To enter the extraordinary Coast Guard base in Port Hardy, which officially opened this week, is to find yourself welcomed inside by a sea raven, sea eagle, bear, fish, serpent, and sea monster, carved into two totem poles at the front door, by Kwakiutl Master Carver Stanley Hunt.
The new base, and totem poles, were blessed Tuesday in a ceremony and lunch held by the Coast Guard, federal government ministers, and representatives of several area First Nations.
The base was badly needed to help mariners in distress, from First Nations to anyone from anywhere in the world passing through the area, because Port Hardy lies “at the very tip of Northern Vancouver Island. It’s a vast amount of ocean space, and it is treacherous,” Stanley Hunt told West Coast Now.
“At the top of the island, there’s nothing between you and Japan,” he said. “There’s a lot of area out there to have things go wrong.”
When Hunt started the front poles, three years ago, he “concentrated on the creatures from the sea, and had all the creatures represented on both poles.” He also carved a panel installed in the base conference room.
A third pole, by master carver and Kwakiutl Chief Calvin Hunt, stands guard on the ocean-facing side of the facility. Its role, said a Coast Guard statement, is to “keep watch on the ocean side of the facility, letting mariners know they are entering Kwakiutl Territory.”
The base was planned in collaboration with the Kwakiutl First Nation and the District of Port Hardy, noted Joyce Murray, federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. It will “keep mariners safer and the marine environment cleaner for years to come,” she said in the statement.
At the same ceremony, the Coast Guard officially dedicated the CCGS Pachena Bay into service. The ship has been working on the B.C. coast since 2019, but its dedication was delayed by the pandemic.
“We are improving our ability to respond to marine incidents quickly, and making our waters safer for everyone,” said Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra in the federal statement.
The Port Hardy base, and five others, are funded under the Canada’s $3.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan, aimed at marine safety, healthy marine ecosystems, partnering with Indigenous and other coastal communities, and research on preventing and responding to oil spills and noise pollution.