Alert Bay, Cormorant Island

Mileage today: 78 miles. Total Mileage:6,089

It was pretty overcast today but still warm and at least dry. Tomorrow the forecast is much better, so we decided to reverse plans and today go to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island.

But first, breakfast!!! And what a delicious breakfast we were served. A glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, coffee, a glass pot of blackberry coulis yoghurt with muesli crunch…. And then sublime eggs Florentine with fresh crab. The crab caught last night just off the Inn beach. It was a fantastic start to the day.

We drove to the ferry port in Port Mcneill, about 45 mins. Cormorant Island is very small so we were travelling as foot passengers. The ferry cost 22 CAD return for the 2 of us.

Cormorant Island was named after HMS Cormorant, which called here in 1846. Alert Bay, the large natural harbour was named after HMS Alert which was stationed here in 1860. BUT Before that, the island was called Yalis by the Namgis First Nation. And now Alert Bay is a major cultural centre for them, after a distressing history of repression that actually lasted till 1995.

All of this is detailed in exhibits at the cultural centre a short walk from the ferry port. A central part of Namgis culture was the ‘potlatch’ ceremony celebrated at major lifetime events like birth, marriages and deaths. The host would give a great feast where presents would be given to all who attended. The more presents, the greater the status of the host. Dances would take place, and the dancers would wear elaborately beautiful painted masks made of cedar wood. Some of the masks represented mythical godlike creatures, some animals and birds and fish, some dead ancestors. These ceremonies were central to the culture and recognising this, for about 70 years ending in 1951, they were made illegal and the masks confiscated and sold or given to museums and collectors throughout the world.

This was all part of a campaign to de-Indianise the tribes. At the same time, children were forcibly removed from their families at age 7, and housed permanently in residential religious schools, including one on Cormorant Island. The schools became a focus of total hatred and despair. The school on Cormorant Island functioned till 1995 when it was demolished in front of a great crowd of former pupils and their families.

The Indian Act was repealed in 1951 and slowly but surely, the Namgis Nation began to trace and reclaim their historical masks. These masks are now housed in the cultural centre as part of an extraordinary collection. The craftsmanship was amazing. We also saw a short film showing a potlatch feast in relatively modern times. It was a fascinating and tragic visit. Part of the tragedy is that the authorities, at least initially, no doubt believed they were acting in the best interests of the First Nation.

We saw the world’s tallest totem pole and the burial ground which has many totem poles in it. Out of respect, these are viewed only from the road.

Tonight we enjoyed dinner and watching the sun casting light onto the trees and water. The otters were fishing and large fish were jumping in the air to escape them. Our hostess came down with a plate of fresh prawns her husband had caught in the inlet this afternoon. They were huge. What a treat!!! This Inn is a total paradise. Bob has totally fallen in love with it.

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