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Music in the Vancouver Island Region

Written by Eric Lucas

Vancouver Island Music Fest


There’s music in the air on our Island this summer—more music than the birdsong, breeze in the trees and lap of waves on the shore that accompanies each of our days here. Not to say that music does not mimic these natural melodies; anthropologists believe that humanity’s most-beloved creative endeavor originally arose hundreds of thousands of years ago in response to the sounds of the natural world that surround us.


If so, many of our summer music events are most appropriately set outdoors where the sea, wind, forest and birds remind us how evocative music can be. This is true whether you are enjoying calypso rhythms on the patio at a Salt Spring Island café; or clustering along with thousands on the shores of Victoria’s Inner Harbour to hear the city’s excellent Symphony greet the sunset with one of the most famous of all programmatic compositions.

That would be Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, a rousing musical drama with a memorable ending—cannon fire. Many performances of this favorite piece, conducted indoors, use recordings; but no need for faux sounds at Splash. The symphony perches on a barge in the Inner Harbour, the musicians perform several pieces beneath the summer sky on August 4, and for the finale fireworks follow the last booms of the cannon in Tchaikovsky’s barn-burner.

More than 40,000 attendees come to Symphony Splash (donations are collected by symphony supporters passing through the audience), but while it is likely the largest single musical event on the Island each summer, it’s just one among many. We have blues, pop, bluegrass, jazz, folk; we have indoor and outdoor shows; big festivals and intimate gatherings; events atop mountains, events by the sea, events in the shade of lovely old trees. Food and drinks accompany some events; typical is the Tapped micro-brew beer celebration slopeside at Mount Washington Alpine Resort July 12, which features three hours of rhythm & blues from a dynamic young duo called Luke Blu Guthrie, a beer seminar and a pig roast at the resort’s beautiful Raven Lodge.

One can hardly think of a musical genre not represented on the Island this summer. Aside from the symphony bash, classical pieces such as sonatas, and light jazz are offered up at Music by the Sea in Bamfield, a West Coast hamlet two hours from Port Alberni famed for its waterside boardwalk. A purpose-built indoor concert venue looks out over the saltwater, and a couple dozen artists in residence provide eight days of concerts, July 6-14.

Blues is the theme at two music fests. The first is sponsored by Victoria International Jazz Festival, which kicks off the summer in June, and winds it up at the end of August outdoors at Ship Point in Victoria, August 31-September 2. Are we blue because summer is slipping away? Whatever the case, the festival brings three days of local, regional and international artists to the Point for the holiday weekend.

The week before that, blues rocks the harbour area during the Nanaimo Blues Society’s Summertime Blues affair August 23-25. Venues range from the Harbour City’s lovely Maffeo Sutton Park just north of downtown, to local pubs and theatres in the evenings.

Bluegrass soars into Island skies twice this summer, too. Chemainus and Coombs, two small communities in the mid-Island region, host back-to-back festivals alive with banjos, mandolins, dobros, fiddles and soaring harmonies—Chemainus leads off July 27 & 28, and Coombs follows August 1-4. Both events are outdoors, and there’s little in music that compares with the sound of bluegrass echoing in the trees on a summer night.

World music comes to our Island in the form of two festivals. First is Victoria’s Ska Fest July 9-13, devoted to the Caribbean’s unique lilting, gentle predecessor to reggae. The syncopated bass lines and brass interjections of ska come to Ship Point and several other local clubs and venues; headlining this year is global superstar Yasiin Bey, an artist and actor perhaps better known as Mos Def. Bringing him to Victoria is quite a coup for the festival, and his appearance promises to draw crowds from across the Island and the mainland.

Another long-popular precursor musical genre comes to Duncan’s beautiful Providence Farm July 19-21 with the Islands Folk Festival. Again, a global icon headlines the festival and is sure to draw crowds—Judy Collins, one of the superstars of the Sixties and Seventies whose bell-like voice is perfectly suited to the plaintive melodies of folk music. Famed as an interpreter of folk icons such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, Collins is best known for her eclectic scope in material selection, ranging from show tunes (“Send in the Clowns”) to modern folk, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

Headliners such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kris Kristofferson, Indigo Girls and John Hiatt are the reason this year’s Musicfest in the Comox Valley is already sold out July 12-14. Consider this early warning for next year—with the ability to attract performers of that caliber, you’ll want to get ready to buy tickets next spring for the 2014 editions.

One of the offshoots of folk music—rock, remember that?—comes to Victoria’s Juan de Fuca Recreation July 13 & 14 with Rock the Shores, headlined by seminal ‘90s band Weezer. Country music is the fare August 1-4 in Duncan at Sunfest, featuring headline Alan Jackson, one of the country world’s neo-traditionalists. Jackson’s honky-tonk roots hark back to George Jones and Hank Williams, and his show is sure to rouse the night at Sunfest City Square in the Cowichan Valley’s capital.

Last, but certainly not least, is the legendary Hornby Festival, a 10-day extravaganza that calls thousands to this peaceful island in the Strait of Georgia. The venue—Hornby, that is, and its pastoral fields and farms—is an unsurpassed bastion of New Age life in the 21st century, famous for its one-of-a-kind recycling centre. The festival’s scope is vast, from Bach and Beethoven to funk and Africana, including family shows. And when visitors are not listening to music they can enjoy the island’s famous “BC Waikiki” at Tribune Bay, a long crescent of white sand whose waters warm by August to near-tropical balminess.

Sun and sand, rhythm and melody—these are the mainstays of our summer music schedule. Perhaps you’ve noticed that festival fans could just about spend every day this summer at one event or another? We embrace our outdoor season here on Vancouver Island, we sing and clap and dance and groove and it all fits right in with land beneath us, the sky above, the waters around.



Discovering Sointula

Written by Eric Lucas

A sunset glow lingers over the Sointula marina on Malcolm Island.

Although utopian communities have been part of human society for centuries, their heyday came in the late 19th century, when reaction to the Industrial revolution drove many people to seek simpler lives in remote surroundings and agrarian lifestyles. That idea is what sent about 200 Finnish-Canadian settlers north from Nanaimo in 1901 to a remote place, Malcolm Island, lying about 5 kilometers offshore the north reaches of Vancouver Island. There they founded Sointula, a Finnish name that means “place of harmony”—which is not what they’d experienced working in the main Island’s coal mines.


Though the original utopian ideal has evolved through 112 years into an informal lifestyle of quiet resource harvest (fishing and forestry), tourism and outdoor adventure, the small town remains an unusual place offering a distinctive appeal to those looking for peace and quiet, outstanding natural adventure and uncrowded venues for beachcombing, kayaking, wildlife watching, bike riding, water sports and just plain relaxing.

With barely 800 residents, a small town on a 24-kilometer-long island, and access provided only by a ferry to and from Port McNeill six times a day, Sointula is the sort of place where local custom requires drivers to detour around dogs sleeping on the road. The town’s co-op—oldest in British Columbia—provides gas, goods and groceries. A small inn and a dozen B&Bs house visitors in comfortable circumstances, and a bakery (necessary element of small-island life!), a burger stand and two cafes comprise the dining menu. Two small galleries offer local crafts, including, appropriately, gillnet rugs and scarves. Clear days bring spectacular vistas across Johnstone Strait to the main Island’s central range or, from Malcolm’s north shore, across Queen Charlotte Strait to the Coast Range on the mainland. Visitors to Bere Point Regional Park may be lucky enough to see orcas rubbing themselves on the rocks just offshore; a whale viewing platform enhances the watching.

Aside from wildlife watching, outdoor recreation, peaceful surroundings and friendly residents, highlights in Sointula include the annual pet parade (“Pawrade,” they call it) in early August, a salmon festival in late August, and a winter festival in November. What’s to celebrate? Every day of the year, the same pastoral serenity that brought Malcolm Island’s original settlers more than a century ago.

For more information on Sointula, please visit



Lighthouses around the Vancouver Island Region

Written by Eric Lucas

Built in 1860, the Race Rocks Lighthouse in the the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Lighthouses are among those rare human artifacts whose everyday reality matches their metaphorical scope. In the imagination, these beacons stand tall to shed light through storms, fog and tricky waters—and that’s exactly what they do in real life. Furthermore, they are as memorable to look at as to imagine; as picturesque in reality as in art.

Canada has less than 50 manned light stations today; most modern light beacons are all automatic. More than half the remaining manned stations are in British Columbia, and the majority of those are on or near Vancouver Island, often in quite remote locations such as Cape Scott, a magnificent headland that meets every incoming Pacific storm; and Chrome Island, an outpost near Denman and Hornby Islands; and Carmanah Point, on the West Coast south of Bamfield, which is itself a remote spot two hours west of Port Alberni. The Canadian government is considering plans to automate many of these lights, but for the moment our Island remains one of the world capitals of lighthouses, both staffed and automatic.

Manned or not, the buildings that house these lights remain picturesque and somehow comforting to admire. They also, as a wonderful bonus in a world where almost everyone is an amateur photographer, provide vivid and usually colorful interest in a panoramic image.

Consider the famous light atop a tiny island off the northeast shore of Gabriola Island. The Entrance Island Light Station is a complex of ivory-sided buildings with red roofs, and seen from Gabriola, it offers a distinctive foreground for pictures that span the Strait of Georgia, with the magnificent snowy peaks of the mainland’s Coast Range in the background.

Similarly, the Amphitrite Lighthouse, clinging to a rocky headland along the Wild Pacific Trail outside Ucluelet, is a graceful, glistening white, red-topped pyramid framed against the skerries, islets and surging waters of the entrance to Barkley Sound.

Fisgard Lighthouse, just west of Victoria, was the first light on the West Coast, dating back to 1860 when our Island was still a young British colony. Automated since 1929, it stands tall beside the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour, home of Canada’s Pacific fleet. The Fisgard light is a national historic site, open to the public daily.

Island visitors will chance upon lighthouses almost every day as they journey around our Island; a map of their locations and descriptions of them can be found at Please stop and appreciate both the marvelous usefulness and majestic attractiveness of our lighthouses when you see them—they are among our most treasured human attractions.



Top Ten...

Musical Festivals

For this edition of islandMOMENTS, we asked our Facebook Fans, Twitter followers and TVI Staff, what their FAVORITE Musical Festival is in the Vancouver Island Region.

Here are their Top Ten...

  1. Vancouver Island Music Fest
  2. TD Victoria International Jazz Fest
  3. Tall Tree Music Festival
  4. Victoria Ska Fest
  5. Rock the Shores
  6. Victoria International Buskers Festival
  7. Islands Folk Festival
  8. SunFest Country Music Festival
  9. Victoria Symphony Splash
  10. Vancouver Island Blues Bash

Symphony Splash, Victoria, Vancouver Island

Kayakers flocking to Victoria's inner harbour for the Symphony Splash.


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Cowichan Bay at sunrise - Photo - Rosanne Perrin


Our family had enjoyed camping on Vancouver Island for many years so when it came time to consider a future retirement property there was no discussion. Several years ago now we purchased a home in Cowichan Bay and hope to make it our permanent residence before long.

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