The Canada C3 icebreaker docked in Victoria on Saturday, Oct. 28, completing its 150-day journey around the three coasts of Canada. Of the many researchers, crew members and seaworthy who travelled on board, one participant never expected to take part in the expedition.
When the icebreaker docked in Prince Rupert after completing Leg 12 of the trip, Cyndi Peal was there to meet her cousin, one of the members on board. As she waited, she took a tour of the ship and was offered the trip of a lifetime — she was invited to sail down to Bella Bella for the next 10 days.
Leg 13 took Peal and the crew from Prince Rupert to Skidegate to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site to Hartley Bay, Khutze Inlet and Bella Bella. On the way, they saw spirit bears, grizzlies and were met by a pod of orcas. They toured schools and museums and took part in evenings of cultural sharing with the communities.
Peal, whose father is Nisga’a and mother is from Cape Mudge, spoke at several of the events about her experiences and reconciliation, in English and Nisga’a.
“Getting used to talking to people and being an advocate for equality, inclusion and reconciliation and protection of our lands, waters and all our resources — it just came at the right time for me. I’m so emotional,” Peal said.
“I thought that I was just going to be maybe a translator and somebody fun to instigate some craziness aboard, to get people motivated to be as excited as me to go places.”
For Peal, the highlight of her trip came from the personal connections she made. While she and another expedition member were sightseeing, they pulled over to take photos of the view from Skidegate. By chance, Peal said, a man who lived there started telling them about his family history. Peal remembered seeing a Facebook post of someone honouring their late mother by planting a tree on Quadra Island.
It turns out the two were related: The person who wrote the Facebook post was Desi Collinson, the man’s son. Peal’s own late mother was from the same village, and they realized Peal and Collinson’s mothers were related and had grown up next to each other.
“I found Desi maybe half an hour later where he works as a recreation leader for the youth there. I went and met him and told him the story,” Peal said. “Now we’re connected. It was definitely one of the highlights.”
As they pulled in to Bella Bella for the last stop on Leg 13, Peal said the icebreaker was taking a while to dock. As they waited, she picked up a drum one of her friends in Prince Rupert had given her for the trip.
“I just started drumming and sang a Nisga’a canoe song,” Peal said. “It’s that our canoe has landed and that we’re so happy to be here and willing to share our culture and our happiness with everyone. So many different parts of the Canada C3 expedition there was more added to the actual journey by First Nations communities and other people who contributed… I just thought it was fitting that we share part of that song, and having the different nations welcome us.”
Now back in Prince Rupert, Peal said those 10 days felt much longer. She hopes to continue sharing her experiences from the journey.
“I don’t know how else to explain it other than it wasn’t just for other people and it wasn’t just for getting pictures,” Peal said. “It wasn’t just a free trip. It was a very good emotional, mental, physical journey for myself.”