The meaning of the phrase “Ukee Days” changes in Ucluelet depending upon the season. In winter, when days are short and tourists thin out, burned out locals skip town, if they can, to escape the rain and chase the sunshine south. Those who don’t leave in winter are prone to taking “Ukee Days”, the phenomenon of shops randomly opening late, closing early or, on a day of sunshine, simply not opening at all. This is known as “taking a Ukee Day”, a way of coping with short, often overcast days.
In the spring, things begin to happen. The whale festival shakes the locals out of hibernation. Power washers come out, B&Bs are straightened, flower beds are planted and new signs pop up all over town in anticipation of the flood of humanity about to arrive upon our door steps.
By summer solstice, you almost have too much daylight. The days are so long your body never wants to sleep. The resorts fill up, fish plants launch into production and everyone gets busy. People start to work double shifts, back to back, weeks on end.
By mid July, I heard a sleep-deprived local reply wearily “I’m havin’ a Ukee Day,” when I asked him how he was doing. In winter, this phrase is said with flippant good humour, as in “I’m not making any money so I may as well enjoy a day off.” In July, the phrase has the frazzled edge of the work-weary local just trying to keep up.
One day as Kat & I were in Port Alberni on business, a tanned, bleached, over-groomed American woman grabbed my arm and said, loudly, right into my face “DO YOU HAVE A STARBUCKS HERE???”
The question took me aback. My personal space hadn’t been assaulted like that since we’d lived in Toronto, and even then only aggressive, unbalanced pan handlers got into my face without so much as an “Excuse me”.
Secondly, what did she mean by “YOU”? Before I could reply, she followed up with “IS THIS ALL YOU HAVE HERE???” Her voice taking on a frustrated note with an edge of panic.
I didn’t know Port Alberni that well at the time, and my brain scrambled on which assumptions to correct this poor woman on first: that despite my gum boots, I actually didn’t live in that town, nor did I own the town or have any say in whether or not there was a Starbucks. I decided to start with the obvious and point out that she was standing in front of Serious Coffee, Vancouver Island’s answer to Starbucks.
No good, this woman needed a Starbucks, and marched abruptly away from me without a thank you.
That was my first “Ukee Day” in summer context.
At the end of June, Ucluelet celebrated it’s own heritage “Ukee Days” festival. The Ukee Days festival began back in the logging and fishing industry heydays, when the corporations would put on the three day fair for their employees and their families. The town took a huge hit when these employers pulled out, and hundreds of people were unemployed. Everyone was affected.
As part of Ukee’s self-revitalization, the township has kept Ukee Days alive in the spirit of celebrating the town’s history.
Beer gardens and logger sports, yes indeedy!
As we approached the fairgrounds, I thought to myself “The only thing this fair is missing is a ferris wheel.”
It’s the bucket from a BC hydro truck. You could purchase a “bucket ride” for $2. Neat!
Logger sports consisted of activities like axe throwing and chopping races. This guy had to chop a wedge out of the tree, stick a board into the wedge and then stand on that board to reach the chopping block at the top. This plank technique is used when chopping down really big trees, or awkwardly placed trees. Sometimes when we’re walking around in the forest, we’ll come across a stump with a few plank-wedges cut out of it, signature of a logger from decades ago. It’s a highly-skilled and potentially dangerous technique. In this competition, three guys at a time would race to see who could pretend to chop down a tree the fastest.
That’s a long way to fall while holding an axe.
The belt sander races was by FAR my favourite competition. These are no ordinary belt sanders. I was talking with a competitor from the previous year who’d modified the motor in his sander with a motor from a band saw. It was madness, I tell you! It reminded me of the mouse-trap car race I competed in while in high school, but with MORE POWER!
If you started to get testosterone overload, you could cool down in the beer gardens and listen to the live music. There was a local band called “Left At The Junction” (named for the choice you make when you get to the end of highway 4 – turn right to Tofino or left to Ukee.) You could also visit the petting zoo, which wasn’t really a zoo at all but a small pen with two goats in it, which I thought was pretty funny.
June and July was full of bright, sunny clear days, and there’s always a refreshing ocean breeze to cool you down. I just don’t do well in the extreme cold or heat, and I love the temperate climate of the coast, never cold enough to kill you, never too hot to sleep. I occasionally listen to the Toronto CBC just so I can laugh when I hear weather reports like “It’s going to be another humid day, 32 C at the airport, feels like 40 with the humidity. There’s another smog alert so stay inside if you can.”
Most of the Island and mainland BC has experienced the usual seasonal drought, resulting in a campfire ban pretty much everywhere, except for those of us living within a kilometer of the coast. Why can we have fires? Because even when we don’t have rain, we have this:
At about seven o’clock at night, the warm air from the mountains collides with the cool air from the ocean and creates fog, thick as smoke.
We’ve entered the time of year locals call “Fogust”. The fog is so thick, boats have no visibility on the water. They have to use a lot of high-tech gadgetry to avoid collisions.
The fog doesn’t discourage the surfers though. Or my dogs.
One of the best parts about living in Ukee is the seafood. After a long walk in the fog, I came home to my neighbour bearing an armload of salmon. This was a HUGE frickin’ fish! Just look at it:
That’s my 16″ chef’s knife to the right, and my largest baking pan above it. This fish was too large to fit on our counter! What a beautiful fish!
We could’ve chopped it up into eight good sized steaks, but how often do you get a gorgeous, fresh-caught-that-morning, whole salmon? Probably more often in Ukee than in other places, but this was our first whole salmon and we weren’t going to waste it by freezing it. Instead, we called our friends over for an impromptu dinner party. This fish stuffed four people with enough left over to fill our bellies again the next day. Our friends brought some of their home -made wine and home-made ice cream!
A wonderful end to another great Ukee Day.