Once again Muir’s extraordinary luck held out. While a student at Glasgow, he had acquired a fluent command of Spanish and he was now able to persuade Tovar to break his regulations regarding the admission of foreigners into Spanish territory. Changing vessels he sailed with Tovar down the Pacific West Coast to the port of Monterey in Spanish Las Californias.

The chronicles of Pierre François Péron describe Muir's escape from Australia and the voyage across the Pacific to Nootka Sound, and then as far as Monterey, California.


For 20 years, Nootka Sound was a centre of world events. For the most part since these past events, the sound has not been has the scene of major international disagreements.[9][11] It is mentioned in the former unofficial national anthem of English-speaking Canada, "The Maple Leaf Forever", to represent the western extent of Canada's "fair dominion".


Climate data for Nootka Lightstation
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18.5
Average high °C (°F) 7
Average low °C (°F) 3.3
Record low °C (°F) −6.5
Precipitation mm (inches) 438.1
Source: Environment Canada[12]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Port Cox". BC Geographical Names. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/1975.html.
  2. ^ Naish, John (1996). The Interwoven Lives of George Vancouver, Archibald Menzies, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget: The Vancouver Voyage of 1791–1795. The Edward Mellen Press, Ltd. ISBN 0-7734-8857-X. 
  3. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-88894-279-6. 
  4. ^ Tovell, Freeman M. (2008). At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco De La Bodega Y Quadra. University of British Columbia Press. pp. 14, 202. ISBN 978-0-7748-1367-9. 
  5. ^ Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, translated by John Black, Vol. 2, London, Longman, 1822, translator’s note, p.322.
  6. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-88894-279-6. 
  7. ^ Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790–1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. p. 13. ISBN 0-88894-279-6. 
  8. ^ Robert J. King, "'The long wish'd for object' — Opening the trade to Japan, 1785–1795", The Northern Mariner / le marin du nord, vol.XX, no.1, January 2010, pp.1–35.
  9. ^ a b "The Nootka Incident". Canadian Military History Gateway. 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-10-18. Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  10. ^ Robert J. King, “George Vancouver and the contemplated settlement at Nootka Sound”, The Great Circle, vol.32, no.1, 2010, pp.3–30.
  11. ^ "Timeline of Nanaimo (PDF)". City of Nanaimo. 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  12. ^ Environment CanadaCanadian Climate Normals 1971–2000, accessed 12 August 2012


  • Harboard, Heather. Nootka Sound and the Surrounding Waters of Maquinna. Surrey: Heritage House Publishing Company Limited, 1996. ISBN 1-895811-03-1.
  • Jones, Laurie. Nootka Sound Explored. Campbell River: Ptarmigan Press, 1991. ISBN 0-919537-24-3.
  • Manning, William Ray. The Nootka Sound Controversy. Part XVI of the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1904, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905, pp. 279–478. Reprint: Ann Arbor: University Microfilms Inc., 1966.
  • Jewitt, John Rodgers (1896). The adventures of John Jewitt: only survivor of the crew of the ship, Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the Indians of Nootka Sound in Vancouver Island. Clement Wilson. Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection
  • King, Robert J. "'A regular and reciprocal System of Commerce' — Botany Bay, Nootka Sound, and the isles of Japan", The Great Circle (Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History) vol.19, no.1, 1997, pp. 1–29.
  • King, Robert J. "William Bolts and the Austrian Origins of the Lapérouse Expedition", Terrae Incognitae, vol.40, 2008, pp. 1–28; presented at the Canadian Nautical Research Society Conference, Churchill, Manitoba, 2–7 August 2007.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 49°41′N 126°33′W / 49.683°N 126.550°W / 49.683; -126.550

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootka_Sound — Please support Wikipedia.
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Bellingham Herald

Bellingham Herald
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:48:45 -0800

The documentary called “ The Whale,” narrated by Ryan Reynolds about an orca separated from its pod in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, also was shown. The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation accepted donations to support the Salish Sea ...
Wed, 06 Aug 2014 20:30:00 -0700

VANCOUVER – Thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon have been dying in their open net-pens in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Grieg Seafood, which owns the farm, says the cause is a plankton bloom. “In this case it's a particular kind ...
Times Colonist
Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:36:28 -0700

Two Vancouver Island men have been arrested and a large amount of cocaine has been seized after a boat rented from a Nootka Sound fishing lodge was used in a possible drug-smuggling operation. The file is being handled by the RCMP's federal serious ...

Vancouver Weekly

Vancouver Weekly
Fri, 02 Jan 2015 13:44:36 -0800

Vancouver Weekly: Since I first saw you at Lanalou's two springs ago, you've played Record Store Day and the first Sunfest (now renamed Nootka Sound Festival). Have you played any other particularly memorable shows since then? Ornament & Crime: We ...

Vancouver Sun

Huffington Post Canada
Thu, 25 Jul 2013 08:02:36 -0700

Four people on a Vancouver Island fishing trip got an unusual visitor when they spotted a cougar swimming right up to their boat in Nootka Sound. The 48-second YouTube video shows the animal swimming towards the boat in quaint waters near the island ...
North Shore News
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 09:45:43 -0700

"We met up with a mutual friend, somebody we know from Los Angeles," says Michaud. "We went on a boat about an hour and a half further up the coast (into the centre of Nootka Sound itself). We camped up there for a couple of days and there was some ...

Bellingham Herald

Bellingham Herald
Thu, 04 Dec 2014 17:07:30 -0800

The stone is from Vancouver Island off the Nootka Sound. In 1977 some students from Capilano University discovered an abandoned marble quarry there. Marshall and his students, with help from a logging company, moved 50 tons of blue marble from the ...
Courier Islander
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:09:30 -0700

Cook arrived on the west coast at Nootka Sound in HMS Resolution, accompanied by HMS Discovery. George Vancouver was serving under Cook as a midshipman and 14 years later he was to command the Discovery and return to Nootka to negotiate a ...

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