|A South American Owl at the Pacific North West Raptors.|
They greet almost every human visitor as a long-lost friend, these gaily-coloured denizens of tropical forests which have surprisingly wound up here in the middle of Vancouver Island. Parrots are among the most engaging members of the avian world, talkative, inquisitive, charismatic, aware, exhibiting obvious feeling when they interact with their mates and companions—including human companions. Anyone who thinks animals such as birds have no emotions has never seen a parrot nuzzle up to its human friend.
Alas, sometimes those human companions fail to exercise the responsibility the universe asks of people who use the natural world for their own purposes. The birds at World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, a half-hour west of Nanaimo, are all refugees. They’ve been abandoned or relinquished by people who brought them into their homes and then, for reasons ranging from sheer capriciousness to health crises to simple age—parrots can live a very long time--gave them up.
More than 800 such birds—yes, 800—are currently at WPR, and they are the lucky ones. Some abandoned parrots form flocks and attempt to survive in habitats they are not suited for, such as several American cities with famous feral parrot clans. At APR, they live in 23,000 square feet of heated shelter. Light streams in, and the close proximity of other birds helps meet these social creatures’ need for companionship; in their native habitats, dozens of parrots wing from tree to tree in garrulous groups. And, since WPR’s birds have almost all come from human homes, the daily stream of visitors also fills their need for human contact. Yes, most really do need that.
Simply visiting the refuge demonstrates that fact. You may walk up to an enclosure holding a vivid red and green Australian King Parrot whose bright eyes and perky nature are obvious signs of intelligence and warmth. You’ll meet parrots who greet you, parrots who shyly look at you sideways, parrots whose stentorious chatter seems unstoppable.
While parrots are friendly, low-key denizens of the natural world, several other Island refuges and animal centres hold creatures a little less cuddly.
Not far from the parrot refuge, in Errington, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is a home for raptors and bears that are unable to live in the wild, because they have been injured or because they were captive-bred and abandoned. Daily shows (March through autumn) expose visitors to the marvelous flying and hunting abilities of hawks, eagles, owls and other master predators which, like parrots, are the modern-day descendants of the dinosaurs. The centre’s black bears may appear a bit more user-friendly than fierce falcons, but visitors are helped to understand that all wild predators—including omnivores such as bears—are best seen and appreciated from a safe distance.
And a bit south, near Duncan, Pacific Northwest Raptors is devoted exclusively to these airborne monarchs of the sky. Daily flight demonstrations reveal the stunning speed, aerobatic skill and sensory acuity of Pacific Coast raptors. Among other things, visitors also learn the amazing gifts and usefulness of our vultures, nature’s organic recyclers, whose sensory abilities vie with those of their more glamorous brethren such as hawks.
Outside Victoria, in Metchosin, the SPCA operates Wild ARC (Animal Recovery Centre) which is devoted to rehabilitating injured or sick wild animals and returning them to nature if possible. In the past 17 years the centre has treated 27,000 wild animals. “Patients” at ARC may have been hit by a car, caught in a fence or net, become covered in oil or been orphaned when their parents were killed. Almost always, the root cause is human activity; about a third of the animals ARC receives are able to return to the wild.
Most of these centres are devoted to animals native to our Island, and it’s a sad fact that the majority—at all four centres—can never return to their natural habitats. Visiting them is thus an excellent occasion to reflect on our delicate relationship with the natural world around us. When we build fences, cast nets, spill oil, hunt or fish carelessly, and degrade natural habitat, it has a profound effect on the creatures that live around us and with us.
It’s popular these days to revere the wild. Millions of travellers every year, around the world, pay billions of dollars to see wild creatures out of doors—such as the marvelous whales, magnificent elk, majestic eagles and even lumbering marmots with which we share our Island. Every such sighting is an opportunity to heighten our appreciation of our environment. Vancouver Island is a special place in the world, a treasure of nature and a haven for nature’s living beings.
Visiting our Island centres where wild animals are harboured following human harm or irresponsibility brings another level of understanding to this issue. The perky parrots, magnificent macaws, querulous parakeets and other tropical birds at World Parrot Refuge all were either captured in the planet’s jungles by trappers whose only concern is monetary gain, or bred from such birds. They are not exactly the same as the domestic animals which have over millennia cast their lot with humanity; dogs and cats are our brethren, but parrots are prisoners, in effect, of human wishes. Millions of people around the world treat their companion birds with love and respect, but some do not.
Visiting these centres not only allows us to open our eyes, it supports the compassionate work these facilities perform on our behalf. We learn and contribute alike. And we have fun.
World Parrot Refuge describes its work as “A Home for Life,” a catchy phrase that perfectly captures the need and the result. Amazingly enough, these birds do need homes—whether in the Amazon jungle, or in human settlements to which they have been brought. While the temperate rainforest of Vancouver Island may seem inexpressibly far from the tropical forests the birds have come from, the human spirit that cares for them here makes up for whatever climatic warmth that may be lacking.
|Sunrise over Sidney Fishing Pier - David Donaldson|
“Booktown” is a term that admirably conveys its meaning—a small town full of books in which visitors browse shops devoted to them, generally used or collectible books. The idea is well-known in Great Britain and Europe, where booktowns such as Hay-on-Wye, straddling the border between England and Wales, draw crowds.
Dozens of booktowns are found around the globe—the first known started up in Japan in the 19th century, and they stretch now from Australia to Malaysia, Norway and Scotland—but less than a half-dozen are in North America, and only two in Canada. The oldest of these two is our own Sidney, a half-hour north of Victoria, a charming hamlet whose dozen bookstores are all within easy walking distance on or near the main street, Beacon Avenue.
Here are stores devoted to military history books, children’s books, bargain books, paperbacks, ghost books, comics and more. For those who love to read, Sidney is a richly stocked candy store, a place where you may not only discover treasures you didn’t know existed, you can also get guidance and advice from experts. With the centennial of World War I just around the corner, anyone interested in understanding this perplexing human catastrophe would do well to step into the Military & History Bookshop.
In the age of seemingly infinite online information books may strike some as outmoded, an impression easily dispelled by a morning spent in Sidney’s bookshops. Need we mention the fact that printed information has a radically different effect on the mind than electronic? But there’s more to Sidney than books, a fact exemplified by the town’s full name, Sidney-by-the-Sea. Nestled on a small rise overlooking Sidney Passage, it’s got one of Vancouver Island’s two aquariums—the marvelous Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre—a deluxe modern hotel, several superb restaurants, a lovely shoreline path and plenty of small shops and cafes to supplement book-browsing. Around town, massive old Garry oaks and bigleaf maples stand strong, and beautiful amber-barked arbutus lean toward the water.
Sidney’s also the jumping-off point for day trips across the water to Sidney Spit, a famous and gloriously lovely stretch of white sand in the Salish Sea on which beachcombing, picnicking and wildlife watching are excellent pursuits. A perfect summer day might consist of a morning strolling Sidney browsing books, followed by a jaunt over to Sidney Spit and lunch on the sun-warmed sand.For more information on Sidney’s bookshops, visit www.sidneybooktown.ca.
|Native totem poles at the Namgis First Nations burial ground in Alert Bay.|
Towering above the beaches of the Northwest Coast’s indigenous villages, exquisitely carved in flowing designs representing the spirits, animals and people of our lands, First Nations totem poles are emblematic around the world of Pacific Coast native art. What most people don’t know is that anthropologists believe they originally were the signature work of the Haida people of Haida Gwaii, and their popularity spread north and south from there.
As you’d expect, each independent culture adapted the art to reflect their own beliefs and cultures, and experts today can tell at a glance whether a pole is Haida, Tsimshian or, in the case of Vancouver Island’s native peoples, Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw or Nuu-chah-nulth. Island visitors and residents who can’t discern such subtle differences can nonetheless enjoy hundreds of specimens of our own world-class art form.
Many fine historic examples reside in museums on the Island—first and foremost the extensive collection of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, which holds a number of 19th century poles, sheltered from the elements; as well as more modern poles whose making was commissioned by the museum to help keep the pole-carving art alive.
Carving a pole is a massive enterprise. First an appropriate Western red-cedar tree must be found and felled, then brought to a carving shed, then carefully fashioned by hand into a decorated pole. Colourful paint is usually added to enhance the carved designs; left outside, the paint disappears in a few years, and the pole itself slowly decays, returning to the ground from whence it came. This is considered appropriate under First Nations tradition, though modern curators often protect poles from the elements.
Other historic early 20th century examples can be found in our two peerless First Nations museums, Nuyumbalees on Quadra Island just across from Campbell River; and U’mista at Alert Bay, a short ferry ride from Port McNeill. All these museums have innumerable works of the smaller carving arts from which totems arose, such as house posts.
Outdoors pole exhibits are found throughout the Island. Most notably, the city of Duncan has dozens of poles on display around the townsite; and Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Royal BC Museum, has a dozen more, many by 20th century Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Mungo Martin. At Alert Bay, outside U’mista, the world’s tallest pole is 56 meters (173 feet). However, other claimants for the title point out that the Alert Bay pole is actually in three sections, bolted together and held high by guy wires. Another superlative rests in Duncan—the world’s thickest, at 1.8 meters (6 feet). Big or not, they are all wonderful.
Ways to beat the Winter Blues
For this edition of islandMOMENTS, we asked our Facebook Fans, Twitter followers and TVI Staff, what is their FAVORITE ways to beat the Winter Blues in the Vancouver Island Region.
Here are their Top Ten...
- Visit an Island Spa
- Storm watch on the West Coast of Vancouver Island
- Seek shelter and samples at a local brew pub
- Hit the links because we can!
- Warm up with a cup of tea at the Tea Farm in Cowichan Valley
- Enjoy a Forest Walk
- Check out a show at one of our Live Performance Theatres
- Enjoy the Wildlife Photographer Exhibit at the Royal BC Museum
- Spend a day on our slopes, either Mt. Cain or Mount Washington.
- Treat your tastebuds to our local fare.
|Ancient Cedar Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn - Tofino, Vancouver Island|
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