The first residents of the sound were the Mowachaht and Muchalaht peoples who had a rich existence and culture based on whaling and river fishing. The first European to have sustained contact with the coastal native people was Captain James Cook who anchored in Nootka Sound on March 31, 1778. Cook referred to the local Mowachaht and Muchalaht people as the 'Nootka' people-a name that was used until recently to describe all Nuu-chah-nulth speaking people and their language. In 1950 the Mowachaht and Muchalaht people amalgamated to form one Band. They have 17 reserves on 263 hectares. Esperanza Sound is home to the Ehatteshaht Band who have 9 reserves on 136 hectares as well as the Nuchatlaht Band who have 11 reserves on 92 hectares.
The area contains the villages of Gold River, Tsaxana, Tahsis, Occluje, and Zeballos. Gold River, population 1,359, began as a logging community at the head of Muchalaht Inlet in the 1960s. A pulp and paper mill was its biggest economic activity until it closed in 1999. The Mowachat/Muchalth peoples were moved from the area to the mouth of the Gold River, and then moved again several years ago to Tsaxana, just outside Gold River.
Tahsis is a small community of 600 at the head of Tahsis Inlet-about an hour's drive from Gold River. The name comes from an aboriginal word meaning, "passage" or "crossing". The main economic activity was always a sawmill, which was recently closed due to poor markets. The village of Zeballos, population 232, occupies the delta at the head of Zeballos Inlet, an arm of Nootka Sound. The village appeared suddenly in 1935 as a result of a gold rush and the opening of several mines. In 1969 the Tahsis Co. moved its camp there and logging became the main activity. Occluje, just 10 minutes north of Zeballos, is the main First Nation village in the area.
Nootka Island, the largest island on the west coast of Vancouver Island, abounds with the earliest history of British Columbia. The ancient Nuu-Chah-Nulth village of Yuquot, at the southwestern tip of the island has been continuously settled for over 4,300 years. Parks Canada has officially commemorated Yuquot as a National Historic Site. Friendly Cove (Yuquot) has a harbour and manned lighthouse.
The tribal council has built several rustic cabins for tourists arriving with the MV Uchuck III, a passenger boat sailing regularly from Gold River to various logging camps and native communities up the coast. More and more ocean kayakers now make Friendly Cove their destination, as do hikers wishing to experience the famous Yuquot trail - a popular 35km hiking trek that runs along the beaches of its outer shore. This is the Mowachaht's traditional trail to their historical fishing camp at Bajo Point.
Islands of Nootka Sound
The earliest occupation known for the outer coast was revealed by excavations at Yuquot; this site had been used for at least 4300 years.
Historical sites are found throughout the sound, with the most popular being Friendly Cove. There are caves with Mowachaht and Spanish burial sites, and hieroglyphics on some rock faces in the sound.