For more than two decades, tourists and locals have been celebrating the annual migration of grey whales off the coast of Ucluelet and Tofino. Each year, close to 20,000 of them make their way from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and past the West Coast en route to Alaska.
Photo: Creestof14 on Flickr
Now in its 25th year, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival promises that 2011 will be the biggest year yet in the festival’s colourful history.
From March 19 – 27, 2011, the festival will present a week chalked full of events in both Tofino and Ucluelet, including speakers, storytelling, performances, education initiatives and delicious dining opportunities all designed to pay homage to this yearly natural phenomenon. While some may choose to simply stroll the beaches of the Pacific Rim, others may wish to take part in interpretive walks and learn the history of the importance of grey whales to BC’s coastal region.
For more information on area accommodations, volunteer opportunities, sponsorship and a full list of events, visit the Pacific Rim Whale Festival online. You can also “like” the Festival on Facebook or follow Tofino Festivals on Twitter to stay in-the-know on the comings and goings of the whales.
As a child, I attended Brooklyn Elementary in Comox. Recess and lunch hour would be spent playing with friends and creating an imaginary world in the small cluster of trees behind the school. In high school, we were fortunate enough to have an entire forest behind Highland Secondary.
Photo: James Everett on Flickr
Comox’s Northeast Woods is a treasure trove of flora, fauna, winding paths and moss-covered trees, and is often referred to as Comox’s very own Stanley Park. With forest, meadow and wetlands, the nearly two dozen hectares is entirely unprotected.
The Town of Comox, along with support from the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy (CVCS), have applied to the Province for a grant from the Crown to designate the area as protected parkland. An adjacent gravel pit would be developed into affordable housing.
On Wednesday, February 23rd, all are invited to an information session at 7:30 p.m. at Highland Secondary School. The CVCS will be presenting in-depth information about how the strategy impacts the Northeast Woods and what could be done to protect an area that is so important to the local community. The evening will also include a photo slide show of the area and an inspiring musical performance.
For more information on this event and the CVCS, contact Kerry Dawson, Education and Outreach Coordinator, at (250) 339-1029 or visit the CVCS online.
Living in a city, it’s a rare sight to look up and see stars twinkling and winking back at you. When I find myself on Vancouver Island, star gazing is a must. I’m always blown away by the wonder and expanse of the night sky.
The Nanaimo Astronomy Society is a group of amateur astronomers who meet each month to do just that: star gaze. The group is open to anyone and everyone with a fascination for the moon, milky way and beyond. In addition to the monthly meetings, the group also participates in observing sessions, telescope making, digital sky imaging and even public demonstrations.
Photo: Feet wet on Flickr
On November 25th, the group is gathering at the Paine Horticultural Centre at Vancouver Island University for their next monthly meeting, which also features guest speaker Garland Coulson sharing tips on finding the right telescope. If something low key is more your style, the group will also be meeting on December 2nd for a tasty pizza social.
To find out about these and other events held by the Nanaimo Astronomy Society, please visit them online. You can also find Garland Coulson on Twitter to stay up-to-date on any happenings with the Nanaimo Astronomy Society.
I can say with 100% certainty that there is nothing at which I am an expert. There are, however, a few things of which I am incredibly passionate about. Orca whales are one of those things. While there are topics worth biting my tongue over, this is one passion I freely share my firm opinion on.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
The story of the whale trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida that was killed by a captured orca whale – more commonly known as the “killer whale” – has reached all corners of the globe since Wednesday afternoon’s tragedy. An event such as this one naturally triggers a landslide of questions. Perhaps the most commonly asked question is simply: how could this happen?
Dawn Brancheau was an experienced trainer, having worked with these magnificent mammals for 16 years. The whale at the centre of this story is a 12,000 pound male named Tillicum, a creature that Dawn was incredibly familiar with and one whom she had created a working relationship with through training. So what provoked Tillicum to drag Dawn under the water and into an untimely and heart-rending death?
The question of how this could have happened seems, to me, to have a rather simple reasoning. Orca whales, like any animal on this planet, is at its core a wild animal. No amount of domestication can ensure a human’s ultimate safety around animals – whether we’re dealing with whales and dolphins or cats and dogs. As an expert in her field, I have no doubt that Dawn was fully aware of the daily risks she took in working with Tillicum. While what happened is wholly unfortunate, at the end of the day it can’t be unexpected either.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
Many news reports that have come out in the wake of this event have suggested that it’s likely Tillicum simply thought of Dawn as a “toy” and was merely playing with her. Though defined as predatory, orca whales (which are actually a species of dolphin, not whale) aren’t generally thought to be a threat to humans and are, more often than not, peaceful creatures. That said, it can be contended that Tillicum was simply doing what comes naturally to him. If, on the other hand, what happened was rooted in aggression, we could consider his environment a chief contributing factor.
Oceanic mammals were created with the sea as their home and playground. To pluck them from the deep blue and confine them to the equivalent of a bathtub will surely have an effect. Imagine, if you will, being contained in a single room, left to circle endlessly while people peered in through windows on all four sides. It would be enough to drive you mad, wouldn’t it?
And so the great debate regarding whales in captivity has kicked up again and everyone is sure to have an opinion. Scientists claim that capturing whales is the best way by which to study them and learn of their nature and habits in order to assist in conservation programs. It would seem to me that the most effective environment to study whale behavior regarding conservation is in the wild. But then again, what do I know? I’m not an orca expert, just an orca lover.
Contribute your two cents: Do you think keeping whales in captivity is an acceptable practice? Should they be released into the wild?
There is a special place on Vancouver Island, a place so incredibly unique that it seems almost magical. Winding pathways make their way between some of the oldest fir trees on the entire Earth, trees so tall they create a canopy that nearly entirely blocks out the blue sky above.
Photo: iGrrl on Flickr
Photo: Phillie Casablanca on Flickr
The park is certainly one of those “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” attractions, straddling a small stretch of Highway 4 roughly half-way between the communities of Qualicum and Port Alberni – a 20-minute drive from either direction. Known officially as MacMillan Provincial Park, it covers 301 hectares, including the shores of Cameron Lake and adjacent Cameron River.
Map: Cathedral Grove
Photo: oinegue on Flickr
It goes without saying that the old growth Douglas Fir trees are certainly the primary attraction to Cathedral Grove, some of which are more than 800 years old. The largest recorded tree in the park checks in at an astounding 76 metres (228 feet) with a 9-foot diametre and a circumference of 9 metres! Because of the precarious situations these ancient mammoths can cause, it’s not unusual to see the park entirely closed on windy days.
Photo: tom hartley on Flickr
In the 1920s and 1930s, the land on which the park sits was a popular stop for tourists en route to or from Port Alberni. In 1929 a petition was put forth by the citizens of Vancouver Island and The Associated Boards of Trade of Vancouver Island to preserve the forest surrounding Cameron Lake. 15 years later, H.R. MacMillan donated a further 136 hectares of land, accounting for the park space that is used and enjoyed today.
Cathedral Grove – 1941
Photo: BC Archives – Forest Services (via Cathedral Grove Online)
Photo: ecstaticist on Flickr
Unfortunately, like many other parks of Vancouver Island, the logging industry has marred much of the surrounding landscape. The forestry line stretches right up to the park boundary, making it a virtual island of trees in the middle of a clear-cut. This has posed a significant threat to what remains of Cathedral Grove, as the protective wind barrier no longer exists, making the ancient growth susceptible to extensive wind damage.
Photo: anfearglas on Flickr
Photo: RightAntler on Flickr
Much to the thanks of various conservation groups, Cathedral Grove is still very much a thriving ecosystem. Home to more than simply trees, the park is also no stranger to woodpeckers, owls, insects, reptiles, amphibians, deer, elk, black bear and cougar. Cameron River contains no less than rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.
Photo: jemerson4 on Flickr
Photo: pnay_gem on Flickr
When making your way across Vancouver Island, or simply looking for a day’s adventure, Cathedral Grove is a place that should not be missed. Hiking is available on the pathways on both sides of Highway 4 and leashed dogs are permitted. Please remember to respect the natural environment, stay on the trail system to avoid any damage to the flora and fauna and take all your garbage with you. How much longer this park will be around for to enjoy is up to you and me.
Photo: saltyseadog on Flickr
Cathedral Grove at MacMillan Provincial Park is located 16 kilometres east of Port Alberni and 25 kilometres west of Qualicum. From Highway 19 and Highway 19A take the exit to head west on Highway 4 toward Port Alberni; limited parking is available on both sides of the highway. Please visit the BC Parks website for further information.
While Mount Washington Alpine Resort is known for being the Island’s winter playground, it once shared this crown with another resort in the Comox Valley. Forbidden Plateau has been closed for well over a decade, but was once a mountain packed with ski enthusiasts, peaking in the 1970s. My oldest memories of the place involve many, many yellow, brown and navy one-piece ski suits.
Photo: Nemo’s great uncle on Flickr
Dutifully keeping watch over the Comox Valley, it’s easy to spot the now empty slopes about 20 minutes west of downtown Courtenay (the pink-coloured area in the middle of the map is Forbidden Plateau’s approximate location). Often well below the snow line, Forbidden Plateau no longer generates enough snow to operate as a resort, but that doesn’t stop enthusiasts from holding snowboard jump jam events throughout the winter when the pack is good.
Map: Wild Coast Magazine
Long before Mount Washington rolled out their stellar white carpet, the Valley’s earliest settlers established at Forbidden Plateau and built homesteads based on agricultural opportunities. The first lodge at the mountain, seen below in the 1930s, was likely destroyed by the largest earthquake in Canadian history. On June 23, 1946, the shaker ripped through the area, measuring in at 7.2 on the Richter Scale.
What is perhaps most fascinating about the area is its rich history and, in particular, how the mountain gained its name. Though the legend varies based on who you ask, it’s said that the K’omoks First Nation band brought their women and children to the mountain for safe-keeping, anticipating a battle with a band from the Alberni Valley.
When the battle was all said and done, Red Lichen growing in the early Spring from under the snow was supposedly mistaken for blood, leading the K’omoks band to assume that the women and children had been attacked and killed. It’s believed they instead died of starvation and freezing temperatures when no one had come to retrieve them.
Photo: Austin Henry on Flickr
Photo: Zoe52 on Flickr
Today the area, as part of Strathcona Provincial Park, welcomes back-country skiers, hikers, camping fanatics and nature lovers. While the remnants of a recreation era gone by are at every turn – including the former ski rental hut below – there’s still much to see and do.
Photo: Zoe52 on Flickr
Photo: Lloyd Budd on Flickr
Those who prefer something more scenic than grueling, like myself, may be interested in hiking past a number of lakes and through flowered sub-alpine meadows to the peak of Mount Beecher. The hike can be done at a leisurely pace over the course of a morning, allowing you to dine on lunch with spectacular views of the Comox Glacier and the entire Valley.
Photo: paulhami on Flickr
Photo: bmann on Flickr
As with any of our Province’s parks, please use caution and care while venturing out. Wolves, cougars and black bears are not uncommon in the Forbidden Plateau area, but staying respectful and keeping a safe distance should ensure everyone’s safety. Please take your garbage with you, employing the “no trace” rule.
Photo: Rick McCharles on Flickr
Photo: Austin Henry on Flickr
Those wishing to visit Forbidden Plateau can do so by using Forbidden Plateau Road from Courtenay to the old lodge (which was torched in an arson incident in recent years) – this is the easiest way to access the Mount Beecher trailhead. Visitors can also follow Highway 19 and turn onto the Strathcona Parkway, driving for 20 kilometres. Turn left onto the Nordic Lodge road for 1.5 km to the Paradise Meadows parking lot. For more information on the area, please visit the BC Parks Website.
It’s no secret that Vancouver Island is full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The only secret is figuring out where one can find those gems. It’s places like Cape Scott Provincial Park that brought about the Island Profile series; Vancouver Island is so much more than just Victoria and it can be yours for exploring.
Photo: snarlenarlen on Flickr
Just 64 kilometres west of Port Hardy lies more than 22,000 hectares of rainforest with rocky shores, peppered with densely lush trees. Endless kilometres of often muddy trails meander their way through the park. The park is home to a large number of wildlife, including a significant bear and cougar population. Stretching from Shushartie Bay, around Cape Scott and south to San Josef Bay, Cape Scott Provincial Park boasts a combination of rugged bluffs battered by the sea and beaches with snow-white sand.
View Larger Map (Please note that Cape Scott reaches further north on Vancouver Island than Google maps illustrates.)
Cape Scott Provincial Park is rich with history, first settled by the Nahwitti First Nation. The park was named in 1786 in honour of a Bombay trade merchant by the name of David Scott. Soon after, Danish settlers from the midwestern United States attempted to call the area home. However, with the lack of a direct trade route and incredibly hostile weather conditions (rainfall often exceeds 500 centimetres while battering the region with high winds), most of the settlers waved white flags, packed up their homesteads and left Cape Scott.
Photo: clompers on Flickr
Photo: snarlenarlen on Flickr
Apart from the aforementioned bears and cougars, Cape Scott Provincial Park is a virtual menagerie of animals, sea creatures and birds that are synonymous with British Columbia. Between land and sea, the park is home to coastal black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, black bears, cougars, wolves, Canadian geese, seals, sea lions, sea otters, orca whales and gray whales. Keep in mind that you’re in their home and the more accustomed to human contact they are, the more vulnerable these animals become. Follow the safety rules, keep a safe distance and avoid feeding any wildlife.
Photo: ahisgett on Flickr
Photo: nrtphotos on Flickr
Photo: brendan.lally on Flickr
“Roughing it” defines the experience you can expect when visiting Cape Scott Provincial Park. There’s parking located at the Cape Scott and Josef Bay trailheads, but the entire park is essentially only accessible by hiking. Dotted with boardwalks, several pit toilets and an extremely limited water supply, park users are cautioned to bring all the supplies they’ll need (whether it be for a day-trip or camping).
Photo: snarlenarlen on Flickr
Photo: nrtphotos on Flickr
Outdoor enthusiasts will be excited and possibly even overwhelmed with the number of activities available. The park is open all year round and even offers winter camping. Visitors can also partake in boating, swimming, fishing, hiking and canoeing. Those wishing to camp are in for a bargain as backcountry camping is only $5.00 per person, per night for those over 13 years of age. There are 11 first-come, first-serve camping pads at Eric Lake, though camping is permitted throughout the park. Park staff prefer that visitors camp on the beachfront (not that you wouldn’t want to).
Photo: clompers on Flickr
Photo: nrtphotos on Flickr
It’s important to remember that this space is here for all of us to use, and it’s up to us to keep it usable. Leave no trace when leaving the park – take all your belongings and garbage with you. Campfires are currently banned within the park; the forest bed is tinder dry and will light up like a match, so use care and show respect. Know where you’re going and carry a compass and map. It’s smart to leave a detailed itinerary with family or friends before embarking on your adventure.
Photo: gfroese9 on Flickr
Photo: nrtphotos on Flickr
Cape Scott Provincial Park is accessible by a combination of public roadways and logging roads from the nearby town of Port Hardy. There is also a water taxi service and shuttle for those seeking a little more guidance. For more comprehensive information, please visit the official BC Parks website. Maps, trail information and hiking precautions can be found here.
There are enough elements, places to discover and activities around Tofino and the surrounding region to fill a year’s worth of Island Profile posts. However, as it’s my first day back from holidays, I thought it would instead be nice to view the seaside village through my eyes.
To view all the photos I snapped on the wet coast, please visit my Tofino Set on Flickr.
Though it had been well over a decade since I last slipped into a kayak, I couldn’t wait to test out my sea legs once again. When Rebecca and I first started planning our girls’ getaway trip to Vancouver Island’s Oceanside region of Parksville and Qualicum, I was very excited to see that an afternoon kayak trip with Adventuress Wilderness Adventures for Women was first-up on our itinerary.
After a quick lunch in Nanaimo, we arrived at Wall Beach in Nanoose Bay for a PFD fitting. I also made sure to slather my skin with plenty of sunscreen (sun + sun reflected off water = double trouble) and ensured maximum fashionability with my brand new aquasox.
After zipping up our lifejackets, we quickly slapped on our new hats and were ready for our crash lesson in kayaking. While both Rebecca and I had been before, it’s smart to take some time to review safety rules, procedures and to agree to stay in a group.
Guiding kayak tours of the region for close to 10 years, Jan Kretz is an adventuress who knows what she’s doing. She’s got a fun attitude and a deep love for the ocean – something that was apparent to me from the moment we met her.
I was also quite impressed by her pink and purple kayak (not to mention slightly jealous)!
Soon enough we were ready to head out into the big, blue sea. Though the wind was blowing and the waves were rolling, we pressed onward from Wall Beach to Craig Bay with ferocity in our paddling. After all, we wouldn’t be adventuresses if we let a little bit of wind stop us, now would we?
As we reached the calm waters of Craig Bay, I couldn’t help by take a moment to smell the salty sea air and soak in the beauty that was around us. A bright sun, eagles soaring overhead, the towering mountains that form the spine of Vancouver Island and more geese than you can imagine…
Believe me when I say that there is nothing strenuous or stressful about laying your paddle across your kayak and letting the gentle waves lap and bob your solo vessel in the water for a few moments. Any worries were weightless, completely carried away in the sea.
Before long, the clock ticked down and it was time to head back to Wall Beach. Lucky for us, the wind was still blowing and allowed us to essentially “surf” our kayaks back to the shore. And as we all paddled in somewhat reflective silence, I can’t help but think we were all pondering how fortunate we were to be experiencing some place so beautiful by way of an adventure so unique.
UPDATE: Be sure to read Rebecca’s re-cap of our kayak adventure here.
Adventuress Wilderness Adventures for Women operates throughout most of the year with the summer months naturally being the busiest. Based out of Nanoose Bay, just 10 minutes south of Parksville, Jan offers half-day, full-day, weekend and multi-day trips geared to all skill levels of paddling. For more information and to book a paddle date with your best girlfriends, you can visit the Adventuress website, e-mail Jan directly or call toll free at 1-866-955-6702.
British Columbians are fortunate to live in a part of the world that is so deeply steeped in natural beauty around every tree, under ever rock and in every ocean current. This could not be more true, however, than for the residents of Vancouver Island. The abundance of wildlife that call the Island and its surrounding waters home is astounding.
Photo: MagicLens on Flickr
Etched into the eastern shores of northern Vancouver Island is the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. Named after a man famously known for identifying and photographing the countless pods of killer whales that call the area home, Robson Bight has been a Provincially-sanctioned reserve to protect the local killer whale population since 1982. The name Robson comes from Lieutenant Commander Charles Rufus Robson who died in Victoria, BC in 1861.
Photo: BC Parks
Stretching over 1200 hectares of shoreline, all boats are forbidden from entering the reserve and the park area around it is restricted to non-destructive recreational activities such as hiking and photography. Fishing, camping and hiking are strictly forbidden. These regulations are key in creating a safe refuge for these gentle giants.
Photo: Traveler’s Voice
While it is unclear exactly how many killer whales and their pods travel up and down British Columbia’s shores, what is known is how drastically they’re being affected by the fishing industry, toxic waste, boating and sonar interference (as whales rely on this method of communication with each other).
Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins/Nature’s Best Photography
Robson Bight Ecological Reserve is perhaps best known in recent media as being the site of a tragic and preventable man-made disaster on August 20, 2007 when a barge illegally traveling through the sound lost its load, dumping 11 vehicles and pieces of forestry equipment into the water. The vehicles – and over 10,000 litres of diesel fuel – laid 350 metres below the surface for almost two years until it was recovered in May of this year.
Photo: Stubbs Island Sightings
Thankfully, the damage to the whales’ sanctuary was minimal. Crown prosecutors laid charges against Chemainus-based logging contractor Ted LeRoy Trucking, Campbell River’s Gowlland Towing and the skipper of the tugboat Kathy L in July, 2008.
Photo: Northern Lights Expeditions
While recreation in the area is extremely limited, the nearby community of Telegraph Cove is a hot spot for eco-tourism and nature-spotting with a focus on sea kayaking. Though it’s my personal belief that the killer whales should be left alone to bask in their natural environment free of interference, many of these sea kayaking ventures are careful to respect the area and give the killer whales a wide, safe berth. Keep in mind that even ecotourism is prohibited in Robson Bight, so all whale watching is done from a safe distance outside of the designated area.
Photo: Wildheart Adventures
Anyone lucky enough to have explored this area knows how precious the landscape is. Nothing lasts forever, and if we don’t take active steps to protect the land we call home, perhaps even this generation will see the day when what was will no longer be. The trees, the ocean, the air, the rocks and even the whales are gifts to us all and we must always be sure to view them as such – not to be taken for granted.
Photo: Our BC
To learn more about Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve, please visit BC Parks’ website. A guideline for viewing or encountering killer whales in the wild can be viewed here in PDF format. If you’re interested in adopting a killer whale and contributing to the conservation of the local population, please visit the British Columbia Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program.