The Pacific Rim Whale Festival’s impressive run of 32 consecutive annual appearances will come to an end this month, but that doesn’t mean the West Coast is prepared to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate the roughly 20,000 grey whales swimming past its shores.
“There are many wonderful events happening in the area for March,” said Ucluelet chamber of commerce manager and municipal councillor Lara Kemps. “Many groups and individuals have gotten together and built a pretty great calendar of events to share to the community and our guests.”
The Vessel Parade and Blessing of the Fleet, a popular festival feature, is still a go at Tofino’s First Street Dock, sponsored by the Tofino-Clayoquot Heritage Museum, and is scheduled for Monday, March 18, beginning around 9 a.m. The blessing will see Pastor Jennifer Marlor and Reverend Roger Poblete using water guns to spray Holy Water onto the vessels parading past along with offering a liturgy.
“It’s something that is very meaningful to the whole community and I am really excited to be involved in it,” Marlor told the Westerly News. “[The ocean] is such a central part of who we are and how me make our living here and just to know that there is a Holy One that is looking out for us and blessing the work that we do so that we can be a blessing for others is really important.”
The Thornton Creek Hatchery’s annual Rubber Fish Race still plans to flow through the creek on March 17 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society is bringing a fascinating, eight-metre, offshore killer whale skeleton to the West Coast and inviting young West Coasters and visitors to help put it together while learning about whale biology, anatomy and more at two Build-a-Whale events. The first will be held at Tofino’s Long Beach Lodge Resort on March 19 from 1-4 p.m. The skeleton will then travel to Ucluelet for a March 24 event at Big Beach beginning at 10 a.m.
The full menu of March events is up for perusal at www.tourismtofino.com, www.discoverucluelet.com and www.westcoastnest.org.
Other events, like the Parade of Whales and Wonders and the annual Spout Ball challenge, look unlikely to return without the festival this month, making this the first March that mayor Josie Osborne will not be leading the Tofino-based parade since being elected in 2013.
“I will miss the Whale Festival this year—particularly the parade which I have always enjoyed because of the amount of effort that local organizations and businesses put in to their floats,” Osborne told the Westerly. “But, I do understand why the board of directors decided a hiatus was the most appropriate way to regroup and reformulate the festival as a sustainable, community-driven event. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I hope the festival returns next year reinvigorated and full of West Coast spirit.”
The Whale Festival’s steering committee announced the cancellation of this year’s festival in November, citing a lack of volunteers willing to put the work in to keep it alive as the cause of its demise. Kemps hopes to see the festival return in 2020.
“Just like the whales return every year, my hopes are that the Whale Festival will as well,” she said.
“Some things just need a break to regroup and recharge and my feeling is, if the community stands behind something and really believes in it, it will come back even stronger.”
She added the festival was a strong economic driver and community connector during the West Coast’s spring shoulder season.
“The Whale Festival, like our other community festivals, has an impact that goes well beyond what can be measured in economic terms, by strengthening our community, providing fun and educational programs and events and builds awareness of our area and also acts as a source of community pride,” she said.