Jacqueline Windh and David Gilbert have teamed up with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Spanish Embassy and some Nuu-chah-nulth partners to undertake an historical expedition of Vancouver Island’s northwest coast in June. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Kayakers to visit B.C.’s ‘secret coast’ first visited by Spanish explorers in 1770s

Jacqueline Windh and David Gilbert to explore forgotten history of Spanish exploration

Two Port Alberni adventurers are headed on a hiking and kayaking expedition to reveal the forgotten history of early Spanish explorations of Canada’s west coast.

Jacqueline Windh and David Gilbert will embark on a one-month journey starting Sunday, June 9 with a float plane dropping them at their starting point: the southern entrance to Kyuquot Sound. They will spend a month hiking and kayaking down the coast, arriving at Chesterman Beach on Monday, July 8. They will visit the remote, but historically significant, locations where pivotal events in the settlement of the west coast of Vancouver Island occurred.

“Most Canadians associate our colonial history with the English and the French,” says Windh. “Few are aware of the important role the Spanish played in the early explorations and first contacts with the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest.”

(Even Port Alberni is named for Captain Pedro de Alberni, a Spanish naval officer who spent nearly three years in Nootka Sound.)

“Now a wild and nearly uninhabited region, two and a half centuries ago this waveswept coast was the hub of contact between four cultures: the Spanish, the British (led by Cook and then Vancouver), the Americans (with the two-year enslavement of sailor John Jewitt by Chief Maquinna) and of course Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants,” she said.

Windh has been planning this trip for about a year. It started out as a simple adventure, and morphed from there. “We were thinking of doing a run down the West Coast Trail or something like that,” she said.

She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and thought about how she and Gilbert could pair their adventure with the RCGS. While looking at the West Coast, she began thinking about the history of the place, especially the little-known Spanish history.

“I’m not linear,” she admitted. “Things come (to me) from different directions.”

Once she had a concept, that gave them purpose for their trip and the research began.

“There’s an exploration that’s beyond the physical exploration of the land,” she said. “The rest of Canada doesn’t have a clue of that history.”

The RCGS agreed, and the pair will travel with an official RCGS expedition flag when they depart later this week.

Windh lived in Tofino for many years and recalled hearing oral histories from her Nuu-chah-nulth friends about first contact with Spanish naval crews. She hopes to share those Indigenous impressions with storytelling sessions and permission to write some of the oral history in a book.

She is excited to hear First Nations’ view of colonization of the coast. “I’m pretty sure the First Nations accounts won’t line up with what the Europeans said.”

While society has given weight to written accounts of first contact, she said people shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss oral histories that have been passed from generation to generation. She referenced John R. Jewitt’s account of Chief Maquinna’s two-year enslavement of the sailor: “Just because (Jewitt) wrote it doesn’t mean it’s more reliable than the oral histories.”

Windh, already a published author, plans to write a book on their expedition, featuring photographs of the historic stops as well as a written history. She hopes to integrate Nuu-chah-nulth history with written records of the European and American explorers. Her last book, The Wild Edge, published in 2004 in a similar format, is a Canadian bestseller.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Spanish Embassy in Canada, and the Wickaninnish Inn on the west coast (which is sponsoring the Nuu-chah-nulth storytelling portion of the trip) are all supporting this expedition, Windh said.

“I have secured some very prestigious sponsors for it as well as numerous industry sponsors—it’s probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done.”

Windh and Gilbert were at Clutesi Haven Marina on Saturday, testing out their refurbished folding kayaks and other gear. The kayaks fold into 20-kilogram (45-pound) backpacks. Windh first bought hers in 1992 as a reward when she finished her PhD (she is an Earth scientist); she has also acquired its twin from her mother.

The couple, ultra-marathoners, are used to hiking. They completed the Nootka Trail a couple of years ago and have explored the hills and mountains around the Alberni Valley too. This will be their longest trip so far.

Windh and Gilbert plan to end their trip on Monday, July 8, weather permitting, arriving at 10 a.m. at Chesterman Beach near Tofino.

For more information on their trip go online to www.secret-coast.com. While they won’t be able to post while they’re in remote regions of the Island, Windh will update the website when she can.



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Jacqueline Windh and David Gilbert have teamed up with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Spanish Embassy and some Nuu-chah-nulth partners to undertake an historical expedition of Vancouver Island’s northwest coast in June. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Jacqueline Windh and David Gilbert give their kayaks and brand new paddles a workout on the Somass River before they embark on an expedition to Vancouver Island’s northwest coast in June. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

David Gilbert and Jacqueline Windh hike the Alberni Inlet Trail near Port Alberni. The husband and wife adventure team are regulars on hiking trails in the area. JACQUELINE WINDH PHOTO

Just Posted

It’s a go: Williams Lake Garden Club prepares for summer garden tour

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some measures are in place for this year’s garden tour

B.C. First Nation owned solar farm connected to the grid

Construction was completed by the Tsilhqot’in Nation last year

CRD library to offer curbside pick up in Williams Lake beginning June 9

Due to COVID-19 the library has been closed to the public since March 17

Williams Lake mayor, doctors, tourism, chamber to provide updates at June tailgate event

A maximum of 30 vehicles can attend, event will be livestreamed

Grants for assistance extinguished for independent fire departments within Cariboo Regional District

Ten fire departments will be impacted, CRD-funded and managed fire departments will not be impacted

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Williams Lake Tribune continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

‘Great Regional Air Hug’ being organized by the Vanderhoof International Airshow Society

A multi-aircraft flyover over the region is being planned for August 15.

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

Most Read