Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963)
The Waterfront, Alert Bay, British Columbia, 1928
colour woodcut on paper (edition: 300)
15.9 x 22.5 cm

Printed on Goyu paper from six cherry-wood blocks, this is the first print in the 1928 portfolio of seven colour prints entitled The Canadian Scene. Phillips provided the following commentary:

From a technical standpoint, this print is the nearest approach to the pure tradition of Nippon I have made as yet. Here is an outline for everything but the distances. The clouds crept across the further hillside whilst the sketch was being made. Before they were introduced, the composition lacked balance and that particular hillside lacked interest. Such clouds are common. They were the delight and the bane of my stay in that neighbourhood. Their restlessness now disclosed unsuspected distances, now obliterated them wholly or in part, thus shifting the scene every few moments. The humidity of the air produced wonderful tones of blue in every background and a range of soft chromatic harmonies that never occur on the prairies or in the mountains.

No wonder the long and tenuous water-front of Alert Bay makes the tourist goggle-eyed. it is compact of exotic life and of strange monuments, redolent of romance. Almost next door to the cannery, which divides the Indian Village from the rest, stood the tall totem-pole now in Stanley Park, Vancouver. It stood in front of a large community house, like an engaged column in European architecture, and the spreading wings of the thunder-bird were painted on the façade. The bird's lower jaw was pivoted to open and shut, it disclosed an aperture through which, not so long ago, prisoners were forced to crawl, to receive a lethal blow when their heads appeared within the building. An artistic variant of walking the plank.

The board walk fronts many community houses, each with totems; between it and the sea are a few shacks, a few stores; but it is mostly open and separated only by a beach of rounded pebbles. The beach is littered with logs—white, grey and flesh-coloured—and amongst them are a few painted canoes, most graceful craft.

This is a view from the board-walk in the white quarter, looking over Johnstone Strait. The few shacks which are roofed with cedar "shakes", and the wharf, belong to an affable Chinese merchant named Jim King.