The first weekend of April is a rite of spring for the folks who live on the mid-coast of Vancouver Island. As early as February small flocks of Pacific Black Brant Geese begin returning to the Parksville and Qualicum Beach areas. [See Getting "Up Island" .] By mid-March the annual "sea goose" migration is in full swing, peaking a month later in the middle of April. By the time it is over in mid-May some 20,000 of the small geese will have passed through, stopping to rest up and feed on eelgrass, green algae and herring roe before continuing their northward journey.

Wintering in Baja California and adjacent mainland Mexico, the brant follow the coast northward until reaching British Columbia. As the Pacific coast north of Vancouver Island is rugged and rocky most brant wing towards the northwest from this last staging area to begin the transoceanic flight to breeding grounds in Siberia, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Altogether this three month journey covers more than 10,000 kilometres. Interestingly the southward migration in the fall follows a more direct route across the open Pacific. Only in the spring do the Brant grace the British Columbia coast with their presence. To celebrate this annual return local businesses and naturalists have inaugurated the Brant Festival. Brant viewing areas have been established at Rathtrevor and Qualicum Beaches with telescopes and nature interpretation provided. Peripheral events include art shows, photo exhibitions, a wood carving contest, craft fair, Native Indian-style salmon barbecue, Native dance displays, special children's events and environmental displays.

To be completely honest, unless you are a bird watching fanatic, the Brant Festival is neither awesome nor profound. It is, however, interesting. To make a trip to Vancouver Island simply for this event may be disappointing to some. Coupled with a cycling weekend or a trip to the Pacific Rim area, the Brant Festival could provide a more than satisfying glimpse of one of nature's marvels.

The End


Dentalia

Dentalia Shells

These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.

Illustration by Manami Kimura