On Saturdays December 3rd, 10th and 17th Sunnyshore Studio hosts its GRAND OPENING titled Beaches of Camano.
The Dorsey family are teaming up to paint the 32+ beaches of Camano and publish a coffee table book Beaches of Camano that will celebrate those beaches and help newcomers to our Island enjoy these beaches as well.
One of those beaches, Utsalady Bay is rich in history. Enjoy its story here:
There are at least two tales of how Utsalady Bay got its name. One goes like this. An early settler of Utsalady was Scottish. When his wife had their first son he went around telling everyone It’s-a-laddie, thus “Utsalady”. Another is that it is an old Indian name that means “berries.” Whatever the origin of its name it has a rich history.
Utsalady Bay once was at the center of the logging industry on Camano Island, with a mill, a store and tavern. Down on Utsalady Beach there was also the Mellum Hotel. In those days, the logs were brought in by horses and carried off by ships with tall sails.
More recently Utsalady Point was the home of one of the many resorts that dotted Camano’s beachline. Now beautiful beach homes look out over the boats across the Bay to Mount Baker to the northeast.
Joyce Larsen Linn, a long-time Utsalady Beach resident, lived much of that history. I interviewed Joyce and her friend Andrena – who had grown up at Camp Grande and who I featured in an earlier article – at Joyce’s beautiful home at Utsalady. It was not only fascinating to hear their stories, but also special because Joyce and Andrena are old classmates and friends of my mom.
Joyce’s parents were Svend (Danish) and Ada (Swedish) Larsen. Her mother was born in 1911 and was raised on Camano Island: her grandparents, it turns out, lived at the AJAX farm, which is now part of the Danielson Farm. There they farmed cows, raised peas, and chickens and pigs and children, eight of them to be precise.
During her growing up years, Joyce’s parents lived in Bellingham. In 1950 they built a cabin on Utsalady Beach and spent their weekends there.
At that time there we only a few other cabins at Utsalady that were part of a fishing resort after the mill went away.
Joyce remembers how at Utsalady point, just south of their cabin, there was a dock with a building on it where the Utsalady- Coupeville Ferry came in (I’m not sure if the pictures below are specifically those of the Utsalady-Coupeville Ferry, but they give an image of what it would have been like).
She remembers how one night, she, her sister Janet and Susan and Linda Anderson stayed in the building on the dock. It had a wood stove in it and they had enjoyed the fire. But as the dark of night fell, it became more and more scarry and the girls went back to their own homes and beds.
She remembers how they came up to Camano on the weekends in the winters and how each summer her mom picked her and Janet up after the last day of school and they would move into the beach cabin until labor day weekend.
For Joyce Utsalady was the enchanting place of her childhood. She put it like this: “We never had vacations. It wasn’t until after I got married that I realized that we were on vacation all summer long. Our beach house was Grand central station. Mom and dad loved to entertain. And they had a large family. Every weekend we had a houseful. The more people came, the more potatoes my mother would peel and put in the pot. Every weekend was fried chicken and mashed potatoes.”
She remembers how her dad who owned a logging co in Bellingham (Larsen logging company) brought his D8 Cat down to the beach and pulled the old unused pilings from the logging days that were stuck in the mud flats up on the beach and into a burn pile. Joyce remembers the 300 foot float dock used by her family and their friends that sat in the water in front of their beach house. The old anchor still sits on the beach in front of her home, thought the dock has long been gone.
When she was in the 7th grade, the Larsens moved to Camano Island permanently. Joyce’s dad had retired from logging. He purchased the old family farm from his inlaws and ran the farm himself (though Joyce said he wasn’t much of a farmer) unto 1966 when they moved into their beach cabin on Utsalady while they built their new home next door.
I asked Joyce what this place where she has played and lived so long means to her. She said, “This is my roots. This is where family and friends celebrated life together. This is what it’s all about. I have lots of good memories here.” Then she added, “I spent many hours on the beach. I never get tired of the beach.”
My question sparked more memories.
Joyce told me how one of Janet and her favorite games was walking as far as they could on top of the driftwood logs that covered the beach; when one of them fell from a long onto the sand they had lost. She looked into the distance as if she could see it still and remarked, “we spent hours doing this.”
She remembers one extreme low tide on a new years eve. That evening her family and some friends were poised to go down and clam using lanterns. Suddenly the power went out. Joyce said, “mom ended up cooking the full dinner over an old coleman hand pump gas stove.”
I asked Joyce about the private beach public beach tension. She said, “Jason, I’m still trying to figure it out. My parents always let people walk on their beach. They felt privileged that they owned the beach, felt like it was a gift from God, and that as long as people respected the beach they were open to share it w everyone.”
She mentioned how there is the public boat launch next door and that though some people consider it a nuisance, for her she views it as entertainment. She can spend hours watching people bring their boats in and out of the water.
She reflected on how people used to live for coming to Camano’s beaches on the weekend. Joyce had cousins who lived in Mt. Vernon who would bring a great big surplus tent and spend weekends in it the back yard for the 4th of July weekends, how sometimes there would be 50 people in the back yard in tents on that weekend, and how her mom always had 3 or 4 chickens frying in a big canner in the oven.
Thankfully, Utsalady Beach is accessible to the public who are able to enjoy a boat launch and enjoy the beach and the views. For my money, the most enchanting time at Utsalady is in mid to late July in the evening at high tide. Then you will find the smelters with their nets waiting for the tap tap of the smelt in the nets. And if they are set against a backdrop of the evening sky even the better.