Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Billy Proctor

Billy Proctor is a legend on the BC coast. He is walking history that embodies the spirit of the fishing and hand-logging world here. He has spent his entire life fishing these waters and fighting for salmon. So when tied up to a dock in Echo Bay we trekked across the island to meet the legend and visit his museum. He has collected a lot of "junk", as he describes it, and it is housed in his museum. After a quick browse through the museum we started up a conversation with him. He was a little slow to open up but once he got going he had many interesting things to say.

We were headed around the top of Vancouver Island so Jason started the conversation by asking his advice for going over the Nawhitti Bar and around Cape Scott. He fished on the outside waters of Vancouver Island for years and his advice was as we expected, go over the bar at slack on a calm day. At 82 he is now fishing on the inside waters only but remembers the outside fondly. He talked about the changes in fishing over the years. He remembers when the Fisheries boats had machine guns mounted to gun down seals because they thought they were eating all of the fish and he remembers when citizens were paid to kill cougars, wolves and eagles, bringing these species to the brink of extinction. Now populations are thriving and he says there are too many predators and that we need a policy somewhere in between policies of the past and present as he watches dolphins, seals and orcas massacre his beloved salmon. He says it's hard to watch as dolphins and sea lions trail behind his boat and steal the fish from his lines. He spent years as a small-scale logger and decries the devastation that mechanized clear-cut logging has wreaked on the environment and salmon populations. He's worried about the hot temperatures and dry weather BC is experiencing. Rivers, along with their salmon spawning grounds, are drying up this year. He worries about the lasting effects it will have on the salmon population, perhaps losing entire runs. It was so interesting to talk to someone who lives in the middle and at forefront of these environmental battles. He speaks from a lifetime of experience in this area, so it was fascinating to listen to his practical viewpoints. He isn't in one camp or the other, he just has a lot of practical experience in the fishing and natural world of BC. He talked about problems of fish farms and how it takes 2.1 pounds of fish from the ocean to make 1 pound of fish on the farm. He says the farms are not cleaning up after themselves and have booming fish lice populations that are spreading out into the ocean and onto wild salmon. The fish lice are now immune to the chemical the farms were using to kill them so they've resorted to dumping peroxide into the ocean to try to kill them off. He told us about how one of the farms bulldozed an ancient First Nations shell midden unearthing human remains in the process, then tried to hide what they'd done, which brought us to the subject of ghosts.

Years ago, his daughter worked for the fish farm in question. In nine years she went through 132 employees, many leaving after claiming that the employee cabin was haunted. They would go to sleep at night and awake with a little old native woman dressed in cedar bark standing at the end of their bed. His daughter finally decided to spend the night there to see if the claims were true. That night the TV kept turning on and off, doors and windows opened and closed of their own accord. At Billy's urging she searched around in the bush and found seventeen human skulls that had been thrown into a pile. The fish farm had dug them up and then had thrown them out behind the cabin. She gathered them up and gave them a proper burial, after which there were no more reported hauntings.

Jason asked Billy if he had ever seen a Sasquatch. He shifted in his seat a little bit and looked at us sideways before admitting that he has seen some things he couldn't explain. In Bond Sound he was in his dinghy in four feet of water when he saw something stand up in front of him. At its full height it stood four feet up out of six foot deep water. It took off so fast that it created a wake that rocked his boat. Another time he came across footprints in a drying mudflat. They were about the length of a hand but narrower than a human print, no claws and walking on two feet with about an eighteen inch stride. He had never seen prints like that before and couldn't identify what animal they would have come from. Maybe they were young Sasquatch footprints? He brought his daughter back to see them and photographed them. Another time he was in Bond Sound hunting mountain sheep. He startled something next to the trail and the young hemlocks around him thrashed about. He initially thought it was a bear and continued on his way. On the way back he found the hemlocks all snapped at about eight feet and placed down into a bed, something he had never seen before. He got spooked and left quickly though he wishes he would have looked around for tracks or fur.

As our conversation wound down he brought us into his museum to show us his latest find, an ancient fishing spear. He walked us through the museum explaining some of his treasures and where he had found them. He then showed us a loggers bunk house he had made from a single tree he had cut down including all of the furniture inside. This spring he needed something to do so he built a little schoolhouse from stuff he had found and scavenged. We had occupied his time right up to dinner so we started back on the trail we had come from. We parted ways at his garden filled with beautiful flowers and a row boat filled with strawberry plants. We waved good-bye and watched him disappear up the trail to his house, while his friendly dog escorted us back across the island to our boat.

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