Spring Island (Part 2/3): Salmon Feast!

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'


Spring Island (Part 1/3): A West Coast Adventure

If you know the west coast at all, you’ve heard of Saltspring Island.  Unless you know the west coast VERY well, however, you’ve probably never heard of Spring Island.


It’s not an easy place to get to.  First, there’s a five-hour drive from Courtenay down  remote logging roads to Fair Harbour, which is even farther up the coast than Bamfield


Then there’s a forty-minute local water taxi out to Kyuquot, beyond which lies Spring.  In the 1950’s the small island housed a LORAN Station, but now, each summer, it’s home to West Coast Expeditions (WCE).


WCE, a kayaking expedition company, has been operating off Spring’s wild shores for over four decades; owners Dave Pinel and Caroline Fisher setup camp from June to September, offering guided base camp kayaking trips as well as multi-day expeditions.  


Their operation is a model of eco-tourism; solar panels power the camp, rainwater is collected for showers and washing up, all toilet paper is collected and disposed of, food scraps are composted, and nearly everything is recycled. 


The main ‘lodge’ was constructed years ago out of found wood and driftwood, with its plastic walls tacked up at the beginning of each season and taken away at the end.  Dave told us it takes many long days and dozens of people to completely set up camp and take it down.  For this reason, they rely on a team of dedicated and capable staff.


Each day, we kayaked with our unbelievable guide, Serina, from about 10am to 5pm, with a break for lunch and explorations of surrounding islands.  Daily adventures included a hike around Paradise Island (a well-deserved name); a paddle out to Lookout Island with its rare forest of Sitka spruce and moon-like rocky shores and sandstone formations;


peering into endless tide pools; and at the end of each day, some of the best sleeps we’ve had in years.


You couldn’t look up without spotting an eagle (or six), and we paddled past dozens of sea otters each day.  Until Serina shouted “Puffins!” I didn’t even know it was possible to see them anywhere in Canada but the east coast, but there they were, in all their tiny, colourful glory.  Apparently, puffins are more rare to see off Spring Island than whales. 


The wild blue and green landscape of the west coast is impossible to describe well, but I hope you’ll be fortunate enough to experience it, or already have.  Our trip with WCE was a life-changing experience. 


While you might not expect to find extraordinary food at a remote base camp, you will on Spring Island. 


Guests and staff are fed each day by James McKerricher, a chef and kayaking guide whose resume includes head cook for the Tour D’Afrique (a bike tour from Cairo to Cape Town) and The Maple Leaf, a sailboat where he cooks gourmet food from a tiny, ever-swaying galley kitchen.  Basically, this guy can cook on land, water, any country or continent, and with just about any foods/tools available to him. 


In upcoming posts we’ll describe the food that fuelled us through all this kayaking, including a salmon and crab dinner prepared by women from the local Kyuquot First Nations, multiple seafood dishes masterfully prepared by James, and a lot of edible kelp!  Stay tuned......