A paddling route used for thousands of years between Vancouver Island and the mainland has officially become part of the Great Trail.
In Nanaimo Saturday, a colourful flotilla of 150 kayaks and canoes celebrated the opening of the Salish Sea Marine Trail, paddling from Nanaimo Harbour to Newcastle Island. There, Snuneymuxw elder Lorraine White welcomed the paddlers to their traditional territory.
John Kimantas, project manager of the B.C. Marine Trails Network Association, said the flotilla was fun and lighthearted.
“It was all about getting out on a beautiful day and enjoying the scenery and the camaraderie.”
The route is part of the Great Trail, also known as the Trans-Canada Trail, a 24,000-kilometre cross-Canada network of multi-use land and marine trails.
“This is the day the Salish Sea became part of the Trans-Canada Trail,” Kimantas said. “We want to announce it to the world so it gets the use and recognition it deserves.”
The 257-kilometre paddling route starts at Jericho Beach in Vancouver, crosses Howe Sound, then up the Sunshine Coast to island-hop across the Strait of Georgia on Texada, Jedediah and Lasqueti islands and the Ballenas-Winchelsea archipelago. It stretches down the Vancouver Island coastline from Nanaimo and the Gulf Islands to Clover Point, Mile Zero and the Inner Harbour in Victoria.
Although completing the entire trail would be gruelling, the marine trail is not just for expert paddlers, Kimantas said.
“You don’t have to do the whole trail. It’s like hiking Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Park — you can go and enjoy the trails, but not everybody is going to climb Mount Edward Albert,” Kimantas said. “This is the same with the Salish Sea Marine Trail. There are portions accessible to everybody.”
He predicted the majority of paddlers will be day trippers and people on overnight trips.
“We’re looking at how we can portion bits of the trail that people can use and enjoy. For example, when people kayak out of Nanaimo they can do a Salish Sea tour, like paddling around Newcastle Island and take part in the spirit of it,” he said.
One of the beautiful things about the Salish Sea Marine Trail is its proximity to transportation and services, Kimantas said.
“If you’re a paddler coming form Germany, it’s going to be a particular attraction. You start off in an urban centre, then quickly going across Howe Sound, there’s the fjord-like nature of British Columbia, then the complete wilderness areas of Jedediah Island and South Texada Island. It’s a perfect opportunity to market southern B.C. as a destination.”
Unlike the Broken Group and Johnstone Strait, the Salish Sea has more benign weather and more services, he said.
“Basically, you can paddle up to pubs along this trail.”
The trail ties together a networking of camping sites that are within a day’s paddle from each other.
In the coming years, the association will be improving the routes, improving access and adding more sites.
“I do believe it has international potential. It’s going to raise southern B.C. as a paddling destination in its own right,” Kimantas said.