Tag Archive | Campbell River

The Village that Moved: Port Alice


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.


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 suffered damage from a tidal wave, 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 Victoria Lake.  Well worth the visit!


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


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.


I Met Captain Cook at the Dock in Gold River

Captain Cook and yours truly

Captain Cook and yours truly

After a summer of cruising the waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island in search of history, I traversed the island on a hot and sunny September day, and headed to the west coast with several members of the Captain Cook Society; this time in search of the site where Cook landed in March of 1778.

The trip was instigated by an enterprising fellow by the name of Randy Komar, who in March this year, held the first formal meeting of the West Coast Captain Cook Society in Courtenay.

The Society itself http://www.captaincooksociety.com, has been in existence for several years, with various chapters throughout the world – in fact, anywhere that Cook travelled, but there wasn’t a group on Vancouver Island, even though Cook had visited its shores.  Randy thought he would correct this oversight, assuming that there must be a number of ‘Cookies’ as Cook fans are affectionately known, in our vicinity.

Randy addressing the group

Randy addressing the group

In all, 29 people joined together on this expedition to see the place where Cook arrived in HMS Resolution at Nootka Sound, the site of the historic meeting between Cook and the chief of the Mowachat Nation, Chief Maquinna.  The meeting is believed to have been the first contact between these natives of British Columbia and Europeans.  As the Mowachat were eager to trade with the British sailors, this resulted in Cook being given a number of sea otter pelts which unbeknown to him would precipitate an avalanche of trade over the next 25 years, effectively wiping out the northwest coast sea otter population.

Joseph Banks coin

Joseph Banks medal

Our group met for dinner in Gold River and the first people I saw were Leona and Don who I knew from the BC Historical Federation Conferences and Bonnie and Maureen, who had been on the Museum’s Thurlow Islands trip that I was interpreter for.  Of course, like minds!

At Randy’s suggestion, after dinner several of the members introduced themselves and explained how they had come to be interested in the intrepid Cook.  One couple had come all the way from New Zealand to share in the adventure – a numismatist (a numismatist is a type of coin collector) Graeme Brown and his wife Avis.   Graeme had brought with him a fascinating and rare medal called the Resolution and Adventure medal.  The medals were struck by Joseph Banks, the famous naturalist who had travelled with Cook, and the 2000 pieces made were meant to be distributed anywhere that Cook travelled.   Some have been recovered from around the globe; eight are known to exist in New Zealand, and one was found on Nootka Island.

All present had a different reason for being interested in Cook – some were like Melanie Bagley of Courtenay who hadn’t thought much about Cook since high school, but was eager to learn more from the well informed group.  Other attendees came from Campbell River, Quadra Island, the Comox Valley, Victoria, the BC mainland, and California. We spent the night at the Ridgeview Motel, then travelled down the next morning in time to catch the 10:00am departure of the Uchuck III from the Gold River dock.  Much to our surprise and delight, Captain Cook (aka Alberto) was there in person!  Many of us eagerly took photos and had our photos taken – a once in a lifetime opportunity!  What an auspicious way to begin our journey!

At Gold River dock

At Gold River dock

On that happy note, we boarded the vessel – in itself an important piece of coastal history documented in David Esson Young’s book, ‘The Uchuck Years’.  It was Young’s father who founded the Uchuck coastal freighter service.  I hadn’t been aboard the Uchuck in 12 years, and was very gratified to see that they were continuing in the tradition of serving good wholesome food and home baking, thanks to Elaine, the cook.

IMGP0924I was also pleased that Chuck Syme was on board – an extremely knowledgeable historic interpreter from Gold River, who was available to answer any questions passengers on the Uchuck might have about the history of the area we were passing through, and the history we had yet to encounter. We stopped at a fish farm to unload supplies, and that brought back memories of a fun time I had had staying with my son Jean-Luc at the site he worked at in the Muchalat Inlet next to Bligh Island seven years earlier.

It was a full boat – 99 people, and our group and everyone else had plenty of time to mingle and visit, enjoy the food

Uchuck and Lighthouse

Uchuck and Lighthouse

and scenery and take pictures.  We came out of the Inlet and around the top end of Bligh Island and as we cruised down the Sound, the iconic lighthouse at Yuquot/Friendly Cove came into view.  Just as we were getting off the boat, I began a conversation with a lady named Berthe who told me she had lived at Greene Point Rapids, where I go each summer to a family cabin.  How auspicious!  Here was an opportunity to add to that history that has been an ongoing part of my research for the last eight years.

But we were here to learn more about Nootka Island, and Margarita James from the Mowachaht Band, had travelled over with us so that she could welcome visitors to the Island and explain its overall history.  Inside the little white church with its astonishing totems and the stained glass windows presented by the government of Spain, the shared story of the native inhabitants and the European visitors was WhiteChurchtold.  The church itself had been built in 1954, after the original church constructed in the late 1890s by a Belgian priest by the name of Father Brabant had burned down.  (Brabant was intent on educating the native people in European ways, and was responsible for starting residential schools.)

Thunderbird inside church

Thunderbird inside church

The Mowachaht lived on Nootka Island until the early 1960s when it was becoming more difficult to live a traditional lifestyle and work had to be found elsewhere.  Almost the entire band, which by this time had amalgamated with the Muchalat Nation who inhabited the Inlet and Gold River, was relocated to Gold River to reserve lands near the dock and former mill site.

Ray Williams

Ray Williams

Only two people remained on Nootka Island and still live there today, guardians to the sacred landscape, their centre of the world – Ray and Terri Williams.  Their son Sanford, a master carver, resides with them there in summer where he produces astonishingly beautiful pieces from his carving shed located on the beach, just below the William’s house.

Where Spanish built a fort

Where Spanish built a fort

After Margarita’s welcome, we took a group picture then disbursed in different directions.  Some of us joined Chuck on a walk up to the lighthouse, from where we could view the Cook memorial*, sitting right at the southern point of the island. All too soon, it was time to go back to our ship.  We were given a special treat though – once we were underway, the skipper took us around the west side of the island, which I had never before seen from the water.  Then we left the Sound to head back up the Inlet, slowing down to view the plaques that had been put into place in the 1970s to commemorate Cook’s stay at Blight Island where his ship Resolution had undergone a refit.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day and I think many of us felt grateful to Randy for instigating this adventure and bringing together such a diverse group of people who were united in a fascination with the adventures of Captain James Cook.

Cook Memorial

Cook Memorial

*For an interesting article on the Cook Memorial from the BCHF read here

Quadra Island Reflections

I recently moved to Quadra Island, and I’m not sure what that makes me: am I a Quadra Islander or a Quadralite?  I like the sound of the latter one, although it makes me think of something that goes around on four legs.  In any case, I am really enjoying myself.  I have been to Quadra Island several times, having moved to the Campbell River area 13 years ago, and I worked at April Point Resort in 2002.

View of east side beach

View of east side beach

I was also here in 1981, and in fact had my honeymoon here, in a little cabin on the beach, on the east of the island, below a house that Joy Inglis was living in and where my sister was boarding.  The cabin was perfect – all it had was an old spring bed and an oil lamp.. I don’t think there was even any running water at all.  It seemed very romantic to me.

Joy was someone my sister and I knew through Strathcona Park Lodge, and it is also through the Lodge that I am acquainted with several other Quadra people.  There has been a strange symbiotic bond between the Lodge and Quadra – both places draw the same kind of people to them; people who like to be close to the wilderness and who are often employed in creative, educational or outdoor related pursuits.

One thing I like about Quadra especially is the roads – there is no highway.  The lovely narrow rural routes meander over the island with dips and curves and with a kind of lackadaisical attitude, as if there is nowhere to go in a hurry. (You may have heard the expression “Quadra Time”).  Certainly this is apparent when you are here, unless of course you have to catch the ferry.  Then there is a bewildering rush hour, with vehicles coming out of nowhere and converging onto Harper Road to get to the Quathiaski Cove harbour on time for the departure/arrival of the ferry from Campbell River.  It is also possible to get to Cortez Island from Quadra Island, although going in the opposite direction from ‘the Cove’ via Heriot Bay.

Ferry heading to Cortez

Ferry heading to Cortez

I was a little apprehensive about being a regular ferry passenger.  When I first moved to BC I dreaded driving onto the ferry.  I don’t know why; I had a strange feeling that I would do something wrong.  I also thought that I would find the trip tedious, and that I would wish it would hurry up or that I didn’t have to take it at all.  So far though, I actually enjoy taking the ferry.  I find it relaxing.  I put on my makeup, clean out my purse, drink tea, write shopping lists, make phone calls, tidy up my car… in fact I am almost sad when it is over.  It is a beautiful trip too – looking at the water and the vistas in either direction, particularly at the Coastal or the Vancouver Island mountain ranges.

I believe too, that the trip across the water reaches something elemental in us.  Throughout legend, there are many references to crossing the water to reach a more spiritual place, or to ‘get to the other side’.  Being separated from the

Cape Mudge on west side

Cape Mudge on west side

larger land mass by water so far doesn’t seem distressing; I think especially since Quadra has so many basic amenities.  After all, it was settled even before Campbell River and its history (which is more than aptly covered in Jeanette Taylor’s book ‘The Quadra Story’) forms part of the Discovery Islands history.. that of moving west from the mainland in gradual steps towards Vancouver Island.  In the days that many people occupied these islands, water was the way that people got from place to place.  Instead of a barrier, it was a conduit.

Multitudes of starfish

Multitudes of starfish

I live in a converted sawmill on a large property, and it is quiet and beautiful.  There are trails close by, and I took one the other day to get down to the beach.  The beach is mainly large rocks and boulders and I found a startling number of starfish.  I have lived at Storries Beach south of Campbell River for seven years, and was used to finding sealife on my forays down to shore, but have never seen so many starfish at one time.  I was also delighted that a lone whale passed by close to shore, making the distinctive ‘phoosh’ sound as it exhaled.

I am looking forward to summer and exploring more, especially on my bicycle.  I expect to have lots of visitors as I know from living on the other side, that many people are looking for a reason to come over to Quadra and now they can have the excuse to visit me.   See my short gallery below and there will be more I’m sure.

Don’t forget to visit my website http://www.catherinegilbert.ca.

Saratoga Polar Bear Swim 2014

Ever thought about taking that dip on New Year’s Day to prove you are a polar bear?  I have thought about it, but never attempted it.  This year, I still didn’t attempt it, but at least I went down to look.

IMGP0351Luckily I got there (Saratoga Beach) early enough to find a good parking spot.  The light drizzle wasn’t keeping the crowds away and I was impressed by the number of other curiosity seekers, and swimmers.  I spoke to Andrea who IMGP0359said that this would be her first attempt.  Brave girl!  Lots of others I overheard had been participating in this ritual dip for several years.  Truly, there are many intrepid individuals willing to risk hypothermia in order to start the year in the frigid waters… but what a great concept!  A cleansing away of the old to allow for the new!  I think I might prefer a cleanse by fire, just to keep on the warm side, but then, maybe jumping into the cold Pacific is a tad safer than going up in flames.

IMGP0361The Pacific in fact in our part of the world doesn’t change temperature much – it stays a comfortable minus five degrees Celsius year round, except for in summer when the tide comes in over the sand and rocks, and the water warms up enough to make it actually enjoyable.

To help matters, there are two giant fires on the beach, so swimmers can warm up fast and several in the crowd had some sort of beverage… IIMGP0385 admit I saw some Lucky cans, because what event in Campbell River would be complete without them?  But I would think hot chocolate might be my choice.

Although I didn’t find out who won, I heard IMGP0362that there was a prize for best costume… and those were great, ranging from wedding dresses to long underwear, and the moose antlers were unforgettable.  After the pipers played, right at 12 noon, the swimmers made a dash for the waves.  Some barely got wet, running in and out as quickly as possible, while others lingered in the water, and looked as if they were actually enjoying themselves.  The last two to straggle onto the beach were a couple of fellows from South Africa, according to someone I spoke to.

On the way back to my car I overhead such comments as: “I was numb as soon as I got in.” I understand that.  Even in summer, there are days when I swim at local Storries Beach, and the water is only just bearable. When asked how I tolerate the temperature, I explain that once I go numb, I don’t feel the cold anymore.  That could explain the two who didn’t want to seem to get out:  they were simply ‘feeling no pain’.

Mermaids In the Passage

Campbell River has long had a reputation as a place for sighting exotic marine mammals.  While visitors and residents alike often spot pods of Killer Whales making their way through Discovery Passage, from time to time another type of large fin has broken through the surface of the water that doesn’t belong to a whale but to another kind of marine mammal that is more closely related to human beings.

Mermaid in passageCGLocals have dubbed these creatures ‘Mermaids of the Passage’.  Although today the public is quite skeptical about the existence of mermaids, in earlier times the existence of mermaids was an accepted fact.  Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, they were said to lure many a sailor to his death with their siren songs.  In fact, this could account for the large number of curious shipwrecks along our coast that can’t be explained by poor navigation or inclement weather.

One of the first documented sightings was in 1792.  On sailing past Quadra Island, Captain Vancouver wrote in his journal “Numberless mer-maidens, enjoying the season, were playing about the ship in every direction.”  This was corroborated by Captain Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra who wrote that many of his fiery blooded Spanish sailors were so enthralled by the sight, that they willing threw themselves into the sea with the purpose of cavorting with these maidens, only to drown in the whirling waters.

The local native inhabitants too, have a very old related story.  Long ago, when young men reached puberty, they were encouraged to ‘take the long swim’ from their village to a nearby small island where these maidens were said to cluster.  And from time to time, children with webbed toes appeared in the village who were said to be able to hold their breath under water for extended periods.

More recently, Ken Blackburn, Director of the Arts Council, whose office at the Sybil Andrews Cottage is located at the shoreline, had his own experience to relate.

“I was in the cottage, and thought I heard singing coming from outdoors.  Curious, I stepped outside.  It was hard to describe, it seemed to get right inside me.  Before I knew it, I was standing knee deep in the cold water, and I could have sworn I saw a silhouette of a naked woman sitting out on a rock.  It definitely wasn’t a cormorant.  Luckily, my assistant called me before I went out any further.  It was an eerie experience, and I don’t know what might have happened if I hadn’t been called.”

Blackburn is now advocating that Campbell River erect a monument to the Mermaids of the Passage in the spirit of the famous statue at Copenhagen, and he generously donated this photo that was given to him by a fellow artist who had a similar experience.

Anyone with a related sighting is encouraged to get in touch with the author.

By Catherine M Gill-Bert

Author of Shipwrecks and Polynesians on Our Shores.