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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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A Mountain that Symbolizes a Nation

Catface Mountain is a symbol of the Clayoquot Sound region. It has been a part of the skyline for thousands of years. From the Nuu-Chah-Nulth village of Ahousaht on Flores Island, it dominates the landscape and is visible from nearly every vantage point. From Tofino, it stands alongside Meares Island’s Lone Cone Mountain – Brothers in stone, literally, as these two mountains are made from the same subterraneous chunk of rock.

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In the early 1800’s, there was a great war in this region that lasted for 14 years. The land where Ahousaht now is, belonged to the Otsosaht people. There were many battles and stories of the war. One of them goes like this:

The Ahousaht’s put their women, children and chiefs high on Catface Mountain where they would be safe during the fighting. Here, the warriors also prepared for battle. They cut down massive trees and carved them into canoes. The trees had been fallen so they pointed downhill. When they were ready to be launched, smaller logs were placed crossways beneath the canoes and they were rolled downhill to the sandy beach at the base of the mountain. From here the warriors paddled to the east side of Kutcous Point and under the cover of darkness they attacked the Otsosaht tribe. Many were beheaded and those who survived were sent south and they ended up settling in what is now Washington State.

The heads were put on stakes around the island as a warning to others who might try to take on the Ahousahts. Kutcous means – heads cut off, in warfare. One story tells of how the river here ran red with blood for 3 days after the battle.

This war was for resources, just like in European cultures and the wars still happening today – Land, water, fuel and food. The Otsosaht had control of the salmon rivers and clam beds. The Ahousaht people wanted their share.

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Catface Mountain protected the Ahousaht people and prepared them for battle. It gave sustenance, shelter and the means of transportation.

At the base of the mountain are a series of rocks that jut out into the water. Here is the most dangerous part of our modern commute to and from Tofino. During calm weather, boats may take a shortcut through the rocks. Kelp and submerged reefs are are a very real danger to even the most experienced captain. Only the most nimble of boats can make it through the gap. In rough weather all boats go around the rocks. Large swells and more hidden reefs present further dangers. At night, or in rough weather, family and other boat drivers listen out for the call that a boat has “made it around Catface”. They aren’t home yet, but the greatest danger has passed.

Catface Mountain will always be a symbol of strength to the Ahousaht people of Clayoquot Sound. We awake under it’s shadow as the sun rises behind it and we go to sleep as it glows pink as the sun sets. It is and always will be a symbol of home.

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*Marcie moved to Ahousaht as a teacher in 2014. Here she met and become engaged to Lennie John, an Ahousaht man whose home was nicknamed “Mountainview” in honour of the stunning view of the regions mountains, including Catface.

**The stories surrounding the Ahousaht-Otsosaht war have many versions. This is just one account. Other versions may have different details.

For more information please see:  http://www.guidethewildside.com/resource/kutcous.pdf

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The Final Hurdle

The boat soared upwards, plowing through the mountain of water surging in front of it. Lennie, the skipper, pulled back on the throttle as the reached the crest of the wave. There was a pause. Then the 20 ft long boat, began sliding down the back side of the swell into the looming maw of the trough in front of them. Over and over Lennie guided the boat through the everchanging roller coaster of water below them. Finally came the wait. Lennie had to time the waves before cutting across the point of rocks jutting out in the the sea.

This is the final hurdle to get into Hotsprings Cove – Home to about 70 full time residents, the tiny community is home to the Hesquiaht First Nations band on the remote western coast of Vancouver Island.

Most tourists don’t see Sharp Point at it’s worst. They experience scenic boat cruises on calm seas or fly into the inlet on a sea plane. The locals have to brave these rough winter seas near daily in order to carry on their everyday life. Doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, basketball tournaments all happen outside of the community and residents must take a boat around the Point to get there.

On the third wave Lennie made his move. Turning broadside to the waves he charged along the backside of the swell. He repeatedly checked over his shoulder to see what was coming up alongside and behind the boat. A simple miscount could send them hurdling over in a whitewash of breaking water. When he was clear of the rocks, he turned the boat and rode into the inlet on the back of the swell. The timing had to be perfect. Both the wave in front or behind them could break. He had to match the speed of the swell and stay balanced on the back of the swell in front of him.

Eventually the waves lost their force as they travelled deeper into the narrow cove. Lennie could relax – for now. He had made it safely to the dock. But now he had to load up with passengers, and do it all over again.

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Sharp Point on a calm December day, 2016

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