Building business and community on Spring Island




Beyond Kayaking

I first saw a presentation about West Coast Expeditions (WCE)’s guided sea kayak adventures in 2008, and I have been dreaming of paddling off Vancouver Island’s northwest coast ever since. In July 2023, my friend Jill and I joined a multi-day kayaking excursion from WCE’s base camp on Tle:hoh (Spring Island), in the territory of the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations (KCFN), a Maa-nulth Treaty Nation.

What I gained from this experience—beyond an incredible adventure through a landscape of wild, rugged beauty—was a deep appreciation for the company’s rich connection with KCFN. I was intrigued to discover that in April 2022, WCE became 100 per cent Indigenous owned.

WCE has operated within KCFN territory since its inception in 1972 and has had several owner-operators over those five decades—including, from 2008 to 2021, husband and wife Dave Pinel and Caroline Fisher of the Comox Valley. All previous owners have worked closely with the Nation, building close relationships that have evolved and deepened over time. Various KCFN community members have worked as staff or provided services and cultural experiences to guests on Spring Island.

In 2022, WCE became part of Tiičma Enterprises. Among other ventures, the group—which is owned by the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations—is involved in fishing, forestry, and hospitality. Tiičma means “heart” in Nuučaan’ał and the corporation’s tagline is “Businesses with Heart.”

West Coast Expeditions on Spring Island

Meet Bev Michel

Born and raised in Kyuquot, Bev Michel is a KCFN community member with a long-standing association with West Coast Expeditions (including as a former co-owner).

After graduating from high school, Bev worked in several administrative roles for KCFN and the Hesquiaht First Nation. She first met Dave Pinel in 1997-1998, when he was working as a WCE guide and doing his master’s thesis research in Kyuquot, where she was the Band Manager.

Bev describes herself as a “silent, supportive” partner with Dave and Caroline when they owned the company. After Bev completed North Island College’s Nuu-chah-nulth-focused Clayoquot Coastal Adventure Tourism Program (where Dave was the program coordinator and lead instructor) in 2006, she continued to grow her expertise in the areas of tourism and hospitality management, supported by practical experience working with WCE.

When she was offered the opportunity to manage WCE in 2022, Bev accepted immediately. “Knowledge sharing is what I love … and home is where I love to be, she says, adding, “It was perfect timing. Everything happened at the exact right time.”

Bev is proud of being the only manager within Tiičma Enterprises who is a member of KCFN. As Tiičma’s only female manager, she hopes to be a role model for other women from KCFN. Ideally, while gaining confidence with the diverse aspects of her new role, she would like to help train and mentor her replacement in the coming years.

Dave and Caroline have remained involved to support the ownership transition, together with other key staff who’ve stayed with the business, including their teenage son, Morgan—now an apprentice guide—who grew up spending his summers on Spring Island.

Dave says that even before purchasing the company, he felt the most appropriate path would eventually involve the Nation becoming the owners. He describes the ease of the transition: “We didn’t have to sell, and the Nation didn’t have to buy. We all wanted to make it happen when the timing was right.”

West Coast Expeditions on Spring Island

Building community—within and beyond

KCFN territory has the reputation of being a welcoming place. Teaching people who travel through the area for fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, and business is a strong cultural value. WCE greatly benefits from this commitment to sharing knowledge, as community members and knowledge keepers from KCFN generously offer their perspective and wisdom. Many of the cultural activities take place at the base camp on Spring Island. One example is a traditional BBQ salmon night, which has been provided since 1992 by multiple generations of the Jules family. Guests often report that this is a highlight of their trip.

Other activities, such as drumming and singing, traditional storytelling, language sharing, and cedar bark weaving, are being increasingly integrated into WCE programming. Outside the regular WCE summer season, the company, Nation, and community members provide cultural sharing at the Spring Island site with Pearson College (a Victoria-based international school), and youth-focused exchanges with the local Kyuquot Elementary and Secondary School.

Transmission of knowledge in this meaningful way supports multi-generational participation. Bev describes the cultural offerings as “a family thing,” with extended family members sharing stories with guests about life in this remote community and territory. Her family’s experience reflects this: her son, Ryan, worked with WCE for six years, first as a camp assistant, then as a kayak guide, after completing the Indigenous Ecotourism Training Program. Ryan still helps with setting up and dismantling the camp each summer, and he continues to share his knowledge of and love for the territory whenever he can.

One of Bev’s daughters, Shawna, did a summer-student work-experience program with WCE when she was 16. Another daughter, Shania, has also taken kayak training and helped in camp. Aubree, Bev’s young great-granddaughter, has been going to Spring Island since age two and a half, and now spends most of each summer with WCE. She is already very knowledgeable and keen to be part of all activities. Bev anticipates that Aubree may become a guide in the future and is delighted by that prospect.

My favourite moment with Aubree was when she insisted on helping me carry one of my heavy IKEA bags to the water taxi when it was time to leave. The bag was bigger than her—and that didn’t deter her.

West Coast Expeditions on Spring Island

Without a doubt, WCE will continue sharing knowledge with guests. The 2024 season will be the first to offer outings in a big canoe from Spring Island to the nearby historic Kyuquot village cove at Aktis Island. Another potential plan involves KCFN foresters guiding visitors through the Spring Island old-growth ecosystem, teaching about the interconnectedness of species, and broadening perspectives about forests and their importance to the health of the territory.

This teaching mirrors the powerful connections between WCE, Tiičma Enterprises, and the Nation. Bev and the team describe diligently working to develop synergies between all Tiičma Hospitality operations—mimicking interconnectedness—so that the types of special experiences that WCE provides can be shared with even more visitors to this territory.