Bamfield BC

view from Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield BC

Bamfield Revisited

Two years ago, I wrote a post about a visit to the town of Bamfield, British Columbia, to attend two concerts of that year’s Music By The Sea festival.

I just got back from this year’s MBTS, having attended three concerts and spent more time exploring this unique community on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Highlights for me included the Sunday matinee concert, which featured chamber music by Brahms and Smetana performed by some excellent young musicians. I was sharper and more attentive than the previous evening, after the four hour boat trip down the Alberni Inlet. The clear light of noon in the superlative performance space made this matinee concert a treat for both eyes and ears. Evening concerts are enhanced by sunsets that create a magnificent backdrop behind the performers.

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Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

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The view from the Rix Centre’s balcony.

Other highlights included visits to Brady’s Beach near Bamfield, and Pachena Beach, several kilometres away.

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Brady’s Beach on a perfect July day.

Then there were the Gunneras…

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A huge patch of huge plants — the Gunneras that might eat Bamfield?

I’m not sure which species these are, Gunnera manicata or G. tinctoria, but it doesn’t really matter. Apparently they can become invasive, which is a scary thought.

Sadly, the calls of the Swainson’s thrushes, which so entranced me in 2015, were not as evident this time. Apparently, these birds have a short breeding season, and Music By The Sea 2015 was held in early July, so it may be this year the thrushes were mostly finished with the singing which is used by males to claim territory. I hope their numbers haven’t declined; they migrate to South America for the winter, flying by night, so may be killed by collisions with windows, radio and cell-phone towers, and tall buildings. It would be unfortunate if these little singers disappeared from a place that celebrates music every year.

 

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Bamfield: Boats, Birds and Music

If Bamfield, British Columbia ever decides to choose an official Town Bird, I would suggest the Swainson’s Thrush. In summer, the place resounds with their melodious song. Here is another video, from Squamish, B.C.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Bamfield is a community of a couple hundred permanent residents on the far west coast of Vancouver Island. It occupies both sides of Bamfield Inlet, which divides the town into East and West Bamfield. The coastal rainforest comes down nearly to the water, providing a good habitat for the Swainson’s thrushes, who prefer closed-canopy forests. It’s all the human inhabitants can do to beat back the lush vegetation.

Part of the shore at East Bamfield, with forest close behind.

Part of the shore at East Bamfield, with forest close behind.

More of East Bamfield

More of East Bamfield

 

Plants take hold on just about anything

Plants take hold on just about anything

Anything at all...

Anything at all…

A row of charming old houses and shops lines the boardwalk along the shore of West Bamfield.

Souvenir shop along the boardwalk

Souvenir shop along the boardwalk

Many of the houses have attractive gardens.

Hydrangeas and roses along the boardwalk

Hydrangeas and roses along the boardwalk

Even the weeds are beautiful in their wild lushness.

Plants growing wild!

Plants growing wild!

Captivating sights are found around every corner.

West Bamfield boardwalk

One of the quirky features is the Cat Haven, a set of shelters for feral felines that were live-trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to live out their days in these charming cat houses. The population control process must have been very effective; we saw not one cat anywhere during our stay.

Part of the Cat Haven

Part of the Cat Haven

Self-explanatory!

The best reason for a trip to Bamfield in July is Music By The Sea, a unique music festival in a special place. The repertoire is classical and jazz, the musicians come from all over North America, and the venue is perfect — a small auditorium that’s part of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

Music By The Sea concerts are held in the building with the scalloped roof.

Music By The Sea concerts are held in the building with the scalloped roof.

Imagine, if you will, wide windows overlooking ocean and islands, fronted by musicians plying their trade, playing chamber works by composers from J.S. Bach to Alexander von Zemlinsky, or improvising on tunes by Billy Strayhorn, Nat Adderley or Jay Livingston. Imagine mezzo-soprano Nan Hughes singing Debussy’s Ariettes oubliees, or pianist John Stetch reinterpreting “Never Let Me Go.” Then intermission on the balcony as the summer light slowly fades, and the Swainson’s thrushes call back and forth across Bamfield Inlet.

You can get to Bamfield by logging road from Port Alberni (a distance of fewer than 100 km or 60 miles, but it can seem a lot longer if you don’t have the right sort of vehicle and aren’t used to potholes, dust and huge logging trucks barreling along). Or you can take the Frances Barkley, a ship that carries passengers and freight, operated by Lady Rose Marine Services out of Port Alberni.

The Frances Barkley in Port Alberni

The Frances Barkley in Port Alberni

Side note: because the Frances Barkley departs at 8 in the morning, we spent the previous night at the Swept Away Inn, a conveniently located and unusual B&B that used to be a working tugboat, moored at the Port Alberni waterfront. Snug but comfortable quarters and an excellent breakfast.

The Swept Away Inn B&B

The Swept Away Inn B&B

A pleasant four hour cruise takes you down Alberni Inlet, where you will see fishing boats, log booms, forests, mountains, eagles and (if you’re lucky; we weren’t) whales.

Rain clouds shredding apart near the rainiest spot in North America (Henderson Lake)

Rain clouds shredding apart near the rainiest spot in North America (Henderson Lake)

If the boat makes a stop in the community of Kildonan, you will get to see Canada’s only floating post office…

Floating post office at Kildonan (and dog)

Floating post office at Kildonan (and dog)

…and a garden of plants growing out of old pilings.

Piling "garden"

Piling “garden”

On arrival in Bamfield, you get to watch cargo being unloaded using the ship’s crane, a fascinating operation. Then (if you’re doing the day trip), you get an hour and a half to explore the boardwalk, check out the general store and coffee shop, buy some ice cream, take some pictures. If you’re staying for a couple of days, you can take a water taxi to East Bamfield, or walk along a couple of kilometers of gravel road to Brady’s Beach, a typical lovely beach of the area, complete with sea stacks, grottoes and (almost) white sand.

Brady's Beach

Brady's Beach

Brady's Beach

All this and music too! Definitely a worthwhile trip.