Why the “Secret Coast”? A historical investigation!

Yuquot – now known as Friendly Cove, Nootka Island

Why the “Secret” Coast? Well, because most people think of Canada’s colonial history in terms of the English and the French. But there is a whole period of history that is unknown to most Canadians – and many of those events took place here on Vancouver Island. Here in the Pacific Northwest coast, the Spanish were big players: they were actually the first to arrive and make contact with the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth.

The Secret Coast will become a book that I (Jackie) will both write and photograph. I envision a format very similar to that of my best-seller The Wild Edge. The text will weave the narrative of our upcoming one-month wilderness expedition with our discoveries of the history of this region. Now wild and nearly entirely uninhabited, the Secret Coast was once a hive of activities: comings and going of Spanish and British and American sailors, all vying for trading privileges with the Nuu-chah-nulth and hoping to lay claim to these lands in the name of their countries.

Homais Cove, Hesquiaht Peninsula

The Nuu-chah-nulth had (and have) inhabited these lands since “time immemorial” (In archeological terms, that means at least for 5000 years, the oldest radiocarbon dates attesting to their presence – but probably for much much longer). In 1774, the first European ship to make contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Spanish frigate Santiago, sailed into Homais Cove (on the Hesquaht Peninsula, near the southern entrance to Nootka Sound). Conditions were rough: the Spanish made contact and traded with the Nuu-chah-nulth from their ship, but never set foot on shore.

Four years later, the famous British navigator Captain Cook sailed into Nootka Sound and came ashore at Yuquot, which he renamed Friendly Cove – in reference to the Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants who greeted him. The resulting conflict (Spain insisting “We got there first!” while Britain countered “But you never set foot on shore!”) eventually culminated in what is now known as the Nootka Crisis: by the early 1790s, Spain and Britain nearly came to war over these lands. (More about the Spanish in the Pacific Northwest in an upcoming blog post).

Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound. Volume I, plate VII from: “A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World” by Captain George Vancouver. (Wikimedia Commons License: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1802)

Meanwhile, the Americans were out and about. Cook had made it generally known that great riches were to be made selling the furs from the coast over in China. From the late 1780s on, American ships were also active in this region, at times coming into conflict with the Spanish.

After resolution of the Nootka Crisis, the Spanish gave up their claims to the territories here. The Americans and the British were now the main foreign visitors to the coast – although their relations with the Nuu-chah-nulth people gradually deteriorated. In 1803, the Nuu-chah-nulth captured the American ship the Boston, killing all on board except for two, who they enslaved for over two years.

Then 1811, John Jacob Astor’s ship the Tonquin, sailing from New York, was captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth near what is now Tofino. This was in part in revenge for the burning of their village of Opitsaht by the American Captain Robert Gray nearly two decades earlier. This final conflict deterred both the Americans and the British, and for the next half-century the Nuu-chah-nulth people were left alone by foreign explorers.

Dave and I are really excited about our upcoming adventure, and our chance to visit the historically significant sites where these events – and many more – occurred. Our focus is this period, 1774 to 1811, but there are also some very interesting happenings after that period, too – from shipwrecks to bombings to chainsaw-gardening – that I will write about too!



The Innchanter – floating B&B at Hot Springs Cove – is sponsoring us!

LShaunBoat2234We are very pleased to announce that the Innchanter has signed on as a sponsor to the Secret Coast Expedition 2019!

The Innchanter is a floating B&B that is anchored up at Hot Springs Cove, around 50 km north of Tofino. It will serve as a staging point as we paddle down the coast, on the final leg of our expedition – a chance for us to re-supply for the remainder of the paddling trip and to get a meal on the way!

Hot Springs Cove, and the actual springs, within Maquinna Marine Park, are geological miracles – even to me, a geologist! Innchanter logoThe springs are completely natural – a steaming water source bubbling out of a fracture in the rock, cascading through a series of pools along the tideline. With the mixing of the hot water and the cold saltwater, there is always one pool that is the perfect temperature, no matter what the tide level is. (Our tide height can vary by as much as 4 m over 6 hours).


Many tourists who visit Tofino only find out about the Innchanter too late – once they have already arrived in town and have their accommodation already booked. They end up going up to Hot Springs Cove on a day trip – which is great, it is always a spectacular place to go – but the pools are natural and therefore tiny. One of my first recommendations to anyone planning a visit to Tofino is to plan for at least one night on the Innchanter – so you have a chance to walk the rainforest trail to the springs in silence, after the day-trippers have disappeared: for a sunset dip or, even better, hitting the springs at midnight on the full moon.


Boat Basin Foundation: Our newest sponsor

I’m very pleased that the Boat Basin Foundation has agreed to become a sponsor for the Secret Coast expedition.

The Boat Basin Foundation is a very special and innovative organization, and they are also located at a very critical point in our journey: where we will transition from coastal hiking to collect our sea kayaks for the ocean part of the journey.


The Boat Basin Foundation is a charitable organization based at historic Cougar Annie’s Garden. Over a century ago, in June 1915, Ada Annie Rae-Arthur arrived with her husband to a sheltered part of Hesquiaht Harbour, to attempt to homestead there. BBF logoThe south-facing slopes above the fertile flatlands below proved favourable, and over the years Cougar Annie managed to gradually carve a farm out of the tangled rainforest, eventually running a post office and a mail-order flower bulb business – and shooting over 50 cougars and outliving four husbands along the way. (For more about her fascinating story, check out the award-winning book Cougar Annie’s Garden).

LsqIMG_0698Cougar Annie died in 1985 at the age of 97, and her long-term friend and supporter, Peter Buckland, who met her while prospecting in the area, purchased the property from her. By then, most of the garden had been consumed by the rainforest. But, in a project that has been on-going since that time, Peter has year-by-year beaten the rainforest back (his term for it is “chainsaw gardening”), uncovering a wealth of heirloom plants along the way: from flower bulbs that had been dormant but alive under the shade of the salal for decades, to giant rhododendron trees that became part of the rainforest structure themselves.

The Boat Basin Foundation’s property includes the resurrected gardens, which comprise five acres of the original homestead and include Cougar Annie’s little house. The Foundation has also constructed a spectacular Field Study Centre on the ridge above the gardens, looking down onto Rae Lake. The facilities include a great room with a giant single-slab table of yellow cedar and cooking facilities, seven cabins that can sleep four people each, and “lecture rooms” that have to be seen to be comprehended: built of cedar shakes and naturally weathered wood posts from the property, nestled into the landscape. (Hence all the photos! You just can’t describe them.)

The centre is a stunning, one-of-a-kind location for group activities such as science or arts field courses, yoga retreats, or staff team-building or brainstorming retreats. We are so grateful to receive the Boat Basin Foundation’s support!

Atleo Air is our first sponsor!

LIMG0017.PCDI’m super-happy to announce that Atleo Air has signed on to be the first sponsor of the Secret Coast expedition!

Atleo logoWe need float plane transport up to our start at remote Rugged Point, way up the coast. And we also need float plane support to get our kayaks up to our transition from the hiking section to the paddling section at Boat Basin, Hesquiaht Harbour.

I’ve been flying with Atleo Air for years – actually for decades. (I probably took that top photo something like 20 years ago!) We flew in to Megin Lake with our folding kayaks with them just this past summer (here’s a photo of Dave unloading one of the boats).


They are a really great company, completely locally owned and operated out of Tofino. They also hold values that I really respect- especially regarding all aspects of Clayoquot Sound, from the many communities that live here to the wild creatures and biodiversity that need to be taken care of. We’re very grateful that they have come aboard to help us out.


Our folding kayaks will come in handy!

We will need to fly our kayaks up to Boat Basin (Hesquiaht Peninsula), the end-point of the hiking section of the expedition and start of the sea-kayaking leg. Back in the day, float planes would strap kayaks and canoes on to their floats – but they’re not allowed to do that any more.

LP1090573Lucky for us we have a pair of Feathercraft folding kayaks! Each boat fits into a big backpack. These are excellent kayaks: skin-and-frame design (like the original Inuit kayaks), but with the skin made of nylon cordura fabric and hypalon rubber (the same stuff Zodiacs are made of), and the frame made of aircraft-grade aluminum.

LIMG0079.PCDThese Feathercrafts are extra-special, because they are not even made any more. I have paddled other brands of folding boats before, and honestly, they don’t perform like kayaks at all – they are more like pointy rafts. (What is so special about a sea kayak is that you lock your legs and hips into them – so it is not like sitting in a boat it all. Rather, it is like adding an extension to your body – you maneuvre it with your whole body. That is why and how you roll a sea kayak: you must use your whole body to do it). I’ve paddled my Feathercraft all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia (photo to left from 20+ years ago!), Mexico, and both eastern and western Canada. I’ve had it in some pretty big seas – I have even Eskimo-rolled it! These are real kayaks!

LP1090714So we will be able to transport the kayaks inside a float plane, and have them ready for us in Boat Basin when we get there! We haven’t had them out for a while (have been mainy using our kevlar kayaks these past few years), so Dave and I took them on a one-week trip last month to check them out. We flew into Megin Lake by float plane, then paddled down the river (the largest pristine watershed on Vancouver Island) to the sea, then along the outer coast back to Tofino. These two pix are from that trip – but there are more Megin kayak photos on my personal blog, if you are interested!

The boats worked great. We are super-careful with them, especially the aluminum frames, as you can no longer get spare parts for them. They are a bit sun-damaged, so we will have a bit of work seam-sealing them and putting UV-protectant on as a winter project – but other than that, they are good to go!