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The Village that Moved: Port Alice

Last year I went to Port Alice for the first time. This year, I am returning for a long stay during the summer of 2017 and will be welcoming guests.  Anyone interested in staying can contact me through this site.

All I knew about Port Alice before I went was that it had been a mill town located in North Vancouver Island on the west coast. I found out upon arrival, that the Port Alice you would visit today was not the site of the mill town.  The original townsite that surrounded the operating pulp mill was vacated by most of the population in 1965, and Port Alice residents were moved over to a brand new town a few kilometres to the north, but still on the Neurotsos Inlet.  The big difference was, they were out of sight of the mill.  Being out of sight of the mill also meant they were away from its ill effects.

Blair McLean 043The Port Alice of today is a pretty place that has scenic views whether you are up the mountain or right on the coast, and the drinking water is excellent, coming from a freshwater spring.  The air too, is fresh.  I had the fortune to stay right on the water, facing west; a five bedroom house with three bathrooms and big surprise, a Turkish bath!  I tried it out and it was great!  Because just my mother and I occupied the house, she took the upstairs and I took the downstairs.

Port Alice boasts magnificent sunsets, which we didn’t witness while there, but nonetheless, the sky was IMGP0376everchanging and lovely.  My purpose in being there was to find peace and quiet, and Port Alice offers both in abundance.  It is a pleasant place for taking short walks and even has a library.  It has the requisite liquor store, grocery store and post office, but unfortunately no restaurant apart from the occasional meals available on weekends at the Quatsino Chalet and breakfast at the Legion.

IMGP0402I was told that if I wished to meet the locals, I should head down to the golf course around 4pm.  I did go, but a little early.   Still it was interesting to chat with Gail, the woman who works at the golf course as she could tell you anything you wanted to know about the place.  She said that she enjoyed growing up in the intimate community that was the old townsite adjacent to the mill, where you knew everyone and made your own fun.

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Yours truly at the local ‘yacht club’

My timing was off for another reason:  I missed shopping at the local thrift shop, which is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 2pm.  Too bad I didn’t read over all the visitor information I picked up at the municipal office the day before!  However, my real interest was in the history.

My friend Blair suggested that I read a publication he had at the house entitled ‘Why Port Alice?’ that covers its history from 1917 to 1965.  Like many local histories, it gets bogged down in details about early settlers, but at least does provide all the pertinent facts about how and why Port Alice was built where is was, and how people survived there.  A reference in the beginning to an earthquake somehow related to atomic testing in Alaska had me puzzled, but I found out later that indeed in the early 1960s atomic testing in Alaska did ‘shake up’ BC and particularly affected Port Alice since much of the original townsite was reduced to rubble, resulting in the rebuilding of the village a short distance away.

Another puzzle brought up by reading the book was, what happened to the Quatsino people?  They clearly interacted with the early settlers, but no mention was made of what became of them.  The females were distinguished by their elongated heads, that are wrapped tightly while the girls are babies, although today there are no more Quatsino women with this feature.  I found out later after a chance meeting with the chief of the Quatsino, Tom Nelson, that several reserve sites had been set aside for the Quatsino in the inlet, but that only one remains in nearby Quatsino Sound.  Chief Nelson, unfortunately, is the last of his people to speak his language.  He also told me that he was one of the last people to work in the whaling station near Port Alice that was in operation right up until the late 1960s.

IMGP0392 This time around, I plan to get out on a boat to explore nearby Quatsino Sound and the village of Quatsino.  If I’m lucky I might even get out fishing!  Port Alice is a good getaway place within driving distance of Campbell River – just two and a half hours away.  The road from Highway 19 heading west to Port Alice is an excellent paved road with some roller coaster hills, lovely curves and great views over Lake Victoria.  Well worth the visit!

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The Village that Moved: Port Alice

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Original townsite with Mill at left

Last year I went to Port Alice for the first time. This year, I am returning for a long stay during the summer of 2017 and will be welcoming guests.  Anyone interested in staying can contact me through this blog or through the Airbnb listing or go to beachfrontbnb.wordpress.com.

All I knew about Port Alice before I went was that it had been a mill town located in North Vancouver Island on the west coast. I found out upon arrival, that the Port Alice you would visit today was not the site of the mill town.  The original townsite that surrounded the operating pulp mill was vacated by most of the population in 1965, and Port Alice residents were moved over to a brand new town a few kilometres to the north, but still on the Neurotsos Inlet.  The big difference was, they were out of sight of the mill.  Being out of sight of the mill also meant they were away from its ill effects.

Blair McLean 043The Port Alice of today is a pretty place that has scenic views whether you are up the mountain or right on the coast, and the drinking water is excellent, coming from a freshwater spring.  The air too, is fresh.  I had the fortune to stay right on the water, facing west; a five bedroom house with three bathrooms and big surprise, a Turkish bath!  I tried it out and it was great!  Because just my mother and I occupied the house, she took the upstairs and I took the downstairs.

Port Alice boasts magnificent sunsets, which we didn’t witness while there, but nonetheless, the sky was IMGP0376everchanging and lovely.  My purpose in being there was to find peace and quiet, and Port Alice offers both in abundance.  It is a pleasant place for taking short walks and even has a library.  It has the requisite liquor store, grocery store and post office, but unfortunately no restaurant apart from the occasional meals available on weekends at the Quatsino Chalet and breakfast at the Legion.

IMGP0402I was told that if I wished to meet the locals, I should head down to the golf course around 4pm.  I did go, but a little early.   Still it was interesting to chat with Gail, the woman who works at the golf course as she could tell you anything you wanted to know about the place.  She said that she enjoyed growing up in the intimate community that was the old townsite adjacent to the mill, where you knew everyone and made your own fun.

IMGP0397

Yours truly at the local ‘yacht club’

My timing was off for another reason:  I missed shopping at the local thrift shop, which is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 2pm.  Too bad I didn’t read over all the visitor information I picked up at the municipal office the day before!  However, my real interest was in the history.

My friend Blair suggested that I read a publication he had at the house entitled ‘Why Port Alice?’ that covers its history from 1917 to 1965.  Like many local histories, it gets bogged down in details about early settlers, but at least does provide all the pertinent facts about how and why Port Alice was built where is was, and how people survived there.  A reference in the beginning to an earthquake somehow related to atomic testing in Alaska had me puzzled, but I found out later that indeed in the early 1960s atomic testing in Alaska did ‘shake up’ BC and particularly affected Port Alice since much of the original townsite was reduced to rubble, resulting in the rebuilding of the village a short distance away.

Another puzzle brought up by reading the book was, what happened to the Quatsino people?  They clearly interacted with the early settlers, but no mention was made of what became of them.  The females were distinguished by their elongated heads, that are wrapped tightly while the girls are babies, although today there are no more Quatsino women with this feature.  I found out later after a chance meeting with the chief of the Quatsino, Tom Nelson, that several reserve sites had been set aside for the Quatsino in the inlet, but that only one remains in nearby Quatsino Sound.  Chief Nelson, unfortunately, is the last of his people to speak his language.  He also told me that he was one of the last people to work in the whaling station near Port Alice that was in operation right up until the late 1960s.

IMGP0392 This time around, I plan to get out on a boat to explore nearby Quatsino Sound and the village of Quatsino.  If I’m lucky I might even get out fishing!  Port Alice is a good getaway place within driving distance of Campbell River – just two and a half hours away.  The road from Highway 19 heading west to Port Alice is an excellent paved road with some roller coaster hills, lovely curves and great views over Lake Victoria.  Well worth the visit!

The Nootka Crisis – A history talk

Spanish Fort San Miguel in Nootka Sound 1789

I have always been fascinated by British Columbia’s west coast history and I see that Canada’s 150 Anniversary has brought attention to first contact between Europeans and Indigenous people on this coast.  As far as is known, first contact took place at Nootka Sound in 1774 between the Spanish and the Mowachaht people, although it is believed that Sir Francis Drake visited these shores in the 1500s.

I presented a talk on the Nootka Crisis this spring at the Museum at Campbell River, then again at the Courtenay Museum on Wednesday, May 10. As this talk was sold out I will be returning again in October to repeat it.  On Saturday, May 13 at 7:00pm I will present the talk on Cortes Island at Mansons Hall. In September I will give the talk in Tahsis, and this summer on one or two occasions in Port Alice – times and dates not yet confirmed.

An excellent book I read about European visitors to Nootka Sound, First Invaders by Alan Twigg is an excellent resource about this history.  It answered some of my questions, but raised some as well. I didn’t fully understand why the Spanish didn’t stay in this part of the world once they had a foothold. Through my studies at the University of Victoria, where I am currently pursuing my Masters in History (got through the first year, yeah!) I had an opportunity to really delve into the research of who got to Nootka Sound first and what they were doing, and as it turned out, not doing there. I wrote a paper entitled Nootka Unsettled where I discuss the various writings about an event known as the Nootka Crisis or Controversy that took place in 1789. I was pleased to find William Manning’s book written in 1904, The Nootka Sound Controversy, that was likely the first scholarly investigation into the Crisis. The Crisis or Controversy was a standoff between the Spanish and British about who in fact, had the right to occupy Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island. This of course, was irrespective of the fact that the Mowachaht had been occupying the region for over 4,000 years!

Spanish exploration into the Pacific Northwest began in earnest in the 1770s, with the Spanish sending ships on surveying expeditions out of San Blas, Mexico their Pacific port.  The first known visitor to the Nootka region was the chief naval officer at San Blas, Captain Juan Pérez, sailing in the Santiago.  He didn’t set foot on Nootka Island, but did meet the native inhabitants. Captain James Cook was to discover that some of the people he encountered four years later in 1778 wore silver spoons, that would have come from the Spanish. The Crisis is a complicated story that arose several years later. It is a matter of claim and counter-claim, with the Spaniard Esteban Jose Martinez asserting that the Spanish were the first to occupy Yuquot with their fort San Miguel, and the British represented by trader James Colnett wondering what happened to the buildings erected by his partner, John Meares the year before. The two governments battled it out in a document known as the Nootka Convention, which drew of the history of exploration to the area.

Ultimately, Captain George Vancouver would be tasked with trying to bring resolution to the occupation in 1792, when he visited Nootka Sound to discuss the matter with Juan Fransisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Neither Captain felt they could resolve the issue and left it to their respective governments. The interesting thing is, that in the end, both countries decided not to stay there and the Mowachaht happily took back the property where the Spanish fort had been erected once the Spanish left.

My presentation is pictorial, and I discuss the ins and outs of European notions of occupation in detail. The Crisis was a drama played out at a location remote from any European government, that almost resulted in war. Perhaps because Quadra and Vancouver were excessively polite with each other and like each other, war was averted. Who knows what might have happened if either man became heavy-handed about the issue?

Bad Weather Brings Strangers Together

I am experiencing my first winter in Victoria and for the most part, it has been milder than further north in Campbell River where I have spent the last 15 winters.  But!  We were hit with a couple of snowstorms and I was able to stay home for the first one, but was caught at UVic, where I am a student, trying to get home yesterday.

View out back of the property where I live bordering Mt Doug Park

View out back of the property where I live bordering Mt Doug Park

Normally no one at the UVic campus bus stop talks to each other or to me, but all of us being in a common plight created a camaraderie I have never seen there before.  No one knew whether it was worthwhile to wait in the blowing snow and bus drivers were only saying that it might be up to a two hour wait.  The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the campus was closed, so cars were trying to leave as buses were trying to get in and out. I considered walking, then when someone circulated the rumour that our bus was cancelled, another young student and myself who realized we lived nearby each other thought we might try to get a taxi.  I called my friend Gilberto who was driving but said he was going in the opposite direction.

The young student and I started walking and eventually ended up at McKenzie and Shelbourne at a Starbucks.  It was good to get into a place that was warm and dry!  Many students were in there, strategizing about how they were going to get home.  My new friend and I tried all the taxi companies, but their lines were busy.  I called Glberto once more, but he was stuck in the snow in Brentwood Bay!  He said we would never get a taxi on a day like this.  Just when it looked as if our only recourse was to walk the rest of the way, the girl next to us said “There’s a number 39 bus!”  That was our bus, and we made a dash for it.  When I arrived at the bus stop, I announced to the anxious looking people waiting there that the bus was around the corner.  Everyone was so relieved!  Luckily there were two in a row, and the second one was not full.  So I made it home and as it turned out, the bus was only behind about one hour.

So I arrived home safe and sound and it was so good to get warm and dry.  I made hot chocolate and turned on the news to see how the city was faring.  I reflected that it really wasn’t so bad walking in the snow and I might just try it again.  It was also nice to converse with the people around me at the bus stop rather than just stand there alone and waiting.  They say that Vancouver Island is Lotus Land, and it is most of the time, but it is still Canada!

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Looking for a Good Christmas Story? Read A Grim Perspective!

If you like a small town mystery with a little romance and a touch of the occult, then take a look at the novel I just grim-perspective-book-coverpublished this week.  After holding on to it for three years, I finally took the plunge and decided to get it up as an ebook.  It is available on both Amazon/Kindle and with Kobo.  I had originally entered it into the Amazon First Novel contest in 2013 and made it to the Quarter finalist round so that was a good start.  I wasn’t ready for the ebook market at the time, and thought I would try to get it published the traditional way, only to find out that Canadian publishers are not interested in mysteries at this time.

Here is a synopsis of the story: 

How does a human hand end up in a crab trap?  This is a puzzle that Madeleine Belle, retired owner of a seaside inn on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, finds herself drawn into solving.  It is Madeleine and her boyfriend Joe who find the hand, while they are fishing for crab in a nearby cove.  The hand is caught in one of the traps Joe pulls up, and at first, he mistakes it for a starfish.

Madeleine takes the appendage to the local RCMP office of Port Side, the town she lives in.  That same evening, at the local art gallery, Madeleine is confronted by a painting that is at once sinister and perplexing.  It reveals underwater life that is represented by female body parts.  In the centre of the painting there is a head that resembles a rock, and on top lays a hand that looks like a starfish.

From that point on, Madeleine can’t shake the feeling that there is a connection between the painting and the hand she and Joe found.  A series of strange coincidences, combined with dire predictions from a Tarot card reading lead Madeleine to suspect that something unsavory has occurred at the home of the artist who painted the underwater scene.

Although Madeleine would prefer to leave the case in the hands of the RCMP, a strange dream beckons her to continue looking for clues, and with the help of her friend Mitzi and her daughter Camille, she slowly pieces the puzzle together.  In the meantime, her relationship with Joe takes a surprising turn when he makes some unexpected admissions.

Set against the backdrop of life in a small coastal community during the festive Christmas season, A Grim Perspective provides startling revelations into the human psyche.

Happy reading!

Reunion to Play Fundraiser in Courtenay

As published in the Island Word, March 2016

Reunion BandCampbell River’s ever popular rock ‘n roll band Reunion will be back at it again, helping to raise money through a concert in Courtenay, the ‘Courtenay Spring Social’ on Friday, March 18th, 2016.   The band members are donating a show to help raise money for the Centennial Legacy Fund, which came into being during the celebrations of Courtenay’s centennial in 2015.

Reunion has a connection to Campbell River that goes right back to 1962, when some of its band members formed the Rogues, a popular highschool band. The Rogues were ‘almost famous’, competing in a provincial competition and coming in third, and were very close to getting a recording contract. When the Rogues’ members separated, a few of the original members regrouped to form Reunion.

Today’s current band members are Ron Aitchison on lead vocals, Glen Gark on lead guitar and vocals, Steven Sandholm on bass guitar, classically trained pianist Mike Austin, Brian Temple on drums and Brian (Fuzz) Morrisette on rhythm guitar and vocals. Sound Engineer Mike Sutcliffe, who is an integral part of the band, has worked with many international musicians including Doug and the Sluggs, Michelle Wright and April Wine. The band plays the kind of music that makes people want to get up and dance, like familiar Motown favourites and much-loved tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Both bands have been known for their support of local causes; often playing at fundraising events and raising thousands of dollars over the years. The event in March, according to organizer Rod Hunter, is being held by the Comox Valley Foundation of which he is part. The evening is being modelled after a ‘Manitoba Social’, where the atmosphere and dress are informal, a chili buffet and snacks will be provided and the Courtenay Rotarians will operate the bar.

Hunter says to expect some great raffles with prizes from companies like Westjet, and 50/50 draws. All proceeds from the evening will go toward the Fund, which has been set up to help youth who might need financial assistance for team sports or other endeavours.

Tickets are $25.00 each and are being sold at Billy D’s Pub, the Courtenay Recreation Centre, the Lewis Centre, Courtenay City Hall and the Florence Filberg Centre. Attendees can also donate directly to the Comox Valley Foundation while at the dance and will receive a tax receipt.

The evening event will take place at the Florence Filberg Centre in the Upstairs Conference Hall. Doors open at 6:30. Local performers Bruce and Judy Wing will be the opening act for Reunion. For more information, call the City of Courtenay Recreation and Cultural Services at 250-334-4441 or visit http://www.courtenay.ca/100

 

Captivating Cordova Bay

I lived in Victoria BC for the latter half of 2015 attending the university there, and had the fortune to find a place in Cordova Bay. I had no idea before I went there how nice it was outside the city centre, as I had always gone to Victoria in a tourist frame of mind.

Cordova Bay is on the southeast side of Vancouver Island/Victoria and located in Saanich. I rented a suite on a property that backed on to Mount Douglas Park, a wilderness park within the city. The mount is well known and attracts hikers who are rewarded with a spectacular view when they reach the top. I could access the park right IMGP0052through the property or walk down Cordova Bay Rd/Mt Doug Parkway for about 15 minutes to access some of the pathways. My suite was surrounded by Garry Oaks and a large buck liked to sit right outside my window. There were many woodpeckers and other birds to keep me company.

IMGP1679In the other direction I could drive or take a long walk to a lovely beach where I swam in September when it was still hot. Later as it got cooler, it was a terrific place to walk. While there in the summer, I saw a whale breaching far out into the strait.

For anyone contemplating a holiday in Victoria, this is a great area to stay in and there are places nearby available through Air BNB. Shopping is excellent and I was amazed at the number of vegetable stands nearby. It takes only 20 minutes to get downtown from there.

For someone like me who prefers small communities and lots of nature, it made it possible to live in Victoria and enjoy the amenities while still having peaceful surroundings.