We left for the community of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island from Port Harvey on September 10th and as mentioned in our previous blog, there was not much wind within this section of Johnstone Strait and we ended up motoring for most of the way. We also discovered that there can be quite strong currents as you approach Alert Bay through the Broughton Strait. As we approached the bay, we decreased in speed from 6 knots while motoring to almost 2.5 knots with the current coming through Pearse Passage between Cormorant Island and Pearse Island.
We decided to anchor in the bay opposite the U’mista Cultural Centre instead of going to the public wharf. We were the only ones in the bay but by the end of the evening we had another sailboat and two fishing vessels join us.
Alert Bay is a convenient stop after transiting Johnstone Strait northbound. It is also a great place to be introduced to the Native culture and roots on this part of the coast. Once we got the boat all sorted and the dinghy overboard, we went to visit the U’mista Cultural Centre and the ‘Namgis Burial Ground. The U’mista Cultural Centre was built in 1980 next to the old residential school and houses collections of carved and decorated masks, coppers and other Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonial artifacts. The displays portray the history of the area and the significance of the potlatch. A potlatch is a gift-giving feast that was practiced by most Northwest Coast Aboriginal groups of Canada and the United States. It encouraged people to give away their earnings and possessions, in exchange the giver would receive a great deal of respect and be seen as honourable to his tribe and to others. In 1884, the potlatch was banned in Canada and the last major potlatch was held illegally in 1921 in Alert Bay. The goods were confiscated by Aboriginal agents after this potlatch and ended up in museums and/or private collections around the world. The U’mista Cultural Centre showcases many of the artifacts returned from these collections.
After several hours in the centre, we made our way over to the ‘Namgis Burial Ground where there are stands of totem poles. The totem poles ranged from those in final stages of decomposition to the more recently erected vibrant poles. As culture dictates the poles are not repaired or repainted, as the First Nation believe that “all things must return to nature”.
In general, Alert Bay was pretty quiet and most restaurants were closed for the season or for up for sale, but we did find a hip clothing store ( called ‘Culture Shock’) that also doubled as a coffee shop and one restaurant (Pass’nThyme Inn & Restaurant) that served a nice fish and chips. ~Sophia & Rob