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Initial Spanish Contact

Narvaez, Galiano and Quadra

Source: Papers of W.W. Hastings


The Spanish were almost certainly the first Europeans to see South Surrey. In June 1791 Don Francisco Eliza in command of the San Carlos, and Jose Maria Narvaez in the Santa Saturnina set to explore or survey the Strait of Juan de Fuca and El Gran Canal de Nuestra Senora del Rosario la Marinera(the Gulf of Georgia). Preliminary surveys led Eliza to believe that the San Juan group was an archipelago. Further exploration was now made in the schooner and a long boat, under the command of Narvaez. On July 1st, 1791, Narvaez began his reconnaissance of Rosario Strait, examining the various bays on the continental side. The accompanying map is a copy of part of an authentic rough sketch map of the coast, marked to show both the coast line, and the course his vessel followed.

Narvaez' map 1791

In early July the expedition anchored off the Indian village of Semiahmoo, before the entrance to what is now known as Drayton Harbor(named by Narvaez as San Jose). With the Santa Saturina at anchor off the Indian village, Narvaez, in the longboat, proceeded northward past the present White Rock and Crescent Beach (the latter he named Punta de San Rafael) into the present Boundary Bay. North of Boundary Bay his chart shows no soundings(due to the shallow nature of the Bays), but the coast shown is the line of the high water mark.

Narvaez's chart, when imposed on a map showing the delta lands inundated by river flood waters and high tides, outlines the high water line along the high land areas.

Fraser flooded delta

Major J.S. Matthews in Vancouver Historical Journal comments:

The course, without soundings, north of Punta de San Rafael would suggest that Narvaez, in his longboat, passed from Boundary Bay, and after about seven miles the south bank of a great stream a mile wide, swiftly flowing westwards. Assured that the river came from the high mountains in the far east, he returned to his ship. That his chart shows no soundings north of Semiahmoo is evident there was none; the bottom could be touched with an oar or pole. He did not explore the north west corner of Boundary Bay; there was no shore line; the flood waters covered all.


Dionisio Alcala Galiano

Dionisio Alcala Galiano 1762-1805

In 1792 Galiano accompanied Valdes in a Spanish exploration to the northwest coast to continue the exploration of the continental shore–line of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They sailed in the Sutil and Mexicana. A ship's boat explored Bellingham Bay, Boundary Bay and Semiahmoo Bay. After leaving the area Galiano and Valdes met George Vancouver's ship at anchor off Point Grey.

Galiano's Sutil and Valdes' Mexicana

This sketch shows Galiano's Sutil and Valdes' Mexicana making contact with local natives while under sail along the coast of British Columbia. Two native canoes are approaching the strange sailing vessels.

The next year, 1792, Dionisio Alcala Galiano in the Sutil and Cayento Valdes in the Mexicana were ordered to examine the continental shore-line of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They proceeded to Bellingham Bay and Boundary Bay. Galiano completed the reconnaissance by outlining Boundary Bay which the former named Ensenada del Engano, Engano meaning false, deceptive. Punt Cepeda(Point Roberts) was outlined and its relation to the mainland was shown.

Galiano's 1792 map

Inside Birch Bay, they saw the lights of a vessel, and as they left Boundary Bay in the early morning hours, they met a longboat containing an English naval officer. Lieutenant Broughton informed them that the British ships Discovery and Chatham were close by. A few days later, they met Captain George Vancouver returning by boat from Burrard Inlet.

The Spanish and English expeditions exchanged information on their surveys and arranged for a joint expedition northward. The four ships proceeded north through Malaspina Channel and worked together until July 13 when the Spaniards left to examine the mainland coastline, while Vancouver continued through Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait to Queen Charlotte Sound. He was examining the labyrinthine windings of Fitzhugh Sound, Burke Channel and south Bentinck Arm, when he decided to abandon the survey and proceed to Nootka to meet his supply ship.


The Spanish had established a outpost in Nootka Sound to forestall Russian traders from moving south as well as English freelance fur traders. In 1792 the Spanish Commandant of San Blas (Nootka) was Bodega y Quadra. Quadra and Vancouver spent the last days of August exchanging civilities and permitting a warm friendship to develop between them. One of the outcomes was a sharing of coastal survey notes that resulted in a map comprised of British and Spanish findings.

Quadra's and Vancouver's joint map

This map was made by the Spanish commander at Nootka, Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, shows the results of the cooperation between himself and George Vancouver. Here the coastline surveyed by the Spanish is shown in brown, while that surveyed by the British is red. Many of Vancouver's place names are used.

Source: Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley – Derek Hayes

Next Page: Jose Maria Narvaez 1765–1840

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