THANKS TO SOME FRIENDS who invited me to join them, I was one of thousands who headed to Fairy Creek on Saturday, May 29.
As a member of the media, I get an email from the RCMP each morning telling me where arrests are expected. My friends were willing to be arrested and I was there to document those arrests. But this morning, the RCMP email, which I received as we travelled to Fairy Creek, noted that no enforcement of the injunction would be happening. No explanation, but we wondered aloud if it was because there were going to be so many people coming out that day to show support for Fairy Creek’s old-growth forest and its defenders. Convoys had been arranged from Victoria and Duncan, and it was a beautiful, warm sunny day.
Without the drama of arrests, however, most mainstream media would not show up. No press would be there to witness the large numbers of old-growth defenders willing to be arrested, as occurred on a similar day back in 1993 at Clayoquot Sound, an event that became an icon for the entire summer of civil protest that followed and a visual magnet that drew people from across Canada. The RCMP sidestepped that this weekend.
Just past Cowichan Lake, at the community of Mesachie Lake, we saw pro-logging supporters getting ready for their own blockade. Later news reports indicated it drew only a small number of disgruntled loggers from all over the Island. The Cowichan Valley Citizen reported a total of “dozens” coming from “Courtenay, Campbell River, Gold River, Zeballos and Port McNeill.”
Despite the low attendance, however, the loggers protest got more media coverage than the reported 2,000 or so who headed to the Fairy Creek area demanding a stop to old-growth logging.
When my party of would-be arrestees arrived at Fairy Creek “headquarters,” we were asked to head to Waterfall Camp. Waterfall had been dismantled the previous day by the RCMP, including the removal of a blockader who had been ingeniously suspended at the end of a pole over a deep canyon. This blockade is viewed as a crucial one to re-establish because it guards the entrance to the old-growth forest at the ridge above pristine Fairy Creek Valley.
The RCMP have set up a very large “exclusion zone” for this camp. It extends approximately 12 kilometres down a logging road. On our arrival, a dozen or so RCMP were at the entrance to it, doing their own blockading. I am not sure whether it was the sheer numbers of peaceful citizens or Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones telling the police that they were the trespassers and that the “forest defenders are welcome and legal guests on this land,” but everyone was allowed through—on foot only, except for Bill Jones in his vehicle.
Supporters of the blockades head up to Waterfall Camp, through the 12-kilometre exclusion zone.
It was a long, at times seemingly endless, walk uphill. We passed vast clearcuts on exceedingly steep hillsides that made us long for shade. Huge silvered stumps dating back to the mid-1900s were interspersed among much smaller new stumps. Walking mate Jenny Balke, a professional biologist based on Denman Island, told me this area “was famously and horribly logged from at least the 1970-80s on,” resulting in “many fines etc that went nowhere. So now, at all the reasonable heights, they are clear-cutting for the second time.” The recent second-growth logging illustrates we are not waiting anywhere near the required time to grow big trees. “The only old-growth forestry areas,” noted Balke, “are way high up and far out.”
Those are what are being defended (and coveted by industry). Balke herself was willing to be arrested, if not today, some other time.
HUNDREDS OF US MADE THE PILGRIMAGE up to Waterfall Camp. All ages and walks of life were present—an elderly gentleman from Gabriola, babies in snugglies. I met at least two families with three generations represented. Susan Stokes, a grandmother and forest industry worker from Chemainus, was with her daughter Patti Johnston and teenage granddaughters Haley and Catherine. Against a backdrop of a clearcut, Stokes said, “This isn’t sustainable forestry.”
Susan Stokes, daughter Patti Johnston, granddaughters Catherine and Haley
Her granddaughters were passing out a written plea to forest workers. It stated in part: “Don’t blame the people that are trying to save the last remnants of our majestic old-growth forests. Tree farms can never replace these forests. Tree farms have no diversity…Don’t let corrupt government and corporate giants divide us.” They also passed out a sheet with details from the government’s own commission—like the 1,680 species at risk of extinction in BC, more than any other province, and how the key is to conserve the diversity held in old-growth forests, lands that are being mismanaged.
There were artists, teachers, retirees, tech workers, health care workers, ecotourism operators marching for hours. Two women acting as legal observers had come from the Okanagan.
Lannie Keller, a kayaking lodge owner, joined the protest.
Some fellow pilgrims were planning to camp overnight—I didn’t envy them as they lugged up heavy packs.
At times a deafeningly-loud helicopter buzzed above us, gathering police “intel” we supposed. Fellow walkers expressed dismay about police resources being spent in such ways.
Besides the clearcuts and helicopters, we crossed bridges over beautiful streams cascading down the rugged terrain. The logging roads themselves are a marvel of engineering. I couldn’t help but think of all the tax dollars spent to subsidize this difficult and expensive access for logging—and how few people the logging industry now employs.
SOME TURNED BACK before reaching Waterfall Camp, but in my pulse of plodding people alone there were 150 or so that did complete the three-and-a-half-hour hike. Young, old, First Nations, settlers. But no mainstream news media at all.
And no RCMP, so no arrests, despite the many who were fully prepared to be arrested.
While many dipped their toes or whole bodies in the falls by the road to cool down from the long hot trek, others tried to imagine the camp infrastructure that had been in place—the cantilevered pole with a forest defender precariously dangling over the deep canyon, the pole held in place by a parked car. An excavator had come in Friday, after media had been banished, and removed the courageous young man.
I don’t doubt he’ll be back to participate in some way; the people are determined. And they are being shown a lot of love from around the province, if not the world.
The logging community knows this. As a woman involved in the aforementioned loggers protest stated on CHEK TV: “Bring in the forces. Bring in the military, clear their asses out. Don’t just…process and release them because they’re going right back.”
But the real story of the weekend, despite it not making the news, was not the drama of arrests or angry loggers, but the mind-boggling surge of support from ordinary citizens of all ages and walks of life for old-growth forests and the blockades protecting them: hundreds, perhaps thousands, walking up to Waterfall Camp over the weekend; similar numbers at “Headquarters;” logging roads lined for miles and miles with vehicles and campers. Everyone peaceful, witnessing the massive, ugly clearcuts, and the beauty of the remaining forests, sharing ideas and opinions, dismay and hope.
BEFORE WE DESCENDED FROM WATERFALL, those in camp took a minute of silence for the children found at the Kamloops residential school.
And then a torn banner, rescued from the rubble, was raised to proclaim the re-establishment of Waterfall Camp.
The banner being raised at Waterfront Camp, May 29, 2021
As those of us who needed to return home that evening descended the long, winding road from Waterfall blockade, we passed many more people on their way up. Some would stay the night and help rebuild the blockade that the RCMP had destroyed.
Back at the bottom of the road, at the entrance to the exclusion zone, there were throngs of blockade supporters mingling and setting up camp for the evening; lots of good vibes and beautiful smiles. The numbers are overwhelming.
I am glad to have witnessed it. My walking mate Jenny said in an email a couple of days later, that she “was very disheartened at the news clip on CBC radio Monday morning: Some protesters broke through police blockade over the weekend…sigh! Rather than: 1000s came to say old-growth logging has to stop!!”