Driftwood has been placed together to form the word HAPPY on this rocky beach viewed from the cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island, BC. It was Thanksgiving weekend and maybe this was the purpose for the word or there may be other reasons, which you’ll find by reading further.
It’s an ecologically sensitive park comprising 69 hectares of land with bluffs that extend under water for over a kilometre. The marine component of Helliwell Park covers over 2800 hectares. It’s a place of serene beauty where one can walk in an enchanted forested area as well as along sea cliffs. You’ll see salal and huckleberry bushes, Garry oaks which support rare butterflies, bald eagles nesting in Douglas firs, red cedars and alders with sword ferns at their base. Overhead you can also discover turkey vultures and ospreys, and you may even encounter barred owls in the forest. Cormorants nest along the cliff edges.
The bluff tops are covered with a profusion of wild flowers where you can also find prickly pear cactus. There are 40 different kinds of edible plants. Sea lions can be viewed on nearby reefs and many water birds are busy fishing.
There is a diverse sea life including delicate sponges, giant Pacific octopuses and primitive six-gilled sharks up to 5 metres in length.
5,000 years ago a people called Pentlatch lived here but by 1850 they had virtually vanished. They suffered from sickness brought on by the Spanish and British, and were victims to the slave trade and the movement of other First Nations people into their territory. By the late 1860’s, fishermen and farmers had settled on the island and were also making money from logging.
The quiet island life experienced a boon with the counter culture of the late 60’s which brought artists and a rich cultural life. Today Hornby and its neighbour Denman Island have the third largest concentration of artists in Canada. Painters, potters, fibre artists, musicians, woodworkers, sculptors, photographers, writers and poets are here.
Environmentally conscious Hornby also has one of North America’s first recycling depots.
However life for the island’s residents is not totally idyllic. With Hornby’s success, also came those who could afford second homes and now 60% of property is owned by non-residents. With the resultant rise in land prices and scarcity of rental properties, the permanent population has decreased from 1200 in the late 90’s to around 900 today. Meanwhile, many organizations and groups are trying to foster a healthy, sustainable and diversified economy.
Another problem is with the island’s remoteness and the on-going increase in ferry fees. With luck, if you are leaving from Vancouver, you may be looking at an 8-hour trip all told. There’s the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. Then you drive an hour north of Nanaimo to reach Buckley Bay where you get a ferry to Denman Island. Then you cross Denman to take a ferry to Hornby Island. With say a small car of 3 people, even with a discount, the ferry price is nearly $300 round trip, not counting gas or accommodation if you need it. This discourages the tourist industry to a degree and makes it difficult for those residents who have to get supplies off island.
This is not to say the trip is not worth it. The rest of Hornby is as enchanting as Helliwell Park. There are diverse landscapes like Mt. Geoffrey and the Strachan Valley and a variety of sandy and rocky beaches. Big Tribune Bay has one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Gulf Islands and is one of the warmest salt-water swimming areas in BC. This has given Hornby the designation: the Hawaii of Canada. Tribune Bay is also famous for its sandstone formations. Consequently, swimming, boating, kayaking, hiking and biking all abound. Aside from the natural beauty, you’ll find galleries, farmer’s markets and around 50 home studios.
Once you get there, it’s a HAPPY, peaceful environment to be treasured.