Places to Go: Prince Rupert's Seafest is the ultimate Canadian destination

My friend Taya and I leave Terrace early in the morning, stopping to get caramel iced coffees from McDonald’s on our way out of town. We’re going to Seafest, an annual weekend of small-town festivities held in nearby Prince Rupert. I’ve convinced my parents to lend me their car for the weekend, and as we drive out of town I feel weightless, relishing the hum of the tires on the pavement and the vibration of the stereo blasting an upbeat playlist I’d hastily downloaded the night before.

I’ve heard that the stretch of Highway 16 between Terrace and Rupert is one of the most scenic in Canada, which isn’t hard to believe. Before the highway was the railroad, and before that just the Skeena River. Today all three wind together through the rich green forest and tall, often snow-capped, mountains. I’ve been on this road more times than I can count, but it never fails to amaze me.

When we arrive in Rupert, Taya and I spend a good ten minutes just trying to find a parking spot, finally managing to parallel park in front of our hotel. We watch the parade, which is low-tech by big city standards but still manages to delight me because of how much everyone there seems to truly care.

We see bagpipers, Bhangra dancers, firefighters, First Nations drummers, marching bands and countless trucks festooned with Canadian flags. I can’t help but feel fiercely proud of how many diverse groups are represented here, and grateful that I grew up in a place where I could experience it all. After a while, Taya and I take a Tim Horton’s break, watching the parade through the window and eating food that tastes like cardboard — but somehow in a comforting way.

Our band performance is later in the afternoon, so we take the opportunity to walk down to the port. I fill my lungs with salt air and take a billion pictures of the water and the worn boards of the docks. Taya and I decide that since we’re never going to be able to afford houses, we’ll live on boats instead, and we spend some time picking out which boats we like the best. On our way back uphill to the hotel we stop and watch grass volleyball in the park, and wind our way through the various food stands and handicraft booths that have been set up on the blocked-off main street.

We trek back to our hotel, grab our instruments and music and get ready for our afternoon performance. It goes okay — playing outside is always challenging both acoustically (tuning is unpredictable and the sound gets sucked up into the tent roof) and technically (we have to attach our music with clothespins so the wind doesn’t blow it away). Despite this, it feels good to play and there’s always at least one cute baby in the audience that I can smile at in between songs. Taya and I spend the three-ish hours we have before dinner admiring the view from our hotel room, which is right on the ocean, and doing some more wandering through Prince Rupert’s small downtown.

Dinner is wonderful — we’re eating at Cargo, a restaurant with beautiful views, fresh-caught seafood and locally-brewed beer. I have the salmon burger, which is about as good as anything I’ve ever eaten and prompts another wave of gratitude that I was born here and not somewhere in landlocked Ontario.

The meal is also an opportunity to catch up with people we haven’t seen for a year and discuss everything from local gossip to world politics. Coming back to Terrace after eight months in Vancouver is a vaguely disconcerting experience, but it’s made easier by this group of people that help me trace the connection between who I am in my hometown and who I am in the city. We traipse back to the hotel and we stay up late into the night talking, and I think about how happy I am to spend time with such kind, thoughtful and funny individuals.

The next morning we wake up early to eat breakfast and check out of the hotel. We have another set down by an old railway station near the water, and before we play we’re treated to displays by soaring airplanes and boats that churn out white figure-eights in the dark water. A toddler nearby waves happily at the planes and his excitement is so infectious that I wave too. I spot an old couple sitting side-by-side on a nearby bench and almost start crying at how sweet and simple everything is in this moment.

Our performance today is much better than yesterday’s, and feeling the sound of the whole band vibrate in my body is a type of therapy that I’ve sorely missed. A baby claps its hands in the audience and it feels good to know that even my clumsy and out-of-practice clarinet playing can help entertain people. After we play, Taya and I walk back to the car, drinking in the ocean breeze and the green, green world around us.