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September 4

Up at 6:30, watching a pod of feeding humpback whales.  Digital cameras just aren’t fast enough to catch the flukes but I keep trying anyway.  The whales are truly beautiful!  The morning speeches are delayed as we spend time on deck watching the whales lunge feeding, blowing and sounding all around us.  “Sounding” is a dramatic display of flukes before the whale dives and stays down for 15-20 minutes.  The captain and first mate do an excellent job of maneuvering the ship in close without disturbing the whales.  

                                                     Watching for whales Nearly saw one!

This impromptu display is followed by a presentation by Bill Turner of “The Land Conservancy” (TLC) of British Columbia.  It is the only organization of its kind in Canada and is modeled after the British Heritage Trust.  The mandate of TLC is to purchase and protect wilderness regions, historically and culturally important areas and buildings. 


Next on the agenda is Colleen McCrory of the Valhalla Wilderness Society who describes her life and home in the Slocan Valley.  A high school dropout and the daughter of a logger, she evolved into an activist and became the Executive Director of the society.  Colleen talks extensively about the VWS and its efforts to save forests and wildlife habitat, first in the Slocan Valley and now throughout the province of British Columbia.  Colleen and her brother Wayne are among the original founders of the VWS and are extremely dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and wilderness habitat.


The ship sets a course for Windy Bay on the west side of Coronation Island.  Evidence in caves suggests that the island may have remained ice-free during the last ice age.  Unfortunately, the west side of the island is exposed to the open ocean and our ship begins pitching and rolling.  Books, glasses and cups slide off their tables and the contents of the bar crash and slide ominously.  The motion starts to take its toll.  Many of us head for the upper deck and fresh air and to keep our eyes fixed on the horizon to minimize the nausea.  Fortunately, lunch was delayed by the whale watch.  As it is, disasters in the galley and dining room reduce our usual lunch menu selection to a choice of YES or NO.  The ship rarely goes outside the sheltered waters of the inside passage so even many of the crew members are afflicted with sea-sickness.  Today, the dining room crew is backfilled by an assortment of hardier deckhands and engineers.  Finally, we abandon the attempt to reach Windy Bay and turn back to calmer waters in the lee of the Spanish Islands.


Some bird watching from the DIBs (durable inflatable boats) fills in the gap and we get to examine the corpse of a young whale bobbing on the surface.  Back on board, we view two documentaries by Dr. Briony Penn:  one focuses on the impact of salmon farming and the other shows whales feeding.  Briony Penn, an environmentalist of some determination, achieved notoriety in 2001 by riding a horse through downtown Victoria, clad only in her hair to protest logging on Texada Island.  Tonight she is dressed more modestly. 


September 5

At breakfast, we catch glimpses of orcas off to starboard and Dall’s porpoises to port.  I hate to think there might be a connection, but the predator shall follow the prey and it is breakfast time.


Carol Heppenstahl delivers a fascinating presentation on modern Northwest Coast art and crafts.  She talks about the revival of old techniques and how they are evolving into new ones.  The rich artistic culture and vibrant social fabric of this area is a consequence of the historical abundance of food.  The inhabitants did not have to expend all their energy in a quest for survival as did most other aboriginal populations.  The luxury of ample leisure time is directly responsible for the richness of their art and the complexity of their culture.


At Prince Rupert, we board buses to visit The North Pacific Historic Cannery Village, which has been restored to preserve the history.  These canneries were little, self-contained communities where the workers lived in bunkhouses during the salmon fishing season.  The workers were mostly local natives and Chinese and Ukrainian immigrants.  The company operated a grocery store, post office etc. to meet their simple needs.  The processing and canning equipment has been restored and displays and posters document the transition of the cannery from a totally manual workplace to the more mechanical age.  The Butcher Machine replaced about 30 workers and was dubbed the “Iron Chink” because most of the fish processing workers were of Chinese ancestry.

     North Pacific Cannery - historic siteHistorical PlaqueThe "Iron Chink"Antique implements for canning salmonCannery Row

Back on board, Herb Pond, Mayor of Prince Rupert, Michelle Patterson of the World Wildlife Federation and Erika Rolston of the Socio-Economic Study Group launch into a debate over oil and gas development in the Hecate Strait.  In the middle of the debate, Dr. David Suzuki arrives on board to join us a resource person for the rest of the trip.  Almost immediately, the debate becomes more spirited!  It is obvious that he and Mayor Pond are deeply divided over this issue.  The need to conserve the environment and a community’s need to survive are as far apart here as elsewhere.  I am struck by the dilemma we all face and the need to make better choices for a sustainable future. 

                            Brings back memories... Cannery Row boardwalk    The Company Store

The dinner conversation is peppered with discussion and debate around the afternoon’s topic.   Dinner is fresh Dungeness crab and I am in heaven!  The evening is rounded out by a viewing of a Nature of Things production called The Salmon Forest.  Dr. Suzuki explains the inter-dependency of the rainforest on the salmon spawning activities.  The fish play a huge role in the life cycle of the forest.  They not only provide direct nourishment to the bear, wolf and bird populations but their decaying remains, dragged deep into the rainforest by animals and birds alike, foster and nurture the insects, plants and other minute life forms required to sustain this incredible environment.  Much research is being done in this area.  As always, Dr. Suzuki’s message is presented with passion in terms that can be understood by all.

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