Archive | May 2010

Meeting the Painters, at Painter’s

I had the opportunity this weekend to rub elbows with some of the West Coast’s most well known artists at the opening reception of the 16th Annual Painters at Painter’s event at Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, on May 29 & 30.  For those of you who haven’t heard about it, years ago, Bob Wright, the chieftain of the Oak Bay Marine Group, conceived of the idea of bringing together a group of Canadian artists to showcase their work, after having seen a fantastic collection of art in the south of France at the Colombe D’or Hotel.  The result has been an event that not only displays their work, but has a full schedule of workshops and presentations that would satisfy the need of any art enthusiast.

Artist Suzanne Northcott

There are only a select number of artists chosen to participate in this event and with the passing of Glenn Howarth, a new member was added this year.  I had the pleasure of meeting this most recent member, Suzanne Northcott from Fort Langely, who introduced herself to us.  She explained that the applicants submitted three images and a bio, then it was up to the other artists to vote on who they favoured.  Her sister Janice Robertson has been participating in the show for several years and her brother-in-law Alan Wylie has been with it since the beginning, making it almost a family affair.

The artists all certainly come with a good pedigree, as demonstrated in the gorgeous

Northcott painting at show

full colour and glossy catalogues we received from one of the organizers, Jill Smillie, Oak Bay Marine’s Director of Marketing, that includes bios of each artist and an example of their work.  Jill said that she was extremely pleased with how well the show had been coming together this year; from the placement of the artwork to the number of artists who were able to attend – all but one out of 33 were there.

The collection of work is certainly impressive and worthy of the attention it receives. Situated around the lovely Painter’s property, now in full bloom are huge tents to house the artists’ work, and both the upper and lower levels of the main lodge are also used to showcase the exhibits.  We visited the lower level, and it was heartening to see so many well executed and gorgeous landscapes; and interesting to see how many artists were working in oil after it had been abandoned for several years by many painters in favour of watercolours and acrylics.  The collection included an especially stunning still life by painter Mickie Acierno (see photo) and an exquisite sculpture by Maarten Schaddelee.

The Friday evening reception, replete with wine, cheese and a witty introductory speech from Wright himself, was just a jump start to a weekend devoted to thinking about art, discussing art and enjoying art.  Wright commented that he recently had his portrait painted by one of the participants, David Goatley, who has also been commissioned to do a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.  All in all, just being there is stimulating and enough to make a person want to pull out those stiff paintbrushes and dusty canvases and tackle that five year old project again!!


The Ghostly Reminders of War at Yorke Island

For those interested in Yorke Island and BC’s coastal defence, my book about Yorke Island has just been published!  See link below for full story:

Article follows:

A trip to Yorke Island is not for the faint-of-heart.  The stretch of water off Sayward that surrounds the island is known to be one of the most dangerous in Johnstone Strait (between Vancouver Island and the BC Mainland). Yorke Island is situated six kilometers northeast of Sayward, where the strait meets Sunderland Channel.  However, if you are in the hands of a good skipper like Ron Rennison, who knows the area and has been there many times, you are off to a good start.  Yorke Island is worth a visit especially if you are a military history buff, as it was once a gunnery outpost created to be the first line of defence against a possible attack from the Japanese during World War II.

Once you get there (and fortunately for us it was a calm day), you will discover that there is no way in which to actually land on the island.  There is no dock or place to tie up a boat. That was my first surprise.  My second was when my host and guide Ross Keller, who had brought along his nephew Nick Bowman, told me they were staying till Monday.  “What”?  I was only prepared for a day trip and couldn’t picture myself shivering in the open with no sleeping bag.  Then they reassured me that ‘Captain’ Ron would be back for me at whatever time I requested.  It was early, so I figured 2pm would be good and give me enough time to explore and learn about this unusual place.

Ross then threw his two person dinghy in the water (see photo) and we commenced our shuttle to shore.  I managed to get out of the dinghy without getting wet (unusual for me, as I can never seem to climb out of a kayak without getting well soaked) and Ross perused the shoreline to see how we would get to the trail.  Normally, this part wouldn’t have been a challenge, but a very large tree had uprooted itself over the winter and blocked the beginning of the trail.  It was clear that we were going to have to clamber over the upended tree’s exposed roots and clumps of dirt in order to reach the trail, or bushwack; so that is what we did.

The trail was quite visible after that and Ross commented that the team from Sayward Futures, out-of-work forest employees, who had been organized to make improvements on the island, had done a great job tidying up the trail.  It was wide and comfortable to follow, but fairly steep.  It wasn’t long before we encountered our first evidence of the World War II occupation of the island, a shell of a building that was once the officer’s quarters.  (see photo)  There was more to come.

At the top of the trail, the real gems of its history are revealed.  Yorke Island is small (55 hectares) and slopes steeply upward from shore.  Here the military placed their observation posts, at about 200 feet above the shore, in strategic positions that would offer an unobstructed view up and down the strait.  And these were not just flimsy shelters.  It boggles the mind in fact, to imagine how these poured concrete structures were ever put up under such difficult circumstances, when there was (and still is not)  any infrastructure, amenities or even resources on the island .  One of the biggest challenges was to provide enough water, as Yorke Island has no fresh water supply (and I was thankful I had the foresight to bring my usual bottle of the precious stuff). Along with the 250 to 300 troops, there could be as many as 200 construction workers there at any one time.  As the military deemed that each man should be provided with one gallon of water per day, a huge amount had to be delivered and stored there in a 50,000 gallon (200,000 litre) tank.  While those campers among us might think that several outhouses would suffice, there was a concern over cholera – which had been known to develop where several people were crowded together in unsanitary conditions, so flush toilets with adequate washing facilities were assembled.

Ross’s favourite place is the Observation Post.  Like a pair of kids in a tree house, he and his nephew scrambled up onto a rickety bench then squeezed through a slat in the wall.  Was I supposed to follow?  Not to appear cowardly, I did, and found myself on a sort of platform that offered a magnificent view of the strait facing west.  But this was not all, Ross figured I should attempt the next phase, which would offer an even more fabulous view, and with his help I managed to crawl up the ersatz ladder that led to the roof top of this building.  Although not particularly comfortable with heights, I had to admit that the climb was worthwhile.  I could see why Ross was excited about camping here.

After a picnic lunch on the heights, we continued on our tour, with Ross

Yours truly inspecting the barracks

explaining the purpose of the various buildings and gun ports.  We then headed down a very steep and dry, crumbling slope to the west shore and stopped to investigate the buildings that once housed the gigantic generators.  For anyone who has ever seen the power generated at a mine site, it is comparable.  The generators are no longer there, but were a necessary apparatus for a war time outpost when light might be required at a moment’s notice in case the enemy was spotted.

The dining hall and camp area were at the bottom of this hill, and Ross was thrilled to find evidence in the form of an artifact – a half pottery bowl with the Sovereign stamp, that had been unearthed by an uprooted tree.  We then went down to the shore, which involved more clambering and hopping over the rocks, then followed the shoreline back to our landing spot.

All in all, it had been a great day.  Ron arrived with his boat at the prescribed hour and on board were his wife Sharon and Robert Theoret, a former photographer with National Geographic, who was scouting out good shots of eagles for his photo library.  As Ron said when we got back to Kelsey Bay, his greatest concern is for the safety of visitors to the island.  So far, no tour operator has endeavoured to take groups of people there, although the Campbell River Museum has conducted a tour and Marine Links provided the transportation for last year’s 70th anniversary trip.  The year prior, Ross brought two war veterans John Rorison and Bill Lewis, who had been posted to Yorke Island during its years of occupation.  Ross’s dream is to eventually bring people there on tours, but in the meantime it remains a remote and not easily accessible place, which of course, adds to its intriguing charm.

From Sacred to Profane – the legend of Big Rock continues

Frank Assu is a man with a mission, and a very busy one.  He just finished self publishing his first book, ‘Lekwiltok Anthology’, that came out in January of this year, is attending Vancouver Island University in order to become a teacher, works for the Canadian Coast Guard and is married and the father of four children.  On top of all of this, last year he submitted a petition to the City of Campbell River to clean up Campbell River’s famous landmark, Big Rock, and have it declared a municipal historic site.

 Assu’s book is a collection of essays about his people, the We Wai Kai of Quadra Island. (Assu is a grandson of the well known Chief Billy Assu).  The book deals with the stories and legends of the Laichwiltach First Nations and as Assu puts it, he felt compelled to capture his family’s oral traditions on paper – for his children, and for anyone else who might be interested.  Although this project did not directly affect his decision to try to do something about Big Rock, he admits to be being inspired indirectly while reviving Laichwiltach legends for the book.  So what is the connection?

 Big Rock has long been the focus of legend and has an air of mystery surrounding it .  It is a geological anomaly.  The 30 ft high rock, sitting perched between the Island Highway in Campbell River and the ocean (see photo), appears to have no physical relationship to anything surrounding it.  There are no other big rocks nearby, no deep holes, no cliffs or mounds… the area is quite flat.  It is perhaps because of this that local First Nations peoples created legends surrounding its meaning and how it arrived where it is.  There is more than one legend, and as Assu explains, each tribe that settled the area created their own legend.  The legend he grew up with involves a grizzly bear from the mainland and its desire to  jump over to Vancouver Island; although warned by the Great Spirit, that if it missed it would be turned to stone.  It did miss and became Big Rock.  At the Campbell River Museum, the animated video story of Big Rock is based on a Comox legend, and involves an octopus. It is also thought that it could be a remnant of the Ice Age.

However, Assu does not like to assign the history of Big Rock to any one group or individual.  As he says, the Big Rock is really part of “the collective history of Campbell River”.

What concerns Assu is the fact that this legendary rock has been the target for graffiti, which often includes profanity, and it has been used by protesters and demonstrators.  If designated a protected historic site, signage woul be put in place, it would be cleaned up, and a coating of clear protective paint applied, so that it could easily be wiped clean of markers and paint should attempts be made to defame it again.  Big Rock is a tourist attraction, and Assu would like to educate visitors and residents alike about the significance of the rock.  In fact, he intends to collect stories from others, not just First Nations stories, about how the rock might have been important in their life – as a landmark, a meeting place, associated with an early memory…, and produce a second book that would be ready at the time of the site’s unveiling.

 His petition has passed the first step through the Culture and Heritage Committee, and is now in the hands of city council.  He has been assured that the future looks rosy for the rock, and it will take about a year for the process of designating it a municipal historic site to be completed.  The next step will be to get provincial designation (and he has at this stage received both verbal and written support from MP John Duncan and MLA Claire Trevena); then on to the federal level to have it declared a national historic site (the Honourable Kevin Krueger has given written support in principal), then finally, he hopes it will be recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. 

 Assu wrote his first book so that “my people would have a reference for their own history – something tangible”.  Now he aims to present the “life” of Big Rock, which again will be a collection of stories, and make it a respected and tangible symbol for all residents of Campbell River to be proud of.  

Assu will be giving his first reading of Lekwiltok Anthology at the Campbell River Museum Saturday, May 8 at 1pm – the book is for sale at the museum, We Wai Kum House of Treasures, Ocean Pacific, and Campbell River Touris Information Centre in Campbell River; Courtenay Museum, I-Hos Gallery and the Laughing Oyster in Courtenay; and the Book Bonanza, Nuyumbalees Centre and Quadra Crafts on Quadra Island.