Our Story and Our People
Spirit of the West Adventures began in 1997 with an amazing passion for kayaking, killer whales and the British Columbia coast, and it has been the catalyst for many people's outdoor activity ever since. Based right here on the coast, we show you around with the pride of knowing it's our home. Take a few moments to meet the team behind the adventures.
Meet the owners
In 2006, longtime kayak guides Breanne Quesnel and Rick Snowdon joined as owners and continued Spirit of the West’s commitment to providing fun, safe and ecologically sound kayaking experiences in BC. While they have always been wilderness adventurers, being able to combine playtime with work infuses a client’s experience with a special kind of pleasure. After globetrotting for a few months most years, they always come back to their home on Quadra Island, BC, a testament to their love for the BC coast and the amazing opportunity for sea kayaking. As seagoing folk, Breanne and Rick love to live and breathe British Columbia coastal air. In 2014 Breanne and Rick welcomed their son Eamon to the paddling family. On New Year’s Eve 2015, Eamon’s little brother Rowan arrived.
Breanne, Rick, Eamon & Rowan
Breanne grew up in Ontario in a family who loved the outdoors. Much of her childhood was spent hiking, camping, canoeing, skiing and enjoying the fresh air. In 2002 Breanne completed an Honours Bachelor Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism and a Bachelor of Arts – Geography at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also completed her Bachelor of Education in Sydney, Australia. Over the years, Breanne has worn many hats including that of whitewater canoe guide, tree planter, environmental educator, elementary and secondary school teacher, sea kayak guide and most recently as educational program co-ordinator, guide and operations manager with Spirit of the West. The allure of the British Columbia coast drew her west several years ago, and now she spends most of the year on Quadra Island and her winters traveling. Breanne is a perfect candidate to set you up with a complete outdoor kayaking experience.
Rick spent his early years paddling in Ontario before heading to sea in tall ships for much of his high school years. He completed degrees in Outdoor Recreation and Biology at Lakehead University, as well as time studying oceanography in Woods Hole in 2000, interspersed with summers working search and rescue for the Canadian Coast Guard. Having sailed on the Great Lakes, California coast, North Atlantic and South Pacific, Rick took up sea kayaking in 1998. As a freelance writer, guide and photographer Rick has travelled around Canada and around the world, and has volunteered and worked in several countries including Vanuatu, Mexico, Australia, Ecuador, Grenada, Chile and the Bahamas. He is past board member of the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC and current board member of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association.
And the whole amazing crew
Our staff and kayak guides are simply exceptional and match the culture and spirit of our organization. They all have an amazing passion for kayaking British Columbia and for the killer whales in the BC waters that make it such a great experience.
Terms like self-reliance, adaptability, responsibility, confidence, and sense of humour all come to mind when describing their qualities. Considering that guides must perform in the multiple roles of wilderness guide, gourmet chef, role model and educator, it’s no surprise that they come from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds to each bring a unique and valued perspective to the way our business runs.
Our guides are extremely skilled (and certified by the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC) in kayaking, backcountry travel, responsible environmental practices, and high levels of first aid and safety procedures, continually upgrading their training and striving to improve knowledge and skills. And all our staff are adventurers in their own right – traveling and wilderness tripping doesn’t pause for us when the season’s over! Personal and training trips around the British Columbia coast and around the world keep us on top of our game. At the end of the day, what we ensure is that every trip is as safe and memorable as can be, and that you will not be disappointed kayaking the British Columbia coast.
Melissa Vaughan-Wickihalder | Marketing, Creative & Relief Manager
Melissa was born and raised in Switzerland and is a real mountain enthusiast. After studying graphic design, media & marketing in Zurich and Berlin she worked in the industry for many years before exploring the world, looking for challenging outdoor adventures. Spirit of the West inspired her to dive right into BC’s outdoor paradise and to develop her experiences in the outdoor travel industry. She has been with us since 2013 developing and marketing our brand. Meanwhile, she loves the wild West Coast like a local.
Gaspard Laniece | Operations & Kayak Guide
Gaspard is a prairie boy who has found his love for the ocean and the mountains in BC with the Wilderness Leadership Program at Capilano University. Nothing brings him more pleasure than sharing wildlife sightings and the beautiful outdoors with guests, friends, and family. This is Gaspard's second season with Spirit of the West.
Rebecca Chin Bergshoeff | Environment, Conservation & Technology Coordinator
Rebecca is passionate about facilitating opportunities for people to connect with nature. This has taken her from coast to coast: Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, where she’s worked as a hiking guide and coordinator of outdoor recreation and environmental education programs. She completed her Masters of Fine Art, exploring connections between art and our environment, and she continues to bring her creativity and curiosity to work and life. Rebecca loves her dynamic and varied role with Spirt of the West and enjoys supporting opportunities for people to experience the wild BC coast through our unique adventures.
Victoria Rogers | Sustainability & Office Coordinations
Victoria grew up in Ladner, British Columbia and has lived in many places over the years, but she describes moving to Quadra Island as finding her home. The moments she feels the most inspired, optimistic, and calm is when she is exploring and learning about nature. With a background in Geography (BSc., MA.), she has long been interested in how people connect with the environment and what motivates them to engage in environmental stewardship activities. Victoria’s role at Spirit of the West involves corresponding with guests as well as helping to build upon and implement our sustainability initiatives. When she’s not in the office, she can be found exploring the forest or beach with her toddler and loyal pup.
Kristen Nammour | Operations & Office Coordinations
Kristen is originally from San Antonio, TX but has lived in Canada for almost a decade. The lure of the BC coast has brought Kristen and her kayak guiding husband, Daniel, out to the islands to stay. Kristen is new to the Spirit of the West Adventures team this year and is working behind the scenes to help ensure the smooth running of the office. With a BBA in Marketing from Texas A&M University, Kristen has worked in various roles in marketing and administration for a number of small businesses. She is passionate about sustainable communities and resilient, localized food systems. In the winter, Kristen works with Young Agrarians, an organization dedicated to growing the next generation of farmers in Canada.
Sun Smith | Kitchen Management
Sun has worked in the catering and hospitality industry for over 20 years, including her own boutique B&B which garnered her several hospitality awards including the coveted Visit Britain Rose award for service excellence. After many years living on the Caribbean island of Montserrat and then in the UK, Sun's love of the West Coast has brought her back to her roots on Quadra Island. She shares our passion for great food with an emphasis on healthy, local and sustainable farm to table produce. When she's not in our base kitchen, she can be found up to her elbows in compost in her organic garden or out foraging for wild edibles in the beautiful forests of Quadra.
Frieda Humphreys | Kitchen Management
Frieda is a true island girl, having spent the first 17 years of her life living on a remote island. There she learned lots of handy life skills, such as running a chainsaw, hunting, fishing, as well as less frightening activities like knitting, gardening, and of course cooking! Frieda began washing dishes at Spirit of the West in 2011 and managed our kitchen for many, many years in a row. She graduated as a Social Worker in 2019 and is still supporting the kitchen crew, ensuring all things food related are taken care of.
Daniel Nammour | Kayak Guide
Daniel started guiding on the Rio Grande on the border of Texas and Mexico, spent some time wrangling horses in Kananaskis country in Alberta, and worked the Colorado, San Juan and Green Rivers of Utah’s canyon country before he finally reached the BC coast. Here he has found more wilderness than he could explore in a lifetime. When not doing so, he enjoys growing good food and eating well cooked meals with good company, preferably by the water and under the stars.
Ashley Hamilton | Kayak Guide
Ashley is an adventurer, outdoor educator, and traveller who lives for exploring the natural world and meeting new people. Her passion for the outdoors began in Niagara On The Lake, Ontario where she was born Her thirst for adventure continued through University where she led social justice programs abroad for young adults to Morocco, India, and Belize. She is a certified teacher with a degree in biology and psychology and has spent years working with inner-city youth teaching and directing at an outdoor experiential school. Ashley is excited to be sharing her passion for paddling and the environment with others while experiencing the beauty and inspiration of the West Coast.
Beverly Marshall | Kayak Guide
Bev's love of the outdoors has always been amplified when sharing it with others and it has brought her to guiding in locations all over the West Coast. Whether it's slowing down to take in the scenery or waking up with a destination in mind, Bev brings infectious energy, humour, and care to each tour. She keeps busy in Nelson in the off season. She spends her free time with friends hiking, skiing, surfing and practicing meditation and yoga.
Nicole Kilistoff | Kayak Guide
Nicole cultivated a deep love for the ocean and the mountains from her parents who were either out exploring nature or planning the next family adventure. She continued to feed this passion and entered the Wilderness Leadership Program at Capilano University, wherein she discovered a world of career possibilities for an outdoor enthusiast such as herself. Now working as a Ski Patroller in the winter and Kayak Guide in the summer, she has found a tangible means to constantly learn and challenge herself. When not strapped to a pair of skis or in a kayak she can be found in Squamish, her home, rock climbing, hiking, crafting, laughing and cooking for friends.
Cass Sica | Kayak Guide
Cass is a guide, outdoor educator, and teacher who loves to explore and play outside. He has a passion for ecology and helping people find their connection to the natural world. When he is not engaged with youth programming he can be found paddling, climbing and hiking across the coast.
Ben Boulton | Kayak Guide
Ben appeared on Vancouver Island a few years ago with a dream that he would find waves, whales and whitewater. Well folks, it turns out this dream came true and now this coast might be stuck with him for a while. Over the years Ben has been found guiding in a variety of vessels on the pristine lakes of Algonquin Park, the rushing rivers of Ontario and Quebec and the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountain range. He has a degree in Civil Engineering, working for a while in this field before being drawn back to guiding and exploring this wonderful world where we live. In the off season, Ben can often be found in the water attached to a surf board or kayak somewhere around Vancouver Island, Chile or New Zealand.
Lé Chandler | Kayak Guide
Vancouver Island has been Lé’s home for the last 8 years. Hooked on life by the ocean and mountains, Lé has been exploring the island’s backcountry while working as an outdoor educator. Lé's fun-loving, playful energy has led them into the guiding world where they enjoy meeting new folks and sharing in the magic of the natural word. Lé’s passion for kayaking has been fueled by the ability to explore less accessible areas by sea. Outside of guiding, Lé is a school teacher and market gardener in the Cowichan Valley, traditional territory of the Quw'utsun people.
Tessa Stiven | Kayak Guide
A born and raised Vancouver Island girl, Tessa loves the ocean and mountains of her home. She has spent the last six years exploring the Island as an environmental educator guiding backcountry trips for youth. She is occasionally persuaded to leave the Island, and works internationally as a wilderness guide for college study abroad programs. When not guiding, Tessa can be found with her hands happily in the dirt on her permaculture farm in the Cowichan Valley.
Aleia Wylie | Kayak Guide
Aleia grew up in Coquitlam, BC, and has always had the water and mountains as her backyard to play in. She took the Adventure Studies program at TRU, where her love for kayaking and guiding began. Aleia’s favourite part about being in nature is that every moment of every day is different and always offers new experiences to share. Given the opportunity, she can be found sitting by tide pools for hours at a time, watching the lives of the many tiny creatures unfolding slowly in the still water. When not guiding, Aleia can be found climbing, riding her bike, snacking or finding new and narrow places to squeeze her kayak into.
Jess Williamson | Kayak Guide
Jess was born and raised in Ladner, BC. She grew up exploring all over the BC coast and interior with her family finding new camping and fishing hideouts. She thrives on being connected to nature and the outdoors and loves to share her passion with anyone willing to listen. Originally introduced into the industry through Capilano University’s Wilderness Leadership Program, Jess has enjoyed being able take her skills over the past five years to a multitude of different areas across Vancouver Island, northern and interior British Columbia and abroad to New Zealand. Jumping around from adventure to adventure can get pretty busy sometimes but in her down time, Jess enjoys nothing more than truly taking in the beauty of a place with good company, a warm fire and possibly a cold beer in hand.
Lisa Denholm | Kayak Guide
Lisa's many adventures brought her from Alberta to the coast a number of years ago. As a trained educator (BC teacher) she is keen to share the natural world with those on her trips. In between seasons with Spirit of the West, Lisa can be found introducing students to the outside world teaching with school outdoor programs in Vancouver.
Brendan Kowtecky | Kayak Guide
Brendan (originally from Ontario) is a certified kayak addict, and for the past 12 years and has enjoyed sprint racing, whitewater, and sea kayaking. He studied Outdoor Adventure at Algonquin College before moving to New Zealand for a couple of years. Upon returning, he headed to the north shore of Lake Superior and fell in love with the open water. Since moving out to BC, he has been lucky enough to guide in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, as well as the East Coast. In the winter months he heads down to Antarctica to do more kayak guiding.
Kevin Nickerson | Kayak Guide
Born and raised in Calgary, Kevin found his way to BC after high school to study kinesiology. After graduating he set out to reconnect with nature and begin exploring the world in as many ways as possible, igniting a passion for sharing the wonders of this world with those around him. In his off time Kevin can be found skiing, ski touring, surfing, and developing his kayaking in as many ways as he can.
Martin Blanchard | Kayak Guide
Martin was born and raised in New-Brunswick where he fell in love with the ocean at a very young age. While spending 7 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a Vehicle Technician in Ontario, he fell in love with whitewater kayaking on the mighty Ottawa river. He now lives on Vancouver Island where he completed his Adventure Guiding Certificate at North Island College. Martin can be found exploring his new love for mountains in his island backyard, running some whitewater rivers or kayak surfing the waves in Tofino.
Bill Rickson | Kayak Guide
Bill is from Comox where he was born. He has been a kayak guide for 14 seasons and is at home on the water around Vancouver Island. In the Winter he pursues a ski guiding career in the Kootenays. Bill fantasizes about buying a nice mountain bike but wonders if he would ever have time to use it.
Savannah Zumach | Kayak Guide
Savannah was raised on Vancouver Island in Victoria with much of her childhood spent outside either camping, hiking, or kayaking. She's been in love with the outdoors since she was a kid and now is lucky to have a career working outside with super rad people sharing my passion. In 2014 she took a program called Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training at Strathcona Park Lodge, and has been guiding and working with youth in the outdoors since.
When I am not working my hobbies are skiing, surfing, and exploring the coast!
Rowan Morris | Kayak Guide
Rowan grew up on the south coast of BC. Introduced to the ocean and mountain landscapes by his parents, the outdoors has been a part of his life from the very beginning. With his summers spent guiding, his winters are currently spent studying Tourism Management at Thomson Rivers University. When not working, he can be found climbing in the mountains, swimming in alpine lakes, or reading on the beach.