Fraggle Rock

BACK OFF DUDE! Guardian totem of Bella Bella islet, sacred burial ground of the Heiltsuk Nation

BACK OFF DUDE!
Guardian totem of Bella Bella Islet, sacred burial ground of the Heiltsuk Nation

My new life here on Denny Island is proving to be more than a bit enigmatic. There are times when, with my twisted humour in full swing, I rename it Fraggle Rock. The big challenge is dealing with all my fellow citizens, and yes, I am well aware that I am now one of the denizens. (how’s that for a clever pun?) The people here can be divided into three groups. There are those who have lived here their entire lives, they may even be second generation locals. The second group is comprised of folks like me, who have come here for something different or because, like me, they don’t quite fit into the sensibilities of urban life. The third group are the indigenous people whose ancestors have lived here for millennia, the Heiltsuk Nation.

Denny Island was once the site of the original native community, Old Bella Bella. In front of that abandoned village lies Bella Bella Island, a sacred burial islet guarded by a fierce totem.

None of us non-natives dare set foot there and rightly so. Across the waters of Lamma Pass sits the present community of Bella Bella and Waglisla. They are complete with public wharf, general store, police station, school and hospital. That’s not much; but it is enough to cover basic needs and proof that the human race can survive very nicely without institutions like Walmart and MacDonalds; believe it or not. There are airfields on both Campbell Island to serve Bella Bella and here on Denny Island. There are also, of course, float planes to charter and BC Ferries provides a very expensive service to Port Hardy. Return airfares to any place out of here exceed fares to Europe. Life here without a boat is, for me, unimaginable.

Murphy, Shearwater greater, dog-and child sitter, and guardian of the Hodge Podge store.

Murphy, Shearwater greeter, dog-and child sitter, and guardian of the Hodge Podge store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A tribute to Murphy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A map from home to Murphy at “Danny Island”

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The Heiltsuk Nation, as described by Wikipedia, is a First Nations Government on the Central Coast of British Columbia. It traditionally occupied about 6000 square miles in this region and evidence shows they have lived here continuously for the past 9,700 years. These are the people who turned Alexander MacKenzie back on his famous trek across Canada. He was able to dip his toe in Pacific waters but was not permitted to travel all the way to the open ocean. Presently they number about 2,200 and 1,400 live in Bella Bella. I have been befriended by some and find most of these good folks dignified and wonderfully gregarious. I can respect their culture and heritage and at the same time feel embraced simply as a fellow human being. I feel none of the racial tension I’ve found in some other first nations communities. I arrived here just as the federal report on Native Residential Schools was released. Coincidentally I just finished reading ‘The Inconvenient Indian’ by Thomas King. I recommend this book as a candid and articulate overview of the injustices our indigenous people have endured and often continue to. The balance achieved between the native community here and the white population, I think, is a good example of successful human interaction.

Downtown Shearwater

Downtown Shearwater

When the bait well goes dry

When the bait well goes dry

Denny Island is a great rocky island named in 1866 by the British Captain Pender for a Lieutenant Denny. There’s no information about what he’d done to deserve the honour although the British, like other colonizers, loved naming new places after themselves. The forest that grows here is ragged but thick and ancient. There is not enough soil for a larger forest to take root and the island, because of the hard rock base and the copious rain, is covered by cedar swamps, stunted forest, and small lakes. As the second world war advanced into rampant paranoia of a Japanese invasion on the West Coast, the Canadian military performed a major engineering feat. They carved a seaplane base out of solid granite in very short time. Number 9 Squadron operated here between 1941 and 1944.

The Orifice! The engine shop where I work is in the right hand corner of the old hangar. This phot was taken at approximately the corner of the second hangar, long burned-down. On the concrete apron between the two, I can imagine the parked flying boats, men in blue marching to brass band music, shouldered Lee Enfields and a sense of tension as fog swirls over the roof tops.

The Orifice! The engine shop where I work is in the right hand corner of the old hangar. This photo was taken at approximately the corner of the second hangar, long burned-down. On the concrete apron between the two, I can imagine the parked flying boats, men in blue marching to brass band music, shouldered Lee Enfields and a sense of tension as fog swirls over the roof tops.

That something this large could be conceived, built and abandoned in such a short time is a wonderful example of human genius and industry. It also begs the question about why such endeavour can so seldom be employed for peaceful means. The base was never manned by more than a thousand people but it gave a presence in this wilderness from which our waters could be patrolled and from which attacks from invading vessels could be repelled with force. Originally there were two large hangars which supported a squadron of Stranraer biplane amphibians and then Canso and Catalina flying boats. It is that aviation heritage which, in part, drew me here.

My Little bomb shelter in the woods. Entrance to one of the old bomb shelters, a great place to practise graffiti art and smoke a joint!

My Little bomb shelter in the woods.
Entrance to one of the old bomb shelters, a great place to practise graffiti art and smoke a joint!

After the war, the base was sold as part of the war assets liquidation program. Andrew Widsten and his wife bought the development and the Shearwater Marine Group was born.

Denny Island Old Growth Forest. STRUTH! You don't have to be big to be old. With not enough soil and too much water, this is what happens in many areas of primordial forest here on the raincoast.

Denny Island Old Growth Forest. STRUTH! You don’t have to be big to be old. With not enough soil and too much water, this is what happens in many areas of primordial forest here on the raincoast.

Drought in the bog, it's apparently unheard of in these parts but this is the year.

Drought in the bog, it’s apparently unheard of in these parts but this is the year.

PULL UP, PULL UP! A view of the Western end of the Denny Island Airstrip. Never a view you want to see from the cockpit.

PULL UP, PULL UP!
A view of the Western end of the Denny Island Airstrip. Never a sight you want to see from the cockpit.

The bomber. A Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose.  A classic aircraft form the '30s, poetry in motion.

The bomber.
A Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose. A classic aircraft from the ’30s, poetry in motion.

Approximately midway between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert it is a logical stopping point for fuel and servicing. It is located in the middle of some of the world’s best sport salmon fishing and that is certainly no liability. BC Ferries offers an infrequent service here and Shearwater itself provides a barge service to link this base and surrounding small communities to the outside world. Now Craig Widsten maintains the dynasty as a second generation entrepreneur. I can only imagine the challenges and logistics of successful commerce out of the mainstream.

Beyond Spiller Channel. a view Westward from the airfield.

Beyond Spiller Channel. A view Westward from the airfield.

My neighbour.  perfect Pacific Northwest year-round liveaboard cruising vessel.

My neighbour. A perfect Pacific Northwest year-round liveaboard cruising vessel.

Hooterville Sunset. My home moorage for the time being.  The light here can be magic.

Hooterville Sunset. My home moorage for the time being. The light here can be magic.

The Root Source A twisted piece of yellow cedar, perfect for a bowsprit cap.

The Root Source
A twisted piece of yellow cedar, perfect for a bowsprit cap.

Cutting the sacred wood to size

Cutting the sacred wood to size

Fitted to the bowsprit, ready for the carver to work his magic.

Fitted to the bowsprit, ready for the carver to work his magic.

 

I’m presently enduring a weird sort of flu to which many newcomers apparently succumb for a couple of weeks. I miss my previous endeavours restoring old boats and I can’t say I’m enjoying the tedium of being bent over corroded, greasy motors every day. You can never work fast enough and everyone feels they have a priority emergency. There are characters parachuting into your already-overloaded daily agenda with things they try to demand be attended immediately. There also is an issue of bringing in the correct parts from far-off suppliers in a timely and affordable manner. Coordinating the local air service with the water taxis can be a bit challenging as well. It certainly ain’t dull and I drag myself back to the sanctuary of my boat at the end of each day feeling like a very weary old sod.

Value-Added Forestry This sawmill produces beautiful cedar lumber from beach-combed logs.

Value-Added Forestry
This sawmill produces beautiful cedar lumber from beach-combed logs.

Blurry, my friend the red squirrel. he's very hard to photograph, he moves around so quickly.

Blurry, my friend the red squirrel. He’s very hard to photograph, he moves around so quickly.

Shearwater Gym, the big yellow punching bag. It is actually a helicopter water bag used for fighting forest fires.

Shearwater Gym, the big yellow punching bag. It is actually a helicopter water bag used for fighting forest fires.

Roughing it. how the poor folks come to fish.. The Shearwater helipad, often a very busy place.

Roughing it. How the poor folks come to fish… The Shearwater helipad, often a very busy place.

Shearwater's main artery The freight barge and ferry ramp.

Shearwater’s main artery.
The freight barge and ferry ramp.

The rather good, the not so bad, and the very ugly. Shearwater "Hobo" dock.

The rather good, the not so bad, and the very ugly.
Shearwater “Hobo” dock.

Don'tcha buy no ugly boat! Local "Punts" not pretty but very handy.

Don’tcha buy no ugly boat! Local “Punts” not pretty but very handy.

I’ve moved ‘Seafire’ from the transient work dock, called the “Hobo” dock to the employee’s moorage which I’ve decided to name Hooterville. Things are a bit rustic but it is sheltered and offside from the din and dust of a very busy shipyard. Wi-Fi and cell service are marginal but there are solutions coming. My first pay cheque has hit the bank and of course it’s a fraction of what I need but life is an adventure and we’ll stay the course. Meanwhile the weather is generally clear and warm with a minimum of biting insects… although the horse flies are very friendly indeed. Today’s blog is again more of a photo essay than any sort of diatribe. I look forward in future blogs to sharing anecdotes about local history, local characters and points of interest, all the while striving to get this old boat to a latitude with indigenous palm trees.

The wharfinger's shack at dawn

The wharfinger’s shack at dawn

Tide-locked. Low slack at the dock.

Tide-locked.
Low slack at the dock.

Indian paintbrush, Rainbow Island

Indian paintbrush, Rainbow Island

Cornerstone of the planet. A view eastward in gunboat Pass...or is it somewhere in Scotland?

Cornerstone of the planet.
A view eastward in gunboat Pass…or is it somewhere in Scotland?

Red-Headed Whoopers Beautiful in flight, incredibly noisy upon landing

Red-Headed Whoopers
Beautiful in flight, incredibly noisy upon landing and big enough to peck your eyes out…while standing!

Recycling. fresh water returning to the sea.

Recycling.
Fresh water returning to the sea.

The cure for anything is saltwater.

Sweat, tears, or the sea.”… Isak Dineson

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