Star Travel guy Adrian Brijbassi meets some B.C. characters. Go figure!
HAIDA GWAII, B.C. — Good guy Duane Foerter of the Queen
Charlotte Lodge is one of those characters you sometimes meet on a journey who
amaze you with their knowledge of their
surroundings. Foerter is from
Duane has committed to memory a bounty of information about
the Haida people and their history on these more than 100 islands. As the Queen
Charlotte Lodge’s marketing manager, Duane is looking to develop new products
to complement the world-class salmon fishing program the lodge offers. One of
those activities incorporates a visit to the unmarked historical site of Kung,
an abandoned Haida village on the north end of
Since arriving in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) nearly 30 years ago, Duane has developed a passion for the history of the tribes (Haida are divided into two groups, Eagles and Ravens, and they’re supposed to marry each other, and because it’s a matriarchal society children belong to the tribe of the mother).
“This is a fascinating culture. These people used to be called the Vikings of the North Pacific because they were the most feared of all the First Nations people in this part of the world,” says Duane, who is “as white as they come.”
Duane’s also become an accomplished angler and boater. He took me out for some halibut fishing and we brought up two good-sized ones within 15 minutes of dropping our lines into the water. We also managed to hook the propeller and in MacGyver-esque fashion, Duane stepped over the back railing of the boat to uncoil the line. While leaning over on the propeller stand, he patiently undid the line as the Pacific rocked the small fishing boat from side to side, keeping me clutching onto a rail for balance.
When asked how a guy who went to Ryerson for photography and is nicknamed “Shooter” learns to do something like that, Duane says, “Oh, you know, you just sort of pick these things up.”
Duane’s photos are all over the lodge and on its website (www.queencharlottelodge.com). When he’s not behind his desk replying to emails and devising marketing strategies, he’s out on his boat taking photos of the lodge’s guests as they reel in salmon and halibut. The dramatic photos are so good it’s not hard to imagine seeing them in National Geographic Traveler. A slideshow of the guests in action is shown in the lounge at night. The photos also help promote the Catch & Release program because it documents the moment. “People want the proof that they’ve caught it,” Duane says. “Once they have that in the form of a photo, they’re more likely to release a fish.”
Women Get Hooked
Another diversifying option Duane and the lodge are looking
at is Romantic Getaways. A spa is now on the premises and more and more women
are showing up, and having success at fishing. Burmah Martin, who has 18
grandchildren, caught three tyees (Chinook salmon larger than 30 pounds) during
her four-night stay. Andrea Dietel of
One option is a romantic cookout on the edge of the lodge’s
property, away from the guest and staff
quarters. As an example of what the
lodge is thinking, chef Jin Chong set up a grill as the sun set behind
He crunched through the grass and his feet knocked rocks on the beach as he walked away, leaving behind the moonlight and the kingfishers’ whirr. It was a gorgeous setting that exemplified the beauty and ruggedness of the north.
Hemingway Moment Gone Wrong
The cookout dinner was a relaxing end to a stay that was sometimes hairy. When Duane had untangled the propeller I also asked if he ever gets nervous on the water, he said, “Yeah, there are times when you feel like you’re in over your head out here.”
So it was for me when I took a boat out without a guide and headed for the fishing grounds, which are about 30 minutes from the lodge if you go at 4,500 rpm. I had never driven a boat except for those miniature ones you guide with remote control, so this didn’t seem like a bright thing to do, but the guys at the dock said it was no problem and Duane told me the boats were custom built so guests could take unguided trips. The steering is mounted on a centre console, not a rear propeller that you must constantly tug.
Okay, I said, I’m game.
Things started out well. An eagle swooped overhead as it
dropped down to pluck a fish from the serene waters of
A dockhand had set me up with one pole with one herring as bait on it and assured I would catch a fish. Rather than turn back and disappoint him, I kept going for the fishing grounds. I wobbled my way there — in nearly two hours.
The tide was going into the harbour, so I turned the boat in that direction figuring it would save me time because I would drift back in while I fished. I put the rod on the downrigger and trawled for the one salmon I was hoping to bring back. Turns out I’m no Hemingway in more ways than one.
Keith the “fishmaster” saw something wrong with my line and drove his emergency vehicle beside me then hopped onboard. I hadn’t positioned the rod properly in the downrigger and had attached a clip too far down on the line, preventing the bait from going out far enough to be effective. Keith set me up again then got back onto his boat, which the lodge uses to communicate with anglers by radio and to help those who need assistance on the water.
It wasn’t long before I saw the line rattling. I took the rod out of its holder and reeled. Whatever it hooked was pulling me to the back of the boat. I let it run then reeled then let it run, the way I’d learned from the experts at the lodge. Whatever I’d snagged was damn strong. I kept tugging and tugging. Eventually, the line snapped, cutting my hand. Figuring whatever it was had gotten away, I hung up the pole and headed back to the lodge. More dark clouds came and this time they brought rain. I went back in at 3,200 rpm, soaked and in near-panic. Just as I hit the harbour, the engine cut out. Panic went to terror for a moment when the boat didn’t restart on my first try. A couple of more turns of the ignition key and it was on. When I got back to the lodge, the sun was out, an eagle was waiting for fish (not from me, of course) and a dockhand told me the engine went out because a line was tangled on the propeller. Turns out the thing that fought my rod so hard out on the water was my own boat: Fitting, since it was a challenge in more ways than one on that day.
There’s no better way to celebrate survival — and a birthday — than with a meal at your favourite restaurant in the world. Thanks to Vikram and the staff at Vij’s and Rangoli for another memorable visit!