In 2005, I visited Cortes Island for the first time. At the time I was looking around with my family for a piece of land- a place where we could eventually settle and so return to the West Coast of Canada after many years of living in the United States. I had thought of the Southern Gulf Islands, with their warm dry climate, and the Sunshine Coast for its proximity to Vancouver, but had never considered Cortes. It is remote. In one direction from Vancouver or Seattle it takes three ferries and a drive up Vancouver Island to get there. Another, if you want to hug the mainland, it is two ferries, a drive to the end of Hwy 101, and a small boat ride away. Either way it takes time. But from that moment I landed on Cortes I really liked it. It felt familiar in many ways, like a place I could get to know deeply or had already known. And from there my dream started to grow.
Cortes is a relatively large island in Discovery Island group, the first of a string of northern islands squeezed between the mountains of the British Columbia mainland and massive Vancouver Island. Cortes sits at the mouth of Desolation Sound, a renown destination for fishing, kayaking and site of a provincial marine park. It is rugged and wild and populated by individuals who respect its intimidating beauty. Yes, there is industry on Cortes –logging, quarry, oyster farming and organic farming – and there are also writers and artists, different generations of back to the land folks, an international educational retreat, eco tourists and the internet. Either way, the inhabitants of Cortes – and there are about 1000 “full timers” - are people making a life for themselves close to the land. The howl of wolves that echo like a chorus through the valley remind residents they are one small part of this wild island.
The year after my first visit to Cortes we purchased a wedge of land on the slope of Green Mountain, a mid point of the island and between the three communities of Whaletown, Squirrel Cove and Manson’s Landing. The first day I climbed to the top of the property. When I looked south just over the distant water I could see the snowy peaks of far away Vancouver Island. I heard only the wind in the pine and fir trees that clung to the mossy slopes, and the beating wings of an eagle that passed above in the blue sky. I felt a really deep peace. I wanted to make a place for that peace to live on in art.
I have been teaching at a college level since 1994. Each year I have felt a growing need to take art in another direction, away from the academic pull where so much seems to be headed. I have often thought to go back to the basics and make a place where I can really think about the spirituality of art. This idea has grown inside me each summer during my visit to Cortes. This is how my dream has come up. To build a center for art and spirituality, and to make a place for people to spend time to reflect on their lives and the place art has in it. I want to make a place where time moves differently. While I will still teach at the university for a while, the dream will continue to grow and it will become Whaletown Project.
Images from Cortes Island and Whaletown Project