Dawe, who worked with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Qualicum Beach, was working on the protection of estuary and foreshore lands for wildlife. He recognized that people need to connect to nature to care about nature. In 1989, he was inspired by a lively nature festival in Panama as a way to do this.
Dawe was one of the authors of Birds of British Columbia. In a 1990 newspaper article about this project he spoke of the Brant spectacle in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area and his ideas for a festival. Bashir read the article with great interest. As a resident of Columbia Beach, El-Khalafawi was familiar with the Brant. Further, he had experience developing wildlife viewing tourism in Ladysmith. At the time, El-Khalafawi was the manager of the Bayside Inn Resort (now known as Quality Resort Bayside) and incoming president of the Parksville Chamber of Commerce. He was looking beyond Parksville’s beaches for a new venue to promote the area.
In a small cove at the back of the restaurant of the Bayside Inn, El-Khalafawi and Dawe formulated the idea of the Brant Wildlife Festival.
El-Khalafawi formed the Mid-Island Wildlife Watch Society in October 1990, taking advantage of the BC Ministry of Environment (MOE)’s new Wildlife Watch initiative. With government support, several paid staff members, and a strong group of enthusiastic volunteers, the first Brant Festival came to life.
The festival succeeded due to support by individuals from all corners of the community as well as every level of government (Canadian Wildlife Service, the BC Ministry of Environment, Town of Qualicum Beach, City of Parksville, Regional District of Nanaimo), business associations (Parksville Chamber of Commerce, Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce and more recently the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association), local businesses and environmental organizations such as The Nature Trust of BC, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and local stewardship groups like Arrowsmith Naturalists, Nanoose Naturalists and the Parksville-Qualicum Fish and Game Association. Arrowsmith Naturalists provided precious volunteer expertise to help support events and to assist with the spring Brant population monitoring conducted by biologists working with the CWS. Monitoring of Brant began in 1988 and has continued every year. Over the years many individuals have contributed thousands of volunteer hours to help make this festival special from teachers who implemented a Brant curriculum to artists and photographers who created posters, provided auction items and set up displays.
One of the first significant partnerships grew from the Western Canada Carving Competition, which was organized by Ducks Unlimited Canada and moved from BC Place in Vancouver to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area. The Vancouver Island Woodcarving Club took a lead role and later added the Canadian Fish Carving Championships to the festival weekend. This competition became a pillar 3 day event of the Brant Festival for 19 years and is now called, The Pacific Brant Carving and Art Show.
Participants of the Big Day Birding, Carving Competition and art shows were drawn from across North America to support the BWF.
The success of the BWF has spawned several other similar events in BC and as far away as Ireland. You will find some wonderful festival experiences in the Okanagan at the Meadowlark Festival and in the Kootenays at the Wings over the Rockies.
The Parksville-Qualicum Beach community set the Brant Wildlife Festival into flight each spring. For 16 years the festival succeeded under the MWWIS. However, the time came when the society was challenged to secure the financial and human resources necessary to organize and operate the festival. It was in 2006 that the members of the society dissolved the society and transferred the assets to The Nature Trust of British Columbia- a non-profit land conservation organization with a strong presence in the mid-Vancouver Island area.
The Nature Trust of British Columbia promised to assist the festival until it could take flight through local leadership. For the past 10 years, The Nature Trust has coordinated the festival with the help of the City of Parksville, community groups, local event sponsors and volunteers.