28-30 June 2012
Potts Lagoon is a still surviving although not exactly thriving float home community anchored in a narrow cove on West Cracroft Island near the outlet of a lagoon. Named after Murray Clarke Potts, an Ontario student of “practical science” who came west, married, and staked a claim here in 1908, the cove is around the corner from what was, when Potts arrived, a still active Indigenous burial ground on Klaoitsis Island.
Potts felled timber, built float houses and farmed the land near the lagoon; after World War II, he was appointed Indian Agent in Alert Bay, a community that remains the cultural centre of Kwak’wala speaking groups today.
Potts Lagoon was the first place we saw clusters of float homes linked by logboomed “sidewalks”; it was also the first place where we experienced, perhaps as a consequence of what seemed endless darkness and drizzle, a sense of the aura of loneliness and depression that has accompanied the emptying of once vibrant Indigenous and settler communities and businesses all along these shores. Once upon a time, not so long ago–early in the 20th century–more people lived in several of the small coves north of Desolation Sound than in all of Vancouver. Even in the 1930s Francis Barrow, a boater and amateur photographer, filmmaker and archeologist, would write in his journals about friends “running over to Potts Lagoon for a party.” No more–or, at least not a party of that sort.Pinned down by the rain and a sort of general depression that settled over us, we couldn’t wait to leave Potts Lagoon, and yet we also felt compelled to stay. The notes below are extracted from our journals and testify to our (perhaps overblown) sense of haunting and despair.
29 June, 2012 (Friday)
No one at home anymore here, neither Kwakwaka’ wakw villagers, nor Euro-, Chinese-, Japanese- , or Indo-Canadians, just ruins and yachts drifting about, and intensive industrial production by the international corporations that are harvesting logs and fish farming the region. No one anymore to bear witness to the what is happening here. No one to love the sweetness and generosity of the land; no one to wrestle with the bears for berries or to carve a housebeam; no clam farmers, no handloggers, no fishermen are left. Even the beachcombers are out of luck now; the drifts of logs that line every shore and imperil the passageways can’t be collected and resold by enterprising individuals unless they secure a license; those logs are all corporate property now.
Under such a regime, everything becomes theft: from the displacement and destruction of Indigenous communities, sacred sites and sacred objects to the corporate rape of the land for profit, there is everywhere environmental and social devastation as various sorts of “commons” give way to “free” (but free to and for whom?) enterprise, to extractions without remediation, ceremony or replacement. At every turn, grand theft and pillage force smaller acts of theft and destruction, everyone pincered in the jaws of klepto-capitalism.
Local businesses and the communities they once served and employed are all gone: no canneries or small scale lumber mills remain–they’ve been gone nearly forty years now. Here and there a few shops that seem to serve yachts and some memorial post offices survive. No parties on the weekend or visiting back and forth; it’s all crumbling away. Even the animals move off. The fish cannot survive our depredations, and then neither can the whales, the bears, the cougars, the elk…
We are witnessing a holocaust, but only a few wild voices call it that; everyone else calls it business-as-usual. Necessary. And when these fertile shores are nothing but rock, what then?
30 June 2012 (Saturday)
We are going rangy with the darkness, the cloud cover, the rain, the world nothing but dampness, grey and green. Not being able to walk is making us nutty; we row about or sit in the boat and look out at the green light; it is too much like being trapped in the fog on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia.
Yesterday we took turns rowing into the lagoon, but by the time my turn came, the ebbing current was running so strongly I couldn’t get past it into the lagoon. I rowed as hard as I could for five minutes and got past one rock, stood and rowed as hard as I could, tried to crab sideways, rowed and rowed, but I only just managed to hold my ground. I was splashing so much that an eagle swooped down to look at me–is that a big fish you’ve got there?–then he flew up into a tree and chuckled at me.
I finally stopped rowing and let the boat spin and drift out into the long flowing lines of bull kelp waving in the current, then out to the float house floats, then over to the remains of what was once an enormous dock.
Finally I tied up on the land and climbed up a little stream to a birch grove, where someone has stacked and tarped wood, and where a very muddy overgrown road ends. Everything was smothered by salmonberry and thimbleberry bushes. I filled my cap with yellow and red salmonberries, keeping a lookout for bears (are there bears here, or only on the mainland?) and jumping when something buzzed loudly by my head. A hummingbird.
In the evening, two boats arrived at the floats–inhabitants! One group started up a generator; the others unloaded an appliance of some sort and carried it indoors. It is good to see people here at last; it feels less like a ghost town.