De Courcy Island was named after Michael de Courcy, captain of the HMS Pylades, a vessel that charted these waters from 1859-1861. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, De Courcy was the home of the Aquarian Foundation founded by the infamous Brother XII, a man described as “downright evil”, “The Great Beast” and the “blackest man to have ever lived”. Brother XII (aka Edward A. Wilson, among other names) was able to convince up to 8,000 followers that he was the Twelfth Master of Wisdom - part of a line of divine perfect masters from another world who would teach his faithful the mysteries of ancient Egypt and usher in a new age.
The amount of money donated to the foundation is legendary - people would give their entire life savings in support. The land purchased included De Courcy Island. A settlement was built on the north end of the island, with stories of having gun fortifications and rock shelters. Any excess money was said to have been converted to gold coins and sealed into glass jars and placed into cedar chests. No one knows what happened to this fortune - perhaps visitors to Pirates Cove (called Gospel Cove or The Haven in Brother XII’s time) sail over it every time they arrive! There are many books written about Brother XII - some fact, some fantasy, all intriguing.
In 1966, a 38 hectare portion of the island was acquired for a Provincial Marine Park with the assistance of the Council of British Columbia Yacht Clubs.
This island, like many of the Gulf Islands, contains an interesting mixture of plants – some coastal, and some more typically found in the dry interior of BC. Rocky Mountain Juniper, satin-flower and poison oak are all species that are much more widely-spread in the interior than they are on the coast, yet here, with De Courcy Island’s dry summers, they thrive.
This park protects one of the few coastal populations of Poison Oak. Stay on the trails to avoid brushing against this rash-inducing plant. Particularly impressive in June and early July are the large areas seen from the loop trail that are covered by Pipsissewa - a low-growing evergreen plant with leathery, shiny leaves and pink flowers. The stands on the east side of the park are unmatched elsewhere in the Gulf Islands.
The largest animals that use the island are black-tailed deer, which share the park with river otters, mink and raccoons. River otters are most easily seen in the early morning and a stroll around the Pylades Trail in the park will likely result in a sighting or two. Watch for areas of flattened grass that otters have used for slides or sun-bathing. Common marine mammals include harbour seals (year-round) and Steller’s and California sea lions (common from late August through the mid-May). The fortunate may catch glimpses of harbour porpoises or orcas, as well as Gray and Humpback whales in the summer.
Birdwatchers will find Wilson’s warblers, Pacific-slope flycatchers, Black oystercatchers, White crowned sparrows and other species breeding in the park. Bald eagles, Great blue herons and scores of others use the park for foraging and resting.