Swíwelát (Princess Louisa Inlet) has been traditionally a very important location for the shíshálh nation, with massive amounts of spiritual significance, and for having contained a village in the past, called ásxwíkwu. Today, if you’re able to go up and explore beautiful swíwelát, you can find a gorgeous lodge that houses the luxurious Young Life Malibu Club, a summer camp for teenagers. If you had ventured up there in the 1940’s however, those buildings were a part of a very different enterprise. In 1938, American businessman and aviation executive, Thomas Hamilton, was introduced to the inlet by his friend Bill Boeing. Hamilton and his wife apparently were so enchanted by the landscape that they decided they had to own it. This vision was for Thomas Hamilton to create a “mecca for millionaires”, a luxury resort in a beautiful, remote location. He wanted to attract Hollywood movie stars, directors, industrialists, and socialites.
After purchasing the land (and naming one of the islands after himself), Hamilton began construction on his ambitious project, which he planned to call the Malibu Club in Canada. This was a very arduous process, as Hamilton designed all the buildings himself but would not draw them out, and had things rebuilt multiple times until they matched completely with his vision. Originally, Hamilton’s plan had been to create three distinct resorts on the property, including a Scandinavian village on his island and a Swiss one near the mountain, complete with a ski lift. Despite the inlet’s location within shíshálh nation territory, he mostly decorated the inside of his resort with art inspired by the Indigenous of the American Southwest, in order to make his Californian guest feel more “at home”. He did however, make an exception to this rule to commission several totem poles, and employed local Indigenous carvers to do so. The pole Hamilton had made featured his family, the Hamilton Standard variable pitch propeller (which he occasionally claimed to have invented) and a thunderbird. In another bizarre co-opting of Indigenous culture, Hamilton decided to call the opening party for his new resort the “Malibu Potlatch”. Actual potlatches were illegal at this time, and would continue to be banned for another decade when the club was opened in 1941.
Hamilton did manage to create a luxurious escape for the very wealthy, and he did attract some high-profile guests. People such as John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Barbara Stanwick all visited the remote Malibu resort. Activities offered by Hamilton included sailing, boating, fishing, water skiing, hiking, and hunting. The rooms were luxurious, and the food was prepared by French chefs, with a customized menu depending on the guest’s tastes. Entertainers were flown up to the resort specifically to perform for the guests there. After Pearl Harbour, Hamilton closed the resort for the remainder of the war. At the end of the war however, he was determined to revive business, and he went to work renovating and adding cabins, as well as purchasing more yachts and even a seaplane. At this point the golf course is added, possibly to allow the club easier access to a liquor license. The Malibu reopened in 1946,
and remained open until it’s swift and dramatic abandoning in 1950.
The book “Through the Rapids, the History of the Princess Louisa Inlet” proposes three possible reasons for why Hamilton might have deserted his beloved resort. The first reason listed is financial issues. Apparently, though the Malibu kept spotty records, the club had been on a downward track. The book suggests that perhaps it just didn’t seem worth it for Hamilton to keep the resort open, considering the large amount of money and work it took to keep it operational. The second theory put forth is that despite Thomas Hamilton’s dedication to being the “visionary” behind Malibu, most of the actual management and organization had come from his wife, Ethel. At this point in time, they were divorced and she was no longer there to oversee operations. The third, and most dramatic potential explanation, is that it had to do with a polio death and quarantine occurring at the resort.
In 1948, 17-year-old Sydney Diane Harris, an employee of the Malibu, became extremely sick and became unconscious. The nurse at the resort attempted to have her flown to the hospital, but it had become too stormy to safely fly. Instead, the nurse and the captain of one of the Malibu’s yachts attempted to take her boat, but a lack of working light and bad conditions made them turn around. It was decided to wait until the next day to have her airlifted to Vancouver, but tragically, she died on that flight before making it to the hospital. The next night, the visiting sister of the captain who had tried to help Harris also became sick. She was admitted to the hospital and would remain there for three years, having also contracted polio, quite possibly from Harris. After the second case was confirmed, Health Authorities instituted a two-week quarantine on Malibu. Once the quarantine ended, the Malibu returned to its usual operations. However, in 1950, Hamilton’s grandson contracted the disease. Perhaps under the impression that polio would once again spread at the resort, Hamilton collected the staff and abandoned the Malibu. The resort was left entirely intact, with food still on the stove in the kitchen and yachts still moored at the dock.
Two years later, the Malibu would be introduced to Jim Rayburn, the founder of non-denominational Christian Youth Group, Young Life. Rayburn thought that the neglected resort would make for a great summer camp, and had Hamilton visit existing Young Life Camps so he could see what the Malibu would be used for. Hamilton was apparently very pleased with what he saw, and ended up offering Jim Rayburn the property for the greatly reduced price of $300,000. Originally, Hamilton had been trying to get $1 million for it. Young Life officially bought the Malibu in 1953, and campers began coming in the summer of 1954. The camp is still operational, and thanks to renovations and additions done by Young Life staff and volunteers, can now house up to 300 guests at a time. The Young Life Christian camp is still functioning at Malibu, with campers coming from throughout Canada and the United States to experience the wonders of the Inlet.