How one family has traded carpools for tidal pools and is raising their kids to live in the open, surrounded by nature.
The Great Bear Rainforest is a destination that’s all about the journey. Spread across the inlets and islands of British Columbia’s Pacific Coast, roads that crisscross the rest of the mainland don’t go there. Once you fly in by seaplane, there aren’t libraries, movie theaters, or any of the things that preoccupy most children—but there are millions of hectares of untouched, old growth forest. Fog hides its shorelines for much of the summe, and ice barricades its bays in the winter. Getting in and out of the region can be a challenge, but Fraser Murray navigates the landscape with ease—after all, this is where he chooses to raise his family.
On warmer mornings, he can often be found with his two daughters (ages 8 and 5) going for long walks along the coastline of Nimmo Bay, examining tidal pools and looking for crabs and starfish. The girls compete for who can find the most colorful specimens, knowing that this area is home to purple, pink, orange and even cobalt blue specimens—far more vibrant and memorable when held in a tiny hand than when observed in the pages of a textbook.
It’s here, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, between Vancouver Island and mainland B.C., where Murray’s parents came to build a no-frills fishing lodge in 1980. It’s where he grew up, it’s where he transformed that no-frills fishing lodge into a high-end eco-tourism destination, and it’s where he, in turn, raises his own children. Murray’s two girls spend part of the school year at home in Victoria, but are moved out to Nimmo Bay for much of the retreat’s annual seven-month season. Instead of experiencing the power of nature through field trips and summer camps, his daughters are truly immersed in the natural world—and as a result, live an education that is broad, deep and more holistic than anything taught in a conventional school.
When we spoke with Murray on the phone recently, he assured us with a chuckle that while his family lives in the wilderness for much of the year, life at Nimmo Bay is far from “roughing it.” But that wasn’t the case in the early 80s when Murray was brought here as a child.
“It was work, work, and more work,” says Murray. “When my parents started this place, my brother was serving guests in the front room, and I was guiding at age seven. There was no power or running water, just kerosene lanterns and it was survival mode. Now, there’s forty people on staff.”
The lessons he learned back then are something he wants to pass on to his own daughters now. So today, while they have resort perks like smoothies on demand and wi-fi to keep up with their classmates back home, the girls’ real-world experiences of living in the open are the centerpiece of their upbringing: building fires and safely extinguishing them, catching and cleaning fish and being in harmony with the landscape.
“The girls are out fishing, swimming, hiking, experiencing the open space every day,” says Murray. He likes to take them along for fishing trips, and says that even at their young age, the girls can catch, clean, and cook their own fish straight from the bay’s waters. “It’s a different education that is just as important but perhaps not as typical.”
Even downtime out here in the open is an opportunity to learn. From time to time, Murray will set up a playground behind the lodge with zip lines and rope swings for the girls to play on. But when there’s a bear sighting in the area—as there was recently—the girls know to seek shelter indoors and give nature its space. “We’re very much at the mercy of the landscape out here, and the girls are respectful of that,” says Murray.
Life in the woods, however, is not without its challenges for two young girls. Getting them back to Victoria and keeping in touch with school friends is an ongoing challenge, just as dealing with the flow of guests through the lodge. “It can be tough when you have new friends every four days,” says Murray, but he sees the rotation of guests as not a problem, but a prospect—it exposes his children to worlds they may not encounter elsewhere. Visiting musicians provide impromptu music lessons. Travellers from around the world share their stories. Foragers who come to Nimmo Bay allow the girls to tag along on their excursions and learn about the forest’s many bounties, such as how to dig for mushrooms, and which poisonous things to avoid. The girls, like their father, are consummate hosts—they enjoy engaging with visitors and often have as much to say as any of the seasoned guides (many times their age!) about where to find the best starfish, or which trees are best for hide and seek. It’s a wild upbringing, but a well-rounded one.
Passing on his own confidence in nature is a guiding principle of Murray’s and his wife’s approach to parenting. Knowing the various species of plants, or where to find the most colorful starfish, or how to avoid bear encounters is, after all, the type of knowledge that attracts guests from around the world to visit Nimmo Bay. Life out here is a challenge, but it is also his family’s greatest asset.