The Museum at Campbell River is a pure gem with outstanding permanent gallery exhibits, inspiring and thought provoking visiting exhibits, accessible and searchable archives, and educational outreach for all ages. In addition to having superb offerings in this competitive age of information, it has found new and innovative ways to bring history alive.
Throughout the summer months, the Museum at Campbell River is collaborating with Discovery Marine Safaris to offer historical boat cruises that tour the amazing landscapes bordering our waterways. Cruising north from Campbell River, these tours explore various passageways—each area more stunning than the last and steeped in stories of historical triumphs, defeats, and evolution.
One of the most fascinating partners in these expeditions is the Homalco First Nation.
The Homalco First Nation’s traditional lands extend from Dent Island to the Raza Passage, including all of Bute Inlet. At the heart of Bute Inlet lies breathtaking Orford Bay. When the Homalco moved from there in the late 1800s to Church House, and eventually to Campbell River, they were survived by only 80 members, without much of their culture intact and very few to help educate the next generation in traditional ways. The reclamation of who the Homalco people are began with the sharing of the flourishing wildlife in their traditional lands along the Orford River.
Their partnership with the Museum at Campbell River has been witness to the transformation from wildlife tours to cultural experience tours, and, after just one year, has proven to be one of the most popular offerings amongst all tours offered. Their cultural tour is a truly spectacular experience.
You begin your 10-hour expedition on Hwy 19A at the offices of Discovery Marine Safaris. After checking in, you, and the other enthusiastic adventurers, head across the road, and down onto the docks where you are met by the captain who helps you board. There are two decks on this sturdy aluminum beast: the lower deck protected by windows and the upper deck where you are completely exposed to view the journey, and also get winded—but that’s half the fun. Even on a warm, sunny day it’s a good idea to pack a warm jacket and extra clothes. The excursion from Campbell River Marina to Bute Inlet is a solid two hours. You would think one would tire of the ever changing beauty of the coastline, but you never do.
About an hour and a half into the journey, the boat actually stops in one of the awe-inspiring bays for a warm beverage break with muffins. Throughout the entire boat trip, an historian from the museum shares anecdotes about everything that you are seeing: old buildings, outcroppings, bays, mountains, passageways, and more. The two hours does in fact fly by on board this very interesting and educating cruise.
As you reach Bute Inlet, there are no words that do it justice. It is beyond magnificent with overwhelming shades of emerald and turquoise colours dancing on the crystalline water in reflection of the rich environment.
As you slowly motor down Bute Inlet into Orford Bay, you can hear a hearty song welcoming you from an approaching traditional canoe that’s filled with enthusiastic Homalco youth. Clearly, they are proud to share their culture, and, in the throes of discovery themselves, you can feel the excitement.
On the dock await more Homalco peoples to greet you. Two representatives board the boat and greet you in their language, and as you step off the boat a welcome song rises through the air and mingles with the scent of cedar. Vehicles take you to the cultural interpretive centre where murals depict the journey of the Homalco peoples. There you will also find photographs of bears that call Orford River their home and carvings to admire.
At this point in the day the group is divided into three: one group heads out for a trip in a traditional canoe, one to cedar weaving, and one remains to explore the centre.
There is much to absorb. A Homalco shares the highlights of all that can be seen in the centre, and engages one on one with individuals. The murals provide insight into the Homalco’s difficult journey, but, throughout the day, you can sense the renewed hope for their culture and their children’s futures. The carvings are wonderful, colourful, and compel you to appreciate and admire. Bears in the displayed photographs intrigue you as they seem so very close. In September and October, the Homalco offer wildlife tours up the Orford River to observation outposts that were built to allow you a safe distance for viewing bear families in their natural habitat. You cannot help but feel pleased that the Homalco are finding their way back to their very rich culture, and you feel honoured with their graciousness.
Weaving cedar is an advanced skill that you won’t learn in an hour. But the joy on the faces of those teaching—and the fun of being taught—is infectious. I’m quite certain that many on that trip still wear, or hold close, the cedar bracelet they made that day.
The next adventure is canoeing, and it’s definitely a unique experience. Balancing the canoe is an interesting physical sensation, but, thankfully, as you paddle the edges of Orford Bay your senses are overtaken by the beauty and serenity that surrounds you.
The day ends with an absolutely sumptuous feast that includes fresh seafood caught earlier in the day, then prepared and presented in mouthwatering fashion. It is truly delightful! The youth gather on the grass in front of the picnic area sharing cultural song and dance. Their pride and the warmth of their smiles—not just now, but throughout the day—has the power to move one to tears.
The renewal amongst the Homalco people, most notably the youth, is miraculous. Not only are they learning their history, they are embracing the opportunity to share the richness of their culture with everyone they welcome.
This isn’t just any summer historical boat cruise. The voyage through Homalco lands and into their culture is extraordinary and not to be missed. You will be inspired by courage, resolve, and an ability to welcome unconditionally.