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A Paddle Trip to D’Arcy Island – Gulf Island National Park Reserve

A Paddle Trip to D’Arcy Island – Gulf Island National Park Reserve

A Kayaking Day Trip to D’Arcy Island

D’Arcy Island is actually two islands lying about 3 1/2 nautical miles off the east coast of the Saanich Pennisula just north of Victoria. Big D’Arcy is the largest of the two at around 83 hectares and is  part of the Gulf Island National Park Reserve.  It has 7 wilderness campsites with picnic tables and pit toilets. Little D’Arcy lies just to the east and is private property.  Big D’Arcy Island is a beautiful and tranquil place to visit either as a day trip or as an overnighter. There are many beautiful cobble beaches and Douglas Fir forests and Arbutus trees cover the island. All this beauty, however, hides a much darker past, D’Arcy island was a once a Leper Colony.

Kayaking to D'Arcy Island

Setting off for D’Arcy Island on a perfect December day!

Exploring the east side of D'Arcy Island

Exploring the east side of D’Arcy Island

The History of D’Arcy Island

In 1891 five Chinese lepers were discovered in a shack in Chinatown. The traditional horror of leprosy and perhaps a degree of racism sparked the municipal council of the day to take quick action.  By the 20th of May, 1891 they obtained approval from the province to establish a colony on D’Arcy island and sent a over a crew of men to construct the necessary facilities. While the facilities were described as excellent, these sick individuals were left there to fend for themselves with no medical care and even had to collect their own water, which was seriously lacking during the summer months. Their only relief was a supply boat that would deliver them supplies every 3 months along with a medical officer to check on their condition. Sadly, the residents never actually received any medical treatment.

Caretaker's Residence Ruins

Caretaker’s Residence Ruins

Conditions on the island remained deplorable until 1905 when the Provincial Government finally got involved and convinced the federal government to provide some financing. In 1906 the federal government passed the Leprosy Act and the colony became a medical facility with new buildings and a caretaker. Perhaps more importantly, came a new attitude towards lepers and the disease which resulted in a repatriation of the some of the residents back to China and the necessary medicines to alleviate their suffering. The facilities at D’Arcy remained in operation until 1924 when it was permanently closed and a new station was opened up on Bentinck Island near the quarantine station at William Head.

Exploring the colony ruins on D'Arcy Island

Exploring the colony ruins on D’Arcy Island

The Caretaker's Residence on D'Arcy Island

The remains of the Caretaker’s Residence

D’Arcy Island Today

The island looks much as it did back then but there is little remaining of the colony except for the foundations of some of the old colony buildings and the slightly more substantial remains of the caretakers residence. The City of Victoria placed a bronze memorial on the island in 2000 and there is a pictorial/informational placard near the campsite on the east side of the island.

Beach at the GINPR Campground

The beach at the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Campground

Photographing wildlife on D'Arcy Island

Photographing the wildlife on D’Arcy

How to Get There

The easiest and shortest access to D’Arcy Island is from Island View Beach Regional Park about 20 km or a 30 minute drive from downtown Victoria. Island View has a large sandy beach you can launch from or there is rather rough, neglected boat ramp, which gives you easier access to the water without having to climb over the driftwood logs. There is a large parking lot, but it can get busy on nice summer days, particularly on weekends.

D'Arcy Island from Island View Beach

D’Arcy Island lies about 3 1/2 nm from Island View Beach

Exploring Big D’Arcy Island

The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve campground is found on the north east end of the island in the channel between Big D’Arcy and Little D’Arcy.  There is a large cobble beach here making for and easy landing.  The campground, registration kiosk, an informational placard and a map showing the islands trails and locations of the ruins are just up from the beach. The trails are colour coded and marked with matching coloured surveyor’s tape, but be warned,  while the trails are quite distinct and easy to follow at the beginning, it isn’t long before they become quite overgrown and you will need an eagle eye to keep track of the markers.

D'arcy Island Campground

The Campground on the east side of  Big D’Arcy Island

D'Arcy Island Trail

Some of the trails can be a little hard to distinguish

HIking D'Arcy Island

Hiking the shore path on the west side of Big D’Arcy Island

D'Arcy Island Trail map

The Trail Map located at the registration station

Trip Planning

Check the Weather Forecast

The waters between Vancouver Island and D’Arcy Island are very exposed and at just over 3 nautical miles it will take most paddlers a minimum of 1 hour to make the crossing. This is plenty of time for conditions to dramatically change before you get back.  There can be a fair amount of current flowing in Haro Strait so you will need to check the wind (speed & direction) forecast for the day and the currents to avoid wind and current in opposition.  The weather can be checked at the sites posted below. Our recommendation for most paddlers is to keep the winds under 10-12 knots or 18 – 24 kph.

Remember that wind against the current will create larger and steeper waves and it can quickly get very rough when the current direction changes.

Here are 2 recommended sites for good wind forecasts:

Windfinder – Kelp Reefs

Enviornment Canada – Haro Strait

Brian Henry paddling in front of Mt Baker

Brian Henry returning from D’arcy Island on a perfect day with Mt Baker forming a stunning backdrop!

Check the Currrent

It is important to distinguish the difference between tides and currents.  Tide stations only measure the depth of the water at high and low water at a particular location. A current station, measures the speed and direction of the water moving past a location.  Also be aware that times of high and low tide do not correspond to changes in current direction, so you cannot use tide tables to reliably predict currents.  This is particularly relevant around southern Vancouver Island. Remember that a current flow of 2 nautical miles per hours or more is considered strong.

Using the Canadian Tide and Current Tables

You can find the Canadian Tide & Current Tables  online. You will need Volume 5 and you can access the full publication at this link:  Canadian Tide & Current Tables

Go to Table 4 on page 135 for a listing of the Secondary Current Stations.  You will see Haro Strait and Sidney Channel listed here.  These are the two closest secondary reference stations to where you will be crossing. Use the Sidney Channel listing.  Just above this listing you will see “on/sur RACE PASSAGE, pages 66-69” printed.  This means that the main reference station for the area is Race Passage which you will find on pages 66-69.

The times of the turn to Ebb and Turn to Flood (essentially slack water), as well as the time of the maximum current flow are listed in this table. The minus sign refers to the ebb or water flowing out, (a westward direction at Race and southward in Sidney and Haro Straits) and the positive sign is the Flood or inflow (eastward at Race and northward in Sidney and Haro Straits).

Once you have this information, you will use the Sidney Channel information listed on page 135 to find the differences in time and current flow you can expect from Race Passage. The table will tell you that Sidney Channel current runs at about 35% of Race Passage on the Flood and 30% on the Ebb. It also tells you the time differences for the turns and maximum flow expected. For example, if the currents are 4 knots at Race at max flood, expect a max flow of 1.2 knots in Sidney Channel, 1 hr and 30 mins later.

Using the Phone App Aye Tides

Like the online CT&C tables, Aye Tides  has limited current information available for more local conditions like Sidney Channel.  Kellet Bluff is a current station in Haro Strait close to Henry Island in the US Gulf Islands and will give you an approximation of what to expect.

Get Out There but be Safe!

One of the joys of living on southern Vancouver Island is we can paddle all year round.  One of the calmest trips I have ever made was in early December with temperatures around 10°C. That being said, caution should always be exercised as the water is very cold and conditions can change rapidly.  If in doubt,  change your plans and do a shore paddle.  Happy paddling!

If you want to do paddling trips like this but feel that they are out of your comfort zone, consider upgrading your paddling skills by taking some of our intermediate and advanced sea kayaking courses such as Rough Water & Tidal Paddling or Sea Kayak Safety and Rescue.  Click this link for a more complete list of course offerings:  Intermediate & Advanced Courses

D'Arcy Island Beach

Cobble Beach on D’Arcy’s east side near the colony ruins

Cheers & Happy Paddling!

Bruce Holland  – You can also catch me at or

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