The Hawaiian Island in the heart of BC

Russell Island

Of all the pioneer names in British Columbia that have survived through the generations, perhaps the most unusual is Maria Mahoi.

She was not a politician, nor wealthy coal baron, explorer or Hudsons Bay Company official. Rather, she was a mother. And yet that alone has been enough to earn her a place of honour and have her homestead enshrined as an integral part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Her defining trait was her spirit, which allowed her and her family to flourish at a time when Maria had every reason to be suppressed, being twice indigenous – as both a Hawaiian and as a British Columbian native.

"She was a woman who had a value of success and wanting to achieve that, a woman who was entirely a mother and a great-grandmother also," says grandson Larry Bell.

"She did that by the legacy of her values and her convictions."

Her home was Russell Island, a beautiful spot set in the entrance to Fulford Harbour off Salt Spring Island. Salt Spring became an unlikely haven for Hawaiians who came first for work and then settled out of necessity, as their aboriginal status in the United States denied them basic rights such as the ability to own land.

In all Maria raised a dozen children on the Russell Island homestead, with the 1903 building still standing today.

 Maria Mahoi Russell Island homestead

"She was born in the time when Vancouver Island was still a small fur trade post, but she lived into the 1930s. She went through a large span of time and she did it in a very positive and very effective fashion," says Jean Barman, author of Maria Mahoi of the Islands.

"She was a woman who was resourceful and resilient at the times that she had to be and she also had a large family of a dozen or so children and very much took care of that family and oversaw that."

A volunteer park host program allows tours of the homestead through the summer season, many of whom are descendants of Maria.

There is no passenger service to the island, but for kayakers it makes a great day trip from a launch in Fulford Harbour or as a side trip from the popular campsites on nearby Portland Island, also part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Boaters can anchor on the inside facing Fulford Harbour.

A crushed shell beach on the island's southwest side is a good landing spot while visiting boaters will appreciate the dinghy jetty.

Maria Mahoi of the Islands is published by New Star Books,, with a new version due out soon.


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