One of the most extraordinary things about West Coast Expeditions (WCE) is their long standing relationship with the First Nations’ people of Kyuquot. The first evening we were on Spring Island, we had the pleasure of enjoying one of the most integral parts of the WCE experience: a salmon dinner. During most expeditions hosted on Spring Island, members of the Kyuquot community join guests for a meal of salmon cooked in their traditional way - filleted and butterflied between cedar slats, then propped up and roasted next to the fire.
Lana and her family have been coming to Spring Island to cook for 22 years. Her mother prepared the feasts for the first 19 years and, when her mother retired, Lana felt the tradition was too important to give up. Here's a video of Lana preparing the fish, which was caught earlier that day:
While the salmon smoked over the maple wood fire, we began to see the rest of dinner materialize. We first snacked on ‘upsquee,’* a kind of cold smoked dried salmon. There are no hard and fast rules to follow in order to make upsquee, and everyone in Kyuquot has their own smokehouse rules. Most use a smouldering piece of alder wood over a variable amount of days, depending on individual preference.
The upsquee we tried had been smoked for three days and was chewy and addictive. It had a strong smokey flavour, though I was informed this particular version is quite mild compared to some; it had the texture of jerky.
They also prepared freshly-caught crab and an incredible ‘Halibut Bake,’ which was made by layering fish with bread and sauteed onions, then topped with Lana's own tomato sauce. There was also homemade bannock with jam, a salmon dip made from half-smoked canned salmon mixed with cream cheese,
salad, potatoes, and a crisp made with garden fresh rhubarb. We learned the beloved Kyuquot word of ‘chummis,’* which essentially translates to ‘dessert,’ and is highly revered by WCE staff (we were in good company). I can’t the remember the last time I was as full and happy as after this dinner.
The philosophy of West Coast Expeditions is built upon community-based tourism principles, and the salmon feast prepared and served to us by the Kyuquot community embodies so much of what we love about food. This meal carries on a tradition and symbolizes the strength of the relationship between the Kyuquot people and West Coast Expeditions.
It provides a venue for guests and residents to connect and share their life stories—a good meal almost always brings good conversation with it. After dinner, we all sat around the fire and each of us spoke a little bit about why we were on Spring Island and shared our backgrounds.
Finally, the salmon feast represents years of culinary tradition for the Kyuquot people. Through West Coast Expeditions, they are able to share their culture with people who would not otherwise get to experience it.
Thank you to Lana and her family for sharing with us what the west coast means to them. Both their food and company were phenomenal, and we are so, so grateful to have had this experience.
Plus we have a new favourite word for dessert - chummis!
*they radioed back to Kyuquot to confirm the spelling, but we never actually got the confirmation. I have given my best phonetic guess.
**This post was submitted to The Canadian Food Experience Project in order to address this month's theme of 'a regional Canadian food'