Monday, 1 June 2015

Gator Gardens - a small paradise on Cormorant Island

I'm sitting in the middle of a swamp on the top of a hill overlooking a stretch of the Inner Passage between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island.


Officially, this nature reserve is called the Ecological Park, but the locals call it 'Gator Gardens' - originally a joke, but the name stuck.   There isn't an alligator for hundreds of miles, only the kronk of ravens and the hunting cries of the bald eagles overhead.


The swamp was created when the company that owned the fish cannery down in the bay below dammed the freshwater supply to service the factory.  It backed up the springs at the top of the island, creating a huge boggy area and killing the big cedars that grew there.  The cannery has gone long ago, but the community decided to keep the ecological disaster and turn it into a park.  The result is a place of great beauty.  The dead trunks are hundreds of feet high.
It's unbelievably peaceful - all I can hear is bird song - woodpeckers, ravens, herons, eagles, and other birds I can't identify.

Most of the trees that still have foliage are draped in the lichen they call 'Witches Hair' here.


I've been enjoying being able to walk. The island's shoreline is very beautiful - the beaches are piled with boulder and tree trunks from the winter storms and there are stunning views across to other islands and the mainland.

I love the old buildings here.

Someone has collected three old doubledecker buses.  One of them even has Morecambe as a destination - there must be someone else here who comes from Cumbria!

But at the heart of the island there is a blank space - a large stretch of newly seeded grass.


This is the site of the old St Michaels Residential School - one of the biggest of the 'schools of sorrow' - where hundreds of First Nation children were sent to be 'educated' throughout the twentieth century.  This is what it looked like in recent times - a gigantic structure, dwarfing the tiny single or double storey buildings on the island.

It was closed down about 20 years ago and remained empty until it was decided to give it to the Namgis first Nation People, on whose land it had been built.  The Namgis performed ritual cleansing of the building and then, only a couple of months ago, it was bulldozed down and the ground cleared. The  museum has first hand testimonies from children who were educated there - many of them quite harrowing accounts. In the cemetery, there's a Haida mortuary pole to commemorate all the Haida children who died in St Michaels.


The view now, is one of serenity.

Tomorrow I'm leaving this paradise to make my way up to Haida Gwaii - a long, long way north.  Feeling a bit nervous - it's been  my dream for such a long time and it's such a long way to travel.  Fingers crossed!

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