This summer, two explorers carrying the flag of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society undertook a one-month wilderness journey: travelling down the wild west coast of Vancouver Island on foot and by sea kayak.
The goal of the expedition was not only adventure, Jacqueline Windh and partner David Gilbert said. It was also part of a continuing exploration of a little-known part of Canada’s history: the earliest contacts between foreign explorers and the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth people in the Pacific northwest.
Now a wild and nearly uninhabited region, two and a half centuries ago this waveswept coast was the hub of contact between four cultures: the Spanish (the first visitors to arrive here), the British (led by Cook and then Vancouver), the Americans (with the two-year enslavement of sailor John Jewitt by Chief Maquinna), and of course the Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants.
Expedition leader Windh is a best-selling author and photographer, a PhD scientist, and an elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Her upcoming book about The Secret Coast Expedition will feature the stunning wildlife, scenery and adventure photographs she captured in photographs along the route. She is an engaging speaker and has numerous tales to tell from her latest trip.
Windh has a long history of working collaboratively on various media projects with the Nuu-chah-nulth people in whose territory she lives. A unique aspect of her book will be integrating indigenous oral historical accounts of these events of two centuries ago with the written perspectives left by the Spanish, British and American voyagers.
One of the people she interviewed was Dave Ignace from Old Hesquiaht Village. Ignace, his wife and two of their four children are the only people still living at the village site: everyone else moved to Hot Springs Cove. Ignace took Windh to the site of an old church where the only artifact that remains is a bell, inscribed with the date 1884, that was virtually hidden in the undergrowth.
Windh’s speaking tour will continue in Victoria, Nanaimo and Tofino in spring 2020 (dates TBA). Windh is an accomplished speaker, who has presented at prestigious venues including The Explorer’s Club in NYC, as well as at TEDx and at museums in Canada and overseas.
Windh will share photos and stories from their expedition Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the Alberni Valley Museum, at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
The Alberni Valley Museum is located at 4255 Wallace St., Port Alberni.