It is a rare occasion when C. and I have time off together during the summer season, but right at the end of June, already a month ago, we did have a whole week to call our own. Our summer jobs, at home and away, had been keeping us busy. The vegetable garden was more or less planted, and beginning to grow well. The grass in the yard around the house and in the orchard had been cut, raked and collected to be used as mulch in the garden.
I had finally got round to planting the summer flower pots with a few purchased bedding plants. The weather was warm, the sun was shining , summer was really here!
We were ready for a break and there was a long weekend coming up; Canada Day, this year marking the 150th anniversary of confederation. Some would argue that is nothing to celebrate, though if not for confederation, I and a lot of others might not have been born here, if at all.
At this time of year, one of the few things that can get me out of the garden is the promise of a lovely sea cruise. When C. suggested a little trip aboard our trusty ex-fishing boat, the Ashley Em, I jumped at the chance to get away for a few days. The Ashley Em had been tied to the dock since last October when C. had her up on the marine ways in town for the annual bottom scrubbing and anti-fouling paint job. She was ready to go and so were we!
I gathered up a few provisions; porridge oats, brown rice, coffee, tea, milk, and whatever I could find in the way of vegetables and fruit. I cooked a big pot of beans and baked a couple of loaves of bread to take with us. We brought along a bedroll so we could sleep out on deck. The weather was expected to remain fine.
It was a clear and sparkly morning with a light northwesterly breeze when we left our bay on the morning of June 30, aboard the MV Ashley Em, our welded aluminum skiff in tow. We were just in time to catch the last of the tide through Hole-in-the-Wall and into Calm Channel where we altered course, heading for the mouth of Toba Inlet to the east.
Motoring along at about 6 knots, we were enjoying the sunshine and the lovely day and one another’s company, doing something different for a change. Up through Deer Passage and into Pryce Channel we motored. Near Elizabeth Island, I stepped out onto the deck to admire the mountainous view surrounding us. That was when I spied the smallish dorsal fin of a somewhat mountainous humpback whale as it appeared at the surface not far from where we were travelling. I called out to C. who slowed the engine, and took the boat out of gear so we could watch for a while.
For about ten minutes we observed the whale’s back and dorsal fin as it rose out of the sea and then sank again, slowly and repeatedly, as the huge animal inhaled and exhaled. That was all, there was no great tail fluke show, no deep diving, no splashing, cavorting or breeching. There was an appalling and lingering stink left on the breeze after one of the big whale’s exhales! Partially digested humpback whale breakfast?
The whale was totally relaxed and not in any obvious distress, so in the end we agreed that the humpback was probably, simply, sleeping. Even whales need to rest sometimes!
We carried on up Pryce Channel, and into the mouth of Toba Inlet, where the water turns a greenish turquoise with melt from the Toba Glacier farther inland. The mountains on either side of Toba Inlet rise sharply out of the sea. The tallest of them, Mount Barner, towering over the Brem River valley halfway up the inlet, climbs steeply to about 6,000 feet above sea level.
The tops of these mountains, on the last day of June this year, were still brushed white with last winter’s snow, melting rapidly in the warm summer sunshine. Fresh water cascaded off the sheer rock faces. The sound of rushing snowmelt was deafening, and the strong, cold wind created by its forceful entry into the waters of the inlet took my breath away as we motored past.
By early evening we had made our way to the head of Toba Inlet where neither of us had ever been before. I had read in The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names, by Andrew Scott, Harbour Publishing, 2009, that Toba Inlet, the Klahoose First Nation’s traditional territory, was known as Tl’emtl’ems, which means “many houses”. It was occupied by the Klahoose people up until the 1950’s when those folk were moved to the reserve at Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island, about 30 miles away.
When we arrived at the head of Toba Inlet we found only a very large, logging camp. Two huge, floating barges, accommodation for loggers, occupied the only possible anchorage near the head of the inlet where the Toba River empties into the sea. We wandered about a bit, eyes glued to the depth sounder as we sought a safe place to drop the hook for the night.
As we got closer to the estuary, the bottom rose up quickly, the holding looked poor, and there seemed to be no good shelter from the prevailing wind. Turning around, we began to travel back down the inlet, motoring along the opposite shore, searching for a suitable hidey-hole to anchor up for the night. Along the shore, the sound from a series of roaring waterfalls, larger and noisier than the first ones encountered earlier in the day, accompanied our passage.
We spent our first night anchored up in a tiny blip in the shoreline, eating beans and rice for supper, sleeping under the stars, in a bowl of blue formed by the surrounding high mountains that form part of the Coast Range.
In the Geology of British Columbia, Cannings, Nelson and Cannings, Greystone Books, 1999, I had read that in British Columbia “this mountainous landscape arose through plate tectonic processes”, beginning around 380 million years ago. The earth’s “crust and underlying relatively stiff upper mantle form a carapace of plates” that are in constant shifting motion, “slowly, inexorably, building mountains while we sleep”, “about as fast as a fingernail grows”. While the noisy waterfalls rang through the night I dreamt of the growing mountains surrounding our little boat.
Early the next morning the breeze kicked up a bit. We didn’t waste any time pulling the anchor and setting off to run the rest of the way down Toba Inlet. Crossing Pryce Channel we motored down Waddington Channel and across lower Homfray Channel into the Desolation Sound Marine Park and the lovely group of islands that make up the popular anchorage of Prideaux Haven.
We spent our second night anchored up in Laura Cove in the company of a number of other small vessels. That lazy afternoon in the summer sunshine, we swam in a little nook amongst the islands of the Haven. The waters of Desolation Sound are known to be among the warmest on the coast and we were not disappointed.
The following morning, motoring out of the anchorage, we left Homfray Channel in our wake, passing Otter, Mink and the Martin (originally spelled Marten) Islands, named after the fur-bearing animals that drew the European exploiters to this coast.
We crossed Desolation Sound heading for Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. There we bought a few essentials; milk, beer and a couple of ice cream bars at the Squirrel Cove general store. We snooped around the little gallery-gift shop next door with its dazzling collection of locally handcrafted paintings, prints, cards, pottery, fibre-arts, jewellery, soaps, candles and more. Eventually we made our way back to the boat to set off on the homeward leg of our journey.
Up Lewis Channel we motored, between West Redonda and Cortes Islands. We travelled northwest through Drew Passage between the Rendezvous Islands and Read Island, then around the corner and into the narrowing White Rock Passage where one must use the visual markers to avoid the rocky shallows. On we went, through the Settler’s Group at the top end of Hoskyn Channel, around Antonio Point at the southwest corner of Maurelle Island, and finally into the homestretch of the Lower Okisollo Channel.
As we slowly travelled along, I traced our route on the nautical chart, past all these islands and waterways with their steep and rocky shores, their heavily forested and slowly growing mountains, and their once abundant wildlife. I thought about the names given to these features, first by the Spanish then the British hydrographers, from the time serious surveys first began in the 1790’s.
The names of foreign royalty, merchant sea captains and naval officers; names of traders, settlers and pioneers, sometimes the names of local flora and fauna, names reflecting weather conditions, and even emotional sentiments, all given to define the topography and produce a nautical map of the intricate coastline of beautiful British Columbia, the western shore of this large and relatively youthful country of Canada.
Then I reflected on the recent news that evidence found in an archeological dig farther up this coast shows that the First People lived hereabouts some 14,000 years ago, about 4,000 years earlier than previously believed, on a bit of coastal land that remained ice-free until the end of the last glacial age. Sadly there are very few names on the charts that reflect those that would have been used by the original inhabitants of this land.
This all took place nearly a month ago now: Canada Day 2017, celebrating 150 years of confederation. I do believe it might be time to rephrase that: Canada Day, celebrating approximately 14,000 years of habitation by the First People of this land, and approximately 380 millions of years of land formation and mountain growing, with a nod to the wildlife that were also among the first inhabitants of this lovely land we call home. Happy Birthday, Canada! Bonne chance!