Sunday, 16 October 2011

Nimpkish Valley

Anutz Lake in the Nimpklish Valley
When I packed my slides away in a large carton to store with a friend, one Kodak box was overlooked. I have had those slides transferred to digital and I have placed two of them in this post.

My final year as 'Student Clergy' was 1970. I was able to remain in B.C. - in the Nimpkish Valley which lies towards the northern end of Vancouver Island. The Nimpkish was being logged at that time and there were three logging camps in the Valley - Vernon, Woss Lake and Nimpklish - the latter was the largest of the three and that is where I lived - in a house trailer - from May until the end of August.

As well as the loggers and their families, there was a crew of highway surveyors there at the same time - the Provincial Government had committed to linking the north island towns of Port Hardy and Port McNeil with the outside world. Until the highway was completed, the only way to get down to civilization was by air from Port Hardy or an overnight car ferry to Campbell River - or a long and bumpy drive via the logging roads after the logging was shut down for the day.

Each of my 'summer fields' were adventures and this was no exception. Most of the time non-logging traffic on the roads in that area was restricted to after hours but I had need to travel at other times as well. I always told the 'Road Boss' where I was headed and was warned about where to watch for trucks. So help me, I got so I could see around bends as I always knew when a truck was approaching so I would pull off the 'road' into the scrub until the truck had passed. My heart seemed to be always in my mouth.

The folks in those camps (Woss and Nimpkish) were from many divergent backgrounds but, by and large, all of them were supportive of what I was trying to do. There were a lot of kids so Vacation Bible Schools were well supported and the 'Coffee House' that I organized for teenagers was very well patronized.

In free time - and often in the company of guys from the survey crew - we did a lot of fishing and swimming and exploring. Prospectors had riddled the area with abandoned mines (a few of which had uncovered some metals of value) and hiking along long abandoned trails up and around the mountains was fun.

When it came to wildlife, there was plenty around. Usually there were one or more bears at community garbage dumps which we watched quietly without disturbing them. There were small deer which would often be seen around dusk. One evening I was driving into the camp at dusk when a deer bounded out of the scrub and right under my car. My heart was in my mouth but It got back up on its feet and leaped into the forest seemingly unhurt.

On one of those hikes up to an abandoned mine, a neighbor watched us through her binoculars and told us afterwards that a cougar had followed us all the way. We were completely unaware that the cat was anywhere near us.

Twice there were festivals in communities to the north of the valley. The first one was at Port McNeil and I was awed to see Kwakiutl women from Alert Bay performing a Blanket Dance. In my opinion, one of the grave injustices done to the First Nation people was banning them from following their traditions - and especially the Potlatch which was - and is - a gift giving ceremony. Fortunately, the Federal government repealed the ban on the practicing of Native customs before the elders forgot them - thus the Blanket Dance.

Alert Bay - on Cormorant Island near Port McNeil - is the home of the Kwakiutl people - one of the largest and fiercest of the First Nation groups. For those people the main source of income is not forestry but fishing for Salmon which teem through the nearby waters in spawning season. In Alert Bay are a United Church of Canada as well as an Anglican Church. The pastors of those two congregations unite in a blessing of the fleet ceremony on one Sunday morning in June which is the start of a festival. I and the Highway Department surveyors went there for that occasion.

I was responsible for an error that caused us to lose most of our sleep on that particular Friday evening - I thought that the final ferry to Alert Bay left Beaver Cove/Port McNeil in mid evening. Not so - that ferry was the final one down to Campbell River and back taking folks out who wanted a weekend break from isolation.

Yes - we rode that ferry almost all night long getting very little sleep. The upside, though, was that, while passing through Johnstone Strait, we watched a pod of killer whales which were cavorting beside the boat.

At the time for the Blessing of the Fishing Fleet a small cruise boat tied up at the wharf. The tourists on board thought that all of the natives there wearing regalia were for the entertainment of the visitors. Not so - the Blessing of the Fleet was a far more serious matter than entertaining tourists!

Food for the celebration highlighted smoked salmon. The fish were split down the middle and then affixed to large pieces of cedar which were placed in a 'tripod fashion' over the fire so they could be smoked. Were they ever good! A group of First Nation (Salish) people were visiting from Squamish (north of Vancouver at the head of Howe Sound). They are traditional enemies of the Kwakiutl folk at Alert Bay but the only 'war' that evening were dances by the two groups. I loved that show!

My supervisor that summer was the Rev. Peter Newberry of Alert Bay who flew a small aircraft for the United Church of Canada.

The Rev. Peter Newberry standing on the float.

I was able to leave Nimpkish for the outside twice while I was there.

The first time was to visit a classmate and his wife who were at the Indian community of Ahousat on an island north of Tofino. Now there is a paved highway to Ucluelet and Tofina but not in 1970. While these two communities - the anchors of Long Beach - were reachable by road, it was (like Nimpkish) a logging road that clung to a steep hillside quite high above the valley floor and through an area that was completely logged over. It was like driving through a wasteland - nothing but stumps and logs that had no commercial value.

Ucluelet was very interesting as the village was beside Wreck Beach which was a 'Hippy commune' where nudity was the norm (but not for this kid!). Tofino was - and is - a prosperous town. From either community one could look over the Pacific Ocean with nothing between the B.C. Coast and Japan except salt water.

While I was away, Mom, Babs and Hubert sold the house on Roderick Avenue in Coquitlam. Babs and Hubert moved to Kamloops where some of his siblings had settled while Mom and Dan bought a lovely little house in the Sapperton part of New Westminster. As they could use some help with the move I received permission to go down there and I took two of the boys with me. As well as the move, I entertained the boys by showing them all around Vancouver and taking them to the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) where they had a blast. I really do not like roller coasters but that was where the boys - and particularly the youngest one - gravitated. The younger one was so anxious to have 'the ride of his dreams' that he annoyed the ticket taker and was nearly barred from riding at all!

I took the boys back home to their parents and then packed up my belongings preparatory to moving back to Union College for the final year.

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