Welcome to BC Travel Gems, your guide to extraordinary people and places of coastal British Columbia, my favourite stomping grounds! You’re in luck, because this is NOT your typical travel site; it’s a new, more intimate approach for intelligent, discerning explorers; those who are thrilled with the process of discovery and want to relish taking in all the nuances—the sights, scents and sounds—that deepen the experience of travelling. BC Travel Gems is filled with remarkable images, interviews, stories, reviews, news and conversations of the real people and places that make this beautiful place so special. If you want to go beyond the basics to find out what’s truly unique, outstanding, and beyond the ordinary, come join me, and watch us grow: I can’t wait to get started!
Professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University in Victoria; Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Public Ethnography appointed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Ethnographer Phillip Vannini is author of eight books, including the fascinating Ferry Tales (2011, Routledge), a study of marine mobility, performance, and ritual in the Gulf Islands of southwestern British Columbia. Truly "cutting-edge" in both its theoretical positioning and presentational format, the book was written and designed to be used in conjunction with a companion website which allows the visitor/reader to interact with sound recordings, maps, and photographic images at key points in the text, bringing a very real and engaging presentation of the social construction of place, time, and identity in a region so largely dependent upon ferry travel. A native of Italy, his initial trips to the region cemented a love of place and drew him back repeatedly until the time he was able to move permanently with his family to Gabriola Island. It was there, on a bench near the island's magnificent Malaspina Galleries overlooking the Salish Sea, where he agreed to meet with me for an interview this past summer.
GL: I'm impressed that you've done nearly four-hundred interviews!
PV: Oh, for the Ferry Tales project, yeah. That was four years of my life. I was trying to do about a dozen interviews for every ferry-dependent community, and it turned out to be more because it was such a hot topic regionally that, as soon as people caught word that I was on the island—whichever island it might have been—then people were emailing me to say, "Hey, come talk to me! I've got a story to share." It ended up being a lot more work than I actually bargained for. So yeah, it turned out to be just about four-hundred interviews over four years.
GL: So you didn't imagine that it would take nearly that long?
PV: I figured it would be three years because I was bound by the timeline of the grant that I was working under, but I definitely did not think it would take that much interviewing to get to the bottom of it. And I think that the story there is that I completely underestimated how different each island community would be. And, as a matter of fact, there's a little background story... when I put in the grant proposal for the study, the title was "We're All On The Same Boat." But we're not! It turned out that we have completely different boats, completely different service, completely different island cultures, different economies...so, it all began from a mistake. And it took me four-hundred interviews to figure out that I'd made a mistake to begin with (laughing).
GL: Well, you do make a big distinction in the book between islands that are closer in proximity to larger centers that get more frequent ferry service than those that are further removed and, I guess, generally, further north communities.
PV: Absolutely, yeah. Well, it's a really simple difference. (pointing) Over there, you've got Nanaimo, and downtown Nanaimo is only twenty-two minutes away from Descanso Bay where you are (staying), so, I've got several friends who bike to the ferry in the morning, and get on and pay six dollars for the round trip, and they're in downtown Nanaimo. They may take the bus or they may have a car and they're working there. But if you look to that big island over there (pointing toward the northwest), the biggest one at about, let's see, 10 o'clock from you, that's Texada. And, so, technically you can get from Texada—if the ferry from Duke Point or the ferry from Departure Bay made a wide turn and then went to Vancouver--but to get there, you need to go from Horse Shoe Bay (north of Vancouver) to Langdale, then you need to catch another ferry over there, then from Powell River you need to catch another ferry, so it takes a whole day. So it's just right there, but it takes a whole day, and it makes a huge difference. And if you go to Texada, it feels nothing like Gabriola--a completely different place. You just don't get the same kind of cultural dynamics. It's a completely different economy. And I'm not making a suggestion that the ferries determine everything, but they definitely play a key role.
Overheard from a first-time arrival to Salt Spring Island, talking to a fellow passenger on the bus ride into Ganges village from the ferry terminal: "BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, eh! BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, eh! AMAZING--I could just die here! Oh, maybe I shouldn't say that, but you know what I mean...BEAUTIFUL, just BEAUTIFUL!"