In 1792 Capt. George Vancouver explored the Gulf of Georgia area and gave The Point its present name in honour of Henry Roberts, his friend and fellow explorer. In fact he was second; a year earlier the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza had discovered the Point, but he mistook it for an island.
Mistakes of Point Roberts
As history would have it, mistakes are a recurring theme in the Point Roberts story.
In 1846, Britain and the US signed a treaty agreeing to set the border with the then-British colony of Canada at the 49th parallel from the east, and in the middle of the Gulf of Georgia from the west. But during later on-foot surveys, the British discovered that those two conditions conflicted to slice off Point Roberts from the US mainland. Britain suggested Point Roberts would be better off in British hands, but the Americans had other border disputes they wanted resolved as well and weren’t interested. Despite multiple negotiations throughout the ensuing years, no transfer was ever agreed upon, and today Point Roberts remains part of Whatcom County in the state of Washington.
Ever Evolving Point Roberts
Fraser River Gold Rush
Over the years, the Point has seen wave after wave of people looking for different things. It was briefly home to a shanty town of prospectors lured by the Fraser River Gold Rush in the 1850s. Later at least two companies—the APA (Alaska Packers Association) and George and Barker Packing Co. ran salmon canneries at and around nearby Lily Point in the 1890s.
Several groups of Icelandic farmers had moved from Victoria to The Point in search of better economic opportunity, and they began working in the canneries. By 1904, they made up about half of The Point’s population of 180 people. Diminishing salmon stocks eventually forced the canneries to close down in 1917 and in 1929.
The 1950s saw the arrival of the Canadians, thanks in part to cheap recreational property and the opening of the George Massey tunnel under the Fraser, which cut significant driving time off the trip to and from Vancouver.