Blanket to Binoculars

20 September 2022 – Remember Port Hardy? A 16-hour ferry ride to get there from Prince Rupert; a midnight-plus arrival; and a no-foolin’ early departure that very morning.

Why? you may ask.

To catch another ferry.

Port Hardy – Campbell River

We do not complain.

We are aboard the K’ulut’a, making the 40-minute hop from Port McNeil to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Our destination is the U’mista Cultural Centre, whose mission is to strengthen the culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. It houses — among other resources — an important collection of repatriated potlach and other ceremonial objects.

By chance, I receive an introduction to the culture of the potlach during our ferry ride.

It is with their permission that I fall into conversation with these two young women, learn something of the work they are doing, and take these photos (which I also send to them). They are finishing a blanket that will be draped around a two-year-old’s shoulders as part of ceremonies to be held this evening in the Big House. “Just during the ceremony,” they explain; “then it will be put away.” They work as they talk. “This is my great-grandmother’s design — wolf, because that is our clan,” says one.

They attach the last buttons as we begin to pull into Alert Bay. “Thank you!” I say. “Enjoy your visit to U’mista!” they say.

We are a few minutes early for our appointment to visit the Cultural Centre, which is being opened today only for our small group. While waiting, we walk about the adjacent park and play area, where inviting swing ropes hang from trees and the waterfront glimmers through the lingering mist.

Later, as we watch a documentary about the power and significance of the potlach ceremony (“We dance to celebrate life, to be grateful for what we have, to show our history”) and then walk quietly past the Potlach Collection (items laboriously repatriated from the private and institutional hands that had seized them), I think how the ceremony has endured despite everything — how I saw it alive and potent, literally taking new shape and presence in the hands of those two young women.

The mist lifts, the harbour and its boats sparkle in the sunshine…

I peek under the wharf, I am rewarded with fading but still strong murals…

and then we ride the ferry back to our waiting van.

Walk-about time and lunch in Telegraph Cove (fresh halibut), and on to Campbell River and a quiet lodge looking across a channel to Quadra Island.

Campbell River – Victoria

A civilized (as opposed to Silly O’Clock) start, with time to stand on a wharf for a bit and think about nothing at all.

Away from the beach, into the forest: we visit nearby Elk Falls Provincial Park and wind along the trail, through the trees, down and down.

With more down to come, right over there

Completed in 2015, this suspension bridge is 60 metres long and hangs a good 60 metres above the canyon bed.

Which helps explain the scale of the protective mesh.

I think of trying to yoick my camera above the wall, but change my mind. An eager boating friend recently watched her camera slip from her fingers and spiral out of sight, lost to the ocean floor. I don’t wish to follow her example, here in a canyon. So… I settle for mesh-wrapped falls.

We drive on down-island, increasingly rejoining the busy urban world as we draw closer to Victoria. Then it is abruptly peaceful once again — our hotel is tucked in quiet surroundings on the West Victoria side of the Inner Harbour.

I meet a city-based friend for walkies & dinner. We prowl the Old Town, reading 19th-c. dates on heritage buildings, discovering street art in alleys, finally doubling back along Wharf St. as dusk begins to deepen.

He sets me a challenge. “Art hidden in plain sight,” he says, and then — vastly amused — plays the old “Cooler, warmer, frigid, hot” game with me until I finally see what I am supposed to see.

I yelp with delight. The Hands of Time: Holding Binoculars, by Crystal Przybille. What could be more perfect? Just one of 12 bronze sculptures of life-sized hands dotted about the city, each set of hands doing something appropriate to the location. As we scoot off to Virtuous Pie for pizza, I make a private vow to return tomorrow, and see the sculpture — and its harbour view — by daylight.

Post-pizza, it’s back to West Victoria for the night via the Johnson St. Bridge. This bridge is technologically impressive — at 46 metres, it is one of the longest single-leaf bascule (rising/falling by counterweights) rolling bridges in the world — and sculpturally beautiful. Technically single-leaf, and visually as well.

We admire its night-time drama…

and then make use of its functionality, to walk our way back to West Vic.

Victoria-Vancouver

Eleven days, 3000-plus kilometres, and whoosh, today is the last day.

Tour-by-van in the morning, including the breezy southern tip of the entire island, in Clover Point Park.

Later, I pass on the Butchart Garden option, consider a revisit to the charming in-city Abkhazi Garden… and settle instead for my first-ever visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum (where I am captivated by the Natural History section), followed by more lazy exploration along the Inner Harbour.

And by a wild-salmon taco lunch from the Red Fish Blue Fish kiosk, where I sit on a bench and watch water taxis come and go. (All very reminiscent of Go Fish! just west of Granville Island in Vancouver.)

One last thing to do, before rejoining the van for one last ferry ride.

See those binoculars by day!

So I do, and I give them a little pat.

Onto the van, down to Swartz Bay, onto the ferry, back into the van, trundle-trundle-trundle back into Vancouver…

And I am home.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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