August 21-24 2018
When my friend Joanne asked me if I was interested in joining her and her ‘WOW’ (Walk On Wednesday) group on a trip to northern Vancouver Island, I did not hesitate one minute. What an opportunity to join a group, so diverse, so knowledgeable in many subjects to a tour, taking us to Port McNeill and Alert Bay. The road trip was organized by Jay Stewart, and we were accompanied by her husband Peter Macnair as well as Chief Henry Seaweed.
Joanne was so kind to take 3 of us in her car and we started our road trip in Nanaimo. Our first stop was in Courtenay, where we visited the local museum, thinking that the special exhibition we wanted to see was displayed there. We walked around the very interesting fossil displays there and were then directed by the friendly staff to the local art gallery, where the exhibition, Hiłt̕sist̕a’a̱m (The Copper Will Be Fixed), was held. A passionate and knowledgeable young Haida girl gave us a tour. We must have spent about an hour with her, learning more and more as the time passed.
Before continuing the drive to Port McNeill we had a picnic on the parking lot.
Arriving in Port McNeill we dropped our 2 fellow travelers off at their hotel and drove on to ours, the Dalewood Inn. We caught up with the rest of the group who had already arrived and started preparing for our potluck dinner. How many people and how much food can you jam into one hotel room? Many and a lot. That’s for sure. It was a fun get-together.
Off to bed early as we had a full day ahead of us with a fairly early start.
Joanne and I went down for breakfast relatively early and found the breakfast room packed with firemen. They were stationed at this and other hotels, as well as in tents in town and were fighting the many wild fires on the island. There were at that point close to 70 fires on Vancouver Island.
Space was made for us in an adjoining room and slowly we were joined by the others.
Around 9:00 am we started to walk towards Mackay Whale Watching. After registering we met with the rest of the group, including Chief Henry Seaweed, his son Les, Les’ wife Donna, and Henry’s great-granddaughter Alexis.
There were of course other people on the boat, aside of our group, making it a total of about 36 people. Captain Bill Mackay was in charge.
We were all welcomed by Chief Henry in a ceremonial way. What a beautiful way to start this boat trip. 8 Minutes in the journey we spotted the first Orcas. Even though the visibility was poor due to the bad air quality (wild fires) it was an amazing sight, specially the mother with her young one. We drifted on the water, enjoying the antics of the killer whales, trying to predict where they would surface next…
Thanks to Chief Henry we detoured to the island where he was born, Ba’as, and with his ceremonial permission we were allowed to go ashore. We walked the beach and saw emptiness where once a village stood. The government moved everybody off the island, children were sent to Residential Schools. A sad and bad time in Canadian history.
Back on the boat and in more open waters, we saw humpback whales. We were literally surrounded by them. They surfaced on one side of the boat, others spotted them on the other side. A feast for the eyes, for sure. We also saw a rookery of sea lions; noisy, big, beautiful in their own way.
By that time the sky started clearing as well, one blue patch at the time. The winds were now blowing in from the ocean. What a relief.
Almost 6 hours after departing in the morning we arrived at Port McNeill again. A short walk to the hotel and a wonderful dinner at the Archipelagos Bistro at the Dalewood Inn with the whole group.
It had been an amazing day.
Another early breakfast. This time without the huge group of firemen as they had been sent to Woss as another fire apparently had started there.
We took the 8:40 am ferry to Alert Bay, a short, 25 minute boat ride.
It promised to be a gorgeous day weather wise and as it turned out, it was a fantastic day all around.
We checked out the small village and the old burial grounds. Then we made our way through town to the U’mista Cultural Centre, an experience not to be missed. With Peter explaining about the many First Nations People, we meandered through the building, soaking up history.
And as is always the case in history, we learned about the good and the bad.
A picnic near the playground followed: Sun, view over the water, good food, great company!
After finishing up we walked to the Big House, where a performance by the Tʼsasała Cultural Group awaited us. It is heartwarming to see how much effort is made by the Elders to teach the present generation the culture and language that was almost lost.
And how enthusiastically the young ones embrace their culture. It was another eye-opening experience to see the dancers and singers of all ages. At one point we, the audience, were asked to join in which was such a fun experience.
Then it was time to say good-bye to Alert Bay. We took the ferry back to Port McNeill and reminisced about the day we so much enjoyed.
Time to head south again. Quite different now we could actually see where we were going. Coming north was under very smokey skies, now it was clear and blue.
We stopped briefly in the logging village of Woss.
The next place we wanted to see was Sayward. Unfortunately we only found out later that if we had gone just about 1 km farther, we would have been at Kelsey Bay. Never mind. That’s for another trip 😉
We were meeting with the group in Campbell River, at Koto Japanese Restaurant.
After a delicious lunch we went “caravan style” to Bill Henderson’s carving shed.
Bill Henderson carved the totem pole which is standing next to the Campbell River Museum. His father had carved the original one but it disintegrated and was beyond repair. After his father’s death, Bill decided to burn the pole ceremonially on the beach. The new pole was raised in 2017.
Bill and his family showed us the totem poles they were working on and explained some of the tools they use. They were all very happy to answer all our questions.
The Campbell Museum was next. A beautiful building with very tastefully exhibited treasures. Another learning experience.
And then we started the last leg of our trip: back to Nanaimo.
Thank you Joanne, for doing all the driving for us.
And many thanks to Jay, for making this trip possible. The organization of it must have been quite something but it was worth every minute of it.
Thank you Peter, for all the information, your stories. Your knowledge is phenomenal.
Thank you Chief Henry Seaweed, for showing us places we would never have seen otherwise and sharing stories about your family and culture.
It was an unforgettable, marvelous journey.