Prince Rupert Hospitality
I have wanted to go to Haida Gwaii (or the Queen Charlotte Islands) ever since I picked up a hitchhiker about 10 years back on my way to Waterton Lakes for a wedding. I was going through a Jack Kerouac phase and my young passenger told me all about living off the land. He told me about snaring rabbits and picking mushrooms and melding them in a wild stew that he cooked in a black cauldron in the woods. If that doesn’t plant the seed of wanderlust then I don’t know what will.
As a Canadian folk singer, I believe it’s my job to tell the stories of the people of the country I come from. This requires travel and I pride myself on trying to explore every nook and cranny. Stompin’ Tom Connors said that he didn’t need a map to travel Canada. He also said that the only place in Canada he had never been was the Queen Charlotte Islands. Well Tom, you fucked up big time because those islands left an impression on me unlike anywhere else in Canada.
My friend and pedal steel player, Dylan S Keating, and I were on the second annual Great North Tour. It is a tour we created in order to give us an excuse to explore and perform in more remote parts of Northern BC. We had such a good time doing it last year that we decided to make it an annual thing. We made it all the way to Prince Rupert but had to cancel the voyage to Haida Gwaii. This year we were determined to make it happen.
Our original plan was to take the car on the 9 hour ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii. This would give us a place to sleep and help us keep an eye on all our musical gear. BC ferries emailed us 48 hours before the trip and let us know that the ferry was full and that we could ride as passengers but we would have to leave the car. With limited ferry access it was now or never.
Our backup plan was to rent bikes, leave our gear in the car in some side-street of Prince Rupert, and camp and cycle our way around. This plan came to a screeching hault when we found out the bike rental place in town had recently closed and the local Wal-Mart didn’t actually sell bikes (which we would have just bought and returned after our trip).
So without a formal plan, we booked ourselves tickets as foot passengers for the overnight ferry on Sunday night. We performed at the Wheelhouse Brewery in Prince Rupert on Saturday night and were chatting with one of the owners after the show. His name was James and he offered to lend us his bike and ask the other owner if we could borrow his bike. We accepted this hail-mary of an offer because we had little choice.
I should also point out that the Wheelhouse in Prince Rupert is my favorite place in Canada to have a beer. I have been saying this for the past year, and this generous offer just cemented it as my favorite.
The Wheelhouse is owned by three, cool, young guys who have created a great brewery and a cultural hub of the community. They have a seasonal beer called Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale. It is a beer brewed with spruce tips. Legend has it, that sailors off the coast would put spruce tips in their beer in order to avoid scurvy while out at sea for long durations (spruce tips are high in Vitamin C). James told us that all three owners and their families went camping for a few days and picked spruce tips the entire time, collecting over 70 lbs. They used these spruce tips for the brew and when it’s gone it’s gone. How’s that for “local” and “seasonal”.
The next day we showed up at the brewery in the afternoon to find two mountain bikes waiting for us with a lock and a helmet. There were two local gentleman (Vaughn and Richy) sitting at the bar when we walked in. They explained that when they got there they noticed one of the tires on the bikes was in rough shape, so they voluntarily took the bike back home and replaced it with one of theres. We had never met them before but they had heard that we were the musicians and we were cycling Haida Gwaii and they wanted to ensure we had a good time.
At this point we were mind blown at the local hospitality we were receiving in Prince Rupert. Nearly total strangers were lending us there expensive bikes and bike parts to help us go on a mini-vacation in the middle of our tour.
Then Vaughn and Richy asked us if we would play an impromptu set. We politely declined as there was no one in the bar except the four of us and the bartender. Shortly after that it began to rain and the weather brought in a new crowd of tourists and locals. They tried again and this time we accepted (after getting a green light from an owner).
The boys kept on sliding beers up to us on stage and calling for celebratory sociables. We finished a half-drunk, Sunday afternoon set to find out that they had walked around the bar gathering us tips. $300 worth of tips to be exact. We were blown away at the local hospitality. These good vibes and mutual appreciation spread and we kept on drinking long into the afternoon. Beers were on the house and we weren’t saying no to anything.
The next thing we knew it was 7:00. We had to check-in at the ferry at 8:30. We were drunk and hadn’t packed anything. We slammed our music gear in the storage room of the brewery and ran to the car and threw random clothes into a bag. It was pouring rain and we had to cycle 5 miles to the ferry station. We got soaking wet in the process and barely made it on time.
We were ill-prepared, drunk, wet, hungry and had $300 in tips in our pocket that we decided should be put towards our trip. And with that we boarded the overnight ferry to Haida Gwaii.