Great Bear Rainforest Tour – Spring 2015

Slide show from the Great Bear Rainforest tour in May 2015 aboard the SV Maple Leaf.

Thank you to Capt. Greg Shea and First Mate Nick Sinclair for the use of their beautiful images.

Can’t see the show? View it here.

Learn more about taking a Great Bear Rainforest trip yourself.

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Reports from the Ships 2015

Alaska Adventure, MV Swell, July 19-27, 2015

Alaska brown bear, taken on a Maple Leaf Adventures trip. Photo by James Warburton

July 19

On the first day we spent time with a pod of Orcas – 45 minutes after we headed out of Sitka at the start of our trip. By then we had also already seen sea otters. We also had a couple of harbour porpoises pass by and lots of sea birds.

July 20
Today we had an amazing encounter with a sub-adult brown bear from a good proximity. He lay down in the creek in front of us. He rolled over in the creek and stuck his feet in the air!

We hiked up to a bog and a lake and picked blueberries before we made our way back through the rainforest. Later, after raising anchor and heading out, a gray whale in the bay breached 3 times!

- Report from Capt. Dave

Alaska Adventure, MV Swell, July 8-17, 2015

Soaking in hot pools beside a cold creek, Alaska. Photo by Kevin Smith.

July 14

Can you imagine a day that begins with Dall’s porpoises riding on the bow? And for those who missed the ones who came before breakfast, another group showed up after breakfast.

A little later we were floating in the skiff with curious sea lions all around us and a few humpback whales near by.

Our day ended with a few brave souls taking a dip in a glacial lake, and then we all headed to a beautiful hot spring for a soak right beside a beautiful waterfall. It was so wonderful, many did a repeat in the morning.

The morning also had a fabulous low tide, and we looked at the abundant sea life from the skiff and from kayaks. We had a great look at a young brown (grizzly) bear from the skill some time later and are now anticipating a great hike in the morning.

Brown bear at Pack Creek, Admiralty Island, on a Maple Leaf trip. Photo by James Warburton.

July 12

Admiralty Island has an extremely high concentration of brown (grizzly) bears. Over the last two days we have watched bears galloping through streams chasing salmon, standing up on two legs, settling down for a nap, and scratching their itchy places.

We have also watched salmon making their way up their natal stream to spawn a new generation and eagles and ravens have joined in the feast. We finished today with a pair of killer whales surfacing beneath a beautiful rainbow.

It was a great day for one of our guests to celebrate a birthday!

- update from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold

Calving glacier on an Alaska trip with Maple Leaf Adventures. Photo by Paul Smith.

July 11

One of the special things about coming to Alaska is the opportunity to visit towering walls of ice and hear the thundering rumble as chunks break off and fall into the ocean to drift away as icebergs.

We were just heading away from our visit to Dawes Glacier (where we experienced all of this), and after drifting in the skiff among icebergs, some thought it a good idea to warm up in the hot tub. As they soaked in the warm water with the glacier in view, they spotted transient killer whales on the hunt for seals.

We turned Swell around and all the seals had come out of the water on to the small icebergs. They were aware these stealthy predators were in the area. We never did see them again, but came away with a bigger understanding of life in this challenging environment.

- update from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold

July 10

It would be an understatement to say we had a whale of a day. As we cruised through Frederick Sound, were surrounded by these gentle giants for the last couple of hours. One whale gave us an amazing bubble net demonstration by blowing bubbles off our bow!

We eavesdropped with the hydrophone and were treated to some wonderful grunts and calls.

As if that wasn’t enough some curious sea lions swam right up to the boat to check us out. We are headed up to our anchorage now and will be on the lookout for icebergs!

… 90 minutes later this came in:

Well I signed off too soon. Just as we approached the next point we encountered a large group of killer whales. We had humpbacks on one side of the boat and killer whales on the other!

Arriving at the point we saw two moose right at the water’s edge. If that wasn’t enough, we then saw a sea otter swimming nearby eating a red sea urchin. Slow progress getting to our anchorage!

- reports from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold

Haida Gwaii and Emily Carr trip, SV Maple Leaf, July 5-13, 2015

Cape St. James, on the southern tip of Kunghit Island, Haida Gwaii

July 13

Just in from a fabulous trip in Gwaii Haanas. Seems like the warm waters are sweeping some unusual critters in this year.

The guests were intrigued by Vellela, the blue-rimmed By-the-Wind-Sailor jellyfish, which have tacked up onto the shores of SGang Gwaay by the thousands. Also sighted, the weird and wonderful Mola Mola, or Sunfish.

Had a great rounding of Cape St. James, on calm though current-raked seas, past teeming Steller’s Sea Lion rookeries– lots of sleek chocolate-brown pups, nursing and bleeting. And plenty of birds of course, Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres; I was thrilled to see both Horned and Tufted Puffins!

Spent the evening of our final night visiting the village of Cumshewa, our last stop in “the footsteps” of Emily Carr.

She has been with us in spirit in our readings from her wonderful tales of travelling here in the early 1900’s, in the images of her paintings and especially in our sketching expeditions. I like to think she would approve of our attempts to draw the poles and deep green forests of Haida Gwaii that she loved.

- report from naturalist and art expedition leader Alison Watt

Gwaii Haanas forest glade. Photo by Kevin Smith.

July 8

Anchored as the sun sinks, butter yellow, over Burnaby Narrows.  Pretty much a perfect Maple Leaf day—started with a sail into Juan Perez Sound, with warm 12 knot winds, through a beautiful flock of Sooty Shearwaters, resting in the gentle troughs.

We carried on south—we had a tide to keep—3 feet in Burnaby Narrrows. Piled into the zodiac and drifted through the narrows, looking at kelp crabs, a spectacular, golden-mottled sculpin, and a rainbow of bat stars.

Spent the rest of the day nestled in a glade, drawing the moss-hung cedars, mixing greens on our paint palettes and talking over of how much Emily Carr herself would have loved to draw in this spot!

- Report from naturalist and art leader Alison Watt

Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, June 26-July 3, 2015

From from the ship in Haida Gwaii by crew member Jeff Reynolds.

The trip is epic….getting in all the major experiences, only K’uuna / Skedans left. Sun everyday pretty much.

At 18.30 July 1 we transited through Richardson Pass looking for orcas that had been seen earlier and we found them! A pod of 6 with 2 young. I will be giving away 2 Maple Leaf Adventures ball caps to the spotters during our hot tub deck, pre-dinner Canada Day celebration, with Sea Cider and Maple Leaf beer!

- report from Capt. Steve

Haida Gwaii, Schooner, June 23-July 1, 2015

Humpback whale


Weather so calm we overnighted at Woodruff Bay (exposed beach at southern end of Haida Gwaii) and enjoyed breakfast at the Cape.

Humpbacks, puffins, albatross, mola mola, Cape St James sea lions, afternoon at hot springs with artists Elsie and Ken. Swimming and hot pools with Elsie; our short sail (no wind!); making it to all 5 Haida watchmen sites (SGang Gwaay, T’aanuu, K’uuna (Skedans), Windy Bay, Hot Springs); Low tides explorations…abalone searching ( and finding). Great food. And Louise Narrows on the first afternoon. On our way to Sandspit.

- Report from Capt. Russell

The Jun 18-26 trip on MV Swell and Jun 19-27 trip on SV Maple Leaf ...part way through the trips. Map of Gwaii Haanas area generated by OTrak software. Land day on Graham Island for each trip is not shown.

Haida Gwaii, SV Maple Leaf, June 19-27, 2015

June 21:
Puffins and Rhinoceros Auklets before breakfast, a marvelous tour of the monumental poles and houses in the ancient Haida village of SGang Gwaay with Reg Wesley (a Haida Argillite carver) and then surrounded by Humpback whales breaching and surfacing in a glassy calm Pacific Ocean.

How could this day get any better?

One of my favourite and wildest places on earth is Cape St. James. Here the currents converge and upwellings support thousands of nesting Tufted Puffins, Cassin’s Auklets, Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots and a breeding colony of Northern Sea lions (also known as Steller sea lions). Cape St. James has the highest recorded sustained winds in Canada, but on this day it was sunny and relatively calm which allowed Captain Greg to navigate carefully through the Kerouard Islands to give us spectacular views of new born sea lion pups, puffins and the wild rocky islands at the end of the Haida earth.

On this longest day of the year, there were more adventures to be had!

Maple Leaf anchored in a beautiful bay on the east side of Kunghit Island, affectionately known as “Hawaii” for its crystalline blue waters and fine white sand beach.  “Dinner on the beach!”  A gourmet picnic of beef tenderloin, roasted vegetables, Caesar salad, Spinnakers Maple Leaf brew and Sandhill Syrah was served by our lovely chef Yasmin.

Greg packed up the marine plastic debris we had collected for Parks Canada to remove, the heartiest of our crew had a swim in the sea and we reluctantly headed back to the ship.  It wouldn’t be bad to be marooned at this lovely beach, but there were more places to go yet!

We anchored for the night in Keeweenah Bay, enjoyed dessert of blueberry tart and sunset followed by a waxing quarter moon and Jupiter and Venus rising in the indigo sky.

- report from naturalist Trudy Chatwin

Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, June 18-26, 2015

June 20: The beautiful weather continues. We’ve come from a great visit at Windy Bay (Haida site) this morning and it’s flat calm around Burnaby Island. Signing off as we’ve just spotted a whale.

June 21: After the spectacular intertidal life and rainforest ecosystems of the Burnaby Narrows area, we’ve cruised all the way down the east coast of Kungit Island and around the tip. We’re anchored in Luxana Bay on the southern end of Haida Gwaii, facing south. It’s 10 pm, the sky still has some light, and we’re headed ashore for a beach bonfire to celebrate the summer solstice.

- reports from expedition leader Kevin

Learn more about the Haida Gwaii trips |  Inquire about the trips

Haida Gwaii with Canadian Geographic and Wade Davis, both ships, June 10-18, 2015

Read the full report with photos – coming this week.

Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, May 30-June 8 (ongoing)

Today at a sea lion rookery we witnessed numerous newborn pups, with gulls eating up the fresh afterbirth. The sound and smell were also quite a sensory experience!

- update from naturalist Sherry

Great Bear Rainforest and Kitlope, SV Maple Leaf – May 23-30

The Kitlope River and estuary, and the terminus of the Gardner Canal, the longest fjord on the coast. Photo by John Zada.

Started the trip with a conversation at Kitamaat village with elder Cecil Paul. Everything we talked about with him stayed with us throughout the whole trip and we referred back often to his words and concepts.

Some other highlights included the scenery & waterfalls of the Gardner canal [the coast's longest fjord], travelling up the Kitlope River and making it up to the lake as per Cecil’s guidance; finding tracks of bears, wolves, cats, deer, moose & river otter in many places that we explored; seeing a spring bear.

Seeing mountain goats high in the hills. Soaking in 2 hotsprings. Seeing a group of close to 20 orca in a mini superpod with lots of playful activity & vocalizatons that we picked up on the hydrophone … possibly even some mating behaviour.

A great sail in Caamano Sound. Seeing fin whales including a group of 6 that came rushing towards the Maple Leaf. Many humpback whales, including a group of 6 that were doing coordinated group bubble-net feeding. We put the hydrophone down again, and listened to the ‘otherworldly’ bubble-net feeding calls. WOW!!!

[special bonus photos above and below of the Kitlope region from the airplane by John Zada - thank you, John]

- report from Capt. Greg

Kowesas (Chief Matthews Bay) in top left, Kemaano on bottom right, and the Gardner Canal slicing through the coast mountains. Photo by John Zada.

Part of the route of this trip, in the Gardner Canal, Great Bear Rainforest. Photo by John Zada.

Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Is), MV Swell – May 13-21 and May 22-30

Beautiful highlights as usual from Haida Gwaii, including the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site, SGang Gwaay.

We had an amazing Orca show in Richardson Inlet, a pod of about 5 to 8 feeding.

The weather was sunny every day, some folks did some kayaking in Island Bay and we mounted an expedition far up Rose Inlet.

We had an amazing inter-tidal show at Burnaby Narrows (aka Dolomite Narrows). Afterward the walk in the ancient rainforest to a culturally modified tree was a hit.

We had breaching Humpbacks at Scudder Point, and a huge line of moon jellies in Crescent Inlet and as always beautiful intertidal and sub-tidal life at Burnaby Narrows.

One evening in Bishchof Islands we decided to be a Pirate raiding party and jumped into the skiff and went to a float house in the inner bay and found a rat eradication work party of Parks Canada employees. They gave us a Rat-Pack of traps, poison and stickers.
The raiding party was successful, we returned with booty.

Also at Bischoff Islands we found a nesting pair of bald eagles. A good photo op.

– reports from Capt. Dave

Vancouver Island to Great Bear Rainforest, SV Maple Leaf – May 6-13 (updated)

May 7:
Just got the anchor down behind the Walkem Isles in Johnstone Strait.
It’s been an epic day, with 3 great shore trips, including an exploration of Vondonop Inlet, a hike up to a favourite hidden lake, and then two hours of a low-tide, intertidal float through, with naturalist Barb in a wetsuit and snorkel, in a high current pass / beach area.
The afternoon’s highlight was a pod of 4 transient / Bigg’s orcas, that seemed to be headed for Hole in the Wall at the same slack tide we were heading for.

[editor's note: The Orca Navigators & Hole in the Wall

On the BC and Alaska coast, huge surges of water through narrow passageways, as the tide rises and falls each day, create very strong currents, and sometimes whirlpools.

These currents are dangerous to navigation and some of them should only be transited when the current is 'slack'. Slack is the small time between the ebb (when the tide goes out) and flood (when the tide comes in). The water is not really moving at slack, so there is no current. This is a safe time to transit. There are usually 4 slacks a day.

All competent navigators keep track of these moments of slack, and plan their trips to go through passes at slack tide. The time of these moments of slack changes every day by about half an hour.

When I said all competent navigators above, I mean all competent navigators ...whether they are human or another species! People on the coast have observed for a long time that the orcas also know when slack tide will be at these passes. One of coastal boating life's great joys is to transit a pass in the company of a family of orcas -- who are so clearly seeming to be doing the same thing you are, for the same reason.]

May 8:

Today, we accomplished a big travelling day, with stops, the entire length of Johnstone Strait and out to Queen Charlotte Strait.

We had great Pacific White-sided Dolphins with us for a long ride today up Johnstone Strait.

Then a great hike in the Broughton Archipelago, from a place called Pig’s Ranch (no pigs or ranch now just rainforest) up to spectacular views at Eagle Eye, on on a hot afternoon.

Naturalist Barb was great with entertaining info and I even got our chef out for the hike, complete with an epic picnic lunch we provided for everyone at the look-out on top.

Tonight, en route to our anchorage, we spent time with a lovely humpback whale. Anchoring in Sunday Anchorage tonight.

- report from Capt. Kevin

May 9:

A morning spent with charismatic sea lions. Then some fishing en route to a beautiful cove on Northern Vancouver Island. Here’s a photo of one of our guest’s catches: a ling cod.

Photo by Kevin Smith

May 10:

An epic day as we left the islands of southern BC and in flat calm weather crossed to the mainland and rounded Cape Caution. Heading to the Hakai Recreation area and a great beach.

- Reports from Capt. Kevin

May 13:

The last couple of days have included exploring an offshore island group we rarely get to – always exciting to see who and what is living in these rugged and remote places that nonetheless have plenty of food for marine life due to strong currents bringing lots of nutrients through.

On our last morning, a gift from the Great Bear Rainforest: One of the elusive coastal wolves allowed us to see her or him, and to spend time together in the estuary.

- Reports from Capt. Kevin

Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), MV Swell – May 5-13 (updated)

Weather is absolutely GORGEOUS in Haida Gwaii, yesterday, today, and in the forecast for a few more days at least. Pinching ourselves and enjoying the moment!

After the land day exploring northern Haida Gwaii and the Masset and Skidegate areas, last night was spent at anchor in Thurston Hbr.

Today we did a skiff tour around the Tar Islands – very impressive intertidal life.

Enjoyed 4 hours ashore at Windy Bay – beautiful new Legacy pole, friendly watchmen, very informative, plus a forest hike with the watchmen through old growth and the old village site.

Several breaching humpbacks (including a mother that seemed to be teaching her calf how to breach) on the way to Ikeada Cove.

Anchored here overnight for early departure to SGaang Gwaay tomorrow morning.

- Report from Capt. Alex

May 8:

Another epic day!
Whales at Garcin Rock. Puffins at Flat Rock.
Great low tide beach exploration. Skiff tour up Louscoone Inlet. A real paradise cove found at North end of Skindaskun Island.

SGang Gwaay in the evening. Brilliant day!

- Report from Capt. Alex

May 12:

The anchor is down Carmichale Pass, and we’re putting on a last night wine and cheese party (and smoked sablefish), with a slideshow.

This morning we visited K’uuna (Skedans), and as we approached we had another humpback whale on the starboard side.

We counted 100 bald eagles at Skedans Islands.

Another great day today!

- Report from Capt. Alex

Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage (south), SV Maple Leaf – Apr 22-29

Captain Tavish reported it was a beautiful trip, starting in the very south of the southern Gulf Islands National Park reserve and finishing at Campbell River.

The trip started with a humpback whale feeding in Boundary Pass (the boundary referred to is the Canada – USA boundary), and abundant marine birds and mammals in the outer Gulf Islands.

Days of beach-combing, some epic sailing, rainforest walks and hikes, waterfalls, porpoises, beach bonfires, island explorations and 4 cool transient orcas (killer whales) rounded out the trip.

Photo of the Maple Leaf on this trip sailing in Georgia Strait with all five sails up is by Tavish Campbell.

- Report from Capt. Tavish.

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History of the Tugboat Swell

The Swell is one of British Columbia’s most historic ships. Her classic tugboat frame has pulled the materials that created some of BC’s major ports, and been featured in a national television drama.

Here is a brief history of the Swell.

This is a work in progress and as we discover more, and time allows, we’ll add to it.

1912: The Swell is Born

Swell in the 1920s in Victoria, BC, Inner Harbour. The man on the stern is Ivan H Clarke. We have this photo courtesy of Michael Kaehn, Ivan's grandson. Ivan was the youngest person on the coast then to obtain his Master's certificate on the west coast. He was 21.

Swell was built in Vancouver, BC, by Arthur Moscrop, in 1912.

1912 was a booming year for the economy of the new Canadian settlements on the coast. Victoria, the oldest city, had been around in one form or another since the 1840s, and Vancouver since more recently. (Before that, the site of Victoria was used for millenia by Coast Salish communities.) While Victoria had once been the only centre of commerce, once Vancouver was established it swiftly gained on, and then overtook, Victoria. Still, in 1912, buildings were going up at a huge pace in the city of Victoria, a boom that lasted until the outbreak of World War I 2 years later.

Plaque on the wall of Victoria, BC's Inner Harbour commemmorating the Victoria Tug Company, her founder and her boats including the Swell. Photo courtesy Marion Freeman and Asif Haque.

Swell was purpose built for the Victoria Tug Company, incorporated by George McGregor and Capt. Dan McPherson in August 1912. The Swell was their new, coal-fired steam tug. She was launched with an 18 horsepower steam engine. She complimented the two tugs that Victoria Tug Company already had — the Sadie (b. 1982) and the Spray (b. 1907).

Of the company’s eight tugboats, the Swell is the only one still working.

[Incidentally, steam power became popular in the 1800s as a reliable way to move ships that formerly were dependent on the wind for propulsion.]

1912 to 1954: Coal-Fired Steam Tug of the Coast

Aboard Swell in 1930. The men are Chalres Scholls and Dan Mullen. Photo courtesy of the Maritime Museum of BC.

She’s had a varied history in more than a century on the BC coast, and has touched the lives of hundreds of people. A mere mention of her in a local newspaper generates emails and phone calls from people who worked on her or whose family members worked on her. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a historic vessel.

The logo of the Victoria Tug Company in the 1920s. Drawn by Bob Spearing.

Her tow-loads have included the full variety of things that get moved by water — and on a coastline with few roads and thousands of islands, eventually almost everything gets moved by water: coal, wood, metal, machinery, acid… the list goes on. Some notable loads include towing a scow-load of steel from Seattle, WA all the way up to Prince Rupert, BC in 1928 (a busy port near the Alaska border) for the shipyard there. She was in and out of Klemtu, on BC’s central coast, as well during those years.

1954 to 2004: Diesel Tug, TV Star and Changing Times

The Swell in Victoria's harbour in 1962. You can see the Johnson Street Bridge in the background. This bridge was constructed in 1924 and is being replaced in 2015-2016. Photo courtesy of the Maritime Museum of BC

In 1954, Swell’s power was converted to a 400 horsepower diesel engine.

During this period of her life, Swell spent much time on the south coast of British Columbia, particularly in the southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island area.

In 1959, Island Tug and Barge acquired Victoria Tug Co and ITB continued to operate the Swell until 1972. They sold her to Thomas Stockdale and Paul Stenner (later Thomas Stockdale and Robert Genn) who used her as a yacht for seven years.

During this time, Swell starred in an episode of the CBC’s popular primetime show The Beachcombers. The episode, airing in October 1974, was called The Swell! In it, Jesse decides to run off and join the crew of The Swell.

The Swell starred in an episode of The Beachcombers (s3, e 3) in October 1974. The episode was even called The Swell.

In a wonderful episode of serendipity, immediately after Maple Leaf Adventures’ maiden voyage on the Swell, former owner Paul Stenner found Swell and Kevin Smith on the dock at Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC. We had just learned about the Beachcombers episode about 3 weeks earlier. Paul handed Kevin a copy of the episode which we have now on board, and brought us a painting of Swell that artist Robert Genn made. This painting now hangs proudly in her wheelhouse.

From 1979 to 2004, Swell became a working tugboat again.

2004 to present: Swell Is Reborn As a Passenger Vessel

In 2004, the Swell underwent a $3.5 million refit.

The refit was lovingly done by her then-owner Big Time Sport Fishing, and the coastal tradespeople and shipwrights who worked on her. The shipwrights, Spiller Boats, are also coincidentally the shipwrights who do work for our other ship the SV Maple Leaf.

In 2014-5, Maple Leaf Adventures augmented that refit with a small refit to make her a greener, more energy efficient ship, as well as to improve the interior space design, alter some cabins, and give her decor an update.

Her maiden voyage as a boutique expedition ship was April 16-20, 2015 in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve / Salish Sea area of southern BC.

The voyage began with a blessing ceremony in which three honourary godmothers (Penelakut elder Florence James, conservationist Vicky Husband, and shareholder and teacher Diane Hackett) blessed the ship, and Maple Leaf Adventures president Kevin Smith, under the direction of elder Florence James, struck the ship four times with a cedar bough and then Capt. Alex Ruur fastened it to the ship’s bow. This cedar bough continues to travel with her until it falls off. As of June 18 in Haida Gwaii, the bough was still attached.

Penelakut elder Florence James, blessing the Swell before her maiden voyage with Maple Leaf Adventures, April 2015. Photo by Mary Morris.

Kevin Smith performing a traditional boat blessing with a cedar frond, under the direction of Penelakut elder Florence James, April 2015. Swell's three honourary godmothers observe. From far left they are Diane Hackett, Vicky Husband and Florence James. Photo by Mary Morris.

A traditional European ship blessing with a Vancouver Island twist. Kevin Smith pours a bottle of Saanich sparkling cider (from Sea Cider) on the ship, to show that the company will spend the appropriate money maintaining the ship - including pouring away an entire bottle of bubbly. Godmother and shareholder Diane Hackett looks on. Photo by Mary Morris.

Maple Leaf operations manager Given Davies with a celebratory toast drink for the guests. Photo by Mary Morris.

With our thanks to the following people for information, stories or photographs of Swell’s history: Bob Spearing, Rick Senkler, the Maritime Museum of BC, Michael Kaehn, Josephine Bohemier, William Allan, Greg Evans.

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Slide Show from Haida Gwaii trip with Maple Leaf Adventures, Canadian Geographic and Wade Davis

Some selected photos from an amazing trip. THANK YOU to the photographers Greg Shea, Jeff Reynolds, Kevin Smith and Maureen Gordon of Maple Leaf Adventures.

Can’t see it? View it here, instead.

Learn more about a Haida Gwaii trip like this.

Posted in Expedition Notes, Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands, Trip Insights & Experiences | Leave a comment

Moments from a Haida Gwaii Expedition Cruise with Canadian Geographic and Wade Davis, June 2015

by Maureen Gordon, crew member

The SV Maple Leaf and MV Swell rafted up together, flying the flags of Canadian Geographic and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Photo (c) Jeff Reynolds

On a small island, on the edge of a continental shelf, in the setting sun, Reg Wesley opens a box. Out comes a 4-inch, argillite raven in Reg’s hand. It’s like I’m struck.

We stand where I have been fortunate to stand before, under the giant spruce and cedar trees on the edge of Gwaii Haanas’ most spiritual site — which in turn is on the edge of the wondrous archipelago of Haida Gwaii, which in turn is on the edge of an inland sea and the wild and open Pacific ocean. Standing here this time, with Reg’s tiny raven carving, is different. To me, the raven is like a singularity, pulling past and present and future into a single, dense, black point.

Haida carver and watchman Reg Wesley and his carving. Photo (c) Kevin J. Smith

Reg has carved the raven from one of the most well-known Haida origin stories: Raven Steals the Light. (In it, Raven wants the light that an old man keeps hidden in a box within other boxes in his house, and the whole world is dark. You have to hear the story from a Haida teller, but suffice to say, Raven tricks and transforms as is his modus operandi, and the world is still light today, so you know how the story ends.)

The story has been illustrated many times beautifully with the giant raven bird holding the light in his beak. But Reg’s take is different.

His raven is the raven moments before that — still a human boy in dawn light, with some bird characteristics and weird feathers sticking here and there out of his skin. To me, it seems a more modern take on an ancient and magnificent story and I love it. It may not be, for I am no expert, but the thought and Reg’s tale of his recent return to carving fits what I’ve been thinking the whole time we’ve walked below the monumental poles here at SGang Gwaay today: all around us are stories, and these stories have always been alive; they are not relics of the past as people often think.

A bear mother mortuary pole, SGang Gwaay. Photo (c) Kevin J. Smith

The poles recite stories over and over as they face the beach. Carved long ago, the killer whales and bears, frogs and humans have been broadcasting people’s stories every time someone lays eyes on them. They never stopped. Each pole is a compilation of stories that are key to the identity of the person buried in them or of their family lineage. What’s more, they are stories of this place that use the animal people with whom we share the coast as key characters.

For a century, some people thought these stories were dying. They carted many of the village’s magnificent poles to museums to preserve them. Some people thought these stories were idolatry. They tried to remove them from the Haida’s upbringing. But you just have to come to Haida Gwaii and you know neither of those assumptions is true. The characters are not idols to be worshipped; they are humans and our fellow creatures. And the stories live on because they are a real way of knowing and describing what it is to be human on this coast, and the Haida never let that go.

Haida artist Christian White talks to us in his carving shed in Old Masset. Wade Davis looks on. Photo (c) Maureen Gordon

We’ve seen this since the day we set foot in Masset a week ago. At Christian White’s big house, he and his family generously fed us and shared dances and songs that told their stories. We’ve seen it since we caressed the beautiful pole full of stories that Christian is carving right now. And since the next day at the Haida Heritage Centre near Skidegate, when young Alex told us how much she had enjoyed learning the stories so that she could share them – including those on the recently carved poles at the centre – with us.

A Haida Gwaii black bear on the beach. Photo (c) Greg Shea

We have encountered the ravens and eagles and bears of this place, and have known them not just as species in nature but as the characters that people have lived with for so long here.

Anchored at SGang Gwaay. Photo (c) Kevin J. Smith

At SGang Gwaay, we stay quite a while with Reg talking about his carving, so long that the sun is slipping below Moresby Island’s mountains as we ride the waves away from the beach. Our ship, the schooner Maple Leaf, leans back a little on her anchor in the breeze. The sun gilds the sea mist in the air and silhouettes the ship and islands into a dream world, filled with mystery and possibility.

Later that evening, after dinner and after the Maple Leaf has rafted up in Louscoone Inlet with our expedition’s second ship the Swell, we gather to hear anthropologist and storyteller Wade Davis talk about human cultures and their approaches to living on this planet. We are eighteen guests and 10 crew including Wade and eminent ecologist Bristol Foster.

Talking with Wade Davis in the Swell's salon. Photo (c) Jeff Reynolds

In the Swell’s cozy salon near the rainforest, just around the corner from SGang Gwaay, we hear about the genius of human culture as it evolves over millennia to understand and succeed in a particular place, including the culture of the Haida in Haida Gwaii. I wonder how many of us are holding the faces of SGang Gwaay’s killer whale or bear mother poles in our minds, or thinking, in those moments, about the small piece of argillite that has become a raven in the hands of a re-born Haida carver. A raven that is in the process of transforming again, holding the light of the future in his beak.

View a slide show from this trip here.

Posted in Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands, Trip Insights & Experiences | Leave a comment

Two Ships, Two Television Stars

When you’ve got more than a century to your life, you can have a lot of secrets. This spring, we discovered that our two ships each held a little-known past as television stars!

Not only that, both ships lured people away from their families and friends in each show.

The Swell – The Beachcombers (1974)

In April, a tugboat historian told us that Swell had been featured in an episode of the classic Canadian drama The Beachcombers. It’s from 1974 and the episode is named “The Swell”. Then, not three weeks later, a man on the dock at Sidney walked up to the ship and handed over a copy of the episode!

The man had been the owner of Swell when she was chartered to the CBC for the filming. For you Beachcombers buffs out there, you may remember it; here’s the episode summary:

  • The Swell – 03×03 – Oct 6, 1974 – Jesse is beguiled by the harum-scarum antics of the crew of “The Swell”, and decides to sign on, abandoning Molly’s Reach and Nick’s Salvage for a change of pace aboard this madcap tug-cum-freighter. An incredulous Molly spearheads a series of efforts to bring Jesse to his senses before she and the family realize they must let him go his own way. Guests: Vladimir Valenta, Neil Dainard, and Allan Anderson
  • The episode is available for watching on board the Swell.

But our ships weren’t finished surprising us with their screen-time.

The Maple Leaf – Danger Bay (CBC, 1989)

A month later, the Maple Leaf’s former owner Brian Falconer, told us that the Maple Leaf starred in an episode of the popular CBC primetime drama Danger Bay!

In the Feb. 1989 episode Before The Mast, Jonah and Nicole sign on as crew to take a beautiful, antique tall ship to Haida Gwaii (then commonly referred to as the Queen Charlotte Islands).

You can watch it here:

Posted in Neat Stuff | Leave a comment

The Financial Times Covers Swell’s Maiden Voyage 2015

The venerable Financial Times magazine assigned writer Caroline Eden to cover this new way of exploring British Columbia, Canada — on a classic, converted, real tugboat.

Caroline flew out to cover the ship’s maiden voyage – 5 days in the Gulf Islands region during the April wildflower / wildlife bloom.

“Brilliant spring sunlight bounced off a flotilla of mil- lion-dollar yachts that lined the harbour in Sidney, British Columbia. But among the glossy white pleasure boats one vessel stood out: a burly 80-foot tug with a handsome black bow.”

So she begins her story.

Click the image below for a full PDF with photos from the Financial Times.

Click for the story.

Posted in Gulf Islands (BC) National Park, News, Trip Insights & Experiences | Leave a comment

Sustainable Bear Viewing Wins Over Trophy Hunting Every Time

by Maureen Gordon, Maple Leaf Adventures

Photography guests 'shooting' bears with their camera and showing support for the ban on trophy hunting. Taken on a Maple Leaf Adventures trip in 2014 by Kevin Smith.

Here we are, April 1, 2015, and unbelievably it is the opening of another season in which people are permitted to enter our protected areas and kill grizzly bears just for fun.

But April 1 is also about the time that adventure tourism starts to pick up in British Columbia – and another, much more lucrative industry involving bears is starting up: sustainable bear viewing.

In fact, we think bear viewing wins against the trophy hunt no matter which way you view it:

  • Ethics: Providing delightful, educational experiences in proximity to bears without harassing them (bear viewing) versus frightening, injuring, stressing or killing them to get some paws, pelt or head to mount on one’s wall (trophy hunting). For us, sustainable bear viewing is clearly more ethical. Coastal first nations in the Great Bear Rainforest think so too. We respect and support their ban on trophy hunting.
  • Economics: Sustainable bear viewing right now provides 12 times the revenues as trophy hunting and there is lots more growth possible. Furthermore, bear viewing employs far more people in the province.
  • Conservation: Bear viewing ‘uses’ the resource (bears in their natural habitat behaving naturally) without reducing their population or giving a negative impact. In fact, the more people who view these bears in a sustainable manner and within the carrying capacity of the habitat, the more support there is for conservation of our natural areas. This is particularly important when the province does not have confirmed population numbers for grizzly bears in BC.
  • Popular support: Almost 90% of British Columbians support ending the trophy hunt in BC. (Note that the trophy hunt is about killing animals for fun. This is very different from food hunting, which typically targets prey species like deer rather than top predators (wolves, bears) like trophy hunting.

We’ve written about this for decades.

This year, we’re just going to provide links to what you can do: (1) action, (2) getting educated, and (3) supporting the sustainable bear viewing industry in BC with your dollars.

Write to the BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Shirley Bond,
PO BOX 9071
V8W 9E2

Wanted Alive, Not Dead: The Case for Thriving Bears in BC by Kevin Smith, president, Maple Leaf Adventures

Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, Centre for Responsible Travel and Stanford University

The need for proper bear population statistics, bears and salmon, and the purchase of trophy hunt licences by a conservation organization, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

Articles and videos from Pacific Wild.

The Coastal First Nations ban on trophy hunting.

Film about the issue, set in the very same estuary that the photo above was taken in, on

Supporting Sustainable Bear Viewing Businesses
One of the most powerful ways we vote is by deciding how we spend our money and where it goes. Come out with one of the many sustainable bear viewing organizations (see the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC for members) in BC. The more we are all successful together, the clearer the economic argument becomes.

By taking bear viewing trip (or a trip with bear viewing as one part of it) you’ll delight yourself, while also supporting a sustainable future.

If you’re interested in Maple Leaf Adventures trips, we have a few trips with availability for 2015 in BC or Alaska:

  • Great Bear Rainforest Spring, May 15-22
  • Great Bear Rainforest and Kitlope, May 23-30
  • Alaska Adventure, July 8-17, July 19-28
  • Great Bear Rainforest, Aug 17-25, Aug 26-Sep 3, Oct 2-10

For itineraries and details, visit or contact us.

And, happy International Bear Day, April 1st!

Posted in Conservation, Ecotourism | Comments Off

Spirit bear mum & cubs on CBC Nature of Things Tonight

Mum and cub.

Spirit bears are the focus of a nature television show this evening on CBC’s long-running Nature of Things, at 8 pm.

Those who travelled with us in the Great Bear Rainforest in 2014 will see a mum you may remember: the spirit bear mum with black cubs we visited on Gribbell Island last fall with Maple Leaf and Marven. She’s the star of the show.

Although her focus is looking after her little cubs, she’s a poster child for the genetics of spirit bears. She’s white, her cubs are black. All of them carry the spirit bear genes and could have spirit bear children. The white bears are protected from hunting. The black ones are not. And yet if the goal is to protect spirit bears, the black ones should be protected too.

And for those of us that appreciate bears for their bear-ness and not for the colour of their fur, we believe that all bears, which are not a prey species in nature, are deserving of life unthreatened by hunting.

Here are a few amazing photos taken by Phil Stone on one of Maple Leaf’s Great Bear Rainforest trips to this mum’s territory last fall.

Spirit bear mum with one of her black-furred cubs, taken at Gribbell Island with Maple Leaf Adventures' guides and Marven Robinson, 2014

Fishing (mum) and sort-of fishing (cub).

One theory about why spirit bears occur in such a concentration in the Great Bear Rainforest / Nass Valley area of British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, is that they have a fishing advantage over a black-furred bear during the day. Why? Because to a salmon looking up from a riverbed, a white bear looks more like the sky. That’s thanks to Dr. Tom Reimchen, at the University of Victoria and his research in the area.

Viewing the bears fishing on a Maple Leaf Adventures expedition cruise with our expert bear guides and Marven Robinson of the Gitga'at nation.

Mum and both her cubs.

Posted in Animals, Wildlife Research | Comments Off


Is there something in the water in Victoria, BC? It’s a hotspot for eco-tourism, says independent third-party evaluator Green Tourism Canada.

At Maple Leaf Adventures, we are proud to have our office in a city and on a coast that places huge value on conservation based business. Hooray to all of our colleagues here and all along the coast who are making the world a better place, and proving that business and conservation can go hand in hand!

Below is the news story from Green Tourism Canada:

Maple Leaf Adventures was first certified by Green Tourism Canada since the program's start in 2011, and has been certified at the top level - Gold - ever since.


For Immediate Release                                                                      March 25, 2015


Four Victoria-based businesses have achieved Gold Certification by the internationally recognized Green Tourism program, for outstanding leadership in sustainability.

Victoria BC – Based on the world’s most credible sustainable tourism program[1], Green Tourism has certified over 2300 businesses in the UK, Ireland and Canada, and is the only 100% third-party verified sustainability certification program for tourism businesses.

Sustainability is a top priority in Victoria. “We view our destination and the landscape as a natural advantage and have written the concept of sustainability into our organization’s constitution and bylaws,” says Paul Nursey, President & CEO of Tourism Victoria.

Carbon measurement, supporting conservation education and offering local and organic food options are just some of the extras the Victoria-based Gold rated tour companies are being recognized for.

Kevin Smith of Maple Leaf Adventures, an advocate for ecotourism and conservation travel.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the program, and I encourage all other companies that value sustainability to participate,” says Kevin Smith, president of Maple Leaf Adventures. Maple Leaf offers boutique expedition cruises to pristine fjords and archipelagos of BC and Alaska, and have always operated with eco-tourism principles in mind.

Another Gold member, Brett Soberg from Eagle Wing Tours Ltd. states, “Being able to show the industry our Gold certification with Green Tourism was a very important factor in Eagle Wing Tours being recognized by it’s peers at the TIAC 2014 Canadian Tourism awards. We were presented with the Sustainable Tourism Award for making an outstanding contribution to the practice and promotion of sustainable tourism in Canada”. Eagle Wing Tours is a carbon neutral whale watching company who also contribute to 1% for the Planet and wildlife research, among their long list of environmental initiatives and awards.

Maple Leaf Adventures and Eagle Wing Tours were the first tour operators to become certified in Victoria, but others are quickly following suit. A 3-Hour Sail and Outer Shores Expeditions have recently become Gold members as well. “Conservation and the well-being of the ecosystems, cultures and communities of coastal British Columbia has always been at the very heart of the Outer Shores mission,” says Russell Markel, Outer Shores Expeditions President and Captain. “We felt it important to apply for the Green Tourism Canada rating because we wanted to be able to assure our guests and ourselves that we are doing all we can to ensure this beautiful region remains beautiful forever.

Rob McCallum, owner of A 3-Hour Sail adds, “We are committed to working in a sustainable way and the Green Tourism program provides mentorship and guidance in order to continually improve our sustainability practices”.

Next to be certified in Victoria is Victoria Harbour Ferry Co. who decided to join Green Tourism to become both more conscious and actionable around their environmental impact.

“To get certified, members must have sufficient scoring in each category. They could be amazing at recycling, but if they aren’t doing anything to promote active transportation or using energy efficient lighting, they may not receive their grading,” explains Lindsay Eason, Program Manager. “And that is why we are so proud of all the Gold Certified members around Victoria”, adds Eason. “The tour companies really know what it takes to operate in a sustainable way, not just in their operations but in the way they communicate with their guests and community.

With over 70 businesses certified or awaiting grading in BC, the program will begin expanding into other Canadian provinces in 2015. Green Tourism is the largest certification program of its kind in the world, helping members minimize waste, promoting the use of local suppliers, and advising on how to use water and energy efficiently, among several other areas related to green business. The program allocates Bronze, Silver and Gold awards to members who are assessed by independent auditors on more than 140 measures in eleven categories.

Tourism businesses and travelers interested in learning more about the program can visit or contact Romina Rooney at 1-800-469-7830 or email



Green Tourism Canada

Lindsay Eason, Green Tourism Program Manager

250-862-8941 ext 102

A 3-Hour Sail

Rob McCallum


Outer Shores Expeditions

Taya McAstocker

1-855-714-7233 (toll free)

Maple Leaf Adventures

Kevin Smith


Eagle Wing Tours

Brett Soberg


Victoria Harbour Ferry Co.

Sandy Ibrahim


Tourism Victoria

Tessa Humphries


About Green Tourism in Canada

By choosing a Green Tourism business in Canada, travellers are guaranteed:

That the business:

§  Is committed to sustainable tourism and minimizing its damage to the environment

§  Is operating in accordance with the relevant environmental regulations

That the site:

§  Meets minimum standards of good practice across a range of sustainable development indicators.

§  Has been audited by a qualified professional to ensure standards are maintained.

That we will:

§  Reassess the site every two years based upon a set of regularly updated sustainable development standards

§  Investigate any complaints received about the environmental performance or commitment of the business.

For tourism industry operators the Green Tourism criteria offers guidelines to tourism businesses on how to make their operations more sustainable while still delivering a high quality service. When developing the criteria consideration has been given to a wide range of social and environmental factors, as well as up-to-date technological developments. There are over 150 individual measures in the criteria, which focus on 10 different areas. Each business is scored on up to 60 measures and the results will establish what award level they have achieved, i.e. Going Green, Bronze, Silver, or Gold.

About Green Tourism in the UK

The Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) was originally developed by Shetland Environmental Agency Ltd (SEA Ltd) in the UK, and this company holds the primary copyright and intellectual property rights to all program material, criteria, workbooks, audit & report forms etc.

GTBS is the only sustainable tourism certification program in the UK endorsed by VisitEngland, VisitScotland, VisitWales and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.  The program has been validated by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism and there are over 2,400 GTBS certified members throughout the UK and Ireland.  Businesses are graded Bronze, Silver or Gold by qualified environmental assessors and can benefit from a significant marketing advantage and reduced running costs of up to 20%.

Green Tourism members are promoted through numerous websites including Expedia, Travelocity,, Sustrans, Booking Services International, Inntel and TripSketch iphone App.  Other benefits include discounts and offers with green suppliers, monthly e-newsletters and technical support through the members area.

Green Tourism was commissioned in 2007 by Qualmark, New Zealand to assist in the development of the Enviro-Mark program for New Zealand Tourism.  Green Tourism provided support and technical expertise for the Enviro-Mark program from 2007 – 2010. Green Tourism has also been working with the West Swedish Tourist Board since 2010 to help them develop a sustainability and quality tool for tourism businesses throughout Sweden.

About GreenStep Solutions Inc.

GreenStep Solutions Inc.  holds the exclusive license to deliver the Green Tourism program in Canada, and for seven years has worked with businesses and organizations to help them go green while providing a return on their investment, primarily through cost savings and marketing opportunities that attract new customers.

GreenStep provides facilitation services, sustainability education, and policy analysis in addition to conducting energy, waste, water and transportation assessments for businesses and making recommendations to reduce their costs and resource use.

[1] Totem Tourism Greenwash Report 2013

Posted in Green Business, News | Comments Off