by Nancy Miller from Courtenay, BC
Feb 21, 15
The day that my husband Dave finished his Education degree at UBC, I met him at the door to say he’d been called for an interview in a place called Ahousat on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
They needed a gym teacher at the First Nations school on Flores Island.
Flores Island is about 45 minutes north of Tofino by boat.
Neither of us had heard of it before, but we had an affinity for the area and had camped at Long Beach on our honeymoon. So a couple days later, two dogs in tow, we set off for Tofino in our Westfalia.
The person on the phone said we could catch the Cougar Island Ferry at the government wharf at the bottom of the main street. We hadn’t been to Tofino in about five years but we were surprised to hear there was a ferry there now.
When we arrived at the dock we asked one of the locals when the ferry would be docking. He said it already had and he pointed down to a twenty-foot, 16-seater aluminum boat.
Obviously, the dogs, the van and I would be staying behind. I waved goodbye to Dave as the boat bounced over the waves heading off into the heart of the Clayoquot.
He returned about 5 hours later, minus the tie that someone on the water taxi advised him to ditch before the interview. Seven days later they called to offer him the job.
Moving to Flores was an adventure. Not only did it mean we left our friends and family in the Lower Mainland, but also that we were living on a First Nations reserve out in the middle of Clayoquot Sound. It was a sometimes treacherous boat ride between us and anywhere else but it was also some of the most beautiful and rugged land and seascape I had ever seen.
We were isolated, but we never felt alone. We learned some of the language, which at times had Abbott-and-Costellian consequences. We would often call upon the school’s language teacher, an elder named Betty, to share some vocabulary or explain certain phrases.
One memorable conversation had Dave asking about the meaning of the words “uh-uh koohk.”
Betty replied, “What are you saying?”
Dave said it again, more slowly this time, “uh-uh… koohk.”
Again Betty said, "What are you saying" at a comparable pace.
Back and forth they went
“Whaaat…are….you…saying,” progressively slower and progressively louder. Until it finally dawned on us that the phrase, “uh-uh koohk,” actually means, “what are you saying?”
That wasn’t the only time Betty laughed at us over the years.
Of course, one of the best parts of living on Flores was the spectacular setting. We spent every weekend hiking around and exploring the outer beaches. Our most amazing experience took place at Cow Bay where we watched a gray whale family grazing for food along the ocean’s edge. As we sat on the rocks, grazing on food ourselves, we could feel and smell the mist of the whale’s spray drifting over us. Never have I felt such wonder nor felt such a small but connected part of the planet.
Yes, it was a place made for making memories and friends. But after a few years there we decided it was time to get closer to family and start adding to ours. I still miss the drumming at community suppers and the calls of “Fresh bread!” over the VHF radio and the excitement that ran through the whole village when the fish boats came back home at the end of August full of salmon for the winter.
We now live in Courtenay, across the Beaufort Mountain Range that runs, like a spine, up the middle of Vancouver Island. But Ahousat and the Clayoquot Sound will always be a magical place for us. And one that we will always call home.