A smiling woman serves oysters to a man with an outstretched plate. LInes of servers and people being served stretch out behind them

Seafest 2023 At Squirrel Cove 

About 350 people* came to Squirrel Cove for Seafest on Saturday May 20. There was a flow-through crowd and not much more than a third of this number appeared to be at the six-hour long festival at any given time.

“I think Seafest is great, it brings a lot of cultures together and  lots of different seafoods,” said Sharon Francis, a Squirrel Cove resident and member of the Klahoose First Nation.

Curt Cunningham, owner manager of the Squirrel Cove General Store which hosted this year’s festival, added, “They’ve done an incredible job. We’re going to have a good day, a good summer, and this is gonna kick it off!” 

Image credit: One of the many ways the oysters were cooked – Photo by Roy L Hales

There were unusually long lineups at his store, and Cunningham later commented that his sales were more typical of peak tourist season than a normal Saturday in May.

Vancouver resident John Earl said that in terms of friendliness, good food and good music, Seafeast was the best festival he has seen in the past 50 years. 

Some of the other visitors came from Victoria and Nanaimo. 

Trude Allbright-Sweeney was a Cortes Island resident for more than four decades before she moved in with her daughter in Rochester, New York, last year. 

“ I’m enjoying the Seafest. I’ve come every time it’s here, and every time on Cortes. So far I don’t think I’ve missed any.” 

CC: What’s special about Sea Fest?

“Meeting all the people, all my neighbors I don’t meet when I’m back in the house, it’s very nice. I love it.”

Her hearing is no longer what it used to be, and Trude’s companion typed my questions onto a cell phone so she could read them.

“It works,” she laughed.

CC: I have one more question for her.  

“Okay,” responded her companion. 

CC: Trude’s Cafe Konditorei used to be a favourite stop for visitors and local residents alike. Does she miss the cafe?

“My cafe: Yeah, in a way. It was a lot of work, but it was fun having the people come.  It was fun baking for it and it was good coffee because I swore when I open a cafe I’ll have the best coffee I can find, which I did. The coffee beans I used came from Quadra. I said maybe I had to send away for it, but I didn’t. It was even delivered to the house. Isn’t it great?” replied Trude.

Local filmmaker Morgan Tams said, “It’s fantastic to have Seafest return after the hiatus of Covid and particularly to have it in such a beautiful space as Squirrel Cove, to  reflect the diversity of the island by having it in a different location is really nice, and nice to just see everybody here and start to gather again. It’s a really nice, hopefully auspicious start to the summer.”

Squirrel Cove resident Bobbie-Gene Hanson added, “ I love that it’s in Squirrel Cove. It’s a fun new location, sort of revitalizes the area a bit. It’s great.” 

Tams explained, “ I think it’s really good for the local economy here on Cortes Island and in particular in Squirrel Cove, where it’s a little nook of the community here that doesn’t always get the foot traffic like other parts of the island do. So it’s really nice to see this revitalized bit, and to see some fresh new energy here on this part of the island.

 Have you been to Seafest before? 

“Yes. But just at the Gorge. It was great.  It was lovely, but it’s been a long time,” said Hanson. 

Linda Kovacs  was approaching the main kitchen area when I approached her.  

“I’ve been volunteering and cooking for the last 25 years on Cortes with the Sea Fest. It’s just amazing to me how the people get together, put their energy out and give everybody this great food. Julia Rendall’s amazing. Over the years, Kristen Scofield Sweet and her husband John put lots of energy and time into the Cortes SeaFest.**  My hat goes off to all those years that they put out, and hopefully we can continue to keep this going because it’s a wonderful event for the community.” 

CC: Are you a volunteer this year? 

“Yes, I am.” 

I asked one of the volunteers shucking oysters, if she would care to comment.  

  “I’m  Nikki Kelly,  I’m from Campbell River and I’ve known Julia Rendall for a very, very long time. Her daughter-in-law Leanne Campbell is my best friend.”

“I love doing this. It’s special to seeing the community come together and do this for everybody and just see everybody laughing, smiling, having fun, and providing this delicious food for other people to come and enjoy.” 

CC: When did you start volunteering for Seafest?

“Oh my gosh, probably eight years ago. I’ve done it twice, once here at Squirrel Cove*** and once at Gorge Harbor,” she said. 

Nine-year-old Julian Lyon, whose father is a shellfish grower, exclaimed. “It’s great! I like that lots of seafood farmers come and just make recipes that they know.

Eight-year-old Evan Gough said, “You can eat nice food sit down in the sun and listen to nice music.”

I spoke with Scotty Dog, who organized the music, half an hour before the festival opened. 

CC: Were there any worries organizing the festival?

 “Tons of worries. Making sure we had the volunteers, we had all the permits and licenses we needed, but everything came together Cortes style. We got the music all set up. Julia’s got all the food set up. We got lots of volunteers. Curt has cleaned the place up and we are looking forward to a fantastic day: the ocean right here, beautiful ocean front property.” 

Julia Rendall, a shellfish grower and Secretary of the Cortes Island Seafood Association, proclaimed,”The sun is shining, the view is amazing, and all the volunteers turned up -plus extra. There’s more people than  we thought, so that’s great.  The cooking is under control,  now we just want some people to come.”  

Come they did, in a constant stream that did not stop until the late afternoon. 

Ken Hanuse opened the festival with a traditional First Nations greeting.

There were two Indigenous food stalls in addition to the main seafood smorgasbord. 

 “I am Sharon Francis from Squirrel Cove with the Klahoose First Nation in our traditional territory. We are barbecuing salmon the toq qaymɩxʷ (Klahoose) way.”

“My name is Jeanie Hanuse. I’m from the Klahoose First Nation and we are selling bannock, canned salmon, smoked fish,  potato salad, greek salad , iced tea and oysters wrapped in bacon.” 

The block-long-lane between the Squirrel Cove Store and festival was lined with stalls.  

Cortes Currents interviewed three of them.

CC: Who are you, first of all? 

“Thaddius Conrad, Med Man brand.” 

CC: What does this festival mean to you? 

“Ultimately everything on Cortes is about community and I just had my one year anniversary of moving here. It’s really nice to be a part of something that didn’t exist last year .  It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together and hopefully a lot of off islanders show up to experience it.”

CC: Tell me about your products 

“I’ve been making natural medicine products, tinctures, lotions, and potions since around the time I was like 12 years old. So if anyone is suffering from any type of pain, neurological, or insomnia, I always prefer the natural approach.”

Another stall held cups and clothing displaying Indigenous designs.

  “My name is Luke Mack. I’m from Bella Coola BC. I met a lady from  the island here, and we hit it off, so I moved in probably about three or four years ago.” 

CC: And these are your designs? 

“Yes, they’re all my designs. This fishing hook design, I drew it when I was out fishing last year. There’s a lot of time off when it’s really slow. The hook here is actually like a sockeye hook. I  like how clean and sharp it looks. I wanted to try to incorporate that into one of my designs. This is a bear, that’s one of my family crests on my father’s side.  That’s the same design that I put on this mug right here.”

There was also a Cortes Radio booth, manned by the society President Bryan McKinnon.

BM: “Community markets like Seafest, or the Friday market at Mansons Hall and also the Gorge Market, are extremely important to Cortes Radio because it’s really our only branding other than the radio. It’s a chance to go and meet the listeners face to face. It’s a chance for people to ask questions. They’re really excited to see us. It’s also a way of getting our branding out in the world.  We sell t-shirts, we sell water bottles and it’s great to see people who travel internationally wearing their Cortes Radio t-shirts.  They send us back pictures: and they’re on volcanoes, climbing ruins and all that stuff, proudly displaying CKTZ, Cortes Community Radio. 

“We have to be able to raise money, and merchandise is one way of doing that. We also sign up people for donations, especially monthly donors, also volunteers and DJs. We met our best DJs  at a market somewhere, convinced them to come try it out, and they’re hooked. Some have been DJs for 10 years.”

Local naturalist George SIrk had some final thoughts about Seafest.

“I’d never eaten so many oysters in one day. I think I had 16 of them, but what a wonderful feast of clams, different types of oysters  and prawns.” 

“Kim and I went down to the beach and sat under our umbrella because it was  quite a harsh sun out there. While everybody was feeding behind us,  in the lineup I noticed  the birds that were also enjoying the seafood on the beach. You had the Oystercatchers flying back and forth, calling out. They were landing on the beach, eating their shellfish, probably limpets and maybe even oysters down there. Right next to them, some gulls were just poking the clams out of the beach,  taking them up in the air, dropping them on rocks and then eating them. Then, in  a big pool,  a Great Blue Heron  caught a fish.”

“So you had the Klahoose band with their salmon barbecue and out there you had the Great Blue Heron feeding on fish.  It’s almost like we were all one. The humans were feeding up here on shellfish and then all these different species of birds were out there enjoying the same foods.”

Music credits: there are snatches of Laurel Bohart playing on a flute in the background of the podcast and it ends with a very short clip from Dave Blinzinger’s performance. 

Top photo credit: Serving oysters – Photo by Roy L Hales



  • * The more than 350 people estimate is based on: (1) Julia Rendall said they sold 242 tickets for shellfish meals, and also fed about 40 volunteers. (2) When I checked, about 2:30 PM, one of the Klahoose food booths had sold almost all of their 42 salmon plates and the other Klahoose booth had already sold about 40 bannock bread (which goes along with their meals). Total 364 meals. When you add in the fact that some people may not have purchased any food and just listened to music or sold merchandise, 350 seems like a conservative estimate.
  • ** Julia Rendall is one of the principal organizers of this year’s Seafest. Kristen Schofield Sweet and her husband John Shook organized Seafest when it was in Gorge Harbour, prior to COVID.
  • *** Seafest was at Squirrel Cove for 6 years before moving to Gorge Harbour in 2014, where it remained until COVID.

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