I am in Hartley Bay right now with Nicolas Teichrob, a talented photographer and filmmaker from the Sunshine Coast whose pictures you are now looking at. We are here doing some work for an upcoming coastal film project and I am carrying on my work with the SEAS program. We flew from Vancouver to Prince Rupert on Sunday and were fortunate to catch the daily scheduled float plane heading down to Hartley Bay. The chance’s are usually 50/50 that the planes will fly during the winter months due to the severity of the coastal weather. By floatplane and helicopter i have made my way around most of the area but this flight took us west from Prince Rupert to the outer islands of Porcher and Banks, a first for me. I was excited as I have been looking at the outside beaches of Porcher for years. It’s a place i have wanted to surf and paddle, drawn by it’s remoteness and pristine, beautiful beaches perched on the edge of Hecate Straight. From the plane i could also see across to Haida Gwaii and to the southwest, Bonilla Island, the location of one of the highest recorded winds speeds in Canada at 143km/hr. The coast is so amazing that everytime i fly over it i seem to add more and more adventures and explorations to my tick list. I have come to the realization that i would need 10 lifetimes to explore out coastline. Below me, I was also looking at the northern route of the proposed oil tankers where they would make their way up between Banks and Pitt Island on their way across the malevolent Hecate Straight past the northern beaches of Haida Gwaii on their way to China. I still can’t and don’t want to picture it. From Porcher our flight path took us past the snow covered peaks of Banks, Pitt and Campania Island where we verred east past Fin Island and into Hartley Bay.
West coast of Porcher Island

Two nights ago our timing was good as Nic and I had the opportunity to digg for cockles with Jason Bolton and Jonathon Reece. Cockles are a shellfish harvested at the lowest tides of the year and that has sustained the people of Hartley Bay for hundreds of years. I have been clam digging before but this was the first time that i have been out cockle digging. It was hard work raking through the cockle beds but after a couple of hours between the four of us we had eight, five gallon buckets before the tide quickly made its way back in. Thanks to Jason and Chris Bolton we were able to keep a couple of buckets for Cam and Eva. Usually you give some of your harvest to those who took you out but Jason said we could keep what we had to share. So as with tradition, i brought another bucket down to an elder, Helen Clifton. It is important to share traditional foods with those who cannot get out on the lands.

Digging at low tide for cockles

After bringing the cockles to Granny i sat down to listen to her share stories about the traditional way of life. Two hours can go by in the blink of an eye with Mrs. Clifton. We talked about “cracking cockles,” a way of processing these hard shelled species and of how all the nasty weather comes in on the big tides. We discussed all of the best harvesting places in the area for both clams and cockles and of how the community sold bags of clams to build their first gymnasium. Mrs. Clifton discussed the best months for harvesting shellfish and how you can tell just by the color of them whether they were ready to eat or not. I was impressed with the sensitivity of these shellfish and how they can be different from beach to beach, even when those beaches were in close proximity to one another. And finally we chatted about how the sinking of the Queen of the North affected traditional harvesting for clams. The sinking did not allow the community to harvest clams from one of the best beds on the coast for three years due to the contamination from the diesel and heavy oils. It’s always an education for me sitting with an elder and listening to the stories.

The Harvest

The same day prior to digging, and as i was out on my SUP with Nic, we watched another boat from the community come back with two moose to share. These moose were harvested in an incredible river system north of the village, a traditional area that has been used year after year. I have been to this river to hunt for moose and to fish but were not as fortunate as the hunters that had just returned. After congratulating them on their hunt, i felt that i was beaming knowing the fact that a number of traditional ways have not changed and that there is still a lot of food to harvest. It such a powerful way and normal way of life for the people of our coast. This way of life has to continue.

With the snow falling heavily as i write this i feel it’s time to go outside.


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