Unwin Lake


by Scott Remple and Delia Becker.
December, 2006
Habitat advice from Rob Smeal and historical material by Judith Williams
Desolation Sound Salmon Enhancement Society

This report contains the following:
  • Reasons why the Desolation Sound Salmon Enhancement Society (DSSES) is considering the Unwin Lake watershed for salmon enhancement.
  • A summary of a successful DSSES project which had similar problems to demonstrate the feasibility of the Unwin Lake project.
  • The challenges in the Unwin Lake watershed.
  • A summary of the existing salmon habitat and suggested improvements.
image001med Why Consider Unwin Lake for Salmon Enhancement?
  1. Although there is significant spawning and fry habitat, there is very little salmon activity right now.
  2. There is a high chance of success for the project due to the group’s previous experience
  3. Historical texts and onsite examination indicate the possibility of extensive Aboriginal use of the area for the retrieval and drying of salmon. In the process of her textual research for her books Judith Williams noted the following information about Desolation Sound, Tenedos Bay and Prideaux Haven that dovetails with the Sliammon people’s oral history. (Fig #1)

On the 26th of June, 1792, Captain George Vancouver, in the company of two Spanish ships, anchored the Discovery and the Chatham at Kinghorn Island at the mouth of what he later called Desolation Sound. On June 27th his anchors dragged due to rising wind and Vancouver moved the ships to Teakerne Arm. Archibald Menzies, the surgeon/botanist accompanying the English expedition, set out in a small boat with Peter Puget and a crew of sailors to spend a number of days surveying the mainland shore. They spent a day and night exploring Malaspina Inlet south.

In his journals Menzies described the following day.

“On our way back next morning we found another small branch of this arm leading to the North ward which we traced about 4 miles til it became so narrow & shallow watered (Theodosia Inlet) that it was not thought worth while to put off time in following it further, we therefore put back and breakfasted on a small island about the middle of it wooded with pines, after which we returned out to the great arm (Desolation Sound proper) and proceeded along shore to the North Eastward passing a large island (Mink Island ?) in mid-channel, where the Arm is at least a league wide. We soon rounded out a deep Bay, on the West side of which we saw a great number of fish stages erected from the ground in a slanting manner, for the purpose of exposing the fish fastened to them to the most advantageous aspect for drying. These stages occupied a considerable space along shore and at a little distance appeared like the skeleton of a considerable Village; they were made of thin Lathes ingeniously fastened together with Withes of the roots pf pine trees and from the pains and labour bestowed on them it was natural to infer that Fish must be plenty here at some time of the year, and that a considerable number of Natives rendezvous for the purpose of catching and drying them for winter sustenance, but as we observed no huts or places of shelter for their convenience, it is probable they make but a short stay.

“After quitting this Bay we followed the same shore which trended North Eastward and soon after passed by a narrow Channel on the inside of a cluster of steep rocky islands wooded with pines, but did not proceed above a league when at the farther end of these islands we came to a small Cove in the bottom of which the picturesque ruins of a deserted village placed on the summit of an elevated projecting rock excited our curiosity and induced us to land close to it to view its structure. (behind Roffey Island)

“This rock was inaccessible on every side except a narrow pass from the land by means of steps which admitted only one person to ascend at a time and which seemed to be well guarded in case of attack for right over it a large maple tree diffused its spreading branches in such an advantageous manner as to afford an easy and ready access from the summit of the rock to a concealed place amongst its branches, where a small party could watch unobserved and defend the pass with ease. We found the top of the rock nearly level and wholly occupied with the skeletons of houses – irregularly arranged and very crowded; in some places the space was enlarged by strong scaffolds projecting over the rock and supporting houses apparently well secured. These also acted as a defense by increasing the natural strength of the place and rendering it still more secure and inaccessible.”

Vancouver records Menzies route from the heights by attacking fleas and the spot was named Flea Village. It is listed in archeological records as a fortification. Sliammon elder Norm Gallagher informed me it was also more of a settled village than just a seasonal encampment. He surveyed all this area with Provincial Parks officials in the summer of 2005. The fort is fronted by a classic clam garden and flanked by several canoe slides. A year round creek flows down the south side of the rise. Royal Engineer Robert Homfray saw natives with house boards bridging two canoes ferrying fish down the channel north, now called Homfray Channel, in 1862. ( More details can be found in Chapter 6 of Clam Gardens) Menzies’ journal makes no mention of seeing any more fish stages – as the survey proceeds north and east – until they are 2/3rds up Toba Inlet, despite passing Forbes Bay ( Ahpokum – meaning having maggots i.e. on spawned out salmon ) a well documented Spring Salmon run.

Investigations conducted by Judith Williams during research for Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast lead to a discovery, behind Copplestone Island just below Flea Village, of a the perfectly preserved rock base to a fish weir in conjunction with the clam gardens and flats in the Prideaux Haven system.

Menzies text from “The Journal of Archibald Menzies, Journal of Vancouver’s Voyage April to October 1792”. Ed C.F. Newcombe, Victoria, BC, 1923

(Archives of BC, Memoir v)

Summary of the DSSES Refuge Cove Salmon Enhancement Project

The salmon runs into Refuge Lagoon had declined and finally ended about 30 years ago due to over fishing, logging damage to spawning habitat in the early 1900s and the dam erected at the entrance to the lagoon to raise the lagoon level.

Over a period of ten years DSSES has:

  • replaced the old dam with a new dam that includes a bypass for fish
  • most of the spawning habitat including the area entering the lagoon has been reestablished
  • Coho fry have been raised and planted for two out of the three year cycle.

The results have been:

  • Coho have returned for two out of the three year cycle with some evidence of coho in the third year. There have been sightings of both adults and fry in the third year.
  •  An opportunistic return of chum salmon for each of their year classes.
  •  An expanding use of the restored spawning habitat by both the Coho and chum.
  •  A general improvement of the Refuge Cove ecosystem including increased fertility and increasing numbers of birds and animals.
 The Problems with Unwin Lake

Unlike Refuge Cove lagoon, the Unwin lake watershed has the majority of the spawning habitat still intact. The main problem is similar to Refuge Cove in that the creek entering the lake was most likely redirected and damned to help with logging in the early 1900s ( Fig.2 to 6). Originally it looks like Unwin Creek started on the south side of the valley and crossed about three quarters of the way down and entered the ocean where it does now. The original creek had more of an S shape which would have made the creek slightly longer and would have made access for salmon easier (Fig.2 and 8). Note the gravel in the original creek bed (Fig.7).


Please note that some of the creeks have a different location from that indicated on the map. Creeks described in the report have been given names to help with communication. The creek heading out from Unwin Lake into Tenedos Bay is identified as Unwin Creek. This creek now starts on the north side of the valley.

The creek flowing from the small lake between Unwin Lake and Melanie Cove has been named Trail Creek and the creek opposite Unwin Creek flowing down from the Unwin range is Lost Creek.

The creek between Upper Unwin Lake and Unwin Lake is named Upper Unwin Creek. This creek now flows all the way from the Upper Unwin Lake to Unwin Lake.

In the valley south of Mount Spooner opposite upper Unwin Creek is a creek that flows down Mount Weaver and drains into Unwin Lake. The creek has been named Maple Creek.

Overview of Existing Salmon and Salmon Habitat

Chum salmon have been spotted at the mouth of Unwin Creek and an operculum from a salmon was found in the Unwin Creek valley (Fig.2). Coho fry have been seen in the Trail Creek (Fig.2). Some Coho are making a successful run into Unwin Lake and spawning in at least one creek. There are kokanee and cutthroat trout in the lake.

A rough estimate of the Unwin Lake habitat is approximately 3.0 sq km and 0.4 sq km in the Upper Unwin Lake (Fig.2, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18). Despite what the map indicates, Upper Unwin Creek flows from Upper Unwin Lake to Unwin Lake and is approximately 1.5 km long (Fig.2, 11 to 15).This does not include the side channels and meanderings of the Creek. The Creek is approximately 2 m wide where it leaves Upper Unwin Lake (Fig. 14 and 15), and 4 m wide where it enters Unwin Lake (Fig. 12). Most of this creek has a very gentle slope with excellent spawning and fry habitat (Fig. 12 to 14).

Across from Upper Unwin Creek is another creek named Maple Creek that is approximately 0.3km long and on average a meter wide on average (Fig.2, 18). The creek across from the entrance named Lost Creek has roughly 0.2 km of potential spawning habitat and it is also roughly a meter wide (Fig. 2). Both Maple and Lost Creek have potential fry habitat. Trail Creek is about 0.15 km long and a meter wide (Fig. 2). Unfortunately, most of the gravel has been washed out of the creek. All the other smaller creeks, side channels, and the small lake above Trail Creek have not been included in this summary of the potential salmon habitat.

The Solution for the Unwin Lake Watershed

Reestablishing the original Unwin Creek would improve the access for salmon to the watershed. Repairing the damage to the spawning habitat in Lost and Maple Creek would also help. Introducing salmon fry would speed up the process, and starting with chum would help improve the overall fertility.


Compared to Refuge Cove, the Unwin Lake watershed requires a lot less effort to reestablish access to, and rehabilitate its salmon habitat. There is at least double the spawning habitat. The main obstacle seems to be access. Reestablish Unwin Creek’s original path and that would improve access for spawning salmon. The fertility does not look that great but it is not completely dead. It would be very helpful if chum had access to improve the fertility. Although there is already plenty of available spawning habitat, repairing the old logging damage would not be very difficult to do and would further increase habitat.