Two brothers from the Shetland Islands who pre-empted land in 1887 and 1888 were the earliest European settlers on Cortes Island. Michael Manson arrived first and claimed land in 1887 near Gunflint Lake and in 1888 at Clytosin (now Manson’s Landing). He was joined by his brother John in 1888, who pre-empted 160 acres (65 hectares) near the south end of Cortes on the east side facing Hernando and Twin Islands.
The lives of the two brothers and their families illustrate the challenges of early life on the coast as the economic and social life changed over the decades which included the Yukon gold rush (which drew settlers away from the coast), World War I and the post war economic slump.
Mike Manson had a diverse career of trader, businessman, steamship owner, justice of the peace, sheep farmer and provincial MLA. In 1878 he married Jane Renwick and they lived in Nanaimo, on board ship, at Union Bay and on Cortes and Hernando Islands at different times of their lives.
Of their five children born in Nanaimo, four died in the Nanaimo diphtheria outbreak of 1890. Their surviving daughter Margaret was joined by seven siblings (Robina, Ethel, Florence, Flossie, Hazel, Gwendoline and Wilfred) after Mike and Jane moved to Cortes Island. Michael died in 1932 in Bella Coola while travelling as an MLA. Jane returned to live on Hernando Island and died in 1939.
John Manson married Margaret Smith, his childhood sweetheart from the Shetlands, in 1895. After living on Mitlenatch Island which John had pre-empted to raise sheep, at Toba Inlet where John was a logging camp caretaker, and at Mike and Jane Manson’s Gunflint Lake property, they moved to the Cortes Island land John had pre-empted in 1888 and began to establish an orchard, garden and sheep farm.
As in the common experience of any settler clearing a farm in the coastal rainforest, cutting the trees, clearing the stumps, setting fires to burn wood debris, preparing the land, building a house and making a living was a substantial undertaking. John and Margaret had four children (Jack, Anna, Rose and Nicol) and lived on their farm Sunny Brae for the remainder of their lives. Margaret died in 1925 and John in 1957. Descendants of the John Manson family still farm at Sunny Brae on a portion of John Manson’s original land pre-emption.