When not logging, trapping, or fishing, Proctor explores the inlets and abandoned camps and villages along the Broughton Archipelago
by Anne Ikeda
On a recent voyage on board the MV Aurora Explorer, we had the unscheduled pleasure of meeting B.C. Mainland Islands' best-known citizen, Billy Proctor. I rather naively thought it would be nice for him, living so far away from it all as he does, to have some company. Turns out Proctor Bay is a popular stop with hundreds of boaters calling in to see Billy's Museum and chat with the man himself.
The Aurora Explorer is a working boat that operates out of Menzies Bay, just north of Campbell River. It delivers freight to remote inlets and villages along the coast and twelve hearty passengers go along for the ride. Captain Ron Stevenson welcomed us on board and told us that this trip would include dropping off cargo as diverse as building materials for a Hollywood star's new house and seedlings for replanting at the head of Knight Inlet. We were on the Broughton Archipelago route which meant that we would head north but our exact route was dictated by the cargo stops booked for the five days of our trip. Time and tide willing, stops would be made along the way for shore excursions and beachcombing.
As we got to know our fellow passengers over dinner, served with the Aurora Explorer's specially labeled Okanagan wine, it was obvious we were on to something special. Half of them were repeat customers lured back by the magnificent scenery, good company, great food and what I have come to call the "Aurora Effect." Chugging along at a maximum speed of seven knots, it's impossible not to slow down and live in the oh-so-relaxing moment.
In the library of books about the West Coast available in the lounge of the boat was Heart of the Raincoast, the life story of Billy Proctor as told by Alexandra Morton with commentary by Billy and poems by his mother Jae. Billy was born in 1934 and has lived and worked his whole life in the Mainland Islands -- the islands on the mainland side of Queen Charlotte Strait across from Alert Bay. His love for the place is deep. When not logging, trapping, or fishing, he would explore the inlets and abandoned camps and villages. Here he found a large and varied number of artifacts.
Billy's beachcombing has yielded a collection of native artifacts, bottles, fishing gear, a 1901 Eaton's catalogue, household appliances -- you name it, it has floated up on to the shores of the Mainland Islands. His collection grew and can now be viewed, meticulously classified, at Billy's Museum. Admission is by donation and proceeds pay the wages of the manager at the Scott Cove salmon hatchery. Having seen salmon stocks dwindle over the years for various reasons, Billy has been actively involved in re-stocking and rehabilitating streams where the salmon had all but disappeared.
When we visited Proctor Bay, Billy and his dog, Goldie, met us at the dock and watched as we carefully tied up next to his troller Ocean Dawn. Billy joined the crew for breakfast and to catch up on the news. We then disembarked and climbed the boardwalk to the museum on one side of the tidy Proctor family homestead.
Billy was an affable host eager to share his knowledge with us city folk. As you leave the museum, turn left and you will find a gift shop! We were not alone in being surprised to find a shopping opportunity in such a remote location. Billy told us about one visitor who left the museum and hurried off towards the dock, hoping his wife would not notice the shop. When she made that left turn and disappeared into the store he just looked at Billy and said "Mayday, mayday, mayday!"
After doing our bit for the economy of Proctor Bay, we continued our journey through the passages and around the islands. One other shore excursion was at Yorke Island, where we hiked up to the remains of a Second World War gun emplacement strategically overlooking Johnstone Strait. On the trail six of us circled an ancient red cedar to give it a hug. Another privileged introduction to this special corner of the West Coast.
Anne Ikeda lives in Richmond.