The Rambling Writer Takes a Ferry & Road Trip through British Columbia

BCTotemPoleVictoriaA visceral sense of place is very important to me when writing my novels, and after setting them in far-flung locales, I’m bringing this new novel-in-progress home to my back yard. Growing up fourth-generation in the far Northwest corner of the U.S., very close to Canada, I’m rooted in our green forests and island waterways. I’ve always felt a tension between my love of my homeland and wanderlust, and in this new novel I’m exploring themes of displacement as ocean levels rise in the near future and coastal dwellers must move. Northwest native culture is so interwoven with the importance of ancestral homelands that I felt I needed a refresher visit to some coastal villages and wilderness just to the north in British Columbia. And research made a fine excuse to pack up the car for a ferry and road trip.

BCFerryTJust over the border, Thor and I headed to the B.C. ferry port at Tsawwassen for the passage to Vancouver Island. It was a glorious sunny day for enjoying the trip across open waters of the Salish Sea and threading narrow gaps between islands to Swartz Bay. A short drive took us to lovely Victoria, with its historic Empress Hotel, thriving Chinatown, and the amazing First Nations collection at the B.C. Royal Museum.






In the park outside the museum is the transplanted Kwagu’t ceremonial house, part of the hereditary cultural property of Chief David Knox of Tsaxis (Port Rupert on the north end of Vancouver Island).

BClodge&totem2VicI’ve always been fascinated by Northwest Coastal native masks, and the museum offered amazing displays of these eerily powerful human and spirit beings, many worn during ceremonial dances.


The displays also presented clothing and practical tools, all decorated with artistic skill.





The native groups, or aboriginal people as often termed in Canada, enjoyed a natural abundance of food from land and sea, and so had leisure time in the winter to carve their masks, implements, and the totem poles that celebrated special events and people or stood as sentinels in front of their cedar long houses that sometimes sheltered several families.


These masks recreated the story of mythical creatures that would dance secretly in a cave, some of them shape-shifters.


It’s always wise to respect the animals you encounter, as they may be powerful spirits, and might offer gifts to those who honor them. Or, like Raven, they might be tricksters: on the one hand bringing the life-giving sun to humans, but on the other “wing” playing practical jokes. We had no trouble giving our awed respect to these beautiful arts and crafts and stories of the early and present inhabitants of this coast. Inspired, we were ready to head farther north. (The next installment will be in two weeks, October 3.)


AriadneThumbnailSara’s newest from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a Stamey-Islands_133x200healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Book View Café is offering a $2 discount on Sara Stamey ebooks through October 20, using the code in our online bookstore: $2-OFF-STAMEY They must be ordered from – EPUB or mobi (Kindle compatible) files available.




The Rambling Writer Takes a Ferry & Road Trip through British Columbia — 7 Comments

  1. The way in which the museum has lighted these objects is evocative of the firelight inside a long house. I really like that, rather than the flat white glare of a standard museum display.

    • Yes, it’s very lovely atmosphere — of course, done mostly to protect the artifacts from bright light, and you’re not allowed to use flash for photos.

  2. I have made that same trip numerous times. The ferry passage from Twsassan is gentler than across the open water from Port Townsend. And you get to see so much more of the island life.

    The museums in Victoria are treasures. The side lighting is as much to protect the artifacts as to evoke the culture. Still it makes for an amazing experience. The 1.5 X lifesize sculpture of a whale hunt in the lobby is amazing.

    I need to go back.

  3. Those photos are extraordinary! How I long to get back up north again. Sigh, so many places, so little money . . .

    • Sadly, no tea this time. We walked through, and there was a long line. It is a lovely hotel! We peeked into the Bombay Lounge (I think that’s right), which had a large tiger skin on the wall — very British colonial atmosphere.