Published in the North Island Eagle, March 2017
Logger, fisherman, hunter, boat-builder, craftsman, entrepreneur… Regan Hickling lives a true North Islander’s life.
Born and raised in Alert Bay, where his father operated a water taxi, by age five Hickling was rowing a skiff, fishing, using knives, and shooting a rifle. He moved to Port Alice as a teenager in 1974 and stayed for more than 40 years, all the while developing an incredible array of skills and knowledge.
He started out as a mechanics helper at Rayonier, did some camp work, spent nine years as a logger hooktender, and today is a faller for Jeune Landing. An avid boater and fisherman, last summer he also worked on a gillnetter with his uncle.
In his spare time, Hickling operates a fishing charter and eco-tour business, building clientele ‘in preparation for retirement’. Twelve years ago, he saw a need for a reliable, safe, knowledgeable charter, and with encouragement from his partner, Patsy Bailey, initiated Rumble Beach Fishing Charter and Eco-Tours with his 20-foot Bayliner Trophy, out of Port Alice’s Rumble Beach Marina.
“We think of Port Alice as our town, and we take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I love to show the area and what it has to offer, the fishing and the wildlife.”
He provides everything needed for clients to catch salmon, cod, or halibut, and can also set prawn and crab traps, for a day’s-end feast. “We get a lot of regular, down-to-earth people. But some people get caught up in the excitement, and they want to keep pulling them in. Sometimes I have to say ‘how much fish can you eat?’”
His eco-tours through the remote Neroutsos Inlet and Quatsino Sound highlight local wildlife and history, from a safe and respectful distance.
Eagles, Harbour Seals, Sea Lions, Orcas, and Humpbacks are all possibilities. But a speciality of the area are Sea Otters, that can be seen only on the West coast of Vancouver Island (while River Otters habituate both coasts).
“Sea Otters were wiped out in the 1800s by hunters,” said Hickling. “In the late 1960s they were re-located from Alaska and have multiplied. I saw my first one in the 80s, and it’s not uncommon to see them now on this side. Rupert Arm is great area to see them.”
His historical knowledge of the area includes Quatsino Village and First Nations burial grounds, old mine sites, and the camp location of a 2015 Alone survivalist television series contestant.
Almost by accident, Hickling is also an artist. He had borrowed a friend’s sawmill to cut lumber to build a deck, but one of the logs was so full of knots he couldn’t get a board out it. So he made is first live-edge table top. With trendy metal legs, his handcrafted live-edge tables have been sold at upscale Vancouver furniture stores.
“I’ve only made a few. Maybe in retirement I will get more serious about it.”
Another recently completed woodworking project is a superbly crafted nine-foot cedar strip skiff. “It took two years to build and a lot of frustration. It’s tippy, but it’s fast.”
He also puts his building and carpentry skills to use doing home renovations, both his own, and for hire occasionally. It’s another business venture he will consider after retirement.
One of Hickling’s more unusual hobbies is bullet-making. “It’s something my dad did. He had a misfire once and that was the day he stopped buying bullets.” Hand-made bullets are a better product and less likely to malfunction he explains. He hunts deer on the island, and heads North for Moose and Elk when he can.
As diverse as he is, his ‘man cave’ hosts several sets of antlers, as well as original ink drawings of historic logging photographs.
His newest hobbies include building fishing rods and tying fishing flies (something he took up with his 18-year-old grandson). His basement includes a bullet-making station, a rod-making station, and fly-tying station, with an adjacent woodworking shop.
“I like to stay busy, and do things I enjoy, and if I make money – great.”
When he’s not too busy, he and partner Patsy, entertain on the waterfront deck he built, complete with firepit.
With all his skills and many retirement plans, it’s possible that Regan Hickling could be a North Island experience one-stop shop in the near future.
Growing Up in Alert Bay
Port Alice resident Regan Hickling grew up in Alert Bay during the fishing heyday of 1950s and 60s.
“You looked down the straits at night and it looked like a little city on the water, with all the boat lights from gillnetters,” said Hickling. “Back then, fishing opened at 6 p.m. on Sunday, and closed at 6 p.m. Thursday. There was big money and lots of spending, especially at the local bars, The Nimpkish and the Harbour Inn. It was kind of like the old gold rush towns.”
He remembers there were five water taxis in Alert Bay at the time, including one operated by his father, for transportation services to logging camps and nearby communities. Being on the water was a way of life.
“We spent hours and hours in a little skiff on the water, my brother and sister and I,” said Hickling. “We were about ages 4, 5, and 6.”
At that young age, Hickling also learned to shoot a rifle and use a butcher knife, under supervision, he notes.
Today’s beautiful and eerie boardwalked Alert Bay Ecological Park, previously known as Gator Gardens for a time, was known simply as ‘The Swamp’ in Hickling’s youth, and was a favourite place to explore as part of their adventures hiking around the island.
Hickling also remembers that cars were loaded by crane at the Government dock during the 1960s ferry service from Alert Bay, and one time the ferry was so full a vehicle was hanging over the edge of the deck, still attached to the crane cable.