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Stephen Hume

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  1. Posted August 4, 2020 Photograph: A peaceful demonstration outside the BC Parliament Buildings in 2019, with Queen Victoria nearby. Our province and city were founded by colonizers. Should they be renamed? Go to story
  2. While taking down monuments and renaming sports teams can seem Orwellian, why shouldn’t we rename “British Columbia” and “Victoria” given they were acts of renaming themselves. TWO YEARS AGO, following a full year’s discussion and cogitation, Victoria City council removed a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from its prominent place outside City Hall. Sir John A. did represent Victoria as an absentee MP but his connection with the city is actually measured in the few days 134 years ago when he came out to drive the last spike in the now defunct Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. That, it should be remembered, was an era when politicians campaigned on platforms promising to keep British Columbia a “white man’s country.” Macdonald was the engineer of a bold attempt at cultural destruction using residential schools, as well as an Indian Act which disenfranchised and disposed indigenous populations. He was also behind the first Chinese Immigration Act which was aimed at excluding Asians, violent suppression of Metis language and land rights on the Prairies, and the ethnic cleansings and separation of First Nations from economic resources that resulted in “Indian reserves”—a far more comfortable euphemism than “concentration camps.” Council persevered despite affront from those who frequently wrap an apparent angst over social change in the increasingly threadbare cloak of patriotic loyalty to the monarchy, the supposed integrity of history, devotion to the continuity of Canada’s public institutions, keeping up tradition and so on. In retrospect, council’s decision looks downright prescient, which is saying something for the folks who spent more than a million dollars-a-metre to replace a bridge so short a good high school sprinter could cross in 10 seconds. A peaceful demonstration beside the statue of Queen Victoria in front of the BC Parliament Buildings. This demonstration was not directly related to Queen Victoria’s well-documented role in colonization and expansion of the British Empire. Victoria and British Columbia were colonized early in her reign. Should her statue be removed and Victoria and BC be renamed? Desire for decolonization, acknowledgement of the racialized ethnocentrism that has been the engine of imperialism, nationalism and a host of other unpleasant “isms,” and striving for reconciliation with the colonized seems to be gathering momentum, particularly with young people. Concerns have moved on from the graven image of Canada’s principal engineer. Everywhere, it seems, statues of merchants who created and benefited from the monstrous economic machinery of slavery, politicians and jurists who legislated and legitimized colonial theft, and the adventurers and soldiers who enabled and defended the slave trade are now being removed by officials or toppled in public protest. Are there excesses occasionally rooted in ignorance? Sure, but they pale in comparison to the excesses rooted in ignorance and malice that were perpetrated by the people whose legacies are now under review. We’re removing the names of racists once celebrated as upstanding citizens from schools and universities, public buildings, parks and landmarks. We’re now co-naming places with both indigenous and mainstream names that better reflect the dualities inherent in the emerging culture of our “here” as opposed to the psychologies of the colonized seeking to import and impose a distant “there” from Europe or Asia or Africa. The colonized mind gave us replicas of Greek temples, Roman pantheons, Gothic cathedrals, Egyptian obelisks, Bavarian villages, Japanese tea houses, Chinese pagodas and even English faux Tudor thatch cottages—in a rain forest, yet—almost everywhere we look. And the accusing finger of accountability has now properly moved on from the institutions of governance to those of popular culture, sports in particular. Some, alert to the changing mood, have moved swiftly to change common racialized nicknames. Junior B hockey’s Saanich Braves is changing the name because, its owners say, it’s just the right thing not to give offence to the many indigenous communities that surround and permeate the Capital Region. The Edmonton Eskimos, on the other hand, having resisted and rationalized for years in the face of calls to change a nickname that many Inuit find insulting, decided to find another moniker for the professional football team only after a major sponsor threatened to abandon ship, thus putting a whole new spin on the club’s colours—green and gold. In the US, the Washington Redskins reached the same conclusion when a major sponsor threatened to depart, causing wags to suggest the most appropriate new nickname might be the Washington Greenbacks. Plenty of other teams from high schools to college and professional ranks are getting the same message. You’d think, from the subsequent gnashing of teeth and cries of enraged anguish from some fans and sports pundits in Edmonton that changing a name that many find objectionable is somehow equivalent to blowing up the Parthenon or pulling down the temple of Solomon. Well, not quite. Sports franchise owners who make money from branding are quite happy to change nicknames, team colours, team logos and even cities whenever the prospect of greater returns from their business is perceived elsewhere. One need look no further than Victoria for a prime example. More than a hundred years ago, Victoria had a terrific professional hockey team, the Senators. The Senators renamed themselves the Aristocrats, then they moved to Spokane as the Canaries but came back to Victoria a year later as the Aristocrats, again. Then they played four years as the Cougars, won a Stanley Cup from the Montreal Maroons and immediately cashed in by selling all their players to new owners and moving to Detroit to join the new National Hockey League in which they first played as the Cougars, then became the Falcons and finally the Red Wings.. Their foes, the Portland Rosebuds, transformed into the core of a new NHL franchise in Chicago. They got renamed the Black Hawks and then were rebranded again from a double-barrelled to a single-barrelled name as the Blackhawks—almost the reverse of the geographical renaming going on here where Gulf Islanders reject single-barrelled Saltspring for double-barrelled Salt Spring, although perhaps a better change would be to the SENĆOŦEN place name for the island, W̱ENÁ¸NEĆ, which certainly has a longer and more authentic pedigree. The process of decolonizing won’t be quick, painless or as easy as toppling a few statues or changing the hurtful names, mottos and mascots of sports teams. It will involve reimagining the way we relate to the landscape itself—and through it to one another. A PALIMPSEST IS A PARCHMENT which has been repurposed for a new text only to have the script and images of the older story reemerge through the new narrative. It’s most often used in reference to documents from the ancient world in which pages capable of preserving text were so valuable and books so rare that as cultural values changed over lifespans and even centuries, one hand-written document might be erased so that a new one could be superimposed. Among the most famous examples are sections of Homer’s Iliad and Euclid’s writing on geometry that were transcribed in the 6th Century but then, 300 years later, erased and covered with the writings of a Christian patriarch. The only surviving section of a 4th Century copy of Cicero’s writings on Roman politics was found beneath a 7th Century copy of St Augustine’s writing. And the work of Greek mathematician Archimedes that had been copied onto parchment in the 10th Century was later found beneath a 12th Century liturgy. In a way, our whole cultural history is a series of palimpsests, and succeeding generations seek to edit and propagandize (one way or the other) the past and the accomplishments of previous generations they wish to either diminish or aggrandize as affirmation of their own worth. The United Kingdom, to which our monarchist enthusiasts and defenders of tradition so fondly hearken, is a series of overlays in which successive conquerors imposed their place names upon the landscape as a way of asserting control and superiority over the colonized. Eburos of the Eburorovices becomes Eboracum under the Romans then becomes Eoforwic under the Angles, becomes Jorvik under the Danes and finally becomes York. In a more brutal example of erasing evidence of what went before, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan soldiers, fired by iconoclastic religious zeal, rampaged through cathedrals smashing the stained glass, carved crosses and effigies on 400-year-old medieval graves whose coats of arms they associated with the hated 17th-century monarchy. One can see parallels here in the use of residential schools to erase language and social cohesion, the wholesale looting and destruction of art and artifacts, the casual renaming of places and even people, the outlawing of cultural and spiritual rites and traditions and other transgressions against the colonized. And so it has been through history, from Egyptian pharaohs erasing the stone glyphs of previous and subsequently-reviled dynasties to Taliban zealots blowing up ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan. Lord Elgin, later governor of Canada, presided in 1860 over one of history’s great examples of such imperial vandalism, sending 3,500 drunken troops to sack China’s ancient Summer Palace in a vindictive orgy of looting and arson. China isn’t without fault, either. It has destroyed 6,000 ancient monasteries in Tibet since invading in 1946. Romans pulling down Jewish temples, Muslims and Christians seizing, renaming and repurposing the religious sites of each other—the unpleasant legacy is long and ubiquitous. In a way, all our maps represent cultural palimpsests. The movements of peoples bring new languages and as places are occupied new place names are superimposed. Sometimes it’s merely for the convenience of new settlers who can’t be troubled to learn the languages of people who preceded them. Sometimes it is to affirm and imprint the authority of new overlords upon previously-owned and since stolen landscapes. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort to make manifest George Orwell’s observation from 1984 that controlling the past ensures control of the future. And yet, what seems so permanent in the present can be entirely ephemeral in the passage of time. Thus, in the historical blink of an eye, the indigenous Camosack becomes Fort Camosun with the arrival of the fur trade in 1843, then becomes Fort Albert in 1845, then Fort Victoria with British colonial status, then just Victoria. Is there a compelling reason that it shouldn’t revert to Camosack, other than a desire to cling to the belief that for some reason the ugly icons of imperialism, occupation and the deliberate disenfranchising and dispossessing of indigenous minorities somehow deserve to be fossilized and commemorated? Place names change all the time. They reflect dynamic patterns of occupation, the amended political needs of the moment and evolving cultural values. Saint Petersburg becomes Leningrad and reverts to Saint Petersburg. Constantinople, the great capital of Byzantium, becomes the Istanbul of the Ottomans. The United Kingdom has changed its name twice and may have to change it yet again if Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales decide they might have a better future inside Europe rather than out of it and dominated by England. On some ancient maps, what’s now British Columbia appears as Fusang from a legendary Chinese exploration, probably mythical, but who knows? On others, it’s New Albion, supposedly from an expedition by Sir Francis Drake who got his financial start as a pirate and trader in slaves. Captain George Vancouver called it New Georgia and New Hanover. Fur trader Simon Fraser, approaching overland from the northeast, called it New Caledonia because he supposed it looked like the Scotland he’d never seen and would never see. The northwest corner was the Stickeen Territory. To the south it was the Columbia District; to the west was Quadra and Vancouver’s Island, later shortened to Vancouver Island as English bureaucrats dumped the Spanish connection when it became a British colony; further north was Haida Gwaii—Santa Margarita to the Spanish—renamed Queen Charlotte Islands after his ship by a trader in sea otter pelts and finally, after 200 years or so, reclaimed by its original inhabitants as Haida Gwaii. All these names were changed, abandoned, subsumed or remerged from the palimpsest of colonization and decolonization. The Fraser River was Lhta:ko to some, Tacoutche Tesse to yet others. It was Sto:lo, the Quw’utsun’s River, Rio Floridablanca, New Caledonia River, Jackanet River, and finally was named by explorer, trader and cartographer David Thompson after Fraser, the first European to descend to its estuary in 1808. Indeed, many of the province’s place names were bestowed by upwardly mobile British surveyors to please friends or toady to bureaucrats, politicians or minor royalty who might look favourably upon them someday. And yet, the magnificent landscape we, for the moment, at least, call British Columbia is the same despite the startling transience in its names. Considering that the British presence here has been about 200 years out of probably 14,000 of occupation—which is about 1.4 percent of the time of human habitation—why not rename the province for something more representative of the braided narrative of our emerging collective history? How about Saghallie Illahie? It is a term from the Chinook trade language invented by European and indigenous traders to communicate with each other for mutual benefit. Saghallie Illahie can mean either Heaven, or the High Country, both of which seem to apply here. In any event, proposing a new name for our home, one that’s from here and not from half a planet and a couple of centuries away seems neither outlandish nor unreasonable. At least no more unreasonable than sticking with British Columbia which creates a strange amalgam of analogies. British, of course, excludes the people already here, not to mention the other European, Asian and African settlers who helped make the place what it is. And Columbia, at its kindest, evokes the female national personification of another cruel, imperialistic and colonial country—the United States—while at its unkindest, it evokes Christopher Columbus, the brutal and avaricious slave trader who unleashed upon the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere one of the greatest calamities in human history. How about a name that seeks to speak to and for all of us and not the worst in some of us? Stephen Hume 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. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
  3. Posted July 6, 2020 John Innes’ painting of the inauguration of the Crown Colony of British Columbia, and the installation of James Douglas as its first governor As the process of decolonizing gathers momentum—and with BC Day approaching—it’s timely to look back on the origins of the Province of British Columbia. Go to story
  4. Posted July 6, 2020 As the process of decolonizing and renaming our province gathers momentum, we consider the events that led to the founding of the Province of British Columbia. ON AUGUST 2, 1858, the British parliament passed a bill that formally created a government for what’s now the province of British Columbia. In did so by cobbling together several smaller colonies, fur trade administrative regions called New Caledonia, and remnants of the Columbia District and the Oregon Territory that had become American by treaty in 1846. The British legislation referred to “certain wild and unoccupied territories on the North-West Coast of North America” and cited the need to provide colonial government “until permanent Settlements shall be thereupon established, and the Number of Colonists increased.” The territories weren’t unoccupied, of course. And it could be argued that the occupants weren’t willing subjects of the British Crown, either. A few had signed treaties with James Douglas, the Black fur trader who was married to an indigenous woman and found himself at the crossroads of colonial history more by accident than intent. But most, we can be reasonably sure, didn’t consent to this abrupt change in their sovereign status. A famous painting of the installation of Douglas as governor of the new colony is significant primarily in the monoculture it depicts; white, bewhiskered men with bibles resplendent in the traditional regalia of their station—judicial robes, gilt-braided uniforms, cockaded military hats, and so on. John Innes’ painting of the inauguration of the Crown Colony of British Columbia, and the installation of James Douglas as its first governor There are no First Nations chiefs resplendent in their regalia. Save Douglas who is portrayed as a white patriarch, there are no Black officials present, although they would form the new colony’s first militia regiment, help lay the foundations of commerce and industry and one of them would be a delegate to the Yale Convention that drafted terms for entry into Confederation. No Chinese, although they would be crucial in building infrastructure and establishing a mercantile empire that reached from the Cariboo to San Francisco and back to China. None of the Hawaiians known—and not pejoratively for they were prized employees of the fur trade—as Kanakas. And there were no women. Women weren’t persons in the eyes of the law in 1858. They were chattels of their husbands and a man could still sell his wife at market for as little as a pint of beer, as happened in 1862. None of this was noted 116 years later when the government of British Columbia established the first Monday in August as BC Day, a statutory holiday honouring “the pioneers who built the colony.” But times and perceptions evolve. As the process of decolonizing public institutions, public attitudes and the collective psychology of the descendants of both colonized and colonizers gathers momentum—there are serious and legitimate suggestions that we consider changing the name of the province to reflect a decolonized present—it’s important to remember that history didn’t begin with the Gold Rush of 1858. It didn’t begin with the arrival of the fur trade in 1805; and it didn’t begin with the explorations of Captain George Vancouver in 1792, or the trading expedition of John Meares in 1786, or the scientific research expedition of Captain James Cook in 1778. If, for want of an arbitrary point of departure, we consider that the modern history of BC began with the initial braiding of First Nations and European narratives into our present reality, then we have to start near the end of July in 1774, and not with the British, but with a tiny Spanish exploratory mission. Ninstints: a 14,000-year-old Haida civilization BEHIND A LONG, SANDY CRESCENT, ideal for landing sea-going canoes amid rocky islets capped with trees sculpted by ceaseless spindrift, and backdropped by the dense, brooding green of rainforest, time-silvered totem poles at the long-abandoned village of Ninstints present a stunning representation of a 14,000-year-old Haida civilization at its cultural apex. Ninstints, the name under which it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, or Nan Sdins, or Nunstints, is the anglicized place name derived by Europeans from the hereditary name of a renowned chief, Nañ stîns, “He who is two.” To the Haida, the place is Sga’ngwa.i Inaga’-i, or S’Gang Gwaay Llanagaay, or just Skungwai—Red Cod Island Town. Anthony Island shields Ninstints from the fierce storms that sweep in from the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Keel-runs, cleared for landings by the great dugout canoes, are still visible. Haida crews would travel thousands of miles by sea in these canoes—one crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1901. Their hull design later inspired that of fast clipper ships that raced tea from China to London. Ninstints in 2002 (Photo by C. Baertsch) On Ninstints, one can also still see the moss-covered ruins of the 17 great houses that once lined the beach, their cedar-planked front panels decorated with clan crests, lineages and indications of status. These were the Kunghit people and the Haida heraldry ranged from the chiefs who inherited the name Ninstints at the South end of the village to that at the North end, culminating with the great house of the famous chief Koyah, “Raven.” Koyah is infamous to English and American captains for leading resistance against European incursions, attacking visiting trading vessels on at least four occasions. But it’s the astonishing artistic richness of the surviving totems, mostly memorial or mortuary poles, that point to the richness of Haida culture. Some poles were destroyed in a fire said to be set in the late 19th Century by the crew of a passing sealing schooner from northern Vancouver Island in retaliation for an ancient but never forgotten Haida raid upon the Kwakwaka’wakw on North Vancouver Island. Other poles were removed by museum collectors trying to salvage the legacy—sadly, seven of these were destroyed in a fire at Skidegate where they had been sent for restoration. Those remaining still resonate with artistic force. About a dozen poles still stand at Ninstints, of global importance says UNESCO because they do more than memorialize important persons of the past; they now commemorate the living culture of the Haida and their relationship with the land and the sea since time immemorial. “What survives is unique in the world, a 19th-century Haida village where the ruins of houses and memorial or mortuary poles illustrate the power and artistry of Haida society…The art represented by the carved poles at SGang Gwaay LInagaay (Nan Sdins) is recognized to be among the finest examples of its type in the world.” Traditional art forms on the Northwest Coast, inextricably entangled with social hierarchies, ceremonies and cosmologies, threatened the imported cosmologies of Christian missionaries and the imposition of new systems of law and governance imposed by colonial authorities. Family and tribal crests were looted as curios; ceremonial regalia was destroyed or appropriated and sold to museum collections. Ancient ceremonies themselves were outlawed and practitioners arrested and imprisoned. There was a systematic attempt by government to eradicate native languages. The last totem poles from that ancient Haida culture were carved and erected in villages at Skedans and Tanu in 1878. If, as many art historians believe, Haida carving represents an apex of Northwest Coast artistic achievement and the work at Ninstints is the apex of the apex, the place also symbolizes the nadir of Haida fortunes. Once the seat of powerful chiefs, then a wealthy and important trading centre, it was later depopulated by lethal epidemics, its social organization wrecked by greed and violence. Ninstints was abandoned in the 1870s, then pillaged as a source of artifacts. Finally it was installed as an iconic historic site of global significance that celebrates the resurrection of Haida culture from the ashes of near-annihilation. The fate of Ninstints had been cast about a century earlier, when first contact between an expanding European empire and the Haida civilization that had occupied its homeland since before the end of the last Ice Age, resulted in a collision that would ultimately have catastrophic consequences for both. As with everything else in Haida Gwaii, that story is written in the wind and the waves. 1774: Spanish ship Santiago, checking up on Russians, meets the Haida FOAM-STREAKED FROM THE 8,000-KILOMETRE REACH of wind-swept ocean behind them, the dark swells heave landward without cease. They break in a glistening fringe along the forbidding 400-kilometre wall of reefs, cliffs and craggy headlands that form the outer coast of a sea-churned archipelago of unpardonable beauty. The more than 1,800 rain-washed, mist-draped reefs, islets and islands that comprise Haida Gwaii jut into the turbulent North Pacific about 650 kilometres northwest of the present boundary that separates Canada from the United States at Vancouver. Nutrient-rich upwellings from the cold abyss at the edge of the continental shelf on which the islands perch sustain one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. At Dolomite Narrows it’s said there is more life per square metre than anywhere else. One survey collected almost 15,000 different animals from 100 square metres of bottom. The waters surrounding what have been called the Galapagos of the North teem with fish, 200 species of seabirds, and sea mammals of astonishing variety—20 species of whales and porpoises, fur seals and Steller’s sea lions, massive beasts the size of a small car that slide through submarine kelp forests with fluid grace. And these remote islands, today occupied by 0.1 percent of the province’s population but with more than 500 identified Haida heritage sites, are the historical epicentre of the socio-economic earthquake in which our British Columbia first took shape. In geological terms, the archipelago—renamed in colonial times the Queen Charlotte Islands and then returned to their indigenous name by an act of the British Columbia legislature in 2010—mark a boundary where the huge Pacific plate slides northwest along North America. The friction generated as the billions of tonnes of rock in these two immense plates grind past one another along the Queen Charlotte fault create the phenomenon that engineers call stick-slip, a process of catch and release by two surfaces. The juddering that results makes this offshore region one of the world’s most unstable places, subject to constant shaking and occasionally to great earthquakes. Two of Canada’s most powerful known temblors have occurred in this offshore zone. The most recent, in 1949, releasing almost twice as much energy as the 1906 event that destroyed much of San Francisco. And one in 1700 released more than 44 times the energy of that 1949 event. The resulting tsunami caused coastal destruction as far away as Japan. In socio-economic terms Haida Gwaii, and in particular two specific places on the archipelago, are where British Columbia’s modern history began. And we know the precise date, right to the half-hour, the names of individuals, and the eye-witness accounts of the principals involved. The first historic event was accompanied by the fitful rain squalls typical in those waters even for the high summer month of Sqaana gyaas, the killer whale month, so named because the sound of bark being stripped from giant red cedars during the seasonal round of manufacturing clothing, mats and baskets was thought similar to that made by whales blowing. It was early afternoon on July 20, 1774 when a lookout from one of three adjacent Haida villages—Kkyuusta, Yaakkw or Dadens—glimpsed something utterly astonishing. Amid drifting patches of rain and fog just off Langara Island, its white wings flapping, swam a strange bird of supernatural proportions. The villagers were fearful, an informant later told geologist George Mercer Dawson. Their world was inhabited at its fringes by supernatural beings—animals with the power to take human form and language, cannibal ogres, a sea grizzly in whose thick otter-like fur a ghost collected the souls of the drowned and kept them in bubbles. A stretch of sea to the East was known to be populated by deep water monsters which occasionally surfaced to claim entire canoes with their passengers. But their chief, though he later admitted to sharing the people’s apprehension, decided boldness was required of a leader, for the sake of his own sense of dignity as much as anything. He put on his finest ceremonial regalia and prepared to greet the unknown. The name of the first person in what is now British Columbia to lay eyes on the fateful appearance of European colonizers off its shores—that Haida lookout—is lost to history. The name of the chief who bravely launched his canoe to investigate the apparition perhaps not. He probably owned the name Blakow-Coneehaw, a corruption of Gunia, a powerful chief whose influence extended to all three villages. The syllables of his name were first mangled in the mouth of a Scottish sea captain who visited 15 years after the momentous first encounter and then, again, during the attempt to render into English text the Haida words for which no orthography yet existed. In any event, in 1774 the chief had waited for slack tide. He launched his great canoe around 3 pm crewed by seven paddlers and a boy. It took about 90 minutes to reach the monstrous bird. When they were about 300 metres away, he greeted it, singing a welcome song, scattering eagle down on the water and extending his arms wide and then crossing them on his chest to signify peaceful intent. As the canoe drew closer, the chief and his paddlers saw and heard what they first thought were bird people, unintelligible cries coming from dark shapes that resembled cormorants perched on the rocks. They were keen observers. Preserved in the oral tradition is what they perceived to be the peculiar behaviour of what they now determined were human strangers: one would speak and the others would suddenly scurry up into a basket of ropes until he spoke again and they would all clamber back down. The great bird was the Spanish ship Santiago, a 200-tonne frigate on a top-secret mission from the naval base at San Blas, Mexico, a 5,000-kilometre sail to the South. The mission’s commander, Ensign Juan José Perez Hernandez, a native of the island of Majorca and considered the most able and experienced pilot in the San Blas naval department, had been sent to investigate intelligence reports leaking from St Petersburg about Russian expansion far to the north of Spanish-claimed territory. Juan José Perez Hernandez Beyond California, North America’s west coast was an unknown. The English pirate Sir Francis Drake had journeyed north while escaping with bullion and booty from raiding the South American and Mexican coasts in 1579. Another Spanish expedition in search of a northwest passage to the Atlantic was thought by some—and disputed by others—to have reached the South end of Vancouver Island and the strait later named for its pilot, Juan de Fuca, in 1592. But for Perez, the charts were blank and the coastline and its currents, prevailing weather and maritime dangers a mystery. He’d set sail from San Blas with the ebbing tide at midnight on January 25, 1774, with a complement of 84. Armament included six cannons, 500 cannon balls and 36 muskets with bayonets. In an age before electricity and on-board freezers, provisions included a tonne-and-a-half of dried fish, five tonnes of beef jerky and 15 tonnes of hardtack. The curious activities of the bird creatures observed by the Haida party that made first contact were the attempts by Perez to trim sails to account for the quartering, highly changeable winds that had been bedevilling him for the three days since he’d steered an eastward course in search of land after one of his crew had seen giant kelp. The Santiago’s lookout had actually sighted the coastline the day before and the ship had ventured closer but the wind had picked up sharply, the sky to the Southeast had suddenly darkened and the captain had prudently shortened sail, headed back to open water and hove-to 12 leagues off shore—about 60 kilometres—for the night. On July 19 at 4:30 pm, somewhere just west of Langara Island and fairly close inshore, the Spanish captain’s diary records first contact with the native inhabitants of what less than a century later would become British Columbia and Canada’s westernmost province. The canoe came alongside. It was big, befitting the stature of its chief, and almost half the length of the Santiago. The Spanish were impressed by its speed and the skill of the paddlers. Perez had specific instructions from the viceroy in Mexico not to interfere with, or harm or engage in commercial trade—although ceremonial exchanges of gifts would be all right—with any native peoples he encountered. He did plan to land, erect the massive wooden cross the ship’s carpenters had constructed, and claim the territory for the Spanish empire. When it became clear that the encounter was friendly, two more canoes approached. “The men were of good stature, well-formed, a smiling face, beautiful eyes and good looking,” Perez wrote in his expedition diary. “Their hair was tied up and arranged in the manner of a wig with a tail. Some wore it tied in the back and had beards and mustaches in the manner of the Chinese people.” The next day, unable to make headway against the strong current out of the East, Perez stood off Langara Island. This time, 21 canoes came out, two of them filled with women with babies at the breast and older children. All were led by an older man whom the Spanish commander likened to “a king or a captain.” They began exchanging sea otter, wolf and bear pelts and blankets “beautifully woven and made, according to what I saw, on a loom,” for items of European clothing, glass beads, an axe and some knives. Two came aboard the ship and he made gifts of bread and cheese. “They were all good-looking, white and fair,” Perez reported. “Most of them have blue eyes.” He also noted that the Haida had in their canoe a half a bayonet and a broken sword but before he could explore the origins—were they Russian items traded down from the North, or had they been traded north from Spanish territory?—weather conditions abruptly changed. The canoes quickly made for shore, the Haida singing and apparently happy with the exchange of goods. “It was afternoon and everyone was cheerful,” his diary says. “But less so, I, who wanted to anchor but was unable to get help from the wind. It made me ill-tempered, and even more so seeing that without a wind the furious flow of the current was separating me from the coast.” A freshening off-shore wind, the inconstancy and confusion of the weather and supplies dwindling—Perez calculated that even on half rations he’d have barely enough water for the return voyage—compelled him to “submit to the will of God,” and he bore away to the South. Neither Perez nor Gunia could know it, but the aftershocks of their encounter would be profound. A century later, the Haida people would be teetering at the brink of extinction, their culture in tatters and the globe-straddling Spanish empire would be banished from the western hemisphere, reduced to a few shrunken colonial holdings in Asia and Africa. Sailing south, and hoping to replenish his water barrels, Perez turned landward again having spotted a dazzling, snow covered peak—likely Vancouver Island’s highest mountain, Golden Hinde—and on August 8, having passed through a fog so dense visibility was less than the length of his ship, dropped anchor near the entrance to a sheltered opening in the coast line. He named it Surgidero de San Lorenzo but it would later be named Nootka. About 3 pm, Perez recounts, canoes began coming out. At first three canoes carrying nine men, then eventually five canoes. But they remained at a distance and would not come close. As had the Haida at Kkyuusta, the Nuu-chah-nulth viewed the Santiago with great trepidation. Years later, José Mariano Moziño reported that elders told him that when they first observed the Spanish ship, they concluded it was the great copper canoe of a supernatural being named Qua-utz who was part of their creation mythology and who had returned to punish them for bad behaviour. That story of first contact was later corroborated by Joseph Ingraham, captain of an American ship who left a remarkably observant account of his time among the Nuu-chah-nulth. Some took refuge in the bush, others retreated into their long houses, but a few took canoes out to confront the threat. The next day, however, when the crew of the Santiago made it clear their intentions were peaceful, 15 canoes came alongside. They traded sea otter pelts and cedar hats for knives, cloth and large abalone shells from California. Several Nuu-chah-nulth men came aboard. One of them managed to pocket several spoons belonging to Martinez which the English noted as evidence of a Spanish presence when they reached Nootka Sound four years later. Then, with the weather turning for the worse, Perez weighed anchor and with sails reefed and turbulent seas set course for San Blas. He would never return. The following year, on a second expedition to the North, he died at sea. But one of those vessels, the Sonora, a small 14-metre schooner commanded by a young naval lieutenant, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, explored and mapped the coast to what’s now southeast Alaska. He, too, would play a key role in the shaping of BC’s history. After Captain Cook’s 1778 visit, a rapacious fur trade and disease transform history ON MARCH 29, 1778, A WEEK AFTER uncharacteristically missing the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in severe weather—winds were gusting to 50 kilometres an hour—Britain’s greatest maritime explorer, Captain James Cook, found his way to the same narrow opening in the coastline that Perez had found four years before. But the English sailor, blessed with more congenial weather, sailed through into sheltered waters. Cook, like Perez, was on a secret mission. His orders were to seek a Northwest Passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic. His ship, Resolution, was accompanied by Discovery, among whose crew was a midshipman named George Vancouver who would also play a key role in BC’s future. This was Cook’s third great scientific mission and his officers and crew were shrewd and astute observers. Their accounts of the flora, the fauna, and Nuu-chah-nulth culture and society remain among the most valuable records of initial contact. As had the crew of Perez, Cook’s men traded with the Nuu-chah-nulth, who were shrewd and adept. The English had to pay for wood, water and even grass for the ships’ goats. John Weber, when he stopped to sketch figures in a long house, had to buy sketching time with brass buttons from his coat until he exhausted his supply. Metal items, the English traders discovered, were most in demand, in particular bits of iron, tools, utensils and weapons. These they traded for luxuriant sea otter pelts, carvings and art. Cook, himself, exchanged a broad sword with a brass hilt for a fur cloak worn by a leader that scholars now believe must have been Maquinna, the powerful whaling chief. Cook sailed away after a month of refitting, impatient to continue the mission that would take him to the Aleutian Islands and end a year later with his death on a beach during an altercation with Hawaiian islanders. But these two trade items, iron and furs, would utterly transform the social, cultural and political landscape of what’s now BC. When the two ships of the Cook expedition stopped in China to take on provisions for the final journey back to Britain, the crew found an astonishing demand among wealthy Chinese officials and aristocrats for the sea otter pelts they’d been using for bedding and clothing. James King, who had become captain of Discovery after Cook’s death and had inherited the furs obtained by both Cook and his successor in command, Charles Clerke, who had died at sea, sold 20 pelts in Canton for $800. Some crew members made even greater profits. In all, they sold their sea otter skins for an amount that, converted into current dollars, would exceed $300,000. For an outlay of about 12-pence, an investor might reap a return of 1,800 percent, or the equivalent of close to $15,000. When Cook’s official report was finally published in the September, 1784, a fur stampede began. Less than a year later, the first trading mission, commanded by Captain James Hanna, had been outfitted and set sail from Macao, China. Within five years, more than a dozen trading vessels had visited Nootka and more than 170 expeditions, dominated by flinty New England captains, had sailed to a Northwest Coast that only a decade before had seemed as remote as the moon. The fur trade was rapacious. More than 120 ships took almost a million sea otter pelts from the Aleutian Islands alone by 1808. A century later, sea otters were so scarce they were thought extinct. And so, almost, were the Haida. Captain Cook had not discovered a “new” world, he had opened a portal between worlds, both of them as old as time. Wealth, prestige and power flooded through in both directions. For the Europeans it was the soft gold of the fur trade; for the Haida and the Nuu-chah-nulth it was technological transfer—as iron implements entered a metal-poor economy, they set off an enormous cultural explosion in carving, canoe and long-house building. Guns altered ancient balances of power. Chiefs attained wealth and status that would have been unimaginable to their fathers—Maquinna had distributed 100 muskets, 400 yards of cloth, 100 mirrors and 20 kegs of gunpowder at a single potlatch in 1803—only to have it later slip away from them. Easy wealth meant more chiefs and it shattered the economic advantage of hereditary dynasties. Inter-clan and inter-tribal violence proliferated. And the newcomers created new markets—Haida artists became the first on the coast to commercialize their art, crafting stunning carvings of traditional imagery and mythological motifs from a soft, black stone called argillite specifically for sale to visiting sailors. But more came through the portal than wealth and the attendant perils of wealth. So did a portfolio of viruses that indigenous immune systems had never encountered. The first to arrive was smallpox. How it came remains unclear—perhaps with Russians from Kamchatka, perhaps with the Spanish from Mexico, perhaps with some indigenous carrier travelling north. Certainly, a vast and lethal epidemic was already sweeping through the Great Plains and lapping up against the Rocky Mountains in what some have described as the greatest demographic catastrophe in human experience. The Northwest Coast smallpox epidemic of 1862 is the one most embedded in the popular imagination. But that’s because it was most visible to European colonizers. In fact, it had been preceded by a whole suite of equally apocalyptic disease events. Measles, malaria, influenza and other unidentified diseases followed one after another. Robert Boyd, who made a lifetime study of introduced diseases and their demographic impact on the Northwest Coast, calculated pre-contact population by working backward using mortality statistics. He estimates an indigenous population of almost 190,000 in 1770. By the time British Columbia had emerged as a political entity and entered confederation that population had declined by more than 80 percent and would not reach its nadir until 1900. Smallpox ravaged the North coast in 1775. Subsequent 18th-Century fur traders reported deserted villages of collapsing houses strewn with bones. Nathaniel Portlock, who had been with Cook at Nootka and returned to trade for sea otter pelts in 1789, cited depopulated villages and one scarred survivor who had his arm tattooed with marks for each of his children whom had perished—there were 10. In 1795, Charles Bishop said a Haida chief told him two-thirds of the population had died. The Haida estimate their pre-contact population to be as high as 20,000; scholarly estimates are 10,000 to 12,000. What’s not in dispute is that by 1900 there were fewer than 600. Some time in the late 18th Century, disheartened by the impacts of smallpox and the disruptions of the sea otter trade and its destabilizing influx of wealth, Gunia abandoned Kkyuusta for islands to the North in what’s now the Alaska Panhandle. His people followed him. At Ninstints, the Eagle and Raven families were gone from Red Cod Town by 1874. The 17 great houses on the terrace above the beach collapsed back into the soil, the raised mortuary boxes of once great chiefs crumbled and spilled their bones, totem poles tilted and fell to be swallowed by the underbrush. It became a place of ghosts at the fringes of collective memory, although not Haida memory—or Kwakwaka’wakw—until a century later when it would be reborn, a global revenant from the richness of Haida culture, a reminder to everyone that although our stories are now inextricably braided, it’s in our first cultures that British Columbia was actually born. Stephen Hume 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. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Posted June 2, 2020 Stephen Hume observes that bears are in much more danger from humans than vice versa. Go to story
  12. 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.
  13. Photo: Black bear, Ursus americanus We all seem to have a story to tell about bears. Go to Stephen Hume's stories

    © Public Domain

  14. 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.
  15. 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
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