By Tom Groenewal
December 22, 1991
Sunday I leave Forks on roads sanded to give some traction. Another morning of frosted roads. The sky is clear so overnight the heat escaped. As I approach Crescent Lake, the sky clouds over and the frost melts to liquid and vapor.
I make the ferry dock with 45 minutes to spare, $30 for a pedestrian trip to Victoria, B.C. The wind is strong but I weather the cold on forward deck to see 4-foot swells off the ocean rolling down the Strait. I can see birds, seals, and mountains all around. A school of black and white Dall’s porpoises, looking like small Orcas cutting through the water in front of the boat and riding the breaking waves. Fins cut through the surface, blowholes exchange air every minute, and powerful tails propel them to high bursts of speed.
In the Port of Victoria, I exit the ferry and into the hands of Canadian Customs. Customs makes me nervous. I pull my hat down and dart my eyes back and forth. One of these days during a cross-border trip someone will slip a package of drugs into my backpack and I will get busted, I know it.
A Customs official blocks the way and asks for my passport. He looks at my photo and looks back at me and continues to look back and forth. He knows something. He knows something I don’t. Maybe the photo makes me look like a criminal.
Don’t do it, I tell myself, don’t do it. My brain is trying to tell me something, another safety issue. I can’t resist and hand him my passport and new Washington Driver License thinking Mr. Jensen’s photo of me and my gold star for passing the test will help my current situation. It doesn’t.
I am led to the next step with new Customs officials, more scrutiny and more questions. “What’s the reason for your visit, business or pleasure?” “Pleasure.” “Where are you going?” “The University of British Columbia Museum.” “Do you have any goods in your pack?” Goods? I wonder what goods are? “Open your pack sir!” My brain is playing tricks on me, this isn’t happening, I’m clean man. But I am clearly a suspect.
He brings me to a room where another agent is waiting. He is a captain and looks very serious. “Sir, please empty your pack and your pockets.” “Ok.” Not much in the pockets, only keys. Now the pack sir! I empty my pack and we find all kinds of good things: a ziplock with the 10 essentials, two peanut butter sandwiches with honey, an apple, some potato chips, nicely crumbled, a quart bottle of water, a map of Victoria, camera, pencil and a small notebook.
They look in the pack, nothing else there. It’s the moment of truth, thumbs up or down. Feed him to the lions I think. I am ready to start complaining that I will miss my bus to the museum. “We had a report of a suspicious situation of which you fit the description. Sorry for the inconvenience.” I am involved in a suspicious situation with Canadia Customs. Customs keeps records of suspicious activity and suspicious civilians. Customs will spread my information around the world so I can be singled out anywhere.
I head out the door but turn around and head back to the Custom’s Officials. Be careful I tell myself. “Hey, will you hand stamp my passport?” They pause, look at each other, smile and say, “Sure.” All this time I think they were messing with me.
I head out the door and run for the ferry ramp and into Victoria.
The town is big on past First People culture: a 127-foot, 6 inch totem near a shoreline park sign. A placard identifies the place as a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca which was once an Indian fortress for a thousand years. The B.C. Royal Museum and U.B.C. Anthropology Museum in Vancouver has gone through great lengths to collect Indian artifacts for my viewing.
The old Canadians devastated Vancouver Island’s natural beauty and cultural history, there is nothing left. I may be dramatic but I tell the truth. There used to be extensive mature forests and productive estuaries and bays. There used to be cultures of native people who used the same simple resources to survive for years. Now there is nothing but clear-cut slopes and silted estuaries destroyed in less than 40 years. Raw sewage flows into the Strait.
Save some of it, please! My rule is save 25 percent of all land, rivers, ponds and ocean shores; a little of everything. Every hunter, hikers, enjoyer wants some land set aside.
In terms of native people. I think we should save them all.
I am staying a few blocks from the Parliamentary Buildings on Government Street at the James Bay Inn. A clean room one double bed with a sink and shared bathroom down the hall, $32 Canadian.
I wander around through the B.C. Museum until I find my reason for the trip. A giant cedar carving of a clam with little people climbing out of the shell. The clam is 8-foot long by 4-foot wide and three feet tall.
Nearby is a First People’s explanation of where they came from: According to Haida legend, the Raven found himself alone one day on Rose Spit beach, on Haida Gwaii. Suddenly, he saw an extraordinary clamshell at his feet, and protruding from it were a number of small creatures. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his wonderful world. Some were hesitant at first, but eventually, overcome by curiosity, they emerged from the partly open clamshell to become the first Haida.