Alert Bay......what a spot, what an energy, and what a collection of characters. It has been a fantastic couple of days, incredible even. It started off with our host, Judy, what a live wire! She met us off the ferry and guided us to our parking slots like she was giving directions to an airplane taxiing into the terminal. Then she showed us to our quarters, her 45' Catalina Morgan sailboat, Paloma. Judy is a retired nurse, beer can bbq chicken specialist and incredible story teller. After settling in she graciously introduced us to her friends and paved the way for an unforgettable visit.
Then came a tour of the town which led us to the U'mista Cultural Society. The shoreline location emanated a beautiful energy and Dominik painted an incredible painting on the grounds next to a couple of totem poles. The U'mista Cultural Centre was a revelation and offered an extremely focused look at Potlach ceremonies and included many masks on display, a large portion of which had been 'seized' by the government after 'Potlaches' were outlawed in the 19th century and which had subsequently been returned. Della, Sarah, and Trevor were incredibly receptive to our project and allowed us to film inside and Trevor gave us a great tour accompanied by a contagious sense of humour.
From there we made a visit to Alert Bay 'Culture Shock,' a store run by four sisters that have made it their mission to share their Namgis First Nations culture by way of videos, story telling, traditional salmon bbqs and cedar weaving. Their 'Namgis Roots Experiences' are a fascinating way to get a hands on experience into their First Nations Culture. We had a great interview with one of the sisters, Andrea Cranmer, what a character, and were blown away by her clarity of the past, her passion for the present, and her vision for the future. It was so refreshing to witness such passion and conviction. Thank you Andrea, and thank you Donna for your lovely basket weaving demonstration. Not only very enjoyable but very educational too.
Then there was was the aforementioned bbq beer can chicken cooked to perfection by Judy. I still smile when I think of her stories, there were so many, and I,m talking really entertaining ones. Like working on a tug boat as a cook for six weeks as she sailed from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, all the way down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to Vancouver. Six weeks, with only one shore leave in Panama. Hard core, but Alert Bay seems to attract strong people with strong stories. Such as Collin, another free spirit. He owns a good part of the waterfront, three Double Decker buses, a London Hackney cab, and loves his happy hour, as many others do, on his front porch as the world goes by. It was hard to keep track of all the characters, but if you wanted to get a handle on it the Bayshore Diner over breakfast was a great place to start. We were initially given some flak for taking the 'old timers' table in the corner but once we apologized profusely they warmed up to us and what a spectacle the diner was. It was Alert Bay's version of the Rovers Return on Coronation Street. Everyone that walked through the door was greeted by those already in place by handshakes and hugs as tongues got to wagging over a hearty greasy spoon.
During the day we gathered establishing shots and had the very good fortune of being invited to a Potlatch that was being held in the 'Big House.' That was something to be experienced and with the permission of the organizer, James Speck, we were allowed to film inside. What a treat. I have heard of these traditional ceremonies but have never had the honour of attending one. As tradition dictated we waited patiently by the door to the Big House for the drumming to end. When it did the door opened and we were permitted entry. We soon found seats and witnessed part of the ceremony. To see the fire burn in the middle of the floor with a bean of sunlight making its way down from the roof, and to hear the wood carvers beating on a cedar log while dancers circled the flame was a very emotional experience. There was something primordial to the ceremony that made the world outside seam insignificant, and Judy happily made mention of the amount of children attending. Traditions were being passed on, as they should.
Then it was time to take our leave, to cross another water on yet another ferry. The maritime theme was gaining traction!
Thanks again to Della, Sarah, and Trevor at U'mista, to Andrea and Donna at Alert Bay Culture Shock, to Collin at Happy Hour, James at the Big House and a very special thank you to Judy, our host.
You made it happen!!!