Kayaking the Discovery Islands

Daniel S. Weld

July 1995

While the exposed, west coast of Vancouver Island can be foggy and damp, the island's mountainous spine shelters the labyrinthine waterways that meander between the island's east coast and the fjord-riven mainland. Our group of six sea kayakers spent a sun-drenched week paddling about the small islands that punctuate this tidewater maze of inlets, straits, and channels.

Our relaxed pace matched the gentle abundance of the environment. The most common interruption to our rhythmic paddle stroke was the sudden silver flash of a jumping salmon, as fleeting a surprise as the shooting star. Regal Bald eagles were delightfully common, but witnessing one catch a fish in its talons was an incredible treat. In the smaller passages we drifted on mirror-calm water, surrounded by inquisitive seals, slowly circling. Their canine heads would silently surface or submerge in a curious dance. Quietly, we listened to their husky breathing. A stealthy approach to dozing seabirds resulted in a fluid dive or an indignant scuttling retreat, depending on species.

The rugged coast begged continual examination. Dense trees rooted on improbably steep cliffy shores. At water's edge, these rocky bluffs were draped with vibrant green seaweed. Just above the crashing waves stood barnacle crusted granite, and higher up the rocks were carpeted with delicate, dried moss. Sheltering bays hosted lush tidepools where starfish lounged in colors varying from tangerine to lilac and mauve. Scavaging crabs scuttled about the languid kelp sculptures, while hermits drove discarded shells like miniature Winnebagos. Clams hid in sandy patches, their presence betrayed only by periodic, meter-high, spurting arcs of water. These tidepools were surprisingly noisy --- the crabs clicked, the clam-spurts squished, and the barnacles fizzed effervescent --- all to the waves' gentle percussion.

For me, the most memorable night was spent on the decaying docks of Church House, an abandoned indian village named after the most prominent structure in the town. Blackberry thickets had overtaken most of the buildings, but a few roofs had yet to cave in. Here we met twenty adolescents in the care of a lonely adult. The man was running what turned out to be a summer camp for troubled youths from the mainland. A fascinating conversation reveiled that he had grown up in this village (before its abandonment), moved to another reservation and then to Powell River, and was now trying to teach the kids the values of tradition and hard work. Each morning they bathed in the creek, carefully returning their personal cleansing rock to its place on the sandy bottom after use. Afternoons were spent clearing brambles from trails and tending the remaining houses. Although I can't say that all of the youngsters were enthusiastic (one referred to the stunning location as "Jail"), the enthusiasm of the councillor (and his fond stories of ancient traditions) left an indelible memory of both the plight and promise of native American culture.