Published: July 28th 2012June 14th 2012
Telegraph Cove Historical Building
This is the Sharpe House. It has been restored and is part of the historical walk through the community of Telegraph Cove.
My tent is pretty waterproof, or at least water resistant. It rained during the night, but I didn't have any water come into the tent. This answered a question I had about what inclement weather was going to be like. I imagine there may be some water that gets in, but if I can set the tent up during a period of no rain, I shouldn't be having too much of a problem, except for breaking camp in a morning. It would suck to have to do that in the rain, but I will wait for that time to come and see how annoying it is.
Once I got up, I packed up and then headed into the village area. It turned out that one man owns the whole village, or so I was told. He drives a little golf cart all over the place. I think I saw him once. I walked the whole boardwalk. The village is all vintage buildings that have been preserved from the early period of the village's existence. There are little plaques describing each building, who built it, who lived there, and what it was for. It's a really well done little
This is the former bunkhouse in Telegraph Cove.
historical walk through town.
Next I went into the whale museum. That was an interesting place. It's odd how the smallest, most out of the way places can have such interesting things to do. Inside there was loads of information about all the kinds of whales that are around the area, and a few others besides. There was information about seals and sea lions, otters (both types) and a host of other animals important to the area. I had only intended to spend a few minutes there, I mean how much could there be, but I ended up in the place for over an hour. They had a number of whale skeletons from animals that had met unfortunate demises, from collisions with cruise ships, to getting tangled up in pier supports in harbours.
After the whale museum, I stepped into the office for whale tours. I wanted to check out how much it was going to be to do a whale watching tour. I didn't think it was going to be in my budget, given that I was about to spend over 600 dollars taking the ferry through the inside passage to Prince Rupert.
This whale got caught under some pilings of a wharf and drowned. It was brought to Telegraph Cove and became one of the impressive exhibits in the museum.
The impending sticker shock of that endeavour was weighing heavily on what I was willing to spend money on. That and it was still early in the whale season, so it was not overly guaranteed that whales would be seen, and likely not orcas. The trip itself seemed quite reasonable, about 105 dollars with tax. And if I went on a morning jaunt, it would be 10 dollars less. Apparently the morning tours weren't as popular. But still, at 85 dollars, I didn't think I would go. And the next tour wasn't that day anyway. I was planning on getting the ferry the next day, so I wasn't going to have time anyway. But if for some reason I had to wait on a ferry until Sunday, then I was strongly tempted to come back to Telegraph Cove and have a go.
From Telegraph Cove, I headed to Port McNeill. At the visitor information office, I was allowed to use their phone to call BC Ferries and book my ferry trip. There was space the next day, so I wouldn't be around for the Telegraph Cove whale watching tour. Secretly, in my heart, I was glad I
Ferry to Alert Bay
The day was fine as the ferry went from Port McNeill to the First Nations community of Alert Bay.
didn't have to decided whether or not to afford it. I guess that said it all as to whether I really thought it was a worthwhile thing to do.
Port McNeill is the jumping off point for a visit to Alert Bay. I had heard a bit about Alert Bay, and it seemed a good place to spend the day. So I parked my car in a pay lot, bought myself a ferry ticket, and set out for a day of native culture. On the ferry, I met a German couple I had met the evening before during a walk in Telegraph Cove. The night before, I had met the German fellows I encountered in the Horne Lake caves. I guess there is a certain circuit for tourism here as well.
We ended up wandering around the island together, the three of us. Once on the island, we tried to get some kind of map, but the tourist information office was closed. It took a while to find the town office, the alternate information place. In the meantime, we wandered down the street and some ways around the island. It isn't a big island.
The main business sector of Alert Bay is set along the wharf and entry bay where the ferry arrived.
In the direction we headed lay the old ancestral burial area for the natives of the island, the Kwakwaka'wakh. People had been buried there with totem poles to mark their graves. Some of the totem poles were quite old and had become very weathered. Beyond the cemetery were only residential homes along the water. There were a bunch of restaurants and businesses as well, but nothing seemed to be open. We were a bit worried that the town was more or less closed, but it turned out to be mainly a function of the hour, which was lunchtime. By the time we walked back to find the cultural centre, U'Mista, many places were open. But not the visitor centre, nor the museum. We did find the town office, and we were given many maps and other bits of information about the town, the historical buildings and walking trails. We found the way to U'Mista and headed off down the waterfront in the other direction.
U'Mista is another of those grand gems in an out of the way place. One of the native practices was that of the potlatch. Potlatch is the system of rituals and practices that
Welcome to Alert Bay
The First Nations of Alert Bay erected a sign welcoming visitors to the community, and wishing them well as they leave on the opposite side.
gives them their life change ceremonies (birth, some form of baptism ritual, coming-of-age, marriage, etc.), as well their system of laws and justice. Typical potlatches had dancing with many kinds of masks and costumes. And a central feature of a potlatch was the giving of gifts by the chief who was holding the potlatch. All the guests were fed and received gifts for their attendance.
When the white man came to North America, in our zeal to stamp out what was here and convert the population to our ways, the potlatch was outlawed. Sometime in the 1920's an illegal potlatch was held. The RCMP came in, broke it up and confiscated all of the paraphernalia involved in the ceremony. There were many masks and costumes that were taken. These were given to collectors and museums and others around the world. The prohibition against the potlatch was lifted in 1951. At that time, the Kwakwaka'wakh began to try and retrieve the items seized from that “illegal” potlatch. Over time, most and perhaps all of the items were brought home. The community decided that they had been shut away for long enough and they wanted to display them. The
The community's traditional burial grounds had many totem poles marking burial sites.
U'Mista Cultural Centre was built to house that display. U'Mista translates roughly to “the return” or “coming home.” The artefacts are housed at the base of the building after a bunch of profiles of former chiefs of the various bands in the tribe. The profiles include the creation myths of the peoples in the area. It is really a fantastic centre and I was fascinated wandering through the displays. It is another definite yes for something to do if one is visiting the area.
They also have pieces from other cultures. They have had cultural exchanges with peoples from other countries, for instance the Maori from New Zealand, and the first people of Japan. They are becoming quite world renowned for the recognition and honouring of their culture.
The German couple had planned to be on a ferry back to Port McNeill in mid-afternoon, but the U'Mista centre was so interesting and they found it so important, that they changed their minds and spent a good amount of time in the centre. We missed that ferry. (I had not really planned to catch that one; I more or less knew I was catching the
The Big House
This is the meeting house for potlatch events in the community of Alert Bay.
later one because I figured this island would be quite interesting.)
From U'Mista, we headed up the hill to see the world's tallest totem pole. I forget exactly how high it is reputed to be, but it is very tall. There is supposed to be a taller one now in Victoria, but the people of Cormorant Island don't recognize it as being legitimate, calling it “just a tree.” The totem pole is located next to the “Big House.” This is where the potlatches are held. There was actually going to be a ceremony that night, but I did have my ferry from Port Hardy the next day and I didn't think I would have the time to stay for that ceremony. And the German couple were returning to Vancouver the next day and they also didn't think there would be time for them to attend. We were invited though. A man was inside setting up. His daughter was going to be part of the festivities. He came out and asked us if we wanted to go inside and have a look around, and take some photos (as long as we didn't post them for some kind of
The World's Tallest Totem Pole
It was even taller, but the very top part of the pole blew off in a windstorm. There is a taller pole in Victoria, but the residents of Alert Bay say it isn't a real one. It is merely "a carved tree."
a profit; so I will post one photo, but I won't post anything more in honour of his generosity towards us). He took us inside and showed us around and explained how it all went down. There were several groups that would attend and they all tended to sit with their “own.” It would be much like school cliques nowadays, I suppose. But there would be upwards of 1200 people attending any given ceremony.
He lamented the fact that there were many traditionalists amongst the First People of the area. That meant that potlatches would be held in the dead of winter. That meant cold. He told us they were trying to figure out a way to put some kind of heating in the seating. I wonder how the traditionalists would feel about that!
He was a very nice man and told us loads. I went away wishing I had the time to attend that evening. I shall have to return another time.
We headed up the hill, on the man's directions, to see the local school (it's really nice) and a new totem pole erected to the memory of a
Inside the Big House
A resident kindly showed us around inside the community's big house.
man who recently passed away. He was very well thought of in Alert Bay and there was a lot of effort put into this particular totem pole. I liked how there put a bench in front of it, so visitors could sit and admire it.
The ferry time was approaching and it had been a long day. We headed down the hill to the terminal to catch our ride back to Port McNeill. I was satisfied with how the day. I am dawdling again, though. I am going to have to speed it up a bit, or I will still be doing my tour of Canada in November!
There are more photos below