When the first Europeans arrived in Deer Harbor, they found a Coastal Indian encampment along the slough which connects the shallow inner basin with the main harbor. Their split cedar long houses measured 100 feet by 20 feet. Each housed three generations of a tribal clan. These peace-loving Coastal Indians spent their time fishing, hunting and gathering plants, which they preserved by roasting or drying for winter use. Rows of dugout cedar canoes were drawn up on the shore in front of the long houses. The Northwest Culture depended on the forests for their shelter. Every home was made of wood, and the whole village pointed toward the water, whether it was a river, a quiet bay, or the ocean. Along the beach were the canoes, covered with bark matting or branches to protect them from the weather. In the back of the house were wooden racks that dried fish, wooden sheds for smoking fish, and storage sheds
Deer Harbor is said to have been named by its first permanent settler, Louis Cayou, for the many canoe-loads of deer meat he hauled from here to Victoria. A Kentucky born Frenchman, Cayou, then 25 had arrived in British Columbia just as its Caribou Gold Rush was fizzling out. Hudson's Bay Company hired him and three others as hunters and sent them to Orcas Island to procure venison for the company. The three hunters establishing a small encampment on the inner bay where there was plenty of fresh water and grass for grazing animals. In 1858 the name Deer Harbor first officially appeared on British Admiralty charts. One of the hunters, Louis Cayou, married a Salish Native American woman and established the first homesteads on Orcas Island. Remnants of that first homestead still stand at the head of this estuary on this land.
This pristine, vibrant and prolific location was uniquely chosen by our ancestors.
Louis Cayou pictured in front of his first homestead close to the head
of the lagoon. He later moved a little uphill near the foot of Stewards' Knol