December 7 marks the 80th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that put defenses along the west coast of North America on high alert.
That effort included small Yorke Island in the Johnstone Strait, a site that the Canadian Army had chosen as a good location for coastal defense before the outbreak of World War II.
“That made the war suddenly feel very real, people on the west coast of Canada hadn’t felt the importance of the war,” Catherine Gilbert, author of Yorke Island and the uncertain war explained.
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“Suddenly the western side of the country felt very vulnerable.”
Construction began in 1937.
During the war, Yorke Island became home to about 200 military personnel. The Canadian Army installed docks and searchlights and mounted weapons to help fortify the BC coastline.
“They had a coastal defense expert from Great Britain,” Gilbert said.
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“He thought Yorke Island was a good location. Any Japanese aircraft passing over Vancouver Island into Vancouver could be intercepted. “
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Claudette Schulte’s father, Ed Gerlinsky, was stationed on Yorke Island. He would tell his family some very long days that he and others lived while isolated on this remote island.
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“He told me about a ball diamond, so they played baseball,” he said. “But other than that, I don’t remember him talking about other activities.”
Nature has reclaimed much of the site, but some structures still remain, a reminder of a time filled with such stress, when BC was faced with uncertainty about possible attacks from abroad.
“There was a feeling that it could happen,” Schulte said.
“So there was the fear and concern that they might be in danger and they might have a role to play.”
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