Fossils of ancient whales found in Sooke
Plus, the world's best vermouth in Esquimalt
Last year we published a feature story from Devon Bidal, courtesy of our friends at Hakai Magazine, on fossils found here in the South Island and the role they play in developing science’s understanding of the history of whales.
That story was recently nominated for a Digital Publishing Award, so we’re including it here today. If you missed it the first time, check out this look at our region’s fascinating landscape—and its dedicated researchers. The awards will be announced June 2 in Toronto.
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How a fossil from a cliff near Sooke has helped researchers understand whale evolution
Stephen Suntok scours for fossils in South Island rock. Photo: Devon Bidal / Hakai
Stephen Suntok pushes through a tangle of blackberry bushes. It’s a gray July morning on Vancouver Island, and the smell of smoke from a wildfire to the north mixes with the briny sea breeze. Suntok looks up for a moment, gazing at the pale sky, then picks his way down a beach access clogged with tree trunks.
Along the shore, the tide has retreated, revealing an expanse of boulders coated in blankets of slick, verdant algae. Seagulls wheel overhead as the waters of nearby Muir Creek flow into the Salish Sea.
Suntok works as a criminal defence lawyer in Victoria but he spends much of his spare time in the service of science, collecting rare fossils that he donates to museums. For at least a decade and a half, he has searched shores and river gorges across Vancouver Island, collecting a wide variety of fossilized specimens—including the dental plate of a previously unknown fish, Canadodus suntoki, which paleontologists named after him, and a rare species of crab from a beach near Campbell River, where the species was once plentiful.
But of the many sites he checks regularly, few match the rock formations along Muir Creek beach when it comes to vertebrate fossils. In some spots, the sandstone cliffs and intertidal boulders are studded with fossil shells and bits of fossilized bone that date to more than 23 million years ago.
It’s in this ancient boneyard that Suntok has made some of his most intriguing discoveries—the fragmentary remains of ancient whales that lived and died in the ocean here tens of millions of years ago.
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Esquimalt vermouths named best in world
Quinn and Michela Palmer in their Esquimalt warehouse. Photo: Ryan Hook / Tasting Victoria
Behind a warehouse on Devonshire Road in an industrial park in Esquimalt—inside an even smaller warehouse—Quinn and Michela Palmer work day in and day out to make the world’s best vermouth. Literally.
This month their small-scale craft producer, Esquimalt Vermouth & Aperitifs, won World’s Best Dry Vermouth and World’s Best Semi-Sweet Vermouth at the 2023 World Vermouth Awards in London, UK. They are the first non-European vermouth producers to win World’s Best in the history of the competition.
This is just the latest international award win for the locals, who set out to compete with the best makers alive and within a few years have reached the same tier as those time-honoured masters.
Tasting Victoria talked to the Palmers about how they make such celebrated spirits—and about what vermouth even is, exactly.
Around the 'Shore
🚨 Paddleboarder saves duo from drowning at Thetis Lake: The woman paddled out 40m to pull two people (one by his hair) out of the water after their floatie flipped. View Royal Fire Rescue is reiterating water safety warnings; neither person could swim or had life jackets. [CTV /CFAX]
✨ Coastal Shores Window Cleaning has you covered! From pressure washing, moss removal, gutter cleaning, and window cleaning, Victoria’s best exterior cleaning company is the “clear” choice!*
🎨 Vote on the View Royal mural: The public art mural project will be painted on the trestle walls along Helmcken Road. Residents are invited to vote on the mural theme they like best at the town’s website. [Poll]
🚌 Fill a BC Transit bus with unopened menstrual products to help those in need. Join United Way on May 28, International Menstrual Hygiene Day, in creating menstrual equity for all!*
🌲 Juan de Fuca trail had third-most Search and Rescue calls in BC last year: It and Cape Scott (10th) were the Island trails in the top 10; combined, those 10 required 98 responses in 2022. The BC Search and Rescue Association said most (271) of the total incidents in 2022 resulted from lacking a map, underestimating the terrain, or a slip or fall. Part of the Juan de Fuca Marine trail just completed six months of renos as part of a larger $2.1M project to upgrade the 47km trail.
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🧑🌾 View Royal Garden Club meeting: The club’s general meeting is on May 24 at 7:30pm in Wheeley Hall behind Esquimalt United Church. There will be an expert speaker and a judged mini show featuring exhibits from members’ gardens.
🥕 Vegetable gardening with Kayla Siefried: The Sooke Garden Club is hosting a session on year-round vegetable gardening from Compost Education Centre on May 24 at 7pm at St. Rose of Lima Church.
🌿 Seaweed forage: Explore seaweed with Tom Kral on May 25 from 5 to 8pm at Whiffen Spit in Sooke.
🎓 Grad fashion show: The Edward Milne Community School grad fashion show is taking place on May 26 at 7pm at the school.
“Hatley Castle, Colwood. Hatley Castle, designed by Samuel Maclure, a Victorian architect, and completed in 1908 is a truly magnificent historic venue. Well worth a visit.” — Richard Steward, View Royal
📸 Snapped a photo you’d like to share? Send it with a caption and don’t forget to add where you live.
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