by Grace King, Leg 14 Youth Ambassador
October 11, 2017 – Bella Bella
I’m far from where I’ve been, here in Bella Bella, B.C. The west coast is dangerous because I am in love with it – almost immediately. Probably from the moment the plane flew over those mountains, those textures I had never seen in a land form – everywhere, everywhere, the mountains and rolling shapes are always framing you from all sides. Trees tall, air cold and sharp and unlike anything I breathe in Toronto.
October 11, 2017 – Bella Bella
We landed our zodiac just inside a stream that smelled like salt and the fish that we were about to see. They were in every shadow under the water; they were jumping through the stream at every possible bend and cranny. Thick, richly-coloured salmon in deep velvet grey. I closed my eyes as I stood there with my rain boots on fish bones and the decomposition of years upon years. With my eyes closed, the splashes of the salmon became a song, beating from second to second. The birds around added further layers to the rhythm with their calls and their answers.
October 13, 2017 – Calvert Island
I am becoming able to appreciate humans and their personal struggles through a wider and richer lens – a lens that has been cleaned and strengthened with each struggle or history that I have come to understand or witness over the past few days.
October 15, 2017 – Port Hardy
Two hours passed as we went around our circle of 20 or so humans in the hangar this morning. Tears for the foundational respect and kindness in the communities to which we have been, tears for what we were never told about residential schools in our textbooks, tears for each other.
October 17, 2017 – Alert Bay
In the U’mista Cultural Centre yesterday, we were shown a film about the building of a former residential school that had existed right next door up until its demolition in 2015. There is so much still to be done. And yet the peoples of Alert Bay welcomed us, bringing four homemade soups in huge cookers and plate upon plate of bannock. Golden syrup, little plastic containers of butter and jam, tea buns.
October 17, 2017 – Broughton Archipelago
I sat at the front of the zodiac with legs crossed and held on tightly to the sides of my perch as we sped over choppy water. I bounced into the air and back down again as we cut lines through the waters of the Broughton Archipelago. My hands gripped the boat in the wind, pointing to the steam of humpback whales in the distance (One o’clock! Ten-thirty! Three o’clock!).
October 18, 2017 – Campbell River
I’ve been grappling with the idea of Canadian-ness for a good while now. It’s been difficult to try and concretely identify the redeeming qualities of the “Canadian” – qualities that are nationally universal, that offer a common denominator, if there are any. This expedition certainly hasn’t made the search for answers to these questions any easier.
But then this morning, I was walking down the ship hallway and I paused when I saw people spread throughout the Downie-Wenjack Legacy Room. It wasn’t until I had stood in the doorframe observing for a minute that I realized the group of seven or eight had gravitated to the room each as an individual, and were joined together there in unspoken honor of Gord.
In the next half hour, the entire group of humans who make up our ship family collected in the Legacy Room. On the couches, on the floor, standing at the threshold, propped on whatever stools we could find. Tim Baker took the guitar and began to play “Ahead By A Century” and mouths around the room started to form the song’s words. Indigenous peoples and settlers and newcomers. Celebrating life and death inside of that small sacred room. There is something in this frame that I understand now to be what makes us Canadian, in a way – something in the slowness, the warmth and the gratitude. Something in the gentle hand that wraps together these shapes of land and sky along with our human stories.