First settled as Port Kusum in the 1890s, at the mouth of Salmon River overlooking Johnstone Strait, the settlement was officially named Sayward in 1911. It was named after William Parsons Sayward, a carpenter and lumber merchant who moved from California to Victoria in 1858, becoming a very successful lumberman on the Island. Although he never visited the Sayward area, the government of the day decided he deserved some honour and so named the community after him.
When settlers arrived, there was a vibrant K'omoks First Nations village on the Salmon River. By 1917, the village was empty, and today the reserve is used on a regular basis by members of the K'omoks First Nation for recreational purposes though many of the members live in nearby communities.