The Nootka Crisis – a history talk

I have always been fascinated by British Columbia’s west coast history and I see that Canada’s 150 Anniversary has brought

Spanish Fort San Miguel at Nootka Sound 1789

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 presented the talk on Cortes Island at Mansons Hall and will be returning there in October to talk about Yorke Island. In September I will give the talk in Tahsis, and this summer at other locations – 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? And, as I was asked at recent presentation, what would have happened if the Spanish did not desert Friendly Cove? Yo me pregunto!

There’s Something Special in Sointula

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: http://www.sointulawinterfestival.com/ 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.

Mysterious Mitlenatch Island

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!

The Town 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 blog or through the Airbnb listing.

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 withing 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!

I Met Captain Cook at the Dock in Gold River

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

The Homalco Band: Coming Home

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.