Brant Wildlife Festival History
Where it all began
The history of the Brant Wildlife Festival (BWF) can be traced to the creativity and drive of Oceanside residents Neil Dawe and Bashir El-Khalafawi.
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 Bayside Oceanfront Resort) 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 Brant Wildlife Festival has been supported by: Canadian Wildlife Service, BC Ministry of Environment, Town of Qualicum Beach, City of Parksville, Regional District of Nanaimo, Parksville Chamber of Commerce, Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce, Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, The Nature Trust of BC, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Arrowsmith Naturalists, Nanoose Naturalists, Parksville-Qualicum Fish and Game Association, Friends of French Creek Conservation Society, and the Hamilton Marsh Committee.
The Arrowsmith Naturalists provided invaluable 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 Wildlife Festival for 19 years and is now called “Pacific Brant Carving, Woodworking & Art Show”.