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.


Mysterious Mitlenatch Island

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There’s a mystery that surrounds Mitlenatch Island – it sometimes seems to float above the surface of the water on Mitlviewcomprcertain days, just as in this photo of it I took from the east side of Quadra Island, and to appear both close and far at the same time. In fact the Kwakiutl name for it is: ‘looks close but seems to move away as you approach.’

Another strange thing about Mitlenatch is that it doesn’t look like any other of the Discovery Islands. Instead of being covered in forests of green, Mitlenatch is brown and gray, and virtually treeless. There is a reason for this – Mitlenatch sits in a rain shadow, and doesn’t get the benefit of the precipitation that falls about 30 kilometres west on Vancouver Island. In this unusual micro climate, flora not common to the area grow. Since the island doesn’t have a dock or place to tie up a boat, I didn’t think there was a way to step foot on Mitlenatch to see these rare plants, until I bumped into Mike Moore, who owns Misty Isles Adventures with his wife Samantha.

At the dock Cortes Bay

At the dock Cortes Bay

Moore offers day trips to Mitlenatch through the Cortes Island Museum, taking people there aboard his 42 foot sailboat, Misty Isles. I joined the tour on a beautiful June day, leaving from Cortes Bay on the south end of Cortes Island.

Yours truly and Lynne Jordan

Yours truly and Lynne Jordan

Lynne Jordan from the Cortes Museum brought the off island passengers from the Whaletown ferry down to Cortes Bay, so that they didn’t have to bring their own vehicles. Captain Mike met us at the dock, then ferried us over to Misty Isles on the zodiac. Once aboard, he gave his safety talk, including instructions on how to use the ‘head’ then asked for volunteers to help unfurl a sail, to take advantage of the pleasant breeze blowing DSC02107that morning. As we cruised along at a comfortable six knots, he then pulled out the charts, and we all gathered round to learn about where we were, and where we were going.

Looking back into Desolation Sound

Looking back into Desolation Sound

After about an hour at sea, it was already time for lunch – an excellent meal of Samantha’s homemade hot pizza and a cool salad, made with mostly local ingredients, served by DSC02118crew member Amy. By the time we had eaten, we were already drawing close to Mitlenatch. Because the requirement for tour operators is to have one guide for every six people, half the group went to shore with Amy for the land tour, and the rest of us circumnavigated Mitlenatch with Captain Mike.

DSC02133This was a treat as Moore is a profoundly knowledgeable guide and naturalist as well as being DSC02136very enthusiastic about his subject matter. I’d been around Mitlenatch before but the only birds I could identify were the gulls and cormorants.

Captain Mike pointed out all the seabirds in view that day and he can tell you just about anything you might want to know about the wildlife species that make Mitlenatch their home – why they are there, what they do and what they look like at different times of the year.

Captain Mike

Captain Mike

He also brought our attention to the different layers on the rock face that were covered with different vegetation, depending on what nourished them.

Cormorants on the cliff

Cormorants on the cliff

When we got back to the beach, it was our turn for the land portion of the tour. Amy took us along the designated pathways, identifying various plants along the way.

I was surprised to see so many berries – the natural BC blackberries, some of which were already ripe, as well as bushes of Saskatoon berries. We went up to the caretaker’s shelter and were fortunate that Peggy Sowden was on duty and happy to take us around. A veteran steward of Mitlenatch since her UBC Farm days in 1971, Peggy is a member of MIST (Mitlenatch Island Stewardship Team), a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 to protect the delicate ecosystem of this special island, that in 1961 was designated a BC Provincial Nature Park.

With Peggy Sowden

With Peggy Sowden

On the way back to Cortes, we dropped off some passengers at the Twin Islands and had the opportunity to see the lodge that once housed European royalty and was visited by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. We also stopped at Captain Mike’s secret location to see the graceful Arctic Terns that he said were 3000 miles away from where  they currently should be.

The Cortes Museum will be running other trips with Misty Isles Adventures to other destinations this year – check them out on their website here.  Many thanks to fellow passenger and photographer extraordinaire Lynn Marttila for the excellent photos!

Never too old – or too young for Yoga

I often think that I’ll be practising yoga well into my 90s, even though sometimes it’s a struggle to keep at it even now.  But I feel so good when I do it, and it hasyogababy incredible benefits.  I have to admit that I’m from the ‘old school’ of yoga.  When people in classes ask me how long I’ve been practising for, I can honestly say over 30 years.  This doesn’t mean that I have been diligent or faithful in my practice – alas, I have lapsed many times.  However this year I have gone back to it with renewed vigour.

Yoga is a whole new world now.  Yoga used to be just yoga, before it became popularized by stars like Madonna.  So I think that all these years, I’ve been practising Hatha Yoga.  I was first introduced to it by Kareen Zebroff of Vancouver who should be credited with bringing it to the attention of the western world.  We had her book, and I recall attempting various poses when I was in my mid teens – this was in the 1970s, around the time she had her TV show.  I didn’t get serious about it though until I reached my late twenties, and a neighbour of mine was teaching it.  I joined the class, and this not too long after my second child was born.  I felt so good while doing it that I vowed to continue.  But upheaval in life and moving around made it difficult, then finally four years later when I was attending university in the early 90s, I found an instructor who was just amazing.  It was funny, in fact, because when she and I met, we felt that we both knew each other.  Under her tutelage – I had private lessons, I reached the pinnacle of my ability.  She told me after a few months that she had no more to teach me, and that I should consider being a teacher of yoga.  It wasn’t easy in those days however – the only place of instruction was in Boston, and I couldn’t uproot my children or spend the time away getting the training.

I dabbled in yoga for years after that, never achieving the same ‘heights’ I had achieved under her.  Various injuries impeded me from fully performing postures, for a long time but now that I have decided to get serious about it again, I am slowly getting back to where I used to be.  I generally practise at home, although I have tried a couple of local classes, and although I am against it in principle, even went to Bikram ‘hot’ yoga.  I do this in order to join my daughter who loves it.  I can do it, and I feel good afterwards, but find the ‘military’ approach off-putting.  I think in today’s lingo, the yoga I prefer is Yin yoga.

I had a wonderful surprise this week – seeing a picture of my 7 month old grandson performing the posture ‘downward dog’ with his mother.  I couldn’t believe it – it was perfect!  Now I am motivated more than ever to keep going and I envision us doing yoga together when I am old and he is grown up.  That might be a fantasy, but it never occurred to me that it isn’t only that a person is never too old for yoga, but they are also never too young.

This entry was posted on April 30, 2015. 1 Comment

The Homalco Indian Band: Coming Home


Group departing Campbell River dock

It has taken many years, but at last the Homalco Indian Band of Campbell River BC have come full circle; reclaiming Towerviewtheir history on their own ancestral lands.  I had the opportunity to accompany 22 Homalco youth, average age in their mid twenties from Campbell River to Orford Bay – the site of their traditional territory in the Bute Inlet.  We travelled there in the Kuluta, a boat that amply accommodated all 30 of us and was captained by Discovery Marine Safaris Captain Jeff; with marine biologist Amber in attendance, amid the laughter of the young people who were virtually going into the unknown, on an adventure to discover their own roots.

The adventure was orchestrated by Shawn O’Connor, who has been working closely with the band for several years.  The young people, who grew up on the Homalco’s Campbell River reserve, are going to spend two weeks at Orford Bay where they have never been before.  Orford Bay is on the south side of Bute Inlet which is located on the BC mainland coast about a two hour boat trip from Campbell River.  They will learn how to provide a cultural experience to visitors coming to their remote home; a home that has so much to offer – world class scenery, abundant opportunities to view grizzly OrfordBayHatcherybears coming to feed in the nearby WelcomeSignriver, and easily accessible seafood.   Buildings left from a logging operation house the potential employees, and cooks in the cook house provide food while the young people are in training.  An orientation centre on site provides a focal point for the cultural tour and illustrates the Homalco Band history.   There has been a hatchery right at the property for several years now and it is staffed by a regular crew who are currently raising chum salmon.   The facility at Orford Bay has been in existence for 20 years, but it has only been in the last seven years that a concerted effort has been made to develop tourism potential.  In that short time, the spot has been declared the top grizzly bear viewing site in British Columbia.  With several excellent towers established along the river banks, it is easy to see how this offers tourists the above average prospect of actually seeing the bears in action, catching and feeding on salmon, usually in the fall.

Co-worker Beth Boyce at the bear viewing tower

Co-worker Beth Boyce at the bear viewing tower

Co-worker Ken Blackburn and yours truly in the tower

Co-worker Ken Blackburn and yours truly in the tower

To make the bear viewing business feasible, the Band has partnered with companies like Discovery Marine Safaris that have the right type of vessel for getting groups of people to this distant location.

The cultural experience and tour is new, and the focus is on Homalco tradition instead of wildlife viewing.  It doesn’t mean that participants on the cultural tour won’t see wildlife; on our trip, we were thrilled to see white sided dolphins, porpoises and killer whales while travelling on the boat.  Elk reside at Orford Bay, transplanted there from Vancouver Island about six years ago, and according to John, the camp manager, from a small herd of 16 there are now two herds of about 20 elk each.  One of the bear viewing guides Janet, warned us that a young male grizzly had been seen around the property in the last few days, but he didn’t come around while we were there.

Janet also explained that the name Homalco means ‘people of turbulent, or fast running water’.  Their history is sadly a story of displacement far from the water for which they are named.  The Homalco language is a Coast Salish dialect, and their core traditional territory extends from Dent Island to the vicinity of Raza Passage and includes all of Bute Inlet.

Since European contact, they were relocated first to the village site of Muushkin (old Church House) on Sonora Island but as the winds were too fierce there and most of the buildings blew down one winter, they were relocated once again to the opposite side of Calm Channel just south of the mouth of Bute Inlet.  There they built a lovely white church, and as John said, Church House Bute002he didn’t know how they did it, not having a blueprint.  At right is a picture of the church.   The church became their spiritual symbol and was a well known landmark along the coast for many years.  However, when the last of the Homalco left in 1988 to live on the reserve in Campbell River, the church slowly deteriorated and by 2007 had completely fallen.  Being removed from their ancestral lands proved to be very costly to the Homalco, who lost the ability to support themselves by living off the land, then later commercial fishing. They witnessed the dissolution of their society and became distanced not just geographically but spiritually from their origins and their traditional beliefs, that had always been firmly rooted in the land.

Now a number of the Homalco are returning to their true home to spend time there, at least seasonally, in an effort to reconnect with their past.  As they learn with the help of other First Nations groups who offer cultural tours, they will develop the skills necessary to convey their story and traditions to others.  A plan is already in place: visitors will be taken out on a traditional Salish design canoe for a paddle, will see a demonstration of cedar weaving and learn how to weave a simple piece, they will learn Homalco history and visit with a Homalco artist, then will partake in a traditional seafood feast.  If local wildlife make an appearance that will be a bonus!

Even those of us who live in coastal BC don’t always get a chance to get up into these faraway inlets to enjoy their outstanding beauty, and very few of us are ever given the opportunity to visit a First Nations reserve and to experience their ancient culture.  It was genuinely heart warming to see the enthusiasm of these Homalco youth who voluntarily left home to reconnect with their ancestors’ home, and to see their willingness to step into an entirely new experience.

I am excited about participating in the first trip to Orford Bay on May 31st and being part of the new cultural tour.  There will be a second tour on June 21st, Aboriginal Day.  I will be going as a guide for the Museum at Campbell River and will be discussing settlement and Coast Salish history on the way there as we travel by boat through the Discovery Islands and up the Bute to Orford Bay.  Once we land, the Homalco will paddle out in their canoe to greet us and take us on their highly personal tour; relating the story of a long long journey of displacement before coming back to their own lands in the beautiful Bute.

To register for either trip, contact the Museum at Campbell River, 250-287-3103.  Details and schedules can be found at

Maritime Treasure at Campbell River Dock

Noble Lady in Campbell River

Noble Lady in Campbell River

A veritable maritime treasure sits at the Campbell River government dock – a lovely ship now called the Noble Lady that has plied the British Columbia coast since 1942.   Although it was once left to languish in the mid 1960s, various owners, including the present ones John and Karen Boyd, felt a certain connection with her and saw her potential as a live aboard cruising vessel.  It was quite unlike a leisure craft when first built for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1941 at the Star Shipyards in New Westminster.  It was one of 14 so called ‘little ships’ at 112 feet in length and 18 feet wide, that were assembled and finished on the west coast and designed by the British Fairmile Company and since knownQ070forweb as a ‘Fairmile’.  The RCN gave her a numerical name – Q070 preceded by HMC and ML for Motor Launch.  Her role was to patrol the British Columbia coast at a time when it was perceived that there might be attacks from the Japanese.  She spent time in Esquimalt and at Yorke Island.  At right is a picture of her in her wartime garb.

Marc-Andre Morin has created a very informative website devoted to the story of the Fairmiles:

When she was the ferry Machigonne

When she was the ferry Machigonne


The fascinating history of the Noble Lady might have been lost if it weren’t for Jim and Betty Lou Hunt, who bought her in 1993 and got her up and running after she hadn’t moved under her own power for 21 years.  They diligently traced her story from the war years to the time they bought her through various owners; finding pictures and as much information as possible about the uses she was put to.

The full story will be published in the June 2015 issue of the Western Mariner Magazine, along with photos from the Hunt collection, now in the keeping of John and Karen Boyd.

A Powerful Natural Wonder – Elk Falls

A siren in the lonely woods alerts hikers that BC Hydro is about to release water into the Campbell IMGP1074River.  It is a good warning, as water levels are much higher than normal and significantly higher than after our unseasonal summer drought.  It also means that it is a good time to get out and view Elk Falls, and the picture to the right shows you what to expect when you get there.

IMGP1057To get there, hikers can begin at BC Hydro’s new John Hart Interpretive Centre, where a well groomed path winds through the picturesque forest and over a sturdy bridge towards Elk Falls Provincial Park.

With mist rising above, you can see the old staves built in the 1940s that snake their way towards the John Hart IMGP1063Dam, and many visitors are astonished to find out that they are made of wood!  These will all be replaced as part of the upgrade currently underway for the generating station.

Pictured here is Rob Green, out walking with his dog Kelly.  IMGP1060

IMGP1070Massive old growth cedar trees line the path, left at the urging of citizens at the turn of the 19th century, who wished to see the area around Elk Falls left untouched by logging.

Further along, the river rushes in a torrent to drop over the cliff, creating the spectacular falls, which even at low water times is quite pretty, but now has become quite astounding in its shear force.  The word ‘awesome’ although somewhat abused and misused in today’s language, is a fitting word to describe this natural wonder.IMGP1080

IMGP1066Warning signs are strategically placed near the river to alert visitors to the danger of getting too close.


IMGP1097Just past the stairs that lead to the river’s edge, the path continues to the Elk Falls viewing platform.  The full force of the falls is felt here, along with a steady mist – good place for an umbrella.


IMGP1101Numerous vehicles were parked in the ‘old’ parking area at left, accessed from the end of Brewster Lake Rd, but this will be closed by the end of 2014 as BC Hydro goes into its next phase of the upgrading project for the generating station.  Instead, hikers can park in the spacious parking lot at the John Hart Interpretive Centre, staffed by the Museum at Campbell River, that is located just off Hwy 28 at Brewster Lake Rd. and are invited to visit the centre when it is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.


There’s Something Special in Sointula

Evening approach

Evening approach

A very special event happens every year in November in Sointula – a small community of about 500 souls located on Malcolm Island in British Columbia. Malcolm Islanders celebrate Sointula Winterfest, and like everything else on Malcolm Island, it began many, many years ago. This year in 2014, the 38th Winterfest was put on, and it was bigger and better than ever!

New this year was the three day format. Opening festivities began at 6pm on Friday, November 14 at the local pub – the Whales’ Rub, located in the Malcolm Island Inn. For a $10 cover charge, patrons were treated to smoked salmon set out on almost every table, as well as a chip mix.

Another treat was the wine and cider tasting, with host Blue Moon Winery from Courtenay, and the range to sample from was impressive. Blue Moon specializes in fruit wines, and they are clearly doing something right, because each one I sampled (and yes, I did sample them all!) was excellent. I especially like the pear, but the blackberry was truly outstanding – made from wild blackberries hand picked in the Cowichan Valley.

The evening’s entertainment included a book launch for Bruce Burrows new book – The Fourth Betrayal, which I plan to read very soon, and three musical acts. The first two duos were very good, and played upbeat folk music. The third band, an amazing trio from Victoria called ‘The Red Hot Swing Set’ had everybody bopping to their Django Reinhardt inspired repertoire.

The two halls

The two halls

It was clear to see that everyone was looking forward to the Arts and Crafts Fair

At the fair

At the fair

that opened at 10am the following day, because we planned to arrive at opening time, and several people were walking down the main street and already filling the parking lot when we arrived. Located in both the Finnish Organizational Hall (FO Hall) and the Athletic Hall, the fair offers an opportunity for local artisans to showcase their work. I was thrilled to find hand knitted wool socks, just the item I was shopping for, and my mother, who came along on the trip, was pleased to find honey from LunchroomPort McNeill. We both partook in the hot lunch being offered downstairs in the FO Hall – for $10, homemade lasagna, salad and a tea biscuit, as well as a beverage. All were excellent!


We took the afternoon to shop in the Coop store, have tea in the busy Uppercrust bakery and visit the Busy Bakerymuseum. Sointula has a very interesting history – it was settled by Finnish immigrants in 1900 and the meaning of its name is ‘Place of Harmony’. Initially, it was intended to be a sort of Utopia, called Kalevan Kansa, an idea that originated with the early leader of the community, Matti Kurrika. However, a number of his

In front of the Coop Store

In front of the Coop Store

ideas were unsuited to the conditions people found themselves in and the collective dissolved. Many of the original settlers persevered; staying on and building a community based on common language and

Smooth operator

Smooth operator

survival, that thrives today and continues to attract those looking for close community ties and natural beauty. We certainly enjoyed the unobstructed view from our lovely accommodation – the Sointula Beach House.

EconomyThere was more to come that evening – a rousing show in the FO Hall that years earlier, had been built with a first class stage so that community members could provide their own entertainment. The room was filled to capacity for this much anticipated event put on by local talent, the Stagehogs. The MC was delightful and introduced each act; dancing, skits and singing presented in a varied order so that the audience could laugh and be attentive in equal measure. I hadn’t seen home grown entertainment like that in years and it was a true nostalgia trip back to growing up in a small town. The grande finale was the biggest surprise – you don’t know what to expect when four men come out on stage in their bathrobes… known as the Harmony Hot Pots – aptly named as when they opened their robes they were dressed in nothing but cooking pots over their nether regions, that had somehow been rigged up so that by bending their knees, they could swing up the baton and make a good loud ‘bang’. It must have taken a lot of practise!!

I was surprised to see Festival organizer Carmen Burrows in three different hilarious skits that I found out later she had written. What a busy lady – she also took part in the artisan’s fair, MC’d at the Pub the night before and arranged for all of the out of town participants.

I was actually one of those participants; I presented my talk on Yorke Island along with two other authors, Yvonne Maximchuck and Donald Gutstein. We had a small crowd, everyone no doubt worn out by the previous night’s dancing at the Pub, however, it went very well and I enjoyed listening to and meeting with the other writers.

Afterwards, lunch was again offered in the FO Hall and our same cook once more did a terrific job, and went out of her way to make sure we could take lunch with us while we waited in the car for the next ferry.

I am extremely glad that I decided to go to Sointula for the entire weekend – it was great fun. The link to the festival page is here: but don’t hesitate to visit Malcolm Island at any time. There are many guest houses, but I know numerous people who love to camp on the east side of the island at Bere Point. Sointula is a place of unique character – a small piece of Finland in the wilderness, a delightful place to visit, filled with delightful people.

Sointula has ferry service from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. Port McNeill is about a two and a half hour drive north from Campbell River – four hours from Nanaimo. Drivers coming from the BC mainland can get to Nanaimo from either Horseshoe Bay or Tswassen ferry terminals in Vancouver. The nearest airport is at Port Hardy, a half hour drive north of Port McNeill.

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