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  1. Stephen Hume

    One of Us

    June 17, 2020 Forty-five years ago, Barrie Gilbert had a part of his face ripped off by a female Grizzly bear. Yet he has spent his life devoted to undoing the demonizing of this complex, highly intelligent creature. Warning: graphic, bone-crunching description ahead. Female grizzly feeding cubs at Glendale Cove on the B.C. mainland about 35 kilometres north of Sayward where there have recently been numerous grizzly sightings. Photo by Shea Wyatt, courtesy Barrie Gilbert. ALMOST 45 YEARS AGO, not long after sunrise dappled the remote ridge they were climbing in Montana’s Rocky Mountains near the borders of Idaho and Wyoming, a Canadian wildlife biologist and his graduate student emerged from the stunted tree line on a cold, windswept height three kilometres above sea level. This was Bighorn Pass. For sake of comparison, that’s almost twice the altitude of Mount Arrowsmith, the craggy, snow-clad peak that so dramatically dominates the skyline above the pass separating Nanaimo from Port Alberni. The two men were there to observe and study how grizzly bears responded to back country hikers and mounted outfitters with pack trains. It was part of an ambitious research project at Utah State University, where Barrie Gilbert had landed a faculty position after graduating from Queens University, taking a doctorate at Duke and then doing field research in Alberta. To get there, they’d spent a week humping their 20-kilogram packs through the foothills, fording rushing creeks and paddling 30 kilometres across deep, icy Yellowstone Lake, itself almost 2.5 kilometres in elevation. It hadn’t been an easy passage. They’d endured a series of marching cold fronts which spawned thunderstorms, hail, drenching rain and lashing squalls that repeatedly forced them ashore when the short, steep waves threatened to swamp their aluminum canoe. The canoe itself was cause for concern. There was frequent lightning. The prospect of getting fried by a strike on the lake or while huddling under the up-turned hull to shelter from pelting rain loomed large in his imagination. So did grizzlies. At night, they’d camped well off the trail and they’d dragged in snags and branches from deadfalls to create crude barriers around their tent that, if they gave no real protection, at least offered an early warning should a bear approach. Eventually they reached their destination and, to their excitement and delight, soon encountered what they’d come to observe—a grizzly bear in pristine habitat. It was a female with three cubs digging roots in an alpine meadow. They watched enthralled as she stood down a male that approached, a mortal threat to her cubs. Male grizzlies, like lions, will kill the offspring of competitors. Later the bear family ambled down the meadow they shared with a small herd of grazing elk. The next morning, Gilbert decided they should circle behind and climb the back side of the adjacent Crowfoot Ridge so they could observe the bears more closely from above. Just as they left the scrubby trees at the top, Gilbert felt a call of nature and moved ahead of his partner to find a spot. He hunched over, keeping himself low to avoid spooking the elk with his silhouette against the skyline. That was when he met the bear. It had unexpectedly come up the other side of the ridge. Gilbert realized later that the unfortunate encounter—for him at any rate—was shaped by two things. First, because of the menace of the big male to her cubs, the female grizzly was already on hair-trigger alert. Second, approaching in a hunched-over stance, the biologist must have resembled a stalking predator. There was one explosive “woof,” a blur of brown hurtling out of the scrub and in seconds he was on the ground. “Her teeth felt like a row of pick-axes scraping across my head as she tore my scalp off,” he recalled later, although strangely, he says, he felt no pain in the moment. “Her second bite came down on my face, a big canine tooth punching into my eye-socket. ‘This is how you die,’ I thought as I felt bones crunch. One bite removed my cheekbone and sinus, exposing brain membrane. “As my life drained onto the ground”—it was later determined that he was hemorrhaging almost half of his blood supply—“I went limp and the biting stopped.” The grad student, Bruce Hastings, courageously yelled and the grizzly retreated. The bear, Gilbert later realized, was simply being a bear—reacting to his presence as a threat to her cubs. She wasn’t interested in killing him for the malicious reasons humans attribute in their deep trait of anthropomorphizing other animals. She simply wanted to neutralize an unknown and unidentified threat and once it was no longer a threat, she left. A less resilient person might have surrendered to the terrible wounds and died on the mountain. But Gilbert was tough. He was also very lucky. A team of highly trained medical technicians attached to a smoke-jumping crew had just deployed from a nearby fire base. And the helicopter pilot who picked him up had just done two combat tours in Vietnam war, landing under the most difficult conditions. Finally, a team of military surgeons experienced with battlefield trauma had just been assigned to the nearest medical facility. Gilbert’s first surgery, the one that would save his life following a bear mauling in the remote Rockies, took 11 hours and exhausted the hospital’s suture supply. The lead surgeon, Earl Browne, who has since died, later showed Gilbert photographs from before they began reconstructing what remained of his face. “All my facial skin and scalp was pinned out like a rat dissection in Biology 101,” he writes in the preamble to his astonishing memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Scientific curiosity and a fascination with methodology trumped squeamishness. “I wasn’t repelled,” he writes. “I asked Dr. Browne if he had seen this kind of damage before. “‘Well, yes,’’’ the surgeon replied. “‘But not all on the same guy.’” So, through a combination of luck and fortitude, Gilbert survived the extraction and a round of intensive surgeries. His maimed face was rebuilt—although the massive injuries left him blind in one eye and his face permanently disfigured. Barry Gilbert closely observing a young grizzly bear on a river at Geographic Harbour, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy Barrie Gilbert. IF THIS STORY SOUNDS LIKE THE MAKING OF A BOOK, IT WAS. But not the book you might expect. This gripping story—a journalist like me might have made a whole book out of it alone—occupies a mere 15 pages at the beginning of Gilbert’s recently published memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Gilbert went home to convalesce, to endure his 15-minutes of fame as the media descended to pester him for lurid details—mostly, he concluded, to advance a stereotype of grizzlies as “rogue killers in the woods eager to eat your children”—and to grapple with the post traumatic stress disorder that came with the cold reality of people staring at his facial disfigurement. Some might have withdrawn. “I chose to see the staring responses of others as their problem,” Gilbert writes. “I was a handsome guy and still am (inside).” Instead, he rejoiced that his hands still worked. And his scientist’s analytical brain. It reminded him of something equally important—point of view. Which is why the following summer found him sitting beside half a tonne of black bear just stirring from anaesthesia after being darted in his new research project. With only the slightest misgivings, Gilbert stayed with the bear while it recovered consciousness—staying with bears in such a state is essential, he notes, because a handicapped one invites opportunistic attacks from other bears, another trait they share with humans. “Fear of that bear was not an issue for me, but I could only guess why,” he writes. “Maybe long experience with animals and my short dose of terror carried the day.” We should all be grateful that Gilbert didn’t succumb to the kind of risk-averse apprehension regarding bears that might have gripped the rest of us, because he went on to almost half a century in the field, exhaustively studying bears in their habitat and in the most intimate proximity, at that. He sat with them, walked with them, observed them more closely than the benighted rest of us might get in a zoo with cages. His field work took him from the American Rockies to the Alaska wilderness and deep into Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. One of Us charts that remarkable journey, not just through the bush in search of the great predators, but also through the devil’s club thickets of contradictory political policy; the technical disagreements spawned by what he calls “conservation contrarianism” and “science friction”; and the baser economic conflicts between the imperatives of ecological integrity for a threatened species and the special interests of industry, from tourism to timber harvesting to the powerful big game hunting lobby. There’s far more than the science of observation and dry statistical analysis here. Gilbert’s memoir takes us on an extraordinary excursion through the history—and pre-history—of relations between bears and humans. First, it explores the thousands of years of bears’ coexistence with indigenous peoples, an entanglement of mutual tolerance that populates the innermost of First Nations’ sacred spaces and endures into the present. Second, it examines the fatal contact between bears and a settler culture which demonized the animals as a precursor—and rationalization—for their systematic extirpation from vast areas of their range, particularly in the United States. Explorers, fur traders, cattle ranchers and sheepherders shot them, trapped them and poisoned them in great numbers. Trophy hunters preyed on the remnants. Then loggers, farmers and urban developers set about destroying their habitats. Once abundant in California, for example, the last grizzly bear was shot there in 1922 and the species survives only on the state flag, a reminder of our propensity to make icons of what we destroy. Grizzly populations dwindled to about 1,500 in the lower 48. There are 600 in Wyoming, 800 in Montana, 400 in Alberta, maybe 70 in Idaho and 20 in Washington. In Canada, there are about 25,000 bears, of which about 15,000 are in BC. When Europeans arrived by land it was estimated there were 25,000 in BC alone. One of Us takes us back to 1805 and the first scientific expedition of discovery by land across what’s now the western United States by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. The party shot and killed 51 grizzly bears and wounded another 18, probably mortally. From then on it just got worse for the bears. And yet humans and bears can safely coexist, Gilbert argues, and provides the evidence from deep personal experience. He disrobes the enduring myth of the demon bear and reveals a complex, highly intelligent creature with a fascinating social system and crucial roles in the natural ecosystem. As I was reading One of Us, I thought about an incident that happened more than 20 years ago, when I was still young and agile enough to do some serious bushwhacking. I was deep in the arid rain shadow somewhere between Yalakom Mountain and Lillooet. The environmentalist I was with, my guide on a tour of another of British Columbia’s old-growth forests doomed to yet another chainsaw massacre with the blessing of politicians who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, led me on a side trek. He wanted to show me something special. In the forest floor, carved into a steep slope way out back of the outback, was a stairway. The steps were constructed from beaten earth and they had obviously been there for a long, long time. At the top of this staircase, in a fern-ringed hollow in the earth where a spring bubbled from the fractured rock of the mountain, was a natural basin filled with cool, clear water. My guide had come across it by accident. There had been a commune in the Yalakom Valley back in the 1970s, founded by a Simon Fraser University professor at the height of the back-to-the-land movement, but most of its adherents had dispersed again by the mid-1980s. Was this an artifact from a lost utopian dream? What my guide told me was astonishing. It belonged to the bears. Black bears would climb the mysterious steps, soak in the cool bathtub, then descend the steps again and vanish into the trees. Clearly, he said, the bears had worn the staircase into the hillside, probably over centuries of use, and they were still using it after who knew how many generations. “In many ways,” Gilbert writes, “grizzly bears cluster with wolves, dolphins, apes, and elephants as cultures, highly social civilizations that we barely understand.” What does he mean when he ascribes civilization to bears? He turns to American naturalist Henry Beston, who noted in 1928 an inherent hubris in human notions of superiority over other creatures, the assumption of a hierarchy with us at the summit and lesser beings beneath. Beston, who had volunteered with the French army in 1915 and had his faith in humanity upended by the indifferent carnage he witnessed, argues that in world older than ours—for modern humans have been around for only a paragraph compared to the long history of bears—many animals are more completely integrated with and attuned than we perceive ourselves to be. These animals are, Beston writes, “gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. “They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time…” Gilbert points to the amazing richness of what he concludes is a bear culture—the ability to communicate, cooperate, retain and transmit knowledge over time, to express empathy and even altruistic behaviour. Black bears, for example, have extraordinarily large brains in comparison to their body size and some wildlife scientists think their intelligence is comparable to that of the great apes—chimpanzees and gorillas. They’re now thought to be able conceptualize at a basic level and mother bears will spend up to three years educating their cubs on how and where to obtain food while the cubs themselves demonstrate a powerful ability to form mental maps of their terrain, the territories of other bears and the location of food sources, and the timing of the availability of food. So, like humans, bears in the wild develop a seasonal round. They have a small vocal vocabulary of sounds but Gilbert’s observations also indicate a non-vocal communication system based on gestures and body language. For example, he writes, while in an Alaska salmon river’s estuary to observe bears closely in 1999, he watched a sub-adult bear move down the river bank foraging for spawned-out salmon. It strayed inadvertently into the fishing station of an immense male, hidden by the tall grass on the opposite bank. The bigger bear suddenly popped his massive head out of the grass. The small bear froze, realizing he was in a danger zone, intruding on someone else’s real estate. The big bear slowly shook his head. The small bear remained still. The bigger male slowly shook his head again. The young bear abruptly skedaddled. “I’m cutting you some slack here, so clear out,” was the message, Gilbert writes. “The entire routine looked rehearsed but it was probably some kind of communication ritual, not unlike our [human] face-saving tricks.” Bears, he writes, are smart enough to self-medicate—Gilbert recounts watching a bear eat a particular kind of mineralized mud repeatedly and after analyzing its content concluded that it was treating itself for tapeworms. And bears are smart enough to sneakily exploit humans to achieve what the bears want. In one case, he writes, a female in a protected bear-watching area would bring her small cubs to a floating observation bridge, leave them and go to feed on salmon. As excited bear-watchers crowded forward a park ranger would quickly intervene to keep the visitors back from the cubs. Usually, he points out, bears with cubs so small—scarcely the size of large house cats—are intensely protective, keeping them within a very short distance. “The biggest threat to a female with new cubs are large adult males, who sometimes kill cubs. However, on salmon streams with anglers and photographers, the adult males usually stay away…This avoidance of people by males appears to be understood by females. In effect, people present a shield for bears with cubs, somewhat like a tree for the cubs to climb, permitting mom to go off to fish, knowing her cubs are safe.” So, while some thought the bear a “bad” mom, leaving her cubs at risk. Gilbert concluded the opposite—he discerned “a brilliant plan for child care.” “The mental gymnastics for a bear to make all the connections in this picture looks Einsteinian, because mother bear had linked three insights: the threat of predatory male bears, an awareness of male bears’ avoidance of humans, and predictable benign humans. She recognized an opportunity to place her cubs in a secure location.” One of Us is full of similarly exhilarating anecdotes. And yet, if Gilbert’s book is filled with hope that the nation of humans will learn to coexist with the nation of bears, the reality seems to be that we’re still mostly driven by our misunderstandings and fears. Instead of learning to live with this marvel of evolution, we prefer to destroy it. In 20 years of wildlife “management,” British Columbians have slaughtered more than 85,000 black and grizzly bears. Think of this in another context. World War 2 killed about 45,000 Canadians. Canadians have killed more than twice as many bears. We hunt them with jetboats, with all terrain vehicles, with trucks. Mostly we kill them for fun or for our convenience. We shoot them on logging roads, at garbage dumps, in apple orchards, in suburban back yards where ill-informed and inconsiderate landowners don’t manage their garbage—we put out attractants and then punish the bears for responding to our lazy stupidity. We kill them with high-powered rifles, with shotguns, with cross bows and longbows, with traps, with cars and with trains. Gilbert remains an optimist. The abysmal trophy hunt for grizzly bears has finally ended in BC. Perhaps enlightenment will eventually come to the black bear slaughter, too. “When this uniquely sentient creature is perceived as responding to us according to how we treat him, a path to survival opens up,” he writes. “We are at the end of a long period of attempted dominion over this apex predator and my hope is that we can rise to the challenge of restraint and tolerance required of us.” As Vancouver Islanders get used to the idea that they might soon be sharing the outback with grizzlies, particularly along salmon rivers north of Campbell River, One of Us would be a good resource to put on the bookshelf. It’s $21 in paperback. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  2. January 2019 As this historian shows, the Royal BC Museum has proved a resilient, adaptive and unusually far-sighted institution. MORE THAN 60 YEARS AGO, while my mother shopped, I’d laze away unsupervised summer afternoons in the public galleries of the ornate east wing of British Columbia’s iconic legislature buildings. It was another world from our present provincial museum’s post-modernist structure, purpose-built in 1968 for dramatic dioramas, dynamic displays and public engagement—even now being modernized for the next 50 years of our digitally-enhanced century. The building was ornately decorated, but crowded with specimens of the province’s fauna (Image A-0308524 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives). The old museum remembered from childhood flaunted all the imposing trappings that romanticized colonial hubris—Romanesque arches, Greek columns, pilasters, cornices and tiled mosaics, all the sympathetic magic of imperialism, symbols of past glory invoked to inflate one’s own. Whatever its future might be, as Patricia Roy’s meticulous new history of the Royal British Columbia Museum and Archives, The Collectors, reminded me with vivid intensity, our provincial museum indisputably began as Victorian trophy case. Where current visitors may stroll through a rather-more sedate version of Old Victoria, examine a full-sized mammoth in its Ice Age habitat, visit Captain George Vancouver’s spartan cabin or sit in a long house as Vancouver did with the whaling Chief Maquinna, I recall glass cabinets stuffed with skewered butterflies. Unusual marine specimens floated in jars of formaldehyde or were mounted like fishing trophies. Predators snarled amid big game shot by adventurers for whom specimen-gathering seemed an excuse for hunting expeditions. And there was a hypnotically-rich collection of First Nations ceremonial regalia, totems, tools, weapons and art, the display untroubled by cultural, social or historic context. When, as a child, I descended the time-worn stairs to the ethnographic gallery and its stunning Newcombe Collection, it was like stepping into some cool, stone-clad other-world suffused with the supernatural. Today, the museum cornerstones Victoria’s identity, commercial as well as cultural. Since 2008 it has attracted almost 6.5 million visitors. By way of comparison, that’s about two million more than attended BC Lions football games. It’s about 5.2 million more than visited Calgary’s Glenbow Museum in a market of more than a million. More locally, it’s nearly 4.8 million more than paid attendance at the Royal and McPherson theatres combined. The RBCM’s modest target for 2019 is to attract 12 visitors for every citizen in the City of Victoria. Our museum has generated almost a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue since 2008. Spending by the museum and its visitors contribute about $26 million a year to south Vancouver Island’s gross domestic product. More importantly, it’s changed from colonial trophy case to leading advocate for First Nations’ place in the fabric of a 21st-century British Columbia that emerges from the post-colonial braiding of many cultural traditions. And yet the museum did begin in unapologetic colonial eccentricity. Certainly that’s what is suggested by an 1889 report in the British Colonist. On Victoria Day that year, the museum threw open its collections and the public rushed to view “the many valuable natural curiosities, the treasures of mineralogy and the collections of well-mounted specimens of the wild animals and birds of the province,” reported the newspaper. Exhibits were heavy on the latter. Roy notes that the new head of the museum, John Fannin, was a skilled taxidermist. He had donated 12 cases of his own specimens. Visitors goggled at a “monster grizzly bear” rendered so realistic that “timid ladies trembled,” a mammoth bone, a brick from the Great Wall of China, and an ancient Spanish cannon found near Port Alberni. Fannin’s successor in 1904, Francis Kermode, was also a taxidermist, though he is now famous for bestowing his name on the white “Spirit Bear” with which the Great Bear Rainforest is associated. Yet, if the museum began as a curiosity cabinet during the rush for “primitive” spoils that characterized late Victorian colonialism, Roy, professor emeritus of history at the University of Victoria, tells us that it quickly evolved a deep and abiding relationship with First Nations. Concern for such a relationship was, in fact, evident in the impetus for the museum’s establishment in 1886—a petition signed by 30 prominent citizens worried about the pillaging of First Nations art and artifacts just as the federal government banned the potlatch. Among those citizens were two defenders of Indigenous rights and culture, Dr Israel Wood Powell and Chief Justice Matthew Bailie Begbie. Begbie, a defender of aboriginal rights and a founder of what would become one of an otherwise benighted province’s most important advocates of cross-cultural understanding, is now, ironically, a thoroughly-battered target of historical revisionism, ostensibly for purposes of reconciliation. These are difficult days for museums everywhere as they navigate post-colonial deconstruction and changing public sentiment. Political agendas of groups once ignored sometimes fuse with well-intended political correctness based in passionate ignorance of the wrongs it seeks to right. Roy’s account doesn’t flinch from just demands for the repatriation of artifacts and specimens obtained under dubious circumstance. Acquisitions involved everything from duplicity to bald-faced appropriation. Museums must now re-evaluate the assumptions behind what and how they arrange, order and prioritize their displays. But, so what? Museums and their missions have never been static. They’ve progressed from the curiosity cabinets of 18th-century antiquarians, to the trophy cases of colonial empires, to self-affirming displays of the dominant culture’s assumptions regarding science and social stratification, to protectors of cultural heritage threatened by greed, politics and propaganda. The Royal BC Museum’s collections include the commissioned work of Mungo Martin, whose genius triggered a coast-wide resurgence of Indigenous art. Martin—born Naka’pankam (Potlatch Chief Ten Times Over) at Tsaxis on the north end of Vancouver Island—was 10 on that luminous night in 1889 when the museum threw open its doors. Taught by his stepfather Charlie James, Martin carved his first commissioned pole while the potlatch was still outlawed. (It was illegal for 66 years.) He made it for a client in Alert Bay where the RCMP would arrest and jail 45 people for the crime of being themselves with an ancient ceremony. Yet in 1950, one year before the potlatch ban ended, Martin was hired as resident carver at the BC Museum. He collected 400 songs and oral histories. He trained the famous Indigenous artists Henry Hunt, Tony Hunt, Bill Reid and Doug Cranmer. In 1953, he gave the first legal potlatch since 1884—at the museum where he had built his Big House. Martin died in Victoria on August 16, 1962, having presided over the resurrection of an artistic tradition his government had tried to murder and which had subsequently been pronounced dead, even by famous anthropologist Marius Barbeau. He lay in state in a carved yellow cedar coffin in his own Big House at Thunderbird Park, part of the museum precinct. Hundreds filed past in a traditional Kwakwaka’wakw ceremony. His pallbearers included cabinet ministers. His body was carried home in honour by the Canadian warship HMCS Ottawa. As Roy’s thoughtful narrative points out, the Royal BC Museum deserves much credit for projecting work like Martin’s onto the world screen. From its early collection of argillite carvings by Skidegate chief Charles Edenshaw, to outreach programs for schools based on Son of Raven, Son of Deer by the Tseshaht artist George Clutesi (to whom Emily Carr left her paintbrushes), the museum’s profound efforts spanned a First Nations era from earliest contact to the Space Age. It even holds masks donated in gratitude by Kitty White, a woman from northern Vancouver Island who was “stolen” by people near Port Renfrew. The masks—for her and her children—were carved by her brother to mark his joy at eventually finding her. The Legacy, a 1975 exhibition, was the first of a series of remarkable exhibitions that toured in Canada and Europe. Roy quotes Neil Sterritt, the honoured Gitxsan historian, as saying it was “probably the finest display of contemporary Indian art assembled in North America.” If the democratization of knowledge, the flattening of social class into a more inclusive and pluralistic society, and the broadening distribution of education mean challenges to conventional thought, as Roy’s new history shows, the museum has proved a resilient, adaptive and unusually far-sighted institution. Faced with challenging ethical questions of cultural appropriation, the museum pioneered repatriation policies for artifacts. In 2016, for example, it returned 17 items to the Huu-ay-aht for permanent display in the First Nation’s government office at Pachena Bay. The museum negotiates custodial arrangements to preserve and protect other items held by the museum or repatriated from other museums until such time as they might be returned. IN ALL, THE MUSEUM HAS SEVEN MILLION ITEMS in its collections—including fascinating examples and insights into the flora and fauna, the natural and social histories of the province. As well, as Roy wryly reports, the museum’s own staff comprised some exotic specimens, too. E.M. Anderson was a talented museum collector. In 1908 he applied for paid leave as his wife’s serious illness required him to take her to Calgary. While on leave, however, Anderson was discovered touring the United States as drummer with a theatrical troupe. Then there was the chap hired to fill gaps in Indigenous inventory from BC’s Interior. His task was to find and buy rare art and artifacts for the museum’s “Indian collection.” Two museum officials happened to be visiting Vancouver Art Gallery when a call came. It was Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. Could anyone there authenticate a rare copper mask being offered for sale? The Glenbow provided a photograph. The BC museum’s experts could indeed verify. The mask, alas, was from their own collection, on loan from Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral. It was being offered for sale in Calgary by the museum’s own collector. Violet Redfern was on the payroll as a 1920s stenographer but she actually worked as the museum’s botanist, collecting specimens and devising imaginative displays. Finally, after ten years of asking for a pay raise that reflected her work, the Province coughed up 7.5 cents an hour. She married the museum’s entomologist. They quit and went to homestead in Alberta. And there was the directive from “Glad Hand Dick,” early 20th-century Premier Richard McBride, that the museum’s skilled taxidermists obtain a grizzly bear rug for the Emperor of Japan. The museum complied. Maybe that’s why, at the outbreak of World War One, when powerful German cruisers menaced the South Coast, the Japanese sent even bigger battleships to defend the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Japanese sailors on shore leave were among the museum’s intrepid visitors. Among the eccentricities, of course, were giants of BC heritage and history. Roy cites Ian McTaggart Cowan, often called the father of Canadian ecology, who laid foundations in the 1930s for the museum’s transition to a genuine scientific institution. Clifford Carl, who completed the process in the 1940s, hired Wilson Duff, the anthropologist who shaped the museum into an astonishing First Nations treasure house. Duff was matched in vision by Willard Ireland, a brilliant young provincial archivist and librarian who succeeded William Kaye Lamb who left BC to become first the Dominion Archivist and then the first National Librarian of Canada. Reflecting the province itself—BC is the most biologically, topologically and geologically diverse region in Canada—the museum addresses natural history, our diverse zoological heritage, anthropology and ethnology, palaeontology, archaeology and modern history, entomology and ichthyology, botany and herpetology. If it opens doorways into BC’s past and future, the museum also opens windows on the cultural heritage of our wider world—this spring it celebrates UNESCO’s Year of Indigenous Languages with Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises, an exhibition raised from the immense civilizations that dominated Central America before Europeans found their way to the New World. Some of the items on display will be seen outside their country for the first time. Roy’s history meets all the benchmarks of scholarly work. It’s meticulously detailed, exhaustively attributed and extensively annotated. More important, it brings a sense of humour and a lively appreciation of Victoria’s historic museum—not as a collection cabinet for desiccated specimens of the past but as a throbbing, dishevelled, entirely human enterprise replete with surprises and astonishments. Patricia Roy will be the guest speaker at the Victoria Historical Society meeting on January 24 at James Bay New Horizons, 234 Menzies Street. Her focus will be “Flora, Fauna, and Fannin: The Early Days of the Provincial Museum.” Doors open at 7:15 pm. Admission is free for members, $5 for guests. www.victoriahistoricalsociety.bc.ca. Stephen Hume has lived in many parts of BC since 1948. He spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers; he’s written nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays.
  3. Posted June 17, 2020 Photo: Large female grizzly with cubs at Glendale Cove on the BC mainland. Barrie Gilbert had a part of his face ripped off by a female Grizzly bear, yet he has spent his life devoted to undoing the demonizing of this complex, highly intelligent creature. Go to story

    © Shea Wyatt

  4. Gilbert had a part of his face ripped off by a female Grizzly bear. Yet he has spent his life devoted to undoing the demonizing of this complex, highly intelligent creature. Warning: graphic, bone-crunching description ahead. ALMOST 45 YEARS AGO, not long after sunrise dappled the remote ridge they were climbing in Montana’s Rocky Mountains near the borders of Idaho and Wyoming, a Canadian wildlife biologist and his graduate student emerged from the stunted tree line on a cold, windswept height three kilometres above sea level. This was Bighorn Pass. For sake of comparison, that’s almost twice the altitude of Mount Arrowsmith, the craggy, snow-clad peak that so dramatically dominates the skyline above the pass separating Nanaimo from Port Alberni. The two men were there to observe and study how grizzly bears responded to back country hikers and mounted outfitters with pack trains. It was part of an ambitious research project at Utah State University, where Barrie Gilbert had landed a faculty position after graduating from Queens University, taking a doctorate at Duke and then doing field research in Alberta. To get there, they’d spent a week humping their 20-kilogram packs through the foothills, fording rushing creeks and paddling 30 kilometres across deep, icy Yellowstone Lake, itself almost 2.5 kilometres in elevation. It hadn’t been an easy passage. They’d endured a series of marching cold fronts which spawned thunderstorms, hail, drenching rain and lashing squalls that repeatedly forced them ashore when the short, steep waves threatened to swamp their aluminum canoe. The canoe itself was cause for concern. There was frequent lightning. The prospect of getting fried by a strike on the lake or while huddling under the up-turned hull to shelter from pelting rain loomed large in his imagination. So did grizzlies. At night, they’d camped well off the trail and they’d dragged in snags and branches from deadfalls to create crude barriers around their tent that, if they gave no real protection, at least offered an early warning should a bear approach. Eventually they reached their destination and, to their excitement and delight, soon encountered what they’d come to observe—a grizzly bear in pristine habitat. It was a female with three cubs digging roots in an alpine meadow. They watched enthralled as she stood down a male that approached, a mortal threat to her cubs. Male grizzlies, like lions, will kill the offspring of competitors. Later the bear family ambled down the meadow they shared with a small herd of grazing elk. The next morning, Gilbert decided they should circle behind and climb the back side of the adjacent Crowfoot Ridge so they could observe the bears more closely from above. Just as they left the scrubby trees at the top, Gilbert felt a call of nature and moved ahead of his partner to find a spot. He hunched over, keeping himself low to avoid spooking the elk with his silhouette against the skyline. That was when he met the bear. It had unexpectedly come up the other side of the ridge. Gilbert realized later that the unfortunate encounter—for him at any rate—was shaped by two things. First, because of the menace of the big male to her cubs, the female grizzly was already on hair-trigger alert. Second, approaching in a hunched-over stance, the biologist must have resembled a stalking predator. There was one explosive “woof,” a blur of brown hurtling out of the scrub and in seconds he was on the ground. “Her teeth felt like a row of pick-axes scraping across my head as she tore my scalp off,” he recalled later, although strangely, he says, he felt no pain in the moment. “Her second bite came down on my face, a big canine tooth punching into my eye-socket. ‘This is how you die,’ I thought as I felt bones crunch. One bite removed my cheekbone and sinus, exposing brain membrane. “As my life drained onto the ground”—it was later determined that he was hemorrhaging almost half of his blood supply—“I went limp and the biting stopped.” The grad student, Bruce Hastings, courageously yelled and the grizzly retreated. The bear, Gilbert later realized, was simply being a bear—reacting to his presence as a threat to her cubs. She wasn’t interested in killing him for the malicious reasons humans attribute in their deep trait of anthropomorphizing other animals. She simply wanted to neutralize an unknown and unidentified threat and once it was no longer a threat, she left. A less resilient person might have surrendered to the terrible wounds and died on the mountain. But Gilbert was tough. He was also very lucky. A team of highly trained medical technicians attached to a smoke-jumping crew had just deployed from a nearby fire base. And the helicopter pilot who picked him up had just done two combat tours in Vietnam war, landing under the most difficult conditions. Finally, a team of military surgeons experienced with battlefield trauma had just been assigned to the nearest medical facility. Gilbert’s first surgery, the one that would save his life following a bear mauling in the remote Rockies, took 11 hours and exhausted the hospital’s suture supply. The lead surgeon, Earl Browne, who has since died, later showed Gilbert photographs from before they began reconstructing what remained of his face. “All my facial skin and scalp was pinned out like a rat dissection in Biology 101,” he writes in the preamble to his astonishing memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Scientific curiosity and a fascination with methodology trumped squeamishness. “I wasn’t repelled,” he writes. “I asked Dr. Browne if he had seen this kind of damage before. “‘Well, yes,’’’ the surgeon replied. “‘But not all on the same guy.’” So, through a combination of luck and fortitude, Gilbert survived the extraction and a round of intensive surgeries. His maimed face was rebuilt—although the massive injuries left him blind in one eye and his face permanently disfigured. Barry Gilbert closely observing a young grizzly bear on a river at Geographic Harbour, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy Barrie Gilbert. IF THIS STORY SOUNDS LIKE THE MAKING OF A BOOK, IT WAS. But not the book you might expect. This gripping story—a journalist like me might have made a whole book out of it alone—occupies a mere 15 pages at the beginning of Gilbert’s recently published memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Gilbert went home to convalesce, to endure his 15-minutes of fame as the media descended to pester him for lurid details—mostly, he concluded, to advance a stereotype of grizzlies as “rogue killers in the woods eager to eat your children”—and to grapple with the post traumatic stress disorder that came with the cold reality of people staring at his facial disfigurement. Some might have withdrawn. “I chose to see the staring responses of others as their problem,” Gilbert writes. “I was a handsome guy and still am (inside).” Instead, he rejoiced that his hands still worked. And his scientist’s analytical brain. It reminded him of something equally important—point of view. Which is why the following summer found him sitting beside half a tonne of black bear just stirring from anaesthesia after being darted in his new research project. With only the slightest misgivings, Gilbert stayed with the bear while it recovered consciousness—staying with bears in such a state is essential, he notes, because a handicapped one invites opportunistic attacks from other bears, another trait they share with humans. “Fear of that bear was not an issue for me, but I could only guess why,” he writes. “Maybe long experience with animals and my short dose of terror carried the day.” We should all be grateful that Gilbert didn’t succumb to the kind of risk-averse apprehension regarding bears that might have gripped the rest of us, because he went on to almost half a century in the field, exhaustively studying bears in their habitat and in the most intimate proximity, at that. He sat with them, walked with them, observed them more closely than the benighted rest of us might get in a zoo with cages. His field work took him from the American Rockies to the Alaska wilderness and deep into Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. One of Us charts that remarkable journey, not just through the bush in search of the great predators, but also through the devil’s club thickets of contradictory political policy; the technical disagreements spawned by what he calls “conservation contrarianism” and “science friction”; and the baser economic conflicts between the imperatives of ecological integrity for a threatened species and the special interests of industry, from tourism to timber harvesting to the powerful big game hunting lobby. There’s far more than the science of observation and dry statistical analysis here. Gilbert’s memoir takes us on an extraordinary excursion through the history—and pre-history—of relations between bears and humans. First, it explores the thousands of years of bears’ coexistence with indigenous peoples, an entanglement of mutual tolerance that populates the innermost of First Nations’ sacred spaces and endures into the present. Second, it examines the fatal contact between bears and a settler culture which demonized the animals as a precursor—and rationalization—for their systematic extirpation from vast areas of their range, particularly in the United States. Explorers, fur traders, cattle ranchers and sheepherders shot them, trapped them and poisoned them in great numbers. Trophy hunters preyed on the remnants. Then loggers, farmers and urban developers set about destroying their habitats. Once abundant in California, for example, the last grizzly bear was shot there in 1922 and the species survives only on the state flag, a reminder of our propensity to make icons of what we destroy. Grizzly populations dwindled to about 1,500 in the lower 48. There are 600 in Wyoming, 800 in Montana, 400 in Alberta, maybe 70 in Idaho and 20 in Washington. In Canada, there are about 25,000 bears, of which about 15,000 are in BC. When Europeans arrived by land it was estimated there were 25,000 in BC alone. One of Us takes us back to 1805 and the first scientific expedition of discovery by land across what’s now the western United States by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. The party shot and killed 51 grizzly bears and wounded another 18, probably mortally. From then on it just got worse for the bears. And yet humans and bears can safely coexist, Gilbert argues, and provides the evidence from deep personal experience. He disrobes the enduring myth of the demon bear and reveals a complex, highly intelligent creature with a fascinating social system and crucial roles in the natural ecosystem. As Vancouver Islanders get used to the idea that they might soon be sharing the outback with grizzlies, particularly along salmon rivers north of Campbell River, One of Us would be a good resource to put on the bookshelf. It’s $21 in paperback. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  5. June 17, 2020 Forty-five years ago, Barrie Gilbert had a part of his face ripped off by a female Grizzly bear. Yet he has spent his life devoted to undoing the demonizing of this complex, highly intelligent creature. Warning: graphic, bone-crunching description ahead. Female grizzly feeding cubs at Glendale Cove on the B.C. mainland about 35 kilometres north of Sayward where there have recently been numerous grizzly sightings. Photo by Shea Wyatt, courtesy Barrie Gilbert. ALMOST 45 YEARS AGO, not long after sunrise dappled the remote ridge they were climbing in Montana’s Rocky Mountains near the borders of Idaho and Wyoming, a Canadian wildlife biologist and his graduate student emerged from the stunted tree line on a cold, windswept height three kilometres above sea level. This was Bighorn Pass. For sake of comparison, that’s almost twice the altitude of Mount Arrowsmith, the craggy, snow-clad peak that so dramatically dominates the skyline above the pass separating Nanaimo from Port Alberni. The two men were there to observe and study how grizzly bears responded to back country hikers and mounted outfitters with pack trains. It was part of an ambitious research project at Utah State University, where Barrie Gilbert had landed a faculty position after graduating from Queens University, taking a doctorate at Duke and then doing field research in Alberta. To get there, they’d spent a week humping their 20-kilogram packs through the foothills, fording rushing creeks and paddling 30 kilometres across deep, icy Yellowstone Lake, itself almost 2.5 kilometres in elevation. It hadn’t been an easy passage. They’d endured a series of marching cold fronts which spawned thunderstorms, hail, drenching rain and lashing squalls that repeatedly forced them ashore when the short, steep waves threatened to swamp their aluminum canoe. The canoe itself was cause for concern. There was frequent lightning. The prospect of getting fried by a strike on the lake or while huddling under the up-turned hull to shelter from pelting rain loomed large in his imagination. So did grizzlies. At night, they’d camped well off the trail and they’d dragged in snags and branches from deadfalls to create crude barriers around their tent that, if they gave no real protection, at least offered an early warning should a bear approach. Eventually they reached their destination and, to their excitement and delight, soon encountered what they’d come to observe—a grizzly bear in pristine habitat. It was a female with three cubs digging roots in an alpine meadow. They watched enthralled as she stood down a male that approached, a mortal threat to her cubs. Male grizzlies, like lions, will kill the offspring of competitors. Later the bear family ambled down the meadow they shared with a small herd of grazing elk. The next morning, Gilbert decided they should circle behind and climb the back side of the adjacent Crowfoot Ridge so they could observe the bears more closely from above. Just as they left the scrubby trees at the top, Gilbert felt a call of nature and moved ahead of his partner to find a spot. He hunched over, keeping himself low to avoid spooking the elk with his silhouette against the skyline. That was when he met the bear. It had unexpectedly come up the other side of the ridge. Gilbert realized later that the unfortunate encounter—for him at any rate—was shaped by two things. First, because of the menace of the big male to her cubs, the female grizzly was already on hair-trigger alert. Second, approaching in a hunched-over stance, the biologist must have resembled a stalking predator. There was one explosive “woof,” a blur of brown hurtling out of the scrub and in seconds he was on the ground. “Her teeth felt like a row of pick-axes scraping across my head as she tore my scalp off,” he recalled later, although strangely, he says, he felt no pain in the moment. “Her second bite came down on my face, a big canine tooth punching into my eye-socket. ‘This is how you die,’ I thought as I felt bones crunch. One bite removed my cheekbone and sinus, exposing brain membrane. “As my life drained onto the ground”—it was later determined that he was hemorrhaging almost half of his blood supply—“I went limp and the biting stopped.” The grad student, Bruce Hastings, courageously yelled and the grizzly retreated. The bear, Gilbert later realized, was simply being a bear—reacting to his presence as a threat to her cubs. She wasn’t interested in killing him for the malicious reasons humans attribute in their deep trait of anthropomorphizing other animals. She simply wanted to neutralize an unknown and unidentified threat and once it was no longer a threat, she left. A less resilient person might have surrendered to the terrible wounds and died on the mountain. But Gilbert was tough. He was also very lucky. A team of highly trained medical technicians attached to a smoke-jumping crew had just deployed from a nearby fire base. And the helicopter pilot who picked him up had just done two combat tours in Vietnam war, landing under the most difficult conditions. Finally, a team of military surgeons experienced with battlefield trauma had just been assigned to the nearest medical facility. Gilbert’s first surgery, the one that would save his life following a bear mauling in the remote Rockies, took 11 hours and exhausted the hospital’s suture supply. The lead surgeon, Earl Browne, who has since died, later showed Gilbert photographs from before they began reconstructing what remained of his face. “All my facial skin and scalp was pinned out like a rat dissection in Biology 101,” he writes in the preamble to his astonishing memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Scientific curiosity and a fascination with methodology trumped squeamishness. “I wasn’t repelled,” he writes. “I asked Dr. Browne if he had seen this kind of damage before. “‘Well, yes,’’’ the surgeon replied. “‘But not all on the same guy.’” So, through a combination of luck and fortitude, Gilbert survived the extraction and a round of intensive surgeries. His maimed face was rebuilt—although the massive injuries left him blind in one eye and his face permanently disfigured. Barry Gilbert closely observing a young grizzly bear on a river at Geographic Harbour, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy Barrie Gilbert. IF THIS STORY SOUNDS LIKE THE MAKING OF A BOOK, IT WAS. But not the book you might expect. This gripping story—a journalist like me might have made a whole book out of it alone—occupies a mere 15 pages at the beginning of Gilbert’s recently published memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears. Gilbert went home to convalesce, to endure his 15-minutes of fame as the media descended to pester him for lurid details—mostly, he concluded, to advance a stereotype of grizzlies as “rogue killers in the woods eager to eat your children”—and to grapple with the post traumatic stress disorder that came with the cold reality of people staring at his facial disfigurement. Some might have withdrawn. “I chose to see the staring responses of others as their problem,” Gilbert writes. “I was a handsome guy and still am (inside).” Instead, he rejoiced that his hands still worked. And his scientist’s analytical brain. It reminded him of something equally important—point of view. Which is why the following summer found him sitting beside half a tonne of black bear just stirring from anaesthesia after being darted in his new research project. With only the slightest misgivings, Gilbert stayed with the bear while it recovered consciousness—staying with bears in such a state is essential, he notes, because a handicapped one invites opportunistic attacks from other bears, another trait they share with humans. “Fear of that bear was not an issue for me, but I could only guess why,” he writes. “Maybe long experience with animals and my short dose of terror carried the day.” We should all be grateful that Gilbert didn’t succumb to the kind of risk-averse apprehension regarding bears that might have gripped the rest of us, because he went on to almost half a century in the field, exhaustively studying bears in their habitat and in the most intimate proximity, at that. He sat with them, walked with them, observed them more closely than the benighted rest of us might get in a zoo with cages. His field work took him from the American Rockies to the Alaska wilderness and deep into Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. One of Us charts that remarkable journey, not just through the bush in search of the great predators, but also through the devil’s club thickets of contradictory political policy; the technical disagreements spawned by what he calls “conservation contrarianism” and “science friction”; and the baser economic conflicts between the imperatives of ecological integrity for a threatened species and the special interests of industry, from tourism to timber harvesting to the powerful big game hunting lobby. There’s far more than the science of observation and dry statistical analysis here. Gilbert’s memoir takes us on an extraordinary excursion through the history—and pre-history—of relations between bears and humans. First, it explores the thousands of years of bears’ coexistence with indigenous peoples, an entanglement of mutual tolerance that populates the innermost of First Nations’ sacred spaces and endures into the present. Second, it examines the fatal contact between bears and a settler culture which demonized the animals as a precursor—and rationalization—for their systematic extirpation from vast areas of their range, particularly in the United States. Explorers, fur traders, cattle ranchers and sheepherders shot them, trapped them and poisoned them in great numbers. Trophy hunters preyed on the remnants. Then loggers, farmers and urban developers set about destroying their habitats. Once abundant in California, for example, the last grizzly bear was shot there in 1922 and the species survives only on the state flag, a reminder of our propensity to make icons of what we destroy. Grizzly populations dwindled to about 1,500 in the lower 48. There are 600 in Wyoming, 800 in Montana, 400 in Alberta, maybe 70 in Idaho and 20 in Washington. In Canada, there are about 25,000 bears, of which about 15,000 are in BC. When Europeans arrived by land it was estimated there were 25,000 in BC alone. One of Us takes us back to 1805 and the first scientific expedition of discovery by land across what’s now the western United States by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. The party shot and killed 51 grizzly bears and wounded another 18, probably mortally. From then on it just got worse for the bears. And yet humans and bears can safely coexist, Gilbert argues, and provides the evidence from deep personal experience. He disrobes the enduring myth of the demon bear and reveals a complex, highly intelligent creature with a fascinating social system and crucial roles in the natural ecosystem. As Vancouver Islanders get used to the idea that they might soon be sharing the outback with grizzlies, particularly along salmon rivers north of Campbell River, One of Us would be a good resource to put on the bookshelf. It’s $21 in paperback. More about Barrie Gilbert’s bear research coming soon. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  6. March 2020 The clinic attracts Canada’s best aspiring public-interest environmental lawyers to work on cases for community groups. SHOULD YOU WANT TO TRACK DOWN one of British Columbia’s most important shapers of public policy regarding environmental protection, better have your GPS handy. There’s no glitzy storefront to brand the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. No swanky offices with plush carpet, oak panelling, and some elegantly-tailored watchdog receptionist. In keeping with its humble origins as a student initiative launched almost 25 years ago, it’s tucked away in a rabbit warren of austere cubicles, a Zen-like reminder that in the world of ideas, it’s the ideas, and not the trappings, that are the important currency. And the ideas for statutory and regulatory reform that emerge from this small, scholarly clinic have profoundly altered the legal and political landscape for generations of British Columbians yet to come. That’s quite a legacy for undergraduate law students with only their passion, brains, diligence and the judicious guidance of a few wise mentors behind them. As such, UVic’s ELC offers a refreshing antidote for the next time some grumpy elder from my generation holds forth about the failings of young people. On scales that range from the intensely local to the national arena, there’s no doubt that students who have passed through the ELC have worked critically important transfigurations in the administrative fabric of Canada’s environment. And they’ve gone on to work as federal litigators, to clerk with federal and provincial supreme courts, and to join leadingedge lawfirms working with environmental, civil rights, and First Nations’ issues. To find this quiet epicentre of change, visitors must navigate through the hushed expanse of the university’s newly-renovated Diana M. Priestly law library, with its vast high-tech access to more than a hundred extensive legal databases, and past a series of glass-fronted study and seminar rooms. Then—an abrupt change in atmosphere—through unmarked, metal crash doors and up a nondescript back stairwell graced with handrails of utilitarian steel pipe. Beyond the library’s upstairs book stacks with their 180,000 volumes, past the students lounging in a pair of moulded designer chairs and taking an introspective break with their AirPods, and down a drab corridor adorned with hand-scrawled directions, is the beating heart of environmental law reform in the province. Presiding over this unassuming heavyweight is a triumvirate. ELC'S Calvin Sanborn, Deborah Curran and Holly Pattison There is executive director Deborah Curran, a scarily well-informed expert in land and water law who is also an associate professor in both the law faculty and the university’s school of environmental studies. Curran does vital work in the centre’s background on governance, fundraising, liaison with the university, and program development. But in the foreground, Curran is also one of the centre’s big hitters. She has earned a reputation for a steely analysis of how those with environmental concerns can use something as simple as their own municipal bylaws to trigger powerful and effective protection for local ecosystems, particularly in terms of employing already existing regulatory tools to modify development so that it sustains and conserves healthy watersheds and clean water. She supervised one ELC study of urban storm water management that’s credited with transforming policy regarding urban rainfall runoff in Greater Victoria. Holly Pattison, a former UVic student herself, directs the ELC’s day-to-day operations and conducts financial oversight. But Pattison, who graduated from the university’s fine arts faculty, also multi-tasks as a writer, photographer and documentary filmmaker, and manages the communications that are so critical to any public policy agency in these days of spin, greenwashing and fake news. And last, but far from least, there’s Calvin Sandborn, whose formidable legal intellect on subjects as diverse as drilling regulations, the ethical duties of mining engineers, and the obligations of politicians to close statutory loopholes exploited at the expense of the environment, combines with a genial, avuncular style. He’ll bring his guitar to a legal seminar and deliver a not-bad rendition of some 60s protest song, invites human rights and environmental activists into his classes, and has pizza delivered to workshops on dry subjects like corporate media. Sandborn might be a poster-boy for effective environmental activism. He’s certainly a metaphor for the perils of environmental inaction. Born in Alaska, he moved to California as a young child and grew up at the centre of what became the 2018 wildfire inferno that erased whole towns—one of them the community of his childhood, Paradise, where 85 people died. “My entire childhood, turned to ash,” he muses. That which hadn’t already been drowned. He says his heightened awareness of the importance of environmental integrity coalesced around the fate of the Feather River, in whose canyons he spent one of those nostalgic Huckleberry Finn boyhoods. “I grew up swimming in the Feather River,” he recalls, “then they built the dam and flooded my swimming holes!” To make things worse, a politician came to town and scoffed there’d never been anything there before the damn dam anyway. That memory was a motivator in the ELC’s work to stop plans to log watersheds in the upper Skagit River Valley. Protecting the Skagit had been a joint Canadian and American environmental mission for an earlier generation of environmentalists, but then it came back for his students, some of whom hadn’t been born for the first go round. Student Caitlin Stockwell, he says, looked at the original agreement between BC and the City of Seattle. She found that BC, by approving logging in the “doughnut hole”—an unprotected patch of forest in the Upper Skagit set aside because of mineral claims and now surrounded by three state and provincial parks, a BC recreation area, and a US wilderness zone—was infringing upon Seattle’s rights under the 30-year-old international agreement protecting wilderness, wildlife habitat, and recreational resource values.“She finds that its provisions give the city of Seattle unilateral ability to take the BC government to court over the international treaty!” In 2018, on the basis of the ELC report, the mayor of Seattle politely reminded Premier John Horgan of this fact. Last December, the Province abruptly banned further logging in the ecologically sensitive valley on the US border. Sandborn, educated at a Jesuit university in San Francisco (“The Summer of Love was about to happen, and there I was in this place full of priests!”), cut his activist teeth on the civil-rights movement, anti-war protests, and efforts to organize California’s agricultural workers. He came to Canada to join his brother Tom, who had come north after ripping up his draft card and mailing it to President Lyndon B. Johnson. On arrival, Calvin promptly rolled up his sleeves and got involved helping organize farm workers in the Fraser Valley and setting up the now-iconic Downtown Eastside Resident’s Association that has successfully worked to reconfigure cruel stereotypes about the Vancouver neighbourhood and its often marginalized, low-income citizens. Curran, who was born in Kamloops and graduated from Trent University, had her environmental epiphany while working in Pacific Rim National Park when the Clayoquot Sound protests erupted. And Pattison, who came to Campbell River from Guelph as a teenager 43 years ago, was working in Victoria law offices when the flood of Clayoquot defences—the protest generated the largest mass trial in Canadian history—transfixed the legal community. IF THESE THREE REPRESENT the official face of the Environmental Law Centre, they are quick to point out that the real engine of environmental change is the ever-changing team of law students—about 30 a year—that cycles through its clinics, gaining experience in researching, writing, and advocating for the law reforms that have lasting community effects upon how we live and interact with our environment. For example, there was the work done by law student Neal Parker, who in the summer of 2017 investigated and reported on the growing problem of private landholders encroaching upon public access to publicly-owned waterfront lands on the Gorge waterway. Parker, under the guidance of Sandborn, found 11 public access points colonized as parking pads, misidentified with intimidating signage, developed as private recreation sites, incorporated into gardens, used as dumps for garden waste and construction debris, and blocked by structures, hedges, walls, car ports and private docks. Half a dozen of these effectively preempted public rights-of-way from members of the Songhees Nation a few blocks to the south, whose Douglas Treaty rights guaranteed them unfettered access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds on the Gorge in perpetuity. In Greater Victoria, Parker pointed out in a 77-page brief to both Saanich and Esquimalt municipal governments, that projected population growth of an estimated 100,000 people by 2040 means the inevitable loss of existing green space, at a time when it’s becoming even more valuable and important for urban livability. It also represents an attack upon the core values in some of the most successful marketing strategies and economic revival plans of forward-thinking cities in the world. It’s clear from what’s happening in cities like Austin, Texas; Lyon, France and even Winnipeg, which is upending its dowdy grey image, that cities embracing public access to green space are more livable, and that cities deemed more livable will be the economic winners over the decades ahead. Cities that don’t proactively develop public green space will have to reestablish it at great expense, if they are to compete with the Seattles, Portlands and Vancouvers. As a result of Parker’s work, those public access points have since been restored, Sandborn says. THE NON-PROFIT ELC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in the fall of 2021, started as a dream, took shape as a hope, and was realized when professor Chris Toleffson, a specialist in environmental law, agreed to work with half a dozen students who wanted to study in the field. He became the ELC’s first executive director. “There was no funding,” Curran says. “It was run without funding until Calvin came on board as legal director [in 2004].” Sandborn didn’t even have an office to start. He was working from the students’ computer lab. Then entrepreneur Eric Peterson, who had made his fortune developing and then selling medical imaging technology and whom, with his wife Christina Munck, had created the non-profit Tula Foundation, provided the ELC with $1.1 million over a five-year period. “We had 10 years of angel funding with very few strings attached,” Sandborn says. Now there’s stable funding from BC’s Law Foundation, which provides 48 percent of the centre’s annual revenues, and from other philanthropic organizations, including the Oasis Foundation, Tides Canada, the Sitka Foundation, and the Vancouver Foundation. Small individual donors make up the rest. What the ELC does with this funding is provide students with a hands-on opportunity to learn environmental law, while simultaneously using it to empower individuals, small community organizations, First Nations, environmental and other groups. The students offer—at no charge—the statutory research and advice that enables the public to use existing legal frameworks to hold private, corporate, and administrative agencies accountable for ensuring that environmental regulatory requirements are met. Or, in other cases, to help press for reforms to environmental laws, and their enforcement, so that they serve the public, and not private, interest. Among their notable achievements, ELC students conducted research into the proximity of sour gas wells to schools, residences and other public buildings on behalf of the Peace Environment and Safety Trustees Society. Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide, a compound so toxic that it paralyzes olfactory nerves at concentrations as low as 100 parts per million. Respiratory failure begins at 300 ppm, and at 800 ppm, 50 percent of those exposed will die within five minutes. The ELC students discovered that during one leak at Pouce Coupe in 2009, sour gas was released for 27 consecutive minutes before emergency shutoff valves cut off the flow. In 2013, ELC law student Jacqui McMorran, lawyer Tim Thielman, and Sandborn gathered information from DataBC and plotted it using Google Earth to locate active, suspended and abandoned wells capable of leaking sour gas. They reported that 1,900 children at 9 schools in 2 northeastern school districts were at risk from sour gas wells that, under provincial law, could be located a scant 100 metres from schools or hospitals. Worse, there were no minimum setbacks at all for pipelines carrying sour gas—although in 2010 the Province said it planned to establish safety zones of 2,000 metres. In some cases, provincial emergency plans for gas leaks were so primitive, they consisted of supplying classroom teachers with rolls of duct tape and instructions to seal cracks around doors and windows. After this inconvenient political bombshell, the provincial government announced it would increase the safety buffer for sour gas wells adjacent to schools and other public buildings from 100 to 1,000 metres. “Government seemed quite content to renege on their 2010 promise to extend the legislated safety buffer around schools—until we exposed the fact that the safety buffer had not been expanded,” Sandborn said at the time. “What about all the other issues that never get publicized? Day to day, who is looking after the public interest? Who is watchdogging the regulators to make sure that the Province doesn’t weaken regulations?” he asked. Luckily for the public, the ELC has been doing a first-rate job of watch-dogging. Among its most high-profile accomplishments: The ELC’s complaint to the federal government in 2013 regarding the muzzling of scientists on controversial issues like climate change. It triggered such a robust public response that government can no longer mute the voices of its own scientists just because their message is politically vexing. More locally, a complaint about metals contamination leaching from an old copper mine on the Jordan River beyond Sooke—it hadn’t even been checked for 20 years—prompted clean up efforts and a full scale remediation plan for later this year. But that’s just a start. In the aftermath of the Mount Polley mine disaster, in which the failure of a tailings dam dumped the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of contaminated waste into one of the biggest salmon rivers in the Fraser River watershed, the ELC produced a report calling for comprehensive mining reform. It found that BC taxpayers are liable for more than $1 billion in mine clean up costs, and called for the Province to begin fully checking and cleaning up 1,100 mines like the one that killed the lower Jordan River. ELC students and lawyers also assisted local residents in the Interior, whose drinking water was being contaminated by nitrates leaching into an aquifer from agricultural applications of manure to fertilize fields. That work led to a new provincial code for agricultural waste management but, perhaps more important, it also earned a ruling from the Province’s information and privacy commissioner that government must promptly and proactively release, without charge, all government records that are in the public interest. Working with the World Wildlife Fund, ELC students supervised by Sandborn and Curran prepared a study last fall calling for remediation of beaches around the Salish Sea that were once critical spawning habitat for forage fish that serve as foundation species for the chinook, and other salmon, upon which threatened resident orcas depend. The ELC recently called for regulation of single-use plastics, and recommendations for how to go about it. It follows a report two years ago outlining legal reforms necessary to address the growing problem of marine plastic pollution. There isn’t room in a short article like this to list all the work done on the public’s behalf, or to name the students who have passed through the ELC’s clinics and left their enduring mark upon the laws that frame our collective relationship with the world in which we live. There is room to observe that for something that began with a handful of students, one professor who saw their potential and another willing to work from a computer lab to help them realize that potential, the ELC’s 25th birthday party will represent an extraordinary milestone in the evolution of BC. Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  7. Posted June 2, 2020 Stephen Hume observes that bears are in much more danger from humans than vice versa. Go to story
  8. AFTER HUMANS, who include in their arsenal everything from rifles that empty a 30-bullet magazine in 7 seconds to atomic bombs that obliterate entire cities faster than you can think, bears are North America’s most dangerous large predators. They can be huge—the biggest bear ever seen (in Alaska in 1960) weighed more than a tonne and exceeded 3.4 metres in height when it stood up, which made it bigger than a small car and about 1.5 metres taller than the tallest National Basketball Association player. Although an old Oblate missionary once showed me the skin of a polar bear shot a century ago on the shores of Hudson Bay that measured 5.8 metres from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. Maybe it had stretched over time. But maybe not: once, flying down the east coast of Baffin Island, we banked hard to look at a huge crimson splash on the snow where a bear was devouring a beluga whale it had dragged from a lead in the sea ice, killed and dismembered. These impressive, highly intelligent animals populate our collective imagination—from the sea grizzly of the Haida, a supernatural monster in whose fur the souls of the drowned form bubbles, to the giant grizzly that hurtled out of the bush to maul one of explorer Simon Fraser’s voyageurs in 1805. Yet dangerous is a relative term. Although popular media is rife with the recent report of mountain bikers followed by a curious black bear and a hiker in the Interior chased up a tree by another black bear that displayed unusually predatory behaviour, for the most part the risk of a bad bear encounter is almost infinitesimally low. Estimates vary because reporting is localized and not consistently tabulated, but since 1986 there has been, on average, a fatal bear attack every two years in British Columbia. In the two years prior to this summer, curtailed by the imperatives of the on-going pandemic, there were about 44 million day trips to provincial parks in BC. So the chances of those visitors having a really bad day with a bear on some park trail are about 0.0000045 per cent. By comparison, over the same period about 180 people in BC will be murdered by their fellow humans. Another 15,000 or so will experience violent criminal assaults. Continent-wide, about 75 people a year are killed in hunting accidents—in January, an Island man was killed on a hunting trip to Alberta; and in South Carolina a hunter and his nine-year-old daughter were killed when a fellow hunter mistook them for a deer. In BC, a trophy hunter was shot by his guide in 2014. In Canada and the US about 1,000 a year are injured by the accidental discharge of a firearm while hunting. Then there are the 4.5 million people injured by dog bites each year and the up to 50 who are killed every year in attacks by family and neighbourhood pets. So when you go into the woods, you are at much greater risk from fellow humans and their pets than from any bear you are likely to meet. On the other hand, it’s a lot more dangerous for the bears. Problem encounters between humans and bears are on the rise and are far more likely to end badly for the bear. As the interface between human and bear habitats expands, the number of human-bear conflicts in BC has risen to an average of more than 15,000 a year. The average number of black bears killed in what are euphemistically called “enforcement actions” is now up to about 500 a year. Another 3,900 or so black bears are legally shot by hunters according to provincial government statistics, We should be cautious about averages, of course, because on average most of us are nowhere near a bear. The risks for those of us who are in proximity may be slightly higher, but usually it’s not because the bears are hunting us, it’s because we accidentally surprise them while intruding into their habitat. After centuries of regional extirpations, the appearance of grizzlies in Island habitat where they haven’t been seen much before should be cause for wonder and celebration not hiker’s angst. More on that in my next post. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  9. Photo: Black bear, Ursus americanus We all seem to have a story to tell about bears. Go to Stephen Hume's stories

    © Public Domain

  10. Stephen Hume

    Bear stories

    BENEATH THE WIND-SCULPTED CORNICES crowning the massif beyond the tree line, long, purpling shadows had begun to pool. Rock faces slid from battleship grey towards steel blue. Even gleaming snow fields had begun to take on a softer, burnished hue, offset by flushes of pastel where they fell away from the slant of light. It dawned abruptly in my distracted 12-year-old brain that this signalled a problem. First, it was late enough in the day that it would soon be getting dark farther down the trail where it wound beneath the already gloomy old growth. Second, that the shouts and laughter of the other boys I’d come up with had fallen into silence. They were already on their way back down the mountain. Off in hot pursuit, I came pelting around a very tight, very steep corner and slammed full-bore into the backside of a small black bear. The bear was as shocked as I. It streaked up-slope and I ran even faster downhill and didn’t slow until I reached the bottom where my companions had just noticed my absence. We all seem to have stories about bears I have other bear stories. Polar bear stories. Grizzly bear stories. A cinnamon bear. But none quite so intimate as that one. Sometimes it seems that everyone in British Columbia who ventures beyond the limits of the cities where most of us spend most of our time has a bear story. My brother Mark recalls paddling through a rain squall on Bowron Lake to set up a soggy camp with his wife and two young daughters. They’d be sharing the beach with a young moose browsing in the willows behind. Except, the next morning Maggie quietly informed Mark: “That’s no moose.” They’d spent the night next to the biggest grizzly he’d ever seen. But it gave no trouble, just sauntered away. My wife’s bear tale is from a fishing trip to the Atnarko River up the mid-Coast. I was fussing with a rucksack. She suddenly declined to take the trail with me. “A bear just walked behind the car,” she explained. Now, Susan doesn’t scare easily. I must have raised an eyebrow. “It was bigger than the car,” she said. The car was a little Vega but a bear that big is pretty big. “You go if you want. I’m staying here.” Call me foolhardy, perhaps, but after enduring 500 kilometres of gravel road, I wasn’t about to let a bear chase me off, so down the trail I went. Before I could open my fly box, I heard a splashing. Up a side channel, shoulder to shoulder, swaggering like hockey fans on a game night pub crawl, came three young grizzlies. I went back to the car. The fish could wait for another day. And, now, with seven sightings of grizzly bears around Sayward, a black bear and cub in Beaver Lake Park, a bear in Thetis Lake Park, bear sightings in Saanich and Central Saanich, the entire Island has bear stories to share. It’s not surprising, really. There are an estimated 7,000 black bears on Vancouver Island, a small proportion of the 150,000 in BC but a dense concentration nevertheless. And, now, with maybe seven grizzlies on the North Island, the adrenaline factor for hikers and anglers will be jacked right up. Of course, maybe it’s just seven sightings of the same grizzly; bear stories do have a way of taking on a life of their own. Historically, there have been almost no resident grizzlies on Vancouver Island except for the odd adventuresome cherchez la femme specimen who returns to the mainland when he discovers that Island life means flying solo. Still, seven grizzly sightings is a lot for the Island. And, judging by the sad ending for the bachelor wolf from Victoria who was relocated only to be shot by a hunter, then the wandering grizzly from the Broughton Archipelago who was relocated at the request of First Nations elders only to later be shot by a frightened householder, things may yet go badly for the bears. Part 2 of this story is here; watch for Part 3, coming soon. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
  11. May 20, 2020 Photo: Situations we felt comfortable with two months ago now seem dangerous We live in medicine’s golden age and yet this tiny virus disrupts everything we took for granted. Go to story
  12. ON MY UPPER LEFT ARM, faint now after more than 70 years, is the white scar of a smallpox vaccination required before my entry into Canada. I am a visitor from the time before the last big North American smallpox outbreak. It began in New York City, now lashed by the coronavirus, not long after I was born, still in the first half of the last century. That event marked a signature response to the threat of pandemic. Authorities swiftly launched the largest mass vaccination in history—more than 6.3 million people in three weeks. The looming epidemic was snuffed out after just two deaths. In 1947, American public health authorities were ready, had a plan and a vaccine. A far cry from the 2020 response in which authorities were unprepared and leaders took refuge from responsibility in magical thinking, a fascination with voodoo cures, denunciations of science, and xenophobic scapegoating while the virus marched through America. I’m old enough to remember the fear of polio, the virus that left withered limbs and condemned paralyzed victims to life in an Iron Lung that did their breathing for them. The fear stalked parents taking their kids to summer swimming pools or sending them to camp and was a national crisis in the mid-1950s. My mother put on a brave front. She never talked about her concern except to caution her kids about proper pool and playground hygiene. But the worry simmered. Her own father had been partially paralyzed by polio. She’d long lived in its gloomy shadow. So I recall the sense of relief with which parents responded to a polio vaccine, the apprehensive line-ups for our elementary school inoculation and our sense of betrayal at our parents’ jocular enthusiasm. Now I read stories that ask the question: what if we get a vaccine for coronavirus and half the population refuses vaccination? I thought about this as I bid farewell to the journalism class I taught at Vancouver Island University this spring, sending them off to complete their assignments on-line from France and India, Wellington and Campbell River. What began for them as a classroom assignment in early January—find out what you can and write about this viral outbreak in Wuhan, China—had morphed into a major upheaval of their lives. Some raced to get home before national borders closed, others scrambled to find accommodation here before a possible lockdown, yet others worried about money running out. I thought about how a world had just ended for them and how they would now have to invent a new one. The principal ending was an assumed certainty. Most of them had never experienced a world in which existential threat lurks in the breath of friends or at restaurant buffets or on washroom door handles or in the seat next to them at a concert or a Mariners basketball game. Now they are urged to maintain distance even after restrictions ease, to wear masks lest they be a silent carrier of pestilence to grandparents—or to old men like their journalism instructor. This psychological shift represents a vast lurch backward into the near-forgotten. My own childhood of polio and, beyond that, into the pre-antibiotics childhood of my father—at 96 bearing his lockdown in assisted living with aplomb. Lethal microbes took two of his brothers, a sister, a step-sister, his father’s first wife and an uncle. We live in medicine’s golden age and yet this tiny virus disrupts everything we took for granted about the economy, the power of science to protect us, our social lives, the institutions that sustain our social order, how we conduct ourselves in public and private. Those students will return—those who do return—to a reconfigured education in a few months. Most classes will be virtual except for a few—labs, studio work—in which their physical presence is deemed essential. And that may be only a small element of how the pandemic transforms the world. How will schools cope with social distancing? The guidelines, rendered as a circle, require 12.5 square metres per person but standard classrooms normally allot 2.5 square metres per student. Grade six arithmetic suggests that either classes must be radically smaller or classrooms radically larger. Then there are the teachers themselves. If the plan is to open gradually while protecting high risk segments of the population, how will the plan address the fact that 38 percent of teachers fall into the high risk group more likely to suffer serious illness because they are over 50? And how does a professional hockey team that puts 19,000 fans into a 44,000 square-metre arena deal with the fact that under social distancing rules they’ll need a 238,000 square-metre arena? In this newly apprehensive social order, can air travel return to anything resembling normal? Airlines operate on minuscule profit margins earned by jamming passengers into fuselages which recirculate particle-laden air through passengers’ lungs many times on a long flight. Decreasing density can only mean ticket prices that return air travel to its niche as a luxury service for the very wealthy. Similar problems beset public transit. Packed buses and trains are the preferred norm. They keep fares low for low income commuters. In Metro Vancouver, public transit moved about 435 million passengers annually to and from work in the city core, university, college and high school campuses and to shopping districts. How travel at that density might continue in the age of social distancing and the coronavirus is a conundrum. And yet it seems impossible for those commuters to move to private vehicles without strangling the city. As air travel and public transit go, so goes tourism. It produced $1.7 billion in provincial taxes in 2018 and contributed $8.3 billion to provincial GDP. In Victoria, tourism generated about 17,000 jobs, close to $500 million in wages and almost $700 million in GDP. Changes to this sector promise huge impacts on the city’s economic health and well-being. Work itself seems destined for enormous upheaval. How many of those forced to work from home during the closing of office buildings, whose tight floor plans and closed ventilation systems work like giant virus distributors, will continue work at home? The arithmetic of social distancing suggests many won’t be going back to the office soon. That brings its own economic fallout. If corporations aren’t simply to offload office overhead costs onto home officer workers, tax structures must be reworked. The global economy itself is in the throes of transformation. The half-century mantra of Neo-liberal fiscal austerity in service of globalization seems dead. Governments everywhere suddenly rediscover the virtues of Keynesian spending powers. And assumptions about the efficiencies of bigness and vertical integration and the inefficiencies of small, local and dispersed now implode in the face of disruptions to global supply chains. If meat processing in Canada concentrates in three plants and they are contaminated with coronavirus outbreaks, the efficiency of size suddenly transmogrifies into a horrifying inefficiency for the national food supply. The small local and travelling abattoirs that were once common now look like not such a bad idea. Yes, pandemics change everything, and the world my former university students have just inherited will be extraordinarily different from the one they knew in their December break.
  13. Posted May 2019 Photo: Aerial view of the former lumber loading terminal in the Cowichan estuary for which there is an application for rezoning to permit metals manufacturing and fabrication. How is a metals manufacturing plant in the midst of a fish-bearing estuary even possible? Go to story
  14. January 2020 Photo: Low-lying Willows beach and the upland area would be impacted by sea-level rise. Scientists are now saying global climate change will usher in even higher seas and more flooding than previously predicted. Go to story
  15. SINCE WE’RE NOW ESSENTIALLY A TEXT-BASED CULTURE, there’s a strong tendency for social memory to focus on that history most easily accessed through documents. The Vietnam War seems more real than World War II which seems more real than World War I because the documentary record is richer. And there’s an equally strong tendency to assume text-based records have greater credibility and importance than that history which comes to us through other means—stories, memories, artifacts, and so on. The great coastal smallpox pandemic of 1862 looms extraordinarily large in the imagined history of the West Coast. “Imagined” because all history is mostly imagined. It’s reconstructed from fragments gleaned from the past and is frequently revised to reflect the biases inherent in those doing the reconstructing, the biases of record-keepers and the biases of those interpreting to serve present agendas. Anyone who wants a quick lesson in this would do well to read Jaroslav Pelikan’s remarkable Jesus through the Centuries, a study of how successive generations of historians reinvented the fragmentary historical evidence to serve and to shape the cultural demands of their particular time. What happened in 1862 plays a central role in British Columbia’s collective identity precisely because documents of colonial settler culture recorded it even as it ripped apart the oral histories of its victims, the once-populous First Nations sustained by the rich coastal ecosystem of estuaries, rivers, inlets and sheltering islands. And yet 1862 was only an aftershock to an earlier epidemiological cataclysm of Biblical proportions. A massive transformation of coastal demography had already occurred. That first shock depopulated entire landscapes, erased collective memory, brought demoralizing confusion and disarray to a system in which lineages and hereditary titles and ranks were central to social identity, political power and economic organization. The second episode dismantled economies as dwindling populations were separated from their traditional resource bases and eventually from the practical ability to exercise sovereignty over them. The third shock was, in effect, geo-political. As the pendulum of pandemic swung again and again through populations, it reshaped the balance of power. Before, First Nations were a powerful majority. Even up to 1862 they still felt able to assert interests with what, for want of a better word, might be characterized as military actions in Nootka Sound, in the Peace River district, the Fraser Canyon, the Chilcotin, the Gulf Islands, on Vancouver Island and elsewhere. But over the century between 1780 and 1880, recurring epidemics reduced the coastal First Nations population by 90 percent. Should a catastrophe of similar magnitude afflict today’s Canada, the surviving population would dwindle to Greater Vancouver’s numbers. Over that century, intensive seasonal rounds to harvest the resources of traditional territories collapsed, languages and the world view they contained vanished. Colonists gave themselves permission to settle lands abandoned by what they perceived as a dying race. In addition to at least five outbreaks of smallpox—one for every successive generation born without immunity—measles, malaria, influenza and other diseases identified by the few fur traders only as “the mortality” or “fever and ague” contributed to a population decline of unprecedented dimensions. The 50 percent surviving the initial outbreak were next reduced by another 10 percent, then by 14 percent, then by 22 percent, then by 50 percent and so on down a relentless ladder of dwindling. We tend to parse this awful experience into its individual outbreaks, smallpox in 1782 and 1801, “the mortality” of 1824, malaria in 1830, smallpox again in 1836, dysentery in 1844, measles in 1847, smallpox again in 1853 and then another coast-wide smallpox pandemic in 1862. The dreadful century culminated with the formation of British Columbia amid the ruins. As settlers poured into the region on the discovery of gold on the Fraser River, people already there were quickly marginalized economically and separated from their resource bases. The new overlords then set about trying to neutralize what power remained by dismantling the cultures themselves—outlawing language, religion and cultural practice, ethnically cleansing the landscape and establishing concentration camps under the euphemistic rubric “reserves,” disenfranchising ethnic groups and, the ultimate insult, seizing children for brainwashing to accept subservient roles in the new “normal.” This, of course, is the takeaway from our dolorous past, after enormous transfiguring events there is no return to “normal.” Pandemics take normality and contort it into something else, something few of us can foresee. The Black Death ended a thousand years of feudalism. The economic change it unleashed shaped the wage economy we share today and to which—like the serfs and lords of of 1345—we can’t imagine an alternative. The pandemics of the 19th Century changed the world of proto-British Columbia in ways unimaginable in the century before. So we can all be sure of one thing about our pandemic. Survivors of the medical and economic carnage will inherit something but whatever it is, it won’t be the normal we knew in 2019. The new normal around the globe: “social distancing” Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
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