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living the coastal life

West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

Whalecome!

Lennie and I are a water-loving couple in Ahousaht BC. Ahousaht is on Flores Island – a 35 min boat ride north of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We have a very unique living experience here. No grocery stores, no gas stations, wolves roaming our streets and a water taxi ride to get in and out of the village.

I’d like to share some of my experiences here – Both the every day and the extraordinary and showcase a little bit of what life is like for us on the coast. Please shoot me questions and comments! I would love to feature topics you are interested in!

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Surfrider oversees removal of debris supersacs off Flores Island

UPDATED: Surfrider oversees removal of debris supersacs off Flores Island

Atleo Air provided the helicopter to access more remote beaches and lift the loads to a nearby barge.

  • Wed Sep 27th, 2017 4:30pm

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Marcie Callewaert

Special to the Westerly

On September 27, 2017 over 13 volunteers and 6 companies, came together to facilitate the removal of the final supersacs and oversized marine debris from the Surfrider clean up of Flores Island.

Fourteen sites needed to be cleared before the winter storms pulled the garbage back into the ocean.

Atleo Air provided the helicopter to access more remote beaches and lift the loads to a nearby barge, provided by G&N Towing. Two boats, skippered by Lennie John and Marcel Theriault, moved volunteers between beaches where they hitched loads to the helicopter.

Michelle Hall, the Surfrider Pacific Rim Chair, is “very grateful to the ACRD, and local government officials, and local MP Gord Johns, for coming to the aid of Surfrider in the very last minutes of urgency. The amazing efforts of our volunteers, skippers and pilot made todays operation absolutely flawless.”

Hall noted that “Some of the sacs on Dagger Point had been affected by the tides and needed to be rigged again, showing the urgency of removing the debris from the coast before it was dragged back out to sea again.”

Despite the team’s jubilation at completing Flores Island, there are still several other sites in the surrounding region that need to be finished, including “Vets, Mussell Beach, Wind N Sea, and Wild Pacific Trail, and Surfrider will continue to work with Parks Canada to ensure everything is removed.”

“Cleaning the beach is the easy part! Permits, coordination, funding, partnerships, safety, helicopter operations and getting debris from the barge to the marine intake centre in Vancouver for recycling is the challenging part.”

The marine debris will be transported to Vancouver where it will be sorted by the Ocean Legacy Foundation. The plastics collected will be used by Lush Cosmetics to create recycled product containers. Other debris will be sorted accordingly and recycled if possible.

“We all have a responsibility to make sustainable choices for the lifestyles we choose to lead. Look at how you can reduce plastic consumption, support ocean friendly businesses and above all, protect what you love,” Hall says.

 

Aboriginal tourism growing in Ahousaht

Aboriginal tourism growing in Ahousaht

Local Ahousaht guides are available for both trails and can share local knowledge and stories along the route.

  • Tue Sep 26th, 2017 8:11am

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MARCIE CALLEWAERT

Special to the Westerly

In recent years, Clayoquot Sound has become a destination hiking hotspot and is gaining publicity for two trails in particular, Lone Cone Trail on Meares Island and Walk the Wildside Trail on Flores Island.

Both trails are managed by the Maaqtusiis Hahouthlee Stewardship Society, an economic development group overseen by the Ahousaht Hereditary Chiefs. Aboriginal tourism is on the rise in BC with visitors looking for First Nation guides, detailed histories and different perspectives of the lands they are visiting.

Anna Atleo, the Lone Cone Tofino office manager explained that tourism is a “tool for our people to be recognized” and is a “great opportunity to expose [our culture] to people all over the world.”

These “must-see” trails allow hikers to travel back into history with culturally modified cedar trees, dugout canoes resting in the forest and ancient stories connected to the land.

Lone Cone Trail is a 3.4 kilometre trail up Lone Cone Mountain. The view at the top rivals any other of the region, including the Cox Point look out. A variety of companies offer water taxi services to the island, but the best all inclusive service is the Lone Cone office themselves, located in the lower Shore Building on Main Street.

The Lone Cone office recommends planning for a five-hour return trip. No camping is allowed on the trail but the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground at the base offers a relaxing option, with a hot tub, sand volleyball court and kayak and paddleboard rentals off a white sand beach.

Bookings are made through the Lone Cone office. Trail fees and the water taxi are included in your overnight stay.

The 11-kilometre-long (22-kilometre roundtrip) Walk the Wildside Trail is also only accessible by water taxi. Taxis can be arranged through the Lone Cone office, or hikers can contact the Ahous Fuel Bar in Ahousaht. Most water taxis to Ahousaht board at the First Street Dock in Tofino.

The boat ride is a 35-minute scenic ride through Clayoquot Sound with sights of Meares, Vargas and Flores Island, as well as Catface Mountain. Some hikers opt to charter a boat to the Cow Bay trailhead and complete a one-way hike back to the village.

Hikers can register for the trail at the Ahous Fuel Bar. From there they will follow the signs through the village to the trailhead at First Beach. The trail is maintained by the Ahousaht Guardians who clear windfalls and upgrade the boardwalk system as needed. About half of the trail is on remote sandy beaches that rival those of Hawaii, some hikers have remarked.

There is a good chance you will be able to enjoy empty beaches all to yourself while you are on the trail. Hikers are allowed to camp overnight along the trail. Bear caches and outhouses are located at specific beaches. Due to recent wolf encounters, dogs are not permitted on the Walk the Wildside Trail. They are still allowed on Lone Cone though and can stay with you at the campground for a small fee.

Local Ahousaht guides are available for both trails and can share local knowledge and stories along the route. For those looking for a more intimate connection to the land, this is a great option.

Though MHSS has not kept official visitor numbers to date for either trail, they say visits are definitely increasing year to year and they expect them to continue to rise.

When it comes to which trail is the favourite, many have a difficult time deciding. Atleo reminisced about the whales you can sometimes watch at Cow Bay on the Walk the Wildside Trail before deciding the “beautiful view and huge culturally modified trees” on Lone Cone Trail made it her favourite.

Christian Swan of Ahousaht, particularly enjoyed reading the entries in the guestbook in the emergency shelter cabin along the Walk the Wildside Trail.

Tourists are “yearning” for Aboriginal content and engagement and for more authentic travel experiences, according to Atleo.

The Ahousaht Nation has opened their arms to share their stories and history with visitors to their territory.

No matter which trail you hike, Atleo promised it’s the “best medicine to be out there, amongst the cedar trees.”

Those wishing to book a water taxi or guide, or inquire about trail fees and reservations can contact the Lone Cone Tofino office at 250-725-2169 or Ahous Fuel Bar at 250-670-6803.

Walk the Wildside Trail

Clayoquot Salmon Festival coming up

Clayoquot Salmon Festival coming up

Friends of Clayoquot Sound cheer intergral species.

  • Tue Sep 12th, 2017 10:00am

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MARCIE CALLEWAERT

Special to the Westerly

Autumn is coming and so are the salmon!

The Friends of Clayoquot Sound Salmon Festival is coming up September 15 – 23, 2017.

The event’s mandate is to “Protect, Educate, [and] Celebrate” the salmon that are an integral part of our coastal ecosystem.

The Clayoquot Salmon Festival is on its third year and grows larger each season. The festival occurs as wild pacific salmon return to their spawning grounds in coastal rivers and streams.

Jeh Custerra with Friends of Clayoquot Sound explains that “the festival aims to offer residents and visitors an opportunity to reflect upon, and build an active appreciation for, the irreplaceable value of salmon in Clayoquot Sound”.

This year’s events include a Surfrider beach clean up on Wickaninnish Beach on Sunday, September 17, from 1-4 p.m., meeting at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre. Also running that day is a Regional Gathering hosted by the Ucluelet First Nation and Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s from 11a.m. to 4p.m. at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre.

Join the Salmon Forest Walk, hosted by the Raincoast Education Society at the Schooner Cove Parking lot at 1p.m. on Thursday, September 21 for this free, guided tour of a “salmon forest”.

There will also be a series of salmon solidarity short documentaries in collaboration with Monday Night Movies. Titles include “Caretakers”, “Salmon Will Run”, “Voyage for Salmon”, and “Wild Salmon Mural”. This event will happen at the Clayoquot Community Theatre on Monday September 18. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $8.

On Thursday, September 21, at the Tofino Community Hall at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Kristi Miller, a leading scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will speak about her research being shut down by the Harper administration of the Government of Canada.

Raincoast Education Society will be presenting a series of presentations at Darwin’s Café on water quality monitoring in Clayoquot Sound on Friday, September 22. The Raincoast Education Society will be joined by the University of Washington-Tacoma and Royal Roads University to present their findings.

For those interested in food security and canning there will be a canning workshop on Saturday, September 23rd at the Tofino Community Hall from 1-3 p.m. This event is free and will teach participants how to can salmon!

The festival will kick off with music performances by Compassion Gorilla and Ms. Panik at the Tofino Legion on September 15th at 9p.m., and Def 3, Praxis Life, Pud Fluff and Sliceoginger on September 16, at 9 p.m. at the Tofino Legion. Caleb Hart and The Royal Youths, and Buckman Coe will perform at the Tofino Legion on September 22, at 9 p.m. I M U R and Butterflywingtip will wrap up the festival on Saturday, September 23 at the Tofino Legion at 9 p.m. All concert tickets cost $15.

To volunteer for the Clayoquot Salmon Festival contact the festival organizers at salmonfestival@focs.ca or 250.725.4218. People are needed for promotion, set up, take down and manning the door at events.

To stay up to date with location specifics, participating businesses, and updates, please check the festival website www.focs.ca/salmonfestival or Clayoquot Salmon Festival on Facebook.

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Ahousaht’s Maaqtusiis school back in swing

Ahousaht’s Maaqtusiis school back in swing

Teachers excited to live amongst beautiful scenery and participate in local events, like potlatches.

  • Mon Sep 11th, 2017 12:25pm8456851_web1_170911-UWN-Ahousaht-School

MARCIE CALLEWAERT

Special to the Westerly

Some people are surprised to hear that Ahousaht has an elementary and high school, with a full complement of teaching staff.

While several staff members have been with the school for years, others are relatively new, or in the case of five teachers in particular, entirely brand new to Vancouver Island and West Coast. Despite the challenges that come with remote living, teachers are drawn to Ahousaht.

Pehgee Aranas is the principal of Maaqtusiis Elementary which has an enrolment of 140 students this school year.

She noted that the hiring process was more difficult this year as British Columbia has also opened 3,500 new teaching positions.

You “have to find [someone] who’s a good fit in the community”, and not just the school community, but the entire village, she said.

Teachers are expected to attend potlatches and community dinners outside of school hours.

Aranas was looking for teachers who are extroverted, so they are outgoing but also introverted, so they don’t mind long stretches of heavy rain and dark nights without the social scene that can be found in the city.

Job postings for both the elementary and high school were very candid as to what applicants could expect.

Joe McHale is the high school principal. He has 66 students in the school. He explained that the interview process is “about that candidate interviewing us as much as we interview them…to see if we’re a good match for each other.”

Shabtika Thillaiambalam accepted the job posting for a math teacher in the high school because she wanted to avoid “the pollution and stress created by the crowded living conditions” in London, UK where she had been teaching before making the move to Ahousaht.

“Ahousaht’s pristine nature and close-knit community and values” drew her here. “Working in Ahousaht is a gift I am giving myself for my health and well being, moreover being able to help the students and the community brings me more happiness.”

Rusty Tannant has been teaching in the elementary school for two years and applied because of Aranas’ “hilarious and interesting job posting.”

She committed to the job and lifestyle because “people were so friendly at the job interview and because it is so beautiful!”

Appreciation of the beauty of Ahousaht’s surrounding landscape is a common theme for new and returning teachers.

Daniel Lightning Soifer and his wife Jen Lightning Soifer have moved to Ahousaht twice! Daniel accepted the grade six position at Maaqtusiis Elementary School in September 2015.

A year and a half later, they returned to Edmonton on maternity leave to deliver their twins Coral and Isla, who joined their other daughter, four-year-old Maple. Last week they moved back to Ahousaht to start the 2017 school year, where Daniel will be teaching PE.

Daniel explained that teaching in Ahousaht allowed him to “spend more time with family in an amazing setting”. “In Edmonton, we would go into nature on weekends and here we can do that anytime. We aren’t living for the weekend”.

Ahousaht’s remote location in Clayoquot Sound is not for everyone, but teachers who do make the journey, say the benefits are clear.

Ahousaht Skatepark a Healing Journey for Survivors

Ahousaht skatepark a healing journey for Leviathan survivors

“We have now formed a strong connection to the area and have some lifelong friends there.”

 

  • Tue Aug 22nd, 2017 10:55am

MARCIE CALLEWAERT

Special to the Westerly

The Ahousaht skatepark project was born from the tragedy of the Leviathan II capsizing in October 2015.

Dwayne Mazereeuw, his wife, Elisa Kasha, and 19 others were pulled from the water by Ahousaht water taxis that responded to the capsizing.

Mazereeuw recalls that when he and Kasha “found out that Get on Board and Landyachtz Longboards were working towards getting a skatepark built in Ahousaht, [they] knew it was the perfect opportunity to say thank you.”

Mazereeuw works for Newline Skateparks in Calgary, Alberta, which allowed for the perfect collaboration with the Ahousaht Nation and other organizations to make this long dreamed of park, a reality.

Mazereeuw became interested in skateboarding at the age of six. He has made “a career out of doing something that [he] love’[s]” and that is part of what Mazereeuw wanted to pass on to the youth of Ahousaht.

There are limited recreational activities on Flores Island, a 35-minute water taxi ride from Tofino.

“Not everyone is into team sports, so a skatepark gives these individuals an activity that allows them to be active and express themselves.”

Mazereeuw and his family returned to Ahousaht in June of this year and “after just a few months of having the new park the kids are really starting to progress,” he said.

“The age range spanned from toddlers rolling over the pump bumps to teenagers learning new tricks in the bowl end. It was amazing to see the park getting so much use.

“The by-product of getting involved in the skatepark project was that it gave my wife and I the opportunity to go back to Tofino and Ahousaht, which has really helped with our own personal healing after such a traumatic experience. We were both deeply affected by the accident and returning has helped us to face our fears and work at moving our lives forward. Getting back on a boat in the same waters that nearly took our lives was not an easy thing to do but each time we do, it gets just a little bit easier.”

Mazereeuw also commented that “the project has also allowed us to reconnect with our rescuers, and others that helped that day, both in Ahousaht and Tofino. We have now formed a strong connection to the area and have some lifelong friends there.”

Mazereeuw and Newline Skateparks have built skateparks around Canada and in “some pretty amazing locations, however the view from the Ahousaht skatepark is definitely one of the best… It is amazing to now have a skatepark right on the beach with the mountain views in the background. It is magical!”

Patti Charleson, Deputy Chief Councillor with the Ahousaht First Nation commented that the park is used on a “daily basis, rain or shine.”

The long-term plan is to add benches and a picnic area as the surrounding grounds are landscaped further. It will be a much needed “full family fun space.”

Hummingbird Magic

Every day I marvel at the tiny masterpieces flitting around my porch, bickering about who gets to feed at which perch or who gets the largest flowers. Rarely do I have time to sit in the yard with my camera to document their speedy travels, however, recently I took a break from my morning routine to nestle myself in the grass and patiently wait for them to forget about me again. Within 10 minutes it paid off and 2 juvenile rufous hummingbirds were competing for the rich, ruby red bee balm blooms a short distance away. After a while, they seemed to reach some sort of settlement amongst themselves and began to tolerate each other’s presence.

I find natural flower based hummingbird photos more aesthetically pleasing than ones with a plastic feeder in them. They can be harder to plan for, but a garden with a few of their favourites will create a plethora of unique photo opportunities for you! Typically hummingbirds are attracted to bell-shaped flowers, in red if possible. Bee balm has been a successful attractant for every garden I have seen it in.

In general, the greater the variety of flowers in your garden, the more success you will have with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees! The greater the biodiversity in your yard, the healthier the ecosystem you create will be, and isn’t that something we would all love to strive for?

Another Tragedy on the Water

When disaster strikes on the water, we think of the Coast Guard. However, what happens if the Coast Guard isn’t there for you? The village of Ahousaht has come to rely on their own in an emergency. That’s not to say the Coast Guard isn’t involved, but more often than not, they request any available local boats to assist anyways. And that’s how it should be. All vessels in the region need to be notified of a mayday emergency so they can respond if possible.

On Sunday, April 30th, that didn’t fully happen. When a 8.5 meter catamaran fishing vessel, carrying 5 people began taking on water in outer Clayoquot Sound, the Coast Guard put out a call for assistance on Channel 16. Boats that were scanning or monitoring ch. 16 on their VHF heard the call, but many did not. The Coast Guard has the option of, and has many times in the past, put out an all station broadcast, which redirects all radios to Ch. 16 for the emergency broadcast. These all channel broadcasts aren’t particularly uncommon. Not too long ago, one went out for kayakers in the Sooke region, requesting available vessels to search for them. No all channel broadcast was put out for the vessel on April 30th, leaving many boats unaware of the emergency and unable to offer their assistance.

It leaves me wondering if that all channel broadcast could have changed the outcome and whether having more boats respond immediately would have widened the initial search pattern.

What is the Coast Guard’s criteria for all channel mayday broadcasts? Why does one emergency receive one and not another?

Our local rescuers and Coast Guard did an amazing job and assisted in every way possible. But I can’t help but wonder if additional lives could have been saved if more boats had initially responded and the search pattern therefore expanded exponentially.

 

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

Coastal Bliss

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I admit, I haven’t gotten out into Nature as much as I would have liked this winter season. Laziness or the weather, or business, there’s always been an excuse to stay warm and dry indoors. I think when we are surrounded by nature on such a frequent basis, it becomes the norm and we forget what an amazing gift it is. We end up taking it for granted. If we lost all of this tomorrow, how much would we regret not spending every possible moment with sand in our toes and wind in our hair?

Photography can help bring a greater appreciation of the outdoors to viewers inside the comfort of their own home. It can inspire them to get out there and see it themselves. Photography transcends boundaries. It breaks down walls and screens. There are no barriers that can keep it bound in today’s electronic world. If I need any further inspiration to get outdoors, besides the outdoors themselves, it should be to bring the outdoors in for those who haven’t seen it for themselves lately. Even those who are surrounded by it and have grown too familiar. Photography can wake you up to re-appreciate the finer details again.

And on that note, here are a few of my favourite images from the past months.

 

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