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Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams

by Barry Gough

Much has been written about the discovery of the Northwest Passage, especially the explorers who travelled Canada’s North, often with brutal consequences. Less well known are the men who sought a path from the Atlantic to the Pacific from closer to the middle of the North American continent, an oversight naval historian Barry Gough aims to correct with his new volume.

The first part of Juan de Fuca’s Strait describes how the titular Greek mariner, while sailing in the service of Spain in 1592, discovered what he believed to be a great inland sea at the south end of what we now know as Vancouver Island. In 1596, he told his story to the Englishman Michael Lok, who understood the potential riches that would accompany the discovery of a shorter route to China. Lok tried to mount an expedition to the area but was not able to raise adequate funds. Instead, he retold de Fuca’s story, and it quickly became a part of maritime lore that lasted into the next two centuries.

The second part of the book details the voyages of those who sailed along Canada’s West Coast in the 18th century, partly with de Fuca’s claim in mind. Beginning in 1787 with Frances Barkley, who confirmed the existence of a passage, and ending in 1792 with George Vancouver, who proved the strait was not a route to the Atlantic, Gough recounts, in great detail, how knowledge about this part of the world slowly expanded.

Juan de Fuca’s Strait will be particularly appealing to those interested in maritime history, the early history of B.C., or the geography of the West Coast. And yet there is much here for the general reader. Gough’s explanation of the historical circumstances surrounding each voyage is well done, and his discussion of whether or not de Fuca actually did discover the strait named after him is engrossing. Juan de Fuca’s Strait is an enjoyable read, even for a landlubber.