The Quarantine Station at William Head was once the mandatory first port of call for every ship arriving on the coast.

Metchosin Then and Now: Quarantine Wharf

William Head Quarantine Station a crucial piece of area’s history

Only a select few may now walk over William Head. One must either be a “guest” of Her Majesty and the Government of Canada, or an employee, for it is now a medium security penitentiary.

This is not a far cry from the peninsula’s early history, when as a Quarantine Station it was a mandatory first port of call for every ship arriving on the West Coast. Ships and passengers were required to pass the medical officer’s inspection for infectious diseases, mainly smallpox. If illness was found, the ship was tied to the long wharves and everybody and everything was fumigated and detained until cleared of infection.

Over the 87 years of its operation, many people were employed and lived on the site. Whole families grew up and went to school at the station, many of whom still reside locally and they have shared their stories with Peter Johnson, historian and author.

The story of the Station is told brilliantly in his book “Quarantined; Life and Death at William Head Station, 1872-1959.” It is an engrossing read, shining a light on medical history and immigration to Canada.

How else would we know about the Smallpox Wars between Vancouver and Victoria city councils, or the bureaucratic disinterest of Ottawa? The book is available at local book stores and at the Metchosin Museum Schoolhouse on Happy Valley Road.

Wendy Mitchell is president of the Metchosin Museum Society. She can be reached at

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