Shortly after sunrise the events of the day began to unfold, unplanned and unscripted National Geographic Venture plied the waters just north of the Johnstone Strait as we approached Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, we were fortunate to spot a group of northern resident killer whales. The waters in this part of British Columbia are extremely productive and are dotted with several small islands which create narrow constrictions causing the twice daily tidal currents to swirl around and surge through producing feeding opportunities for the abundant wildlife. Along with the killer whales taking advantage of this buffet were humpback whales, harbor porpoises, white-sided dolphins, Stellar sea lions, and thousands of seabirds. Truly a grand spectacle of nature unfolded before our eyes, and before breakfast.
As grand as the above described show was, the main event for the day was our visit to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. This community of just over 3,000 people is the heart and home of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations People of British Columbia and is a thriving example of the strong cultural resurgence taking place throughout Canada. We were fortunate to have a private guided tour of the U’mista Cultural Center housing a rich collection of artifacts and contemporary art of the peoples that have called this region home for thousands of years. Later in the day we walked the short distance to The Big House, a traditionally built cedar log and sided community house, adorned with powerful and symbolic totem works and a traditional entry mural. Here we were treated to a series of traditional dances and songs representing just a sample of this almost lost and significant form of storytelling. Dancers ranged in ages from 4 years old to over 70 and brought to us a better appreciation and respect for this vibrant and proud culture.