Vancouver Island (redux)

Our last stop in the States was in Port Townsend, Washington, a cute little Victorian town on the water. Also with excellent coffee, treats, flowers, and deer wandering around eating the flowers. We had a picnic on the beach and stretched our legs walking around town.


The view from the top of the hill is pretty special.


Here is Lucy, completely oblivious to the deer that nervously watched her every move.


Nope, still oblivious.


Not oblivious at all.


Last view of the States in Port Angeles. It really was the last view for a while. Our passports were stolen/lost almost as soon as we crossed the border in Victoria. Seems like we’ll be taking the Canadian route home.


We spent the night in Victoria, emptied the car looking for our passports, decided that they were really gone. We reported the loss, decided to embrace the road north of Lake Superior, and headed on our way. We were on Vancouver Island to make the trip to Tofino and Alert Bay that we hadn’t been able to make in February because of weather. Honestly, after making both of the drives, I’m so glad we decided not to go in winter. The drive to Tofino is hair-raising in good weather – I can’t image what it’s like in the winter.

So we set out in the sunshing and had lunch with a goat.


A goat on the roof!! This is in Coombs. It’s kind of a tourist trap, but THERE ARE GOATS ON THE ROOF! So awesome.


We also stopped on route at Cathedral Grove. I came here in 1992 – it’s still as beautiful as it was then, but the Grove itself is gone. The giant trees that stood in a circle were all uprooted in a major storm a few years ago. It’s pretty sad as there aren’t all that many old growth groves left on this part of the island (in fact, are there any?).




And really weirdly, the park is named after the MacMillan of the MacMillan Bloedel forestry company, oh you know, the same company that cut down the other old growth forests and if I remember correctly, was the main target of the Clayoquot Sound protests. It’s a bit hard to swallow.


Arrival. Hanging out on the edge of the continent in Ucluelet.



Tofino has changed a lot since I was last there, but not necessarily in a bad way. There’s amazing food now (although to be honest, I had the first really amazing meal of my life in Tofino when I was 15, in a super divey hotel, cooked by a cordon bleu chef who had run away from his high profile job in some big city. I still remember every bite of it – crab ravioli and arugula salad. I’d never heard of arugula and had never eaten crab).


Tim says I have to explain that Lucy is looking out from under a picnic table as otherwise this picture makes no sense.


Wandering around Tofino.


Danger Bay moment.



After lunch we took a hike through the woods to Schooner Cove.


It was cloudy, but the sky was clearing and the tides were out.


Starfish and anemones everywhere!




Then we walked, and walked, a long way along Long Beach.








Looking a little sleepy.


Totally knocked out. We actually walked so far that Lucy practically fell asleep on her feet and needed not one, but two naps on the beach.



The second in one of the driftwood structures that dot the beach.


From Tofino we headed east back across the island, and then headed north to Alert Bay. It was a long, long drive. We were heading up there to go to the U’Mista Cultural Society, a museum that opened in 1980 and that I first read about in 1998. Reading about the U’Mista really changed the course of my career – it sparked my interest in museums, in repatriation, in Indigenous history in Canada, and in Aboriginal representation in museums and galleries. It felt like an enormous privilege to go to Alert Bay, and it was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

The short version is this. In 1921, Chief Dan Cranmer held a potlatch in Alert Bay. At the time the Canadian government had made potlatches illegal as a way of trying to destroy Indigenous culture. Ian Halliday, the white Indian Agent, found out about the potlatch. Participants (including many chiefs from surrounding areas) were arrested and brought to Vancouver. All of the regalia that Cranmer had been going to give away at the potlatch was confiscated, and arrestees were given a choice: sell the regalia (at ridiculously low prices) or go to prison. Most people decided to sell (although some sent back the cheques, saying the prices were insulting and they would rather take no money at all). The regalia was distributed to many museums and private collections (including the collection of Surrealist artist Andre Breton). The Kwakwaka’wakw people fought for decades to have the regalia returned, and in 1979 were partially successful. Many objects were returned, but with a (possibly controversial) stipulation that they had to be housed in a museum. The U’Mista and the Nuymbalees Centre (in Cape Mudge) were established. There is a lot more to this story (such as, prisoners were taken to the Vancouver Court House, now the Vancouver Art Gallery), and I’ve studied the collection closely enough that I was incredibly moved to see it in situ. It was also very clear that there is a lot about this story and collection that will always be out of reach for me.

It also turned out that Alert Bay was itself a pretty amazing place. We spent two days there, met a lot of people, had many conversations, were able to see the school children performing at the Big House, and altogether had an incredible time.


View of Alert Bay from the ferry, with the U’Mista and St Michael’s Residential School



Alert Bay harbour.


Walking along the waterfront – I think that was the former cannery?



Ravens everywhere.


And heron.


N’amgis cemetery







Tallest totem pole


Big house


School children performing.


Front of the U’Mista on the left, crumbling residential school in the background. The boards on the front of the U’Mista are there because there was a fire there last year, possibly due to arson.


Front doors. No pics allowed of the interior, but there’s a virtual tour here. One of the important things about the U’Mista was that they decided not to use typical museum displays, putting objects behind glass. Instead, the masks can’t be touched, but they are much more visibly accessible. Also, the room smells strongly of cedar (partly because of recent repairs). I knew about the different display techniques, but I was surprised by how different it felt from typical displays. It was a completely different feeling from being at the ROM and seeing masks all crowded together in cases.


The residential school, which is right next to the U’Mista (another thing that surprised me) is crumbling to the ground. It’s the biggest building in town and it does have a looming presence even though it has since been used for many other things, including band council offices, carving school, healing center, cultural offices etc. It’s impossible to erase the fact that it’s there, and the graffiti conveys the scars of its presence.





So many people in Alert Bay told us how proud they were of their culture. I definitely felt like though I’ve been teaching about the U’Mista for ten years now, I really had no idea what it was actually like – its setting, the contents, the history, the sheer distance from Vancouver and Victoria to Alert Bay, the presence of the residential school, the nearness of the Big House and present-day culture.


Alert Bay and Cormorant Island are also beautiful, and we spent a lot of time walking and climbing. There’s a swamp at the apex of the island!



There are eagles everywhere.


But fortunately not a whole lot of other beasties!! Phew!



This was the view from our little cabin.


And this was the view on the road back to Nanaimo and the ferry. Wildflowers everywhere.



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