From Coal Harbour it was off to Campbell River, another port town with a big heart. The weather was gnarly but the road was beautiful with little traffic. We were on a deadline as we were going Grizzly Bear viewing with Discovery Marine Safari and they were leaving the dock at 11:30am. We arrived in time and met the owner, Geord, in the office and were treated to some great Campbell River hospitality. They'd been expecting us and when we'd walked through the door to the shop Geord said, "Looks like you're already dressed for the tour!" Yes, it was quite miserable outside, but spirits were high. From there we walked across the street to the marina and boarded the 'Tenacious III,' a beautiful purpose built aluminum hulled whale watching boat. Powered by twin Volvos Captain John whisked us across the water to Bute Inlet in a couple of hours and Michael and Conrad from the Homalco First Nations greeted us at the dock.
As with most wildlife viewing luck is a huge factor. Just because we were there to see grizzly bears didn't mean they would come out to play....but they did. At our first observation post we saw seven! Two mommas with a pair of cubs each and a big black bear that sauntered down to the river bank and scooped out a giant salmon before heading back to the woods. All in all we saw 20 grizzlies and the black in a couple of hours, a pretty good 'viewing' if you ask me, and because the weather was nasty there were only seven of us on the tour so we all had good vantage points.
On the way back the resident marine biologist, Amber, offered up a great question and answer period and pulled her book out so that every time we saw something in the water she would flip to the page that dealt with it and give us a breakdown. I must say this side of the trip was an unanticipated bonus. A wildlife viewing adventure is usually just that, but Captain John with his 20 plus years with the 'Department of Fisheries and Oceans' experience and Amber's passion for marine biology filled in a lot of the blanks. It's always nice to make sense of something you've just seen and the greater the awareness concerning these creatures will lead to measures to protect their future. For the trip we extend a huge thank you to Geord for making it happen, to Captain John, Amber, and Ann on the Tenacious III, and Michael and Conrad of the Homolka First Nations. The trip lasted seven hours, was beautifully run, very insightful, and we got to see our grizzlies. An incredible day I'd say....and sorry about the picture Ann, but you were such a great sport I had to!
From there we bunked down at the Painter's Lodge which was a real treat. Yes the old lodge burned down in the 80s but the replacement was built in a fashion that reflected the roots of the original. It commanded a spectacular presence on the waterfront and when lit up in the evening it glowed with a cheery warmth. To compliment the exterior were tributes to the past inside by way of photos of past guests, many rich and famous. John Wayne was hanging on the wall, as was Bob Hope and Vincent Price, in fact the wall leading up to the second floor was a 'who's who' of Hollywood royalty. On the second floor was the Tyee Club, an elite club for those that had caught a 30lb or larger salmon from a dinghy rowed out into the bay by one of the staff. It was quite the club, I've yet to join. For our stay at Painter's Lodge we'd like to thank Mike Watling very much. The Painter's is a class act so thank you very much Mike!
The next day we were off to the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre, a beautiful museum built on the foundations of the old water treatment plant. It was obvious that our series was taking on a strong maritime theme and the Heritage Centre added to it by housing the BCP45, an old salmon fishing seiner built in 1927. This was the same seiner that was photographed in 1957 and featured on the back of the Canadian 5$ bill in the 70s. At the centre we met Vic Anderson, one of the restorers of the BCP45 and he gave us a great tour. It was amazing to see the beautiful job they'd done on her, all for less than forty thousand dollars, and on that note it must be noted that the crew of restorers worked on the project without any form of monetary gain. To all of them it was purely a labour of love. The museum is a thing of beauty and makes for a very interesting stop. We'd like to thank Vic for the great tour and Trish Whiteside, the Operations Manager, for arranging the tour and interview. Thank you!
So, Campbell River was just about done, but we had one last stop before heading south, and that was the Shelter Point Distillery. Yes, there is a great maritime tradition running through Vancouver Island, but there's also a strong entrepreneurial one running too. Patrick Evans, President at Shelter Point, was raised a dairy farmer but a few years back made the decision to diversify, and what a bold choice he made, into single malt Canadian whiskey. We met Patrick at the entrance of the purpose built distillery and he gave us the tour. The building was a work of art, the gift store was very nicely done but it was when we walked though to the distillery that we got a real sense of his commitment to the business. Clear grain Douglas Fir beams supported the roof while a series of etched glass panels illustrated the process of creating whiskey from 'field to flask.' The large room was beautifully appointed and ambient lighting lent a very informal tone to the area, but it was the stills to the left that commanded our attention. The two stills had been beautifully handcrafted in Scotland and shipped over to Vancouver Island via the Panama Canal. For the next half hour Patrick gave a very comprehensive tour followed by a little 'sampling!' It was a fantastic end to our Campbell River episode and we'd like to thank Patrick and wish him well in his new venture.
Then it was on to my home island, Gabriola, to cover the Thanksgiving Studio Tour. Yes, yes, yes, it was turning into one heck of a trip.