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Canoe Journey doubles Shaw Island’s population

From left, Stephanie Buffum-Field visits with Lootie Hillaire after receiving a Pendleton blanket in appreciation of her efforts to organize the local Canoe Journey welcome.  - Richard Walker
From left, Stephanie Buffum-Field visits with Lootie Hillaire after receiving a Pendleton blanket in appreciation of her efforts to organize the local Canoe Journey welcome.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Shaw Island’s population more than doubled July 23-24 when participants in the Canoe Journey arrived on the island.

Friends of the San Juans, which coordinated the San Juan Islands welcome, initially thought 60 Canoe Journey participants would be staying the night on Shaw Island. Friends Executive Director Stephanie Buffum-Field’s husband, Cy, headed to Costco to buy enough food for 60 dinners.

Fortunately, she contacted her husband in time to let him know that 200 people would be visiting Shaw.

It was quite an experience, and a challenge, for the smallest of the ferry-served islands, which has a year-round population of about 180.

Canoes from Chinook/Grande Ronde, Lummi, Nooksack, Steilacoom, Suquamish, Swinomish and Tulalip visited Shaw and Roche Harbor July 23-26, en route to Vancouver Island and the final destination in this year’s journey: The territory of the Cowichan First Nation, near Duncan.

Some 55 Canoe Journey support vehicles and canoe trailers boarded the Anacortes-to-Shaw ferry. Shaw County Park was packed with canoe pullers and their families who camped there overnight; an overflow crowd spent the night in the Shaw Community Building. The Shaw General Store reportedly had some 80 customers at one time, arguably a record for the small market.

Islanders stepped forward to accommodate their visitors. Field and his young son, Max, stocked up on food supplies at Costco. Neal Foley, a professional cook, prepared dinners. Islanders brought food and berry cobblers.

“Local people came together,” Field said. “Neal said this was the most appreciative and patient group he ever cooked for. ”

It was a special time for islanders as well as canoe pullers, many of whom have ancestral ties to the San Juans. The Canoe Journey last stopped at Roche Harbor in 2004.

On July 24, the canoes stopped at Roche Harbor for a two-night visit. Friends of the San Juans coordinated a free community welcome dinner the first night. Friends had the assistance of an army of volunteers, and still, there was room for anyone who wanted to help.

Carol Maas, program administrator of Homes for Islanders, went out to see the canoes and ended up helping to serve food at the community welcome dinner July 24.

“It was very powerful,” she said of the overall experience. “I was very honored to be able to witness all the nations there. We had a lot of food, but there was nothing left at the end.”

Dinner was followed by canoe rides and traditional songs and drumming until about 10:15 p.m. The next day, islanders could paddle in a hand-carved cedar canoe canoe presented as a gift to the Lummi Nation to celebrate a wedding.

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