If you’re heading up the Sea to Sky, make sure you really see the sea.
In Squamish, that means a trip out on the Howe Sound, the magnificent stretch of salt water that starts in the Georgia Strait and ends in Squamish, making it the most southerly fjord in the northern hemisphere.
Nowadays, if you’re lucky, you might see a white-sided dolphin, herring, sea lion, seal or even a whale on the Sound.
Just a few decades ago that would have been impossible. “Right up until the 90s, you couldn’t eat any of the prawns or crab out of the Howe Sound.
It was so toxic,” explains Ruth Simons, director of the Future of Howe Sound Society. Areas of Howe Sound were once the most polluted in B.C.
The water received toxic drainage from a giant copper mine, two pulp mills and an industrial chemical plant, all operating on the shore that severely damaged local ecology.
Beginning in the 1970s, increased environmental regulation, expensive remediation projects and the dedicated work of researchers and citizen scientists began reversing the effects of the chemicals.
That work continues today.
For tour-operator and conservationist Norm Hann, it includes helping people get out on the water to appreciate the magic of Howe Sound and protect it for the next generation.
“Even in the short time that I’ve been on it, maybe 10 years, to see the comeback of life in Howe Sound has been really inspiring.
Every time you go out, it’s exciting because your chances are high of seeing wildlife or seeing new things happening,” said Hann.
He leads stand-up paddleboard tours of the Sound every summer, including a “coffee run” that takes visitors from the shores of Squamish down to Galileo Coffee in Britannia Beach.
Visitors to the Sound can also head out with the Sea to Sky Adventure Company. Owner Jeff Levine has been heavily involved in the clean up efforts and offers guided kayak and paddleboard tours and overnight tours in addition to gear rental for more independent explorers.
Harbour seals and bald eagles are a common sight on the sound.
While rarer, Hann’s most memorable moments include paddling with a huge pod of dolphins and finding himself over a “big, shining, shimmering school of herring.” There’s also plenty of bird life to see, in addition to sea lions, otters, salmon, octopuses, starfish and crab. In recent years, transient orcas, grey whales, and even a blue whale have been spotted in the water. •