First Nations art breathes fresh life into Northern Sea Wolf ferry

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Celebrated Kwakiutl artist Richard Hunt’s image of a sea wolf will adorn the bow of B.C. Ferries’ upgraded former Greek ferry when it starts running between northern Vancouver Island and the central coast in May.

Artwork on the Northern Sea Wolf is expected to intrigue tourists and is intended to honour local First Nations.

Inside the vessel, there will be more artwork by Hunt, as well as art by Danika Naccarella of the Nuxalk First Nation, an art teacher who brought her students to the unveiling in Victoria on Friday. Nuxalk First Nation territory is in and near Bella Coola.

Naccarella captured the audience of about 100 when, with a shaking voice, she expressed what it means to be one of the artists on the project. “This is an amazing opportunity, not only for me but for my students. I brought them down because they are the reason that I do what I do.”

“I want to show the kids that you can do whatever you want to do and people will believe in you.” Turning to the group of 16 youth, she said: “I will always support you guys and I love you guys.”

Hunt, a former chief carver at the Royal B.C. Museum’s Thunderbird Park, said: “I’m honoured to have my work displayed on this vessel. I love my life. I made my living through my culture. It’s a great way to go because you are doing something that you love.”

A recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of B.C., Hunt said he is proud to be able to showcase his culture.

The sea wolf is a manifestation of the orca. “The designs depict the beauty of the majestic animal, with the sea wolf the symbol of family, loyalty and the protector of those travelling their waters,” a B.C. Ferries’ statement said.

B.C. Ferries worked with the First Peoples’ Cultural Council to review submissions from artists.

Mark Collins, B.C. Ferries chief executive officer, said: “We traverse the waters of First Nations and we need the waters of First Nations in order to do our very basic service. We need to do it in a way that is harmonious, not just with the water, not just with the whales but also with the people.”

This is the second B.C. Ferries competition for First Nations artwork. Its three Salish class vessels carry designs of a raven, eagle and orca.

The 18-year-old Northern Sea Wolf was bought for $12.6 million and sailed from Greece to B.C. late last year. Upgrading contracts were signed for $20 million.

“The refit has been more complex and taken more time than anticipated,” Collins said. Other ferries were used on the route this year.

The vessel left Esquimalt Drydock a month ago for B.C. Ferries’ refit facility in Richmond, he said.

The ferry will provide direct service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola. There will also be a weekly connector service between Bella Coola, Bella Bella, Shearwater and Ocean Falls.

The route was cancelled in 2013 but tourism operators are thrilled to see it return.

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