the north island report: whale watching, little huson caves park, zeballos

While we had family visiting, we did a little more exploring of the North Island. 

We went to Telegraph Cove, a historic village and tiny tourist resort just south of Port McNeill, which is the easiest place to pick up a whale watching boat, a guided kayaking trip, or similar excursions. There are a few companies doing similar things out of Port Hardy and Port McNeill, but they mostly cater to tour groups. If you're on your own, not with a tour, Prince of Whales is your best bet.

We did the same trip with my mother in 2019, but this never gets old. Since we don't own a boat -- and never will -- I'd be happy to do this annually. We're surrounded by water, but normally can only enjoy it from the shore. It's well worth spending some cash now and again to be on the water.

We had spectacular weather, which certainly increases the enjoyment! The waters of the Broughton Archipelago, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, are smooth and dark -- rich with organic material that sustains large populations of marine life. We saw a huge number of humpbacks, including two pairs of mothers with calves, copious sea lions, and a raft of sea otters -- dozens of them swimming, playing, and relaxing. No orcas this time, unfortunately, although they have been spotted all summer.

As I've said and written countless times, there is something so magical about seeing animals in their own environments. I enjoy any glimpse of wildlife, but for me, none is more beautiful and mysterious than marine mammals. I am fascinated by their very existence, these creatures with whom we have so much in common, who evolved on land, yet must continually swim to the surface to breathe. Seeing them in the wild is breathtaking.

[While riting this post, I discovered that our photos from the first time we did this, in 2019, were on wtmc but not on Flickr. I'll fix that and post an update.]

On a different day, we visited Little Huson Cave Park, then continued on to the tiny hamlet of Zeballos. 

Like most of the accessible sights in this area, the caves are not a big deal, but something to do if you're curious and passing through. Shortly after we moved to this area, we did something called the Alice Lake Recreation Loop, a drive through logging roads with stops at various points of interest. The stops were pretty interesting, if unspectacular, and it was a clever idea to collect them into a driving loop. Little Huson Cave Park was very much like one of those stops -- a short hike into the woods (always nice), some limestone outcroppings known as karst, some caves to look at it. It's not far from the "highway" (Route 19), so might be worth a stop. 

Zeballos is a tiny community that was once a gold-mining town. With a population of around 100, it's too small and underserviced to be considered a village. Our library in Port Hardy often donates surplus and discarded books to Zeballos' little volunteer-run library, but I had never been there. No one I know has been there either! 

From Route 19, north of Woss, it's about an hour's drive down an unpaved logging road, to a collection of tidy little homes on an inlet. There's supposedly a lodge and a fishing expedition service, but I don't know if either are still active. There is nothing else. (I knew this in advanced and had already told our guests what to expect.) Now I have become the only person in my workgroup to have actually visited Zeballos. 

Now that my brother and sister-in-law have visited twice, we may have exhausted all potential sight-seeing in our area. We're not campers and do short day-hikes only, so the options, although beautiful, are limited. Next time they come up from Oregon, we may meet in Victoria. 


the north island report: where to eat in port hardy and port mcneill, updated for 2022

It seems like everything in our lives will be divided by covid -- pre and post. The lockdown, the  case counts, the death counts. Quarantining our groceries. Masks. Vaccines. Hand sanitizer. The anti-maskers. 

Back in 2019, the beforetime, I listed all the decent restaurants in our town and the nearest neighbouring town (40 minutes away). Now the whole restaurant landscape has changed.

Update: For some additional context, I'm adding this, copied and edited from comments.

The population of the two towns: Port Hardy 4200, Port McNeill 2100. This list covers restaurants in both towns.

Port Hardy is a regional hub. The next population centre is in Campbell River, a 2.5-hour drive away, or 2 hours from McNeill. All the other communities in the region are tiny (less than 500 people) and have no restaurants at all.
Hardy is also a hub for campers, hikers, boaters, and nature-lover tourism.

Breakfast/lunch places are plentiful because many people drive and boat long distances to work. Contractors, loggers, fishers, mine work, all picking up breakfast and/or lunch before they head "into the bush".

So tourism + regional hub + workers traveling great distances = a few more restaurants and cafes in the two towns than might be available in other towns of similar sizes.

Sad changes

Fire Chefs, the most amazing fish and chips place, also home to a truly great grilled halibut burger: gone. 

The (mediocre) restaurant that replaced them: gone.

Ha'me, the dining room at the Kwa'lilas Hotel -- the best year-round food in town -- never reopened post-covid. If you ask, staff still says they are closed for renovations, but it appears to be permanent. This is another big loss.

Most disappointing of all, the late, great Cluxewe Waterfront Bistro is no more. This was the only place in the North Island with truly outstanding food and very good wine. It was also in a beautiful secluded location, right on the water. I used to say, only on the North Island do you drive down a dirt road to a four-star restaurant. 

Our first summer, 2019, we went there a handful of times. In 2020, they were the first restaurant to re-open, and we went as often as possible, usually every-other week. And thank goodness we did, because that autumn, they lost their lease and left the area. Such a loss.

Now, the current list, updated after summer 2022

This is not a list of the best restaurants in Port Hardy and Port McNeill: it's a list of all of them. Fortunately they are all at least decent.

Port Hardy

Glen Lyon Inn

This place has a huge and strangely eclectic menu. Some of the food is quite good -- crab cakes that are fresh and not full of breading, nachos with seriously good toppings, excellent burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches. Other items are good enough -- lasagna, fresh salads, steaks, ribs. Nothing is awful. 

What is awful, for me, is the atmosphere -- despite its beautiful location right on the water. Everything is dingy and run-down. I know renovations are expensive, but how much would it cost to sand and re-paint the wooden chairs? Allan thinks I exaggerate, but I just find the atmosphere depressing. I prefer this food for take-out. 

Interesting note: I've heard that diners have seen whales in the inlet right outside the restaurant. I'm skeptical but folks swear it's true.


At the beautiful Kwa'lilas Hotel, the dining room, Ha'me, never re-opened after covid, so now the pub/lounge Nax'id is their only dining option. The food is consistently good. Everything is made with fresh ingredients and care, and the wait staff is always friendly and helpful. 

The menu is annoyingly inconsistent, probably a function of high turnover in the kitchen. Sometimes there are delicious specials available. Other times, not. So although the food is good, many of my favourite things on their old menu are gone.

Another plus: Kwal'lilas and Nax'id are Indigenous-owned, and have a hiring arrangement with North Island College's hospitality program.

Seto's Wok and Grill

Our local Chinese restaurant continues to have consistently good food, although with a frustratingly limited menu. The food is especially good eaten in their dining room, as opposed to takeout. 

This was the last restaurant to return to eat-in dining, and the community is very happy they're back. They are open Wednesday through Saturday -- which is weird, and annoying.

Sporty Bar and Grill

Here's a happy story: a place that improved post-covid! Sporty updated its menu and added weekly specials, giving us many more choices. The food is consistently good. 

Sporty is close Sunday and Monday, even when there are festivals or a market in the park across the street. Also annoying!

Karai Sushi

The Japanese restaurant moved from its odd location at an airport hotel to the town's main drag (in the spot where Fire Chefs used to be). All the food here is good, and business seems to be off-the-charts busy since they moved into town. I am so grateful there is sushi in Port Hardy!

Macy's Place

This is a fish-and-chips food truck. It doesn't match the quality of the late, great Fire Chefs, but the fish, burgers, fish tacos, and fries are quite good.

They're closed in the winter, and everyone's very happy when they reopen.

The same family owns a seafood store that sells freshly caught-and-canned tuna, salmon, and halibut. I haven't tried this yet, as I fear it would be deliciously addictive, and it's super expensive.

Other food in Port Hardy, not open for dinner

Café Guido has great coffee, baked goods, and simple lunch choices. It's also home to a small book- and gift shop, and a co-op selling the work of local artists and artisans. It's unique on the North Island, and it's mobbed during the summer.

Copper & Kelp is Café Guido's newer store. In the local lingo, it is "at the beach," as opposed to "in town". Besides sandwiches, coffee, and baked goods, they sell local artisan products of all types, plus dinners to go. We were really surprised that Guido's opened a second place in this location, and our fingers are crossed that it will succeed.

Taif's Kitchen is an exciting new option. A family of Syrian refugees opened a food truck! The food is really good and it's a popular choice.

Market Street Cafe has really good -- and ridiculously inexpensive -- breakfasts. They are the only place in town that bakes their own bread and muffins. 

Mo's is a pizza, fried chicken, and gyros joint. The food is not bad. 

U Cafe sells Chinese takeout with a limited menu in the mall. (Don't think suburban mall with dozens of stores and a food court. It's a one-story, T-shaped building with the town's only supermarket, a pharmacy, and a fast-food joint.) U Cafe's food is fair, and it extends our Chinese-food options. The big drawback is that it's cash only.

Port Hardy also has a Subway and an A&W

Port McNeill

Devil's Bath Brewery

This is the most exciting new opening in our area: a spacious, hip-looking restaurant specializing in thin-crust pizza and their own microbrews. They serve a variety of interesting pizzas and pastas, plus a few nightly specials, in a lovely relaxing space. Big thumbs up. 

Archipelago's Bistro

Despite its name, this is actually a diner. The food is consistently good food and there are some interesting options on the menu: along with the usual burgers and sandwiches, there are a variety of pastas, risottos, and poutines. They make a salad with figs, roasted pear, and gorgonzola cheese that I cannot resist. 

Sportsman Steak and Pizza House

This place renovated and revamped post-covid, and has a steak, seafood, and pizza menu. The food is good, the atmosphere is very nice, and it's in a nice setting directly across from the marina. 

Gus's Pub

Gus's serves sports-bar standards in a semi- sports bar atmosphere. We've never had bad food here, but I'm bored with these menus. 

Good food, but not dinner

Tia's Cafe has great coffee, breakfasts, and slightly Mexican-themed lunches. This is my top choice if I need to meet someone in Port McNeill for work.

Mugz 2.0 is a cafe serving freshly baked pastries, muffins, and bread. They use fresh, local ingredients and they know what they're doing. Mugz was closed for years, pre-covid, and we're all rooting for it to survive.

Port McNeill also has a Subway. There is also a Chinese takeout place with an ancient, greasy storefront that does not inspire confidence.


in which i observe education, job creation, and community building in progress

For the last couple of weeks, it's been my privilege to witness some exciting progress for our community, plus have a really interesting experience.

Literacy first

As a librarian and library manager in a remote region, I work closely with the local literacy society, and I sit on its board of directors. Before becoming a libarian, I didn't know anything about literacy societies or what they do. 

Our local literacy society provides some services that, to my mind, the library should provide, such as storytimes -- but cannot, because we lack adequate resources. But it also provides services that are beyond our scope, like in-school tutoring, adult computer training, book giveaways, family literacy days, and other important literacy-focused programs.

LLS is a small but mighty collection of dedicated, focused, community-minded activists who know how to get things done. Recently the LLS coordinator asked board members to help interview candidates for a post-secondary educational opportunity. The same call went out last year, but I was too busy to participate. This year the ask came at the perfect time, and I jumped on the opportunity. 

Grant wizards

What drives the success of our LLS -- and many other excellent local organizations -- is people who are always alert for opportunities, and know how to respond quickly and effectively. In this case, they applied for and received funding for ten students to attend the local college for a one-year course to become an educational assistant (EA) or community support worker (CSW). [For US readers, a college is a post-secondary institution distinct from a university.] 

EAs work one-on-one with students with special needs, helping them succeed in school. CSWs play a similar role with adults in the community, helping them live independently. Those are both important community jobs, but this diploma goes much further. It opens a huge array of employment possibilities, and can also be used as a building block towards other degrees in education or social work. 

Education + jobs + support workers = win-win-win

The purpose of the interviews was to find ten applicants who would be most likely to succeed in the program. Of the ten grant recipients from last year, eight are working full-time, and two went on for further education: an unqualified success.

In our small, remote communities, resources are scarce, and jobs are practically nonexistent. Most available jobs are precarious -- casual, on-call, very limited. Many folks juggle several jobs in order to survive. Of course, small towns aren't the only place this happens. But here, this is (almost) all that's available.

Most of the people in the program are already working as EAs or CSWs, but without a diploma, they earn less and are only eligible for casual and on-call work. The diploma course leads directly to permanent employment and an opportunity to advance through a salary grid. 

As it creates jobs in the community, it also creates more trained workers to assist children and adults who need support. The value of this cannot be overstated.

In keeping with the college's and province's mandates, the course has a special focus on the needs of Indigenous children and adults in care. Also hugely important for our community.


Over the course of three days, we listened to candidates' stories -- why they wanted to be part of the program, their career goals, how the program would advance their goals. Each applicant was a caring, dedicated public worker who wants to serve their community. And each was hard-working, striving person, juggling work, family, and their own education.

The funding (a combination of federal and provincial money) will pay for tuition and textbooks for the EA/CSW degree, and includes some supports to eliminate other obstacles, such as a tech, transportation, or work attire. I've heard so many stories of students who received tuition assistance, yet were still unable to attend school because they couldn't afford textbooks or other expenses. This program is designed to work.


housekeeping complete

* The best-of page has been updated to 2021.

* The links on that page are working again.

* Internal links on multi-part posts are also working again -- i.e. on the second part of a post links to the first, the third part links to the first and second, and so on.

* Other internal links on random posts throughout the blog don't work.


housekeeping in progress: apologies for possibly sending old posts

For a very long time, old links on this blog have not worked. This has always bothered me. 

It's bad enough that I lost many thousands of comments (2006 through 2019). I live in hope that this may change, if Blogger fixes the import/export issue, but as time goes by, that seems more and more doubtful. 

Added to that, the posts linked on wmtc's greatest hits are not functioning. It really bothers me.

So I've decided to fix them. I can't find and fix all the internal links on posts, but I can fix the greatest hits page

While I do that, and depending how you read this blog, it's possible that old posts will be sent to you or appear in your feed. Apologies in advance.


thoughts on privilege: using less oxygen in the room

Many years ago, at one of our wmtc parties, I was chatting with a new guest, the spouse of a friend. We had never met before, and they didn't know anyone else at the party. Wanting to be a good host, I made it a point to spend some time with her, and asked about her work. She answered briefly and shyly; seeking to draw her out, I asked some clarifying questions.

Another guest was also present, and they jumped in, verbally rolling their eyes at my apparent ignorance, and answered the question not meant for them. 

I wanted to say, I know that. I wasn't asking for information, I was trying to start a conversation. But obviously I couldn't say that, so I said nothing while the third party answered the question meant for the newer, less talkative guest. Then I tried again with a more specific question that the third person couldn't answer.

More importantly, I made a mental note of this conversation: don't be that person, realizing that I have been, more than once.

Leaving space for others to speak

Several years later, during some union training, I was reminded of this exchange. One of our ground rules for group engagement was to leave space for others to speak

This was revelatory to me! A new thought about another way we can see -- and check -- our privilege. A step we can take towards being an ally of people with less privilege.

Since this was made visible to me, I've become increasingly sensitive to the dynamics of group conversations. I've been challenging myself to do better. 

I think of it as using less oxygen in the room.

A diversity of voices > the sound of our own voice

Using less oxygen in the room means leaving space for others to speak -- space for voices  that may not speak as often or answer as quickly. 

These voices may be quiet from a lifetime of receiving messages that their ideas are not important and not welcome -- and the resulting inexperience, which may have led to a lack of confidence. 

The voices may be quiet from a lifetime of frustration and futility in trying to compete with the dominant voices. 

Or folks may simply be reluctant to speak in front of others. Some of us gain a lot of speaking experience in our daily work -- but many people do not. For many people, raising a hand to speak in a group setting constitutes public speaking, and public speaking is many people's greatest fear.

Those of us who don't fall into any of those categories can use less oxygen in the room for folks who do.

Slamming the buzzer

My new awareness of this dynamic has led me to examine why I and others might use up so much oxygen -- why we might claim an inequitable share of verbal space. 

Why do so many people respond to questions as if they're hitting a buzzer in a game show? Why do people need to be the first person to respond? Why are we so keen to display our knowledge?

This dynamic is separate and distinct from mansplaining. In fact, taking up too much oxygen in the room may be a result of having been mansplained excessively in the past: a rush to display knowledge before anyone else can shut you down. 

It may be the result of a lifetime of being praised for their intelligence -- and only for that, so that our positive self-image is inextricably connected to how much we know.

It may be the result of hyper-competitiveness -- viewing every interaction as a contest to be won or lost.

It may be that we're passionate about the topic and just love to talk about it.

And of course, it may be any combination of the above, and very likely some motivations I haven't thought of here.

These days, when I find myself in a group dynamic, I am learning to ask myself: Do I need to answer this question? Do I need to speak? Am I contributing something unique or necessary? And I practice being comfortable keeping my knowledge to myself.  

An active silence

Using less oxygen in the room is something men can do when there are women present. 

It's something white people can do when there are people of colour present.

It's something settler people can do when there are Indigenous people present.

It's something more experienced people can do when there are younger or less experienced people present.

It's something anyone who in a group majority can do to help anyone in a group minority feel more comfortable speaking. 

It comes down to something both simple and challenging: checking your own ego.

It doesn't mean not speaking. It means not needing to speak your every thought. It means knowing the answer, but checking your impulse to answer it, waiting to see if someone else does.

You don't need to be the smartest person in the room.

You don't need to display your knowledge. 

You don't need to draw attention to yourself.

It's not a contest. 

Your silence -- your deference to others -- can be your contribution.


what i'm reading: the leak: great junior graphic for the young activist in your life

It starts with a trip to the dentist. Ruth Keller swears she brushes her teeth and flosses daily, yet the cavities are piling up. The dentist lectures, her mom scolds. No one believes that Ruth takes proper care of her teeth -- but she does. 

Then Ruth and a friend see workers dumping something into the lake. 

Ruth already writes an online newletter. She gets to work investigating, and repurposes her newsletter into an exposé. 

In The Leak, Kate Reed Petty and Andrea Bell have created an updated and more complex descendant of Harriet, from the classic Harriet the Spy. Ruth is the perfect young hero: smart, brave, misunderstood, flawed -- learning and growing.

Ruth dives headlong into her activism -- rashly, clumsily, and with great courage. Some adults oppose her and try to stop her. A couple of adults recognize her potential and offer guidance and support. Ruth is smart and resourceful and finds a way through, but not without a cost. As she exposes the truth about her town's poisoned water, many hard truths are exposed to her.

The story references the real-life story of the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan. There's an explanatory epilogue that would come off as unnecessary and didactic in an adult novel, but I appreciate it for younger readers. 

I would have loved this book as a child. In many ways, I was Ruth -- a writer, an activist, straddling the line between my nerdy preferences and my need to fit in. Ruth's journey would have been the perfect fantasy for me, but this book would have wide appeal for many young readers. 

I loved Kate Reed Petty's debut novel, True Story. On Petty's website I see she has written another junior graphic, which I will now look for. I'm looking forward to whatever she writes next.