British Columbia Ramblings From the Dockside

Conquering Aztecs and Lending a Name: Hernando Cortes

Friday, April 17, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Cruising the Inside Passage is a history lesson waiting to happen.  All the greats (and some not-so-greats) have lent their names to the countless inlets, islands and bays along the coastline.  Sometimes the answer is obvious: Vancouver, Bligh Cove, Cape Cook.  And other times . . . not so much: Tod Inlet (named after John Tod, a Hudson Bay officer), Dodd Narrows (named after Captain Charles Dodd who worked for the Hudson Bay Company for 25 years), Bute Inlet (named after John Stuart, the third Earl of Bute).

So, when some of our friends told us about a book that documents the origin of coastal names in British Columbia, I had to buy one.

It’s all in the name.

We were motoring up the Strait of Georgia a few days ago when David started to hum the extremely annoying (and, sadly, catchy) ABBA tune “Fernando.”  A bluesman and classic rocker by nature, I had no idea that he’d even heard of ABBA, let alone knew one of their songs well enough to hum it, so I had know why:  Why was he suddenly tormenting me with this bubble-gum melody that was destined to stay with me for the rest of the day?  And more importantly, how could I stop it.
The why turned out to be simple: we were approaching Hernando Island to our starboard.  Hernando, Fernando.  Potāto, potăto.
It was time to pull out the newest addition to our library (“British Columbia Coast Names: Their Origin and History”) and find out who this Hernando was and why he has an island named after him.  Come to find out, he was a pretty interesting and historically important fellow whose life not only merited one island naming, but three – Hernando, Cortes and Marina.
Hernando Cortes was born in Spain in 1485 and was a conquistador by profession.  In 1511, he sailed to Cuba where he became secretary to the governor, a powerful and prestigious position.  In 1518, the governor put Cortes in command of an expedition to conquer Mexico, but retracted it at the last minute due to a disagreement between the two men.  Cortes went anyway.  And on the night of June 30, 1520 he succeeded in over-throwing Montezuma and causing the fall of the Aztec Empire.
As a reward, Cortes received royal honours (despite his mutiny) and was named the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca in Mexico.  During his time there, he oversaw the building of new cities (including Mexico City), sponsored further exploration of Mexico and promoted the conversion of the natives to the Roman Catholicism . . . basically changing Mexico forever. From all accounts, Cortes was a man who was dissatisfied with life and constantly strove for more wealth and power.  In the end, he would die in Spain, bitter and broke.
But that only explains two islands – Hernando and Cortes – what about Marina Island
No great story in history would be complete without the help of a woman, and Cortes’ biography is no exception.  Marina Island is named after his mistress and interpreter, Doña Marina, who helped counsel the Spanish in their attack against the Aztecs.  She later bore him a son.
So, there you have it.  The man who won Mexico for Spain and toppled the Aztec Empire lives on in British Columbia.  The accompanying Montezuma’s Revenge, however, does not.
Want a copy of British Columbia Coast Names for yourself? You can buy a used copy on for a penny (plus shipping)! 

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