island hopping, day 3 Alert Bay

After a morning at Sointula, we took the ferry back to Port McNeill, then drove right back on it for the leg to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, about 40 minutes away. These ferry trips were a joy on another beautiful sunny day.

Our plan was to visit Alert Bay’s noted numerous totem poles and its U’mista Cultural Centre. Our first stop was at the visitor centre to get both print and verbal information and directions which were excellent. But also some bad news… the U’mista Cultural Centre was closed on Mondays! I felt very sorry that I had not rechecked the website concerning the fall and winter schedule change. We were also told that there had recently been a fire in one part of the museum so that part was closed for restoration work.

Still, we saw a lot in our afternoon there and took so many photos that I will have to show them over more than one post. Today’s focus is on the the island’s largest grouping of totem poles on the Namgis Burial Ground. Being sacred ground, viewers were requested to view these from the road, not a problem though I am grateful my husband captured some closer shots with his newer and more powerful camera.







We were given brochures which are very helpful in learning more about totem poles in general and Alert Bay’s in particular. One is available also as a PDF. I recommend the page “what is a totem pole?” Are these not amazing works of art and spirit?!

island hopping, day 3 Sointula

After our Quadra Island visit on day 2, we returned to Campbell River and headed north about 250 km. along a very good highway lined with forests, mountains, glimpses of lakes and ocean inlets but with very little population. Our destination was Port McNeill, but our accommodation was about a ten minutes drive beyond at a seaside campground, in a one bedroom log cabin. Though we knew that every cabin was full we were surprised by all the motorhomes and campers in the campsites. As we’d had great difficulty finding accommodation for four in town even a few weeks in advance, we surmised that there must be a lot of workers living in all the hotels, motels, and campgrounds in the area because of a lack of housing. We’d also been told that it was a popular fishing season for tourists as well.


Anyway, the cabin though tiny was rather cute with a loft meant for kids (husband slept up there the second night because of our awful hide-a-bed). I enjoyed watching and hearing the sea birds along the estuary, and the view across to Malcolm Island, with its lighthouse. We actually spent little time here, only to sleep two nights and make our own breakfasts and packed lunches for our outings. Dinners in town were very good.

Day Three was a full one with two very different destinations on two islands accessible by ferry from Port McNeill: Sointula on Malcolm Island and Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. I will write about Sointula first.

One of many old boathouses sitting partly over the shores, evidence of an early fishing community

Sointula has long interested me because of its early Finnish community. Sointula, Finnish for “place of harmony,” was settled by Finnish workers in the beginning of the 1900’s, as a co-operative community of utopian socialists led by Matti Kurikka. Eventually it failed with many Finns leaving for other parts of BC, yet many stayed. Some of their descendants are still living here. Please read more about their history here.

After a little drive around the old village, we headed for the Sointula Museum which offers a unique educational experience. Its collection includes artifacts, publications and photographs specific to the development of this community from a Finnish socialist commune to the quiet village of today. The 100-year history of the settlement from its utopian beginnings involves the development of socialist thought in Canada and the building of the commercial fishing industry, unions and cooperative economic structures.

At the museum we met Sue, the lively and informative manager with whom I spent most of our time there chatting. She said this building was the former schoolhouse which she’d attended as a child. The teacher was her English mother and she had a Finnish father. The museum is full of old objects from the lives of the islanders. I barely had time to see it all while husband and our visitors did. I especially loved the loom, so like the one we had in our home on loan for a few years when I was in my late teens. My mother wove a few things, I made a rag rug now long worn out.


As Sue said, most visitors find many of the admittedly worn and shabby things brought back memories of our elders. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I believe the museum really does need a lot of help and perhaps more space in organizing things in a more presentable way for it seemed too much like a junk shop. It must be difficult to find that help in this tiny remote village. For me, the personal contact with Sue was most heartwarming.


Because this was Monday, the bakery in town was closed to my husband’s extreme disappointment for he had been looking forward to some Finnish pulla. The Co-op store, the first of its kind in Canada was also closed. We went for a drive around the island, passing some newer homes and marinas, signs of perhaps vacation or retirement homes in some cases. On the east side of the island is a large campground and lovely views east to mainland BC.


Sointula was preparing for an exciting conference just a week or so later, called Culture Shock: Utopian Dreams, Hard Realities. And most exciting was that a Finnish musical theatre group was coming! Do check out this link to an excellent story and video by CBC. Wish I could have been there.

More about Sointula in Crawford Kilian’s articles in the Tyee : In Sointula, Survival of the Finnish, Radical Finns Persevere off BC coast. And Kilian’s own blog called Sointula.

Added November 1st: After Jean mentioned a Finnish Utopian society in Brazil in comments in another post, I searched and found a list of Finnish Utopian communes around the world – fascinating. Sointula seems to have had the largest population except for one in Karelia, next door to Finland.

Added November 4th: I have only recently come across the blog associated with the Suomi-Seura organization for Finnish expatriates to which I belong. It is called Kotisi Mailmalla (Your Home in the World). In it is a wonderful post about one person’s weekend visit to Sointula’s Utopia conference. In Finnish only, sorry.

slow road, finale

Last but definitely not least was our long desired visit to the architecturally stunning Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. Planned for many years and opened five years ago, it received a lot of attention during the 2010 Winter Olympics (I thought that’s when it opened). It has a blend of contemporary First Nations work along with historical collections. Please read about it on their excellent website. We’ve long been very impressed by their strong culture and arts so it is a wonderful thing to see it so beautifully presented here and being actively used by the Squamish and Lil’wat people.

A huge carved and rotating wooden disk, one of two overhead to greet visitors as they come in the main entrance.

Note the inspiration from First Nations architecture in the Istken Hall.


One style of boat is for the sea-going people and the other for the inland river fishing tribes.

A view of the Great Hall from upstairs.

A re-creation of the Pit House which is normally underground. Note the benches where each family member had his or her own sleeping spot.

There is an opening in the top of the house to allow smoke to leave and was also the entry/exit with a notched pole as a ladder.

A clay and shell mask, one of many artifacts in the museum area.

I also enjoyed learning more about the BC Aboriginal legends and symbology on their website. You may like to view a short video and slide show which gives a better idea of the Centre than our few photos.

Added later: If you’ve missed the earlier posts in the slow road series and would like to visit them, they are here:
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, interlude and part 6.

slow road, pt 4


We continue driving southwards along the winding Highway 99 which edges steep mountains overlooking the rushing Fraser River. Here we have come to a view over the town of Lillooet, one of the hottest spots in BC. Interesting history, if you feel like reading the link. We stopped for lunch here.


Soon after we come upon beautiful Seton Lake, with a portion of this informative sign below.



We pass many whitewater streams, exciting glimpses of glacier topped peaks and another lovely lake,


Duffey Lake

Photos just cannot do justice to the huge majesty of the snow topped mountains, rivers, lakes and trees. Next stop, our bed-and-breakfast stay.

ADDED later: a cropped scan of a map I found in our favourite Beautiful BC Travel Guide (1994 ed.). Please follow the lime green line I traced along our route from east of Kamloops west, then south to Vancouver. I hope it gives a better idea of our slow road home.


Added even later: The rest of the slow road series may be viewed at the links below,
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5, interlude, part 6 and the finale.

DNA study in BC

A groundbreaking genetic study led by a team of U.S. and Canadian anthropologists has traced a direct DNA link between the 5,500-year-old remains of an aboriginal woman found on a British Columbia island, a second set of ancient female bones from a nearby 2,500-year-old site and — most stunningly — a living Tsimshian woman from the Metlakatla First Nation, located close to both of the prehistoric burials along B.C.’s North Coast near the city of Prince Rupert.

The findings are the first of their kind to be generated using powerful new techniques to analyze the complete mitochondrial genome of the individuals studied, reconstructing a millennia-spanning line of maternal descent and providing remarkable new evidence of a people’s enduring occupation of a specific geographical area.

The scientific achievement is also seen to have significant implications for First Nations’ land claims and treaty rights, giving aboriginal groups a powerful new tool for demonstrating deep-rooted links between the present and hyper-distant past.

Read more in the Vancouver Sun. If unable to view as a non-subscriber, try the original source here. I had first seen this referenced in which has a link to what may be the original article.

To me, this is exciting and fascinating news. Imagine some day having this new DNA research technology available to anyone to find one’s own roots from thousands of years ago. I wonder where my maternal ancestors came from?

slow road, pt 2





Continuing west (see part 1) from the city of Kamloops along the Trans-Canada Highway, we soon came upon a magestic view over Kamloops Lake as the highway skirted around it. Funny how we had forgotten it from not traveling this route in a couple of decades at least. The dry grassland hills are still relatively green from a wet spring.

We appreciated how many roadside viewpoints are provided along this major cross-Canada route compared to the Coquihalla Highway, built much much later for truckers looking for a faster route to and from the coast. As you can see from the sign on the west end of the lake, this was an active water transportation route in the old Gold Rush days in BC. We’ll be entering some of that Gold Rush territory further on in our slow journey home.

The rest of the series are here:
part 3, part 4, part 5, interlude, part 6 and the finale.

a German cookbook






I have been peeking into some of my late mother-in-law’s boxes which my husband brought home from her house, now sold. Her obviously very old handwritten cookbook intrigued me, reminding me a little of my mother’s Finnish cookbook.

While my mother’s book was a published one, “Omi’s” is all handwritten by many different hands in an originally blank and indexed book. I imagine that her mother, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and friends may have written many of these, perhaps for her when she was a new bride, or when she was emigrating to Canada. The handwriting is exquisite and often seeming too tiny to read.

I don’t recognize her handwriting in the book itself unless it changed later, though some of the loose slips may be by her hand. Like in my mother’s cookbook there are numerous slips of loose recipes and clippings inserted throughout, and some glued in, like the one above with Gothic text. My German is poor, and the handwriting hard to read (even husband has trouble) but I do recognize a lot of kuchen (cake) recipes! Omi loved to bake cakes so I’m not surprised.

December 6th, 1917


95 years ago today, Finland declared independence from Russia.

Windows with two candles, candles at the graves of former presidents and dead soldiers and a President’s Ball which many watch on television. Even Google honours Finland with the special logo above. Happy Independence Day!

Also 95 years ago today was the Halifax Explosion: Two war ships with explosives collided, the massive explosion killed numerous lives and destroyed part of the City of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

One happy event and one sad event, the former in my birth country and the latter in my adopted country.

ancient doors



I’ve been off on a tangent today starting with reading blogs, as often happens. I’d been visiting my friend Mouse where curiousity sent me exploring the site of a commenter. Her photos of ancient doors in Provence are so beautiful and compelling that I began to wonder whether I had taken anything similar in my relatively limited travels.

I pulled out our Italy 1993 photo album (pre-digital days!) and got lost in there for a while. I found numerous images of arches, which I love, and ornate doors in grand cathedrals such as in Florence. But really none are of very old doors in homes, except for a glimpse of the ones in a beautiful old stone house in the Appennines. Below is my favourite one, a bricked-in door in a wall (not a home) by the Etruscan castle in San Severa. It was used it in my Meta-morphosis VI prints.


I often wonder why I have this love for the very old and weathered, yet I would not tolerate our home looking like that. I know it is partly about the setting for we live in a very young part of North America. If we let our house get this rundown, our neighbours would have it condemned! But there are a few historic sites even here, such as the old Britannia shipyards in Steveston, where I found some locked doors.

Doors are so everyday, yet they can have a mystery, even hold hidden fears in dreams and tales. When they are weathered and ancient, their history calls out. Who lived here? What stories happened behind these doors?

on ruins




Long-time blog friend Lucy of Box Elder writes wonderful posts from her home in Brittany. I love her rambling stories and gorgeous photos of her garden and the world she lives in, of forays to explore many interesting towns and historical sites. They touch something deep in me, a love for the ancient, the traces of the past, the weathering actions of time and nature. Maybe it’s because I live in such a young city and province in the New World. Today Lucy wrote about her visit to Château de la Hunaudaye, a medieval fortress that has been restored.

This inspired me to pull out a photo album from May and June 2002, from a trip to Vaasa, Finland. Two artist friends and I had an exhibition of our prints there, in fact called Traces. We spent several days in Vaasa hanging our exhibition, having a meeting with the press, visiting family, printmakers and exploring the city and surrounds. All culminating in the opening of course.

One interesting place we visited was Old Vaasa, at the site of the original city that had burned down, and its ruins of St. Maria Church. Sadly my photographs are not good – here’s a better photo. Like the Château, these ruins had also been restored in part, minus the roof. Lucy lamented how restorations sometimes destroy the character of the original, something I’d agree with from my comparatively limited exposure. Much as I liked these simple church ruins and commend that it was done, it lacked some of that very old, crumbling, decaying quality. It is a quandary indeed, to restore or not and to do it sensitively, to save our history or not.