Does a mystery tunnel and caves link the Gulf Islands?

Back in the spring of 1969, I and several other members of the Canadian Speleogical Society visited Thetis Island to investigate ancient legends of a tunnel that links to Valdes Island beneath Stuart Channel.

A quick look at a map shows that such a cavern would be three miles long: a major discovery if indeed it exists and can be found.

Although this legend dates from the mists of time, we were inspired by 1955 news reports of three men from the Nanaimo area who’d made several searches for it.

Lawyer Hugh Heath, journalist Jim Hume and Boat Harbour "pirate" Ken Kendall had repeatedly scoured Valdes Island’s rugged northwestern shore whose sandstone cliffs are honeycombed with subterranean passageways, large and small. Time and again, they’d crawled, shimmied and roped their way through the island’s labyrinthine depths, finding numerous artifacts and other evidences of Native visitations.

But the legendary inter-island tunnel eluded them.

Then they made a startling discovery thanks to Abe Crocker. A grandson of the famous Chief Capilano, the 83-year-old Gabriola Island resident led them to a site on Thetis Island where, according to tribal folklore, could be found the mystery tunnel’s exit.

Pointing to a large cleft in the face of a cliff, he indicated that something special might be found within.

Carefully, the explorers climbed down, over and around tumbled boulders, each one weighing hundreds of tons.

Some 200 feet below the surface, in total darkness but for the bobbing lights strapped to their foreheads, they saw a large rectangular stone which "had all the appearances of being an altar".

A line drawn across the top of this "altar stone" and a glowering face painted in red ochre on its front supported this theory of its usage.

Its unusually rectangular shape even suggested it to have been the product of human labour although the explorers could detect no tool marks.

There were similar, considerably smaller, stones jumbled about its base.

Wedged in a crack was a cedar staff which, split at the top, answered a description of an implement used in rituals, particularly those involving tribal initiation ceremonies.

According to their guide, Thetis and neighbour Valdes Island had been used in the long-ago by local tribes for puberty rites. An initiate would be taken to Valdes to fast and to practise other rituals, then to make his way through the tunnel beneath the sea to Thetis Island, deposit his staff, and return – all with the aid of a single torch.

Abe also told them that, as a young man, he’d been shown a cave crowded with ceremonial masks and staffs on Valdes Island. Earthquakes 20 years before, he said, had completely blocked this cavern and its priceless store.

Earlier, Hume, Heath and Kendall had made a promising discovery on Valdes’s western cliffside, a cavern which dropped more than 200 feet into the obsidian depths. Unfortunately, the entrance was such that they’d discovered it by sheer accident and, despite repeated attempts, they were unable to find it again.

Whether or not it was the object of their long search, they couldn’t say, as they hadn’t had enough rope at the time to explore it.

By December 1956, they were more determined than ever to solve the mystery of the interisland cavern. But time and circumstances have a way of altering the best of intentions and Jim Hume, by then a resident of Victoria, said years later that he hadn’t been able to resume the search nor, so far as he knew, had Heath or Kendall.

This is where we came in, in March 1969.

To our surprise, we found that the island’s caves were so well known that they were linked by well-worn trails and each bore a number in garish paint.

These Thetis caves are known as talus, or rock-fall caves. Once, probably aeons ago, the earth had gone mad.

Boulders, many of them the size of buildings, were piled haphazardly atop each other in a gargantuan maze with a network of crawlways between, some of them hundreds of feet in length and in depth.

Deep in this shattered mountain, hidden from the sun, snow still lay six inches deep at the time of our visit to the cave containing the "altar stone" and grimacing face in ochre.

Other caricatures were to be seen but of more recent, and doubtful, provenance having been executed with spray paints.

Other, smaller caves, all of them formed by falling rock, make the legend of a spectacular three-mile-long cavern between Thetis and Valdes islands dubious at best.

Just Posted

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: This could be the worst thing done to you during the pandemic

As a result, all of us will contend with more ‘scarcity’ thinking and mindset.

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: Looking forward to 39 Days of Summer

I have always been a big fan of live music.

Cowichan seniors have a new resource. (submitted)
Free Cowichan Seniors program offers social prescriptions

Seniors 60 and over who are at higher risk of frailty due… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Most Read