Creekstone Press

Northern BC's publisher


Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

Part biography, part love story, Wayne Sawchuk’s new book offers a glimpse at the history of Northeastern BC. Sawchuk grew up around Chetwynd,
and spent his early years travelling around the north with his father, a local logger. But those experiences in the bush, in the wilds of northern BC taught him “that some places were just too important to log.” So Sawchuk and a group of compatriots formed the Chetwynd Environmental Society, whose work helped establish the Pine LeMoray Provincial Park, as well as expand Gwillim Lake to include Elephant Ridge.

The book, is organized partially by time passing, partially by theme. So a 14 year old Wayne, asked by his father to put down a wounded black bear leads to reminiscing about the nature of death, including a flash forward to watching friend Greg Duke (yes, the one the lakes are named after) suffer a fatal heart attack. “When the paramedics laid him on the stretcher and carried him out the door, all the trappers knew he would not come back. We’d seen the light fade in his eyes."

It’s a profound moment, and defines the flavour of the book, flickering images of a life lived in the north, sometimes as fleeting as a ghost, sometimes as present as a mountain. Like most guides, Sawchuk can tell a good yarn. Fortunately, that gift for spinning tales makes its way to his writing, too.
Sawchuk’s big accomplishment (so far), was helping spearhead the creation of the Muskwa Kechika, a special management area where industry and preservation have discovered a unique mix, so of course his first (near-tragic) trip through the area is one of the book’s defining chapters. As he and his then-girlfriend make their way through the Northern Rockies on horse, they meet a guide who recommends a better way back to civilization than the one they had planned. Unfortunately for the young couple, it starts to snow, and they get onto the wrong route. One of their horses breaks a leg and needs to be put down and the pass they thought they were supposed to go through leads to a cliff.

They finally make their down into the Prophet River Valley, a near-spiritual place for Sawchuk. As they approach the highway, the pack trail they are following abruptly climbs up and out of the valley. To avoid a swamp or a canyon? But no. “We broke out into a long and linear clearing in sharp contrast to the natural, sinuous trail we had been following. This was a cutline pushed through the forest by Caterpillar tractors to provide access for natural gas exploration. Having just spent so much time in wilderness, the vicious scar hit me like a fist, its destruction a massive insult to the natural landscape we had discovered in the Northern Rockies.”

It is in moments like these that we see Sawchuk’s perception shift, ever more sharply, to conservationist, by way of guide outfitter. For me, one of the most profound thing is the sense of history the book contains. Sawchuk’s travels are not ground breaking explorations to areas untouched. True, there are times when his are the first tracks in an area, but there are other moments where his explorations are a continuation of hundreds of years of
history. On one of his first adventures he strikes out along a First Nations trail. On another, he discovers old slashes and penciled notes from trappers who came through before. On still another, he finds a low, U shaped wall. “This structure wasn’t like anything that would be built today. It had taken a lot of work and with no water or wood nearby, it was a poor place to camp. The structure’s horseshoe shape could have been used to shelter hunters as they waited to ambush animals crossing the pass or making their way along the crest of the ridge. It might even have been the site of a spirit quest, a rite of passage for some First Nations. The wall could have been hundreds of years old or more, a relic of another time, another people who had used this route.”

Indeed, he says, another local trapper has posited that this was the route taken by the first travellers from Asia, 10,000 years ago.
“With the coming of the white man,
catastrophes of epic proportions, including
several epidemics, devastated the First
Nations.” He writes. “Their communities
are rebounding now, growing in numbers
and vitality. But each time I find a flake,
a chip, or point upon some remote piece
of ground, I am transported across an
immense gulf of time, grief, and dislocation.
Those few stones remind me that
First Nations carry the cultural memory
of 10,000 years of living on this land.”
While there is a lot of plot through the
story, there is not a lot of character. Yes,
you get a sense of Sawchuk, his family,
and the life he lives as he moves from
adventure to adventure, and frequently
from danger to danger. But as he goes, he
is followed by a string of nondescript and
mostly interchangeable companions and
paramours—partners, girlfriends, wife.
It’s not that they are not interesting, but
they are rarely present. This is hammered
home during a chapter while Sawchuk
is out on the trap line for months on
end, mentions in passing that he is there
with wife Donna Kane. This is her first
appearance in the book, other than a few
cryptic references to “we” earlier in the
chapter. And, after a few paragraphs (and
a photo), describing a canoe trip together,
she disappears for most of the book, only
to show up for a few paragraphs in the
I mention this not as a good thing or a
bad thing, but just to point out that the
human element of the book is not at the
fore. People come and go, but the real
hero, the real star of the story is the land
and the creatures upon it. I described the
book as a love story, and indeed, there is
romance to be found in the book, but it
is one of a man falling in love with the
land. The human relationships are just
asides in a lifetime spent in the Northern
Rockies and one can’t help but feel a
little jealous of the time he gets to spend,
hundreds of kilometres from the rest
of civilization. Of his relationship and
experiences with the landscape.
One of the best parts about the book
is the fact that he has set down things
he’s learned—knowledge gleaned from
watching animals, understanding from a
lifetime in the bushes, and conversations
with old trappers—as a record of his time
in this land. And as a record, the book is
frustratingly short at 176 pages. I would
love to hear more stories about his time
on the land, about his encounters with
The book also features more than a few
of Sawchuk’s photos, which is wonderful.
Sawchuk is an amazing photographer and
his first book was a photo journal of his
travels in the Muskwa Kechika.
After spending most of its time in the
wilderness, the book’s antepenultimate
chapter is a bit jarring, as it documents
the creation of the Muskwa Kechika
Management area. As such, it is a
chapter full of people sitting around and
The next chapter is also a bit of an
outlier, as it makes the book’s most clear
conservationist plea: we are residents of
this planet, and if we destroy it, we don’t
have much of a plan B. But, unlike the
arguments spouted by Gortex wearing
college kids from the Lower Mainland
who don’t understand life in the North
and which can be waved off, Sawchuk has
more bush-cred than nearly anyone alive.
He has seen firsthand how the landscape
has changed, seen firsthand the impact
humans have had. Participated first hand
in some of that impact. This is not some
ten-thousand foot view by an outsider,
but a ground level look at this area, warts
and all.
But he doesn’t dwell on it. He is not
preachy, letting the message he has to say
mostly come from his experiences in the
bush, something he himself acknowledges.
“It would have been easy to turn
this book into a polemic, a rage against
the forces that continually degrade our
natural world in the relentless pursuit
of profit,” he writes as he comes to the
book’s conclusion. “Except that I am
one of those forces. And to one degree
or another, we all are. No, rage is not the
Indeed, the book’s subtitle carries the
weight of the book’s message. Discovering
a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern
Rockies. Rather than spell it out for us,
he invites us to join him in this journey
of discovery, and along the way, maybe
learn something ourselves.
Crossing the Divide is published by
Creekstone Press, and is available around
the Peace Region or online (but not at
Amazon). Find out more at www.creekstonepress.
com or

Web link to full review

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

For this week’s edition, I spoke with local wildlife advocate and author Wayne Sawchuk about his new book, Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies, which is available now online and at your local bookstore. Sawchuk’s first book is a memoir chronicling the author’s turn from an opportunistic, clear-cut logger to an influential conservationist and advocate for the preservation of a vast swath of the Northern Rockies known as the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.

Sawchuk is a man of seemingly boundless energy, who — between summers spent guiding a packstring across the high mountain passes of the Northern Rockies and fur-trapping winters on Mayfield Lake — finds the time to organize all manner of creative initiatives to promote the sustainable management of the land he loves. While a book is impressive enough, there is also a CBC doc in the works about the M-K set for release next fall.

Web link to full review

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

Crossing the Divide is rich in detail and very well written, something you cannot universally say about books written by mountain men. It is also inspiring, not just because Sawchuk cares but because he is the real deal, a man of the vast wilderness who knows of what he speaks.

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

Who wouldn’t want a chance to sit around a campfire with Wayne Sawchuk, and listen to him tell stories? Horses munch grass in the background, his faithful dog, Chancey, curls at his feet as the fire crackles and darkness surrounds you. You have been riding all day through and over mountain passes, beside clear lakes, spotting all kinds of wildlife. You’ve helped cook dinner over the fire. You’re ready for some stories.

And Wayne has so many great stories to tell, stories of wilderness survival in harsh and bitter weather, stories of trailing a pack train through country that only Indigenous people knew, where wildlife: grizzlies, caribou, wolves, elk, beaver, mountain goats, are abundant. And stories of the long effort to save this part of the world from exploitation by resource-grabbing corporations.

The book is told in a series of linked stories, and the lovely thing is the unpretentious, aural quality that Wayne has preserved in the tone of the writing.

Web link to full review

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

I was first drawn to Wayne Sawchuk through the captivating imagery he captured over the many years he spent getting to know and understand the Muskwa-Kechika. After spending time with him on the trail, I've come to understand that his connection is much more profound. He has devoted his life's work to ensuring that places like the MK can still exist into generations far beyond our own.

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

Wayne Sawchuk’s unique memoir is a riveting testament to the evolution of a wilderness ethic. Written with a distinctive voice, Sawchuk shares intricate tales of the journey across his own watershed divide – from exploitive frontiersman to active conservationist – via captivating wilderness life adventures and valuable reflections on the power of place. A must-read for those fascinated by the transformation of a personal world view encapsulated in the frontier history of British Columbia’s rugged north.

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

The people, places and animals in this memoir of life, death, and transformation in the wilderness of northern BC sound as if they’re from another century. And another country: the Northern Rockies are a world apart and Sawchuk brings them to life with an affection and detail that can only be achieved through a lifetime of careful, open-hearted, open-minded observation. After reading this book, you’ll want to see them for yourself.

Review of Crossing the Divide: Discovering a Wilderness Ethic in Canada’s Northern Rockies

Wayne Sawchuk underwent an unusual passage from the rugged life of clearcutting old growth forests and razing towns to make way for massive hydro dams to the reflective life of a wilderness wanderer and conservation advocate. A riveting tale of grand adventure, Crossing the Divide is also a metaphor for the journey our entire society must make towards living respectfully with wild nature.

The people, places and animals in this memoir of life, death, and transformation in the wilderness of northern BC sound as if they’re from another century. And another country: the Northern Rockies are a world apart and Sawchuk brings them to life with an affection and detail that can only be achieved through a lifetime of careful, open-hearted, open-minded observation. 

Review of Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph

Song of the Earth is the story of Alfred Joseph, a long time Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief, a respected “knowledge holder” of the Nation’s history, an artist, teacher, and a noted defender of Wet’suwet’en rights. It is also the story of how the arrival of European settlers changed Wet’suwet’en lives.

Albert Joseph was born in 1927 in Hagwilget, a Witsuwit’en village on the lower Bulkley River in northwestern British Columbia. Until the European settlers arrived, the villagers were independent. They fished, trapped, hunted, and gathered berries and medicinal plants in their territory. As the settlers’ development encroached on their land, the villagers had to depend on the wage economy, finding work in off-reserve industries such as fish canneries and logging.

Web link to full review

Review of Shared Histories

Shared Histories is a well written, laid out and presented book that reminds us of the standard historic account, but with an amazing sociological and anthropological twist. It has accomplished a marriage in words between academics and the personal stories of the Witsuwit’en and settlers, an accomplishment for the author. This book accomplishes in its ability to show how the marginalization and displacement of the Witsuwit’en people established a still existing social gap as created by Smithers and the disappearance of “Indian Town”.
    McCreary’s work shows us a town’s desire to establish itself as a gateway to a country’s economic sustainability. It shares stories about the displacement of First Peoples and shows how the lack of funds of one group was a major factor in losing to the battle of developments – something we still witness to today.
    With his collection of oral stories from both Witsuwit’en people and settlers in the area, McCreary takes the reader on a journey that shows the impacts of colonialization and socioeconomic segregation, the detrimental effects of the Indian Act on the Witsuwit’en people, and the shaping of the    physical town of Smithers that we know today.
    Beyond a doubt, what McCreary has accomplished is an open and honest account of marginalization through first-hand stories. In a lot of respects it is a heartbreaking read, but one that every reader and lover of history should examine under the eyes of a settlers dream and hopes while taking in the harsh account of the Witsuwit’en’s reality, a journey not only accomplished in words but poignant pictures.

Review of Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph

Song of the Earth chronicles the life of Alfred Joseph, a Witsuwit’en hereditary chief who grew up in Hagwilget, on the Bulkley River near Hazleton. In a conversational tone that captures Joseph’s wit and fondness for storytelling, author Ross Hoffman allows Joseph’s own words, transcribed from a series of one-on-one interviews, to tell this remarkable story. Hoffman’s book outlines the Witsuwit’en traditional ways instilled by Joseph’s grandmother in the 1930s, moving through his travels around Canada working in various resource industries, to his central role in the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia, which relied on the testimony of Joseph and other hereditary chiefs to  establish Indigenous right to land title.

Review of Shared Histories

The BC Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for historical writing and $2,500 has been awarded to Tyler McCreary for Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en-Settler Relations in Smithers, British Columbia, 1913 – 1973, from Creekstone Press in Smithers. Thanks to BCBooklook for this story.

Review of Shared Histories

Long before the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015, many observers struggled to figure out how we got to a place in Canada where an investigation like that conducted by the TRC was necessary, let alone what “reconciliation” might mean to future relations between Indigenous peoples and those of us of settler descent.

A similar impetus to the conditions that drove Canada to investigate past injustices has resulted in a growing body of literature exploring the history of Indigenous-settler relations — writing that seeks to reverse the erasure of Indigenous peoples in the stories Canadians tell each other about our collective past, and which considers how the lessons we learn might be helpful in providing a path to a much more equitable future. Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en-Settler Relations in Smithers, British Columbia, 1913-1973, by historical geographer Tyler McCreary, is a valuable, nuanced, and richly local addition to this corpus of study.

Web link to full review

Review of Shared Histories

Shared Histories: Witsuwit’en-Settler Relations in Smithers, British Columbia, 1913-1973 by Tyler McCreary documents an important time in our history and offers a refreshingly honest view of the First Nation and settler relationship: the good, the bad and the heartbreaking.

I was aware of some of this history as I have spent many hours deep in the archival collections of museums throughout northwest British Columbia. I have learned about the graves pushed aside by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the farmland usurped by the Soldier Settlement Board, and I have read about the brave settlers and stoic surveyors who were bold enough to carve out homes in our landscape.

I am so grateful to McCreary for carefully documenting both the Witsuwit’en and settler histories and generously sharing these stories.

The author successfully covers “the intersection of settler dreams and Witsuwit’en reality” between 1913 and 1973 in northwestern British Columbia, from the founding of the railway town of Smithers to a time of more recent memory. While the book focuses on a distinct region, the complex relationship between the First Nations and the settlers that is reviewed and chronicled in careful detail could apply to many areas across Canada.

As a historical researcher and writer, I recognize the need for this history book on our shelves, in our homes and in our collective minds. So much of the history of Indigenous-settler relations is lost as older generations pass away and this book, the merged history of both communities, ensures not only that the stories are documented, but also that readers will learn and become aware of the historical landscape in which they live. Shared Histories enables a deeper connection to our past and a better understanding of our home.

Illustrating Shared Histories are maps, drawings and high-quality photographs from archives, museums and from local family photo albums, all impeccably sourced and credited. The book has an attractive format, with frequent sidebars featuring interesting quotes and lengthy photo descriptions. A pleasure to read, it is content rich and visually appealing.

Shared Histories contains textbook-style references, such as comprehensive chapter end notes and a detailed index, that reinforce to the reader that the content of the book has been sourced and vetted. These references are also invaluable to readers who wish to learn further and track down another source or book to continue their education. Both an academic deep dive into original source material and a presentation of more recent personal narratives, this book is educating and enjoyable.

Both an academic deep dive into original source material and a presentation of more recent personal narratives, this book is educating and enjoyable.

McCreary credits the team of citizens, archivists, researchers, reviewers and proofreaders that enabled and assisted his years of research and made Shared Histories the high-quality resource it is. He acknowledges that the book was made a reality thanks to proactive former leaders in both the settler and Witsuwit’en communities and the ongoing commitment of a large network of people who wanted this history to be shared with a wider audience.

McCreary and those that shared their personal histories are to be praised for their generosity. The people in this book, the First Nation families and the settler families alike, show a high level of trust to share their stories. The author, his research team and the guiding committee members are to be commended for what must have been extensive relationship building to get this book off the ground.

Thank you to all involved for lifting these stories out of local hearts and homes, from being told around a kitchen table to being collectively contained on the pages of this book so that readers can bring this history home, read it, learn from it and, as the title states, share the history.

Web link to full review

Review of Shared Histories

Shared Histories is a new narrative and a new imaginary for all of Canada and it must be considered a primer for the ongoing journey of reconciliation – there is no arrival. I love this book. It is smart, has depth and scope, is beautifully written, and is solidly researched. We must know the pain and horror – the hard stuff – to appreciate the strength, resilience, determination, and relentless pragmatism of the Witsuwit’in peoples. The future must be founded on the unflinching reality of the past. Treat this book as a friend and teacher, and it will nourish you with new stories as it draws from the past.


When I arrived in Smithers in 1973, my sense of everything was intense – everything was alive – the peoples, water, and the land. The air was delicious, the mountains magnificent and more than a little scary, the valleys beautiful, and everything was possible. Lots of hardship, but a privilege to be so alive with everyone else. This book vividly brings those memories back because history matters – and it establishes much hope.

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

In The Ormsbsy Review Dorothy Kennedy concludes that, in Mapping My Way Home, Neil Sterritt “has done an exceptional job in demonstrating his people’s place and history in this province and this book will, itself, form part of the legacy of Delgamuukw.

Web link to full review

Review of Second Growth

In her debut collection, Second Growth, Canadian poet Fabinne Calvert Filteau writes of planting trees in northern BC after clearcut, and about being the second growth daughter of a mother who attempted suicide throughout her childhood.  She uses both traditional and experimental stanzas throughout the book.  As someone who is less comfortable with anything other than left justified stanzas Second Growth as not only gained my admiration, but opened me up to reading more poetry that utilizes white space.

The frontispiece poem, “Prologue” begins “[w]e came for wilderness, bounding trail, rinds of trail/ slumping in in to stream bed, river mud hugging our shoes…” and then goes on to “we came for boombox static, heartless rock, flatulence/ of spun out tires”.  The whole poem is one sentence which brings on a rush of things in nature, both the natural beauty and the man-made ugliness, which serves to introduce the reader to the landscape within Calvert Filteau’s collection.

Web link to full review

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

I am Haa'yuups, (Ron Hamilton) Head of the House of Takiishtakamlthat-h, of the Huupachesat-h First Nation of the Westcoast of Vancouver Island. I am proud to say I was present when the Allan McEachern delivered his REASONS FOR JUDGMENT in the Delgamuukw  case.

I have just finished reading your very fine and valuable contribution to the published history of this part of the world. I cannot express the joy you have brought to me as a Kuu-as reader. I have been reading voraciously for the last sixty years of my life and have not yet met with another work I can compare your book to. For several  years, I was involved with two professors from UBC and we produced NATIVE ART OF THE NORTHWEST COAST: A HISTORY OF CHANGING IDEAS....You have escaped the fad of publishing Kuu-as history as though it is only meant for children to read. You have escaped the trend of blaming and scolding our Mamalthnii neighbours. You have also succeeded in bringing your own particular voice forward in such a new, vibrant, strident, rich, respectful, multi-faceted, and engaging manner. 

Well, I loved your book! I like that you have provided your readers with a good measure of what one might call standard history, all the stuff about the Omineca gold fields and early Maatmalthnii settlers in your country. I like that you juxtaposed that with lots of ancient and more modern history from the point of view of the Gitxsan people who experienced it. Your terse and pithy account of the Delgamuukw case and its development is on the mark. I think very few Canadians know the amount of energy, money, and human lives we have invested in our struggle for justice, over the last century and more. Throughout your account of overlapping and complicated Gitxsan histories, you have succeeded in personalizing all of it, making it relevant to your own family and yourself.  My hat is off to you Neil. Your book should be on the shelves of every university, college, high school, and public library in this country. It is that important.

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

This remarkable, unique and articulate history of the people who have occupied the northern territories bisected by the Skeena and Kispiox rivers from time immemorial is powerful, accessible and a cultural tour de force. It deserves to be on every British Columbian’s bookshelf.

Sterritt was president of the Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council just before the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic Delgamuukw decision established constitutional frameworks for dealing with aboriginal rights and title. But this book is no dry legalistic exercise in nationalism. It’s suffused with the human stories that determine every people. Sure, there are maps and genealogical tables, but you will also find the poignant and sensitively presented tales of culture clashes that claimed very human victims on both sides. Here you can read the story of trader Charlie Yeomans, killed because he didn’t comprehend his obligations under Gitxsan law following the death of one of his employees, and how it led indirectly to the deaths five years later of Spookxw — James Spaagh to officialdom — and his wife and two children who starved after he froze to death.

Too often, First Nations history is left either to academics or to amateurs and advocates. Sterritt transcends stereotypes and makes an extraordinary and eloquent contribution to B.C. history.

Web link to full review

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

Among the land-knowledge holders of northern BC, Neil J. Sterritt is a central one, both culturally and geographically.

Sterritt is Gitxsan, is a member of Fireweed (Giskaast) Clan, House of Gitluudaahlxw, and was the president of the Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council from 1981 to 1987. Much of his work has been upholding aboriginal and Gitxsan rights, especially in the precedent-setting 1997 Supreme Court of Canada case Delgamuukw v. BC, which led to his part of the creation of the book Tribal Boundaries in the Nass Watershed (UBC Press 1999).

His new book, Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History (Creekstone Press), continues to document the history of the Canadian and BC governments’ refusal to address indigenous title and rights for much of the 20th century.

At the book’s outset, a reader encounters clear signals that this is a counter-history; along with a variety of territory maps, there are family trees and creation stories featuring Wiigyet, a figure Sterritt describes as closely resembling the Tlingit-Haida trickster Raven, but with some differences: Wiigyet was “caught between spirit and flesh. He was no man, yet all men.” Further, Wiigyet is located on and by territory:

I have been fortunate to work with many elders over the past four decades who have pointed out place names arising from Wiigyet’s adventures, thus connecting the moral map contained within Wiigyet stories with actual landmarks on the physical map of Gitxsan territories.

Much of the book is about the world of Sterritt’s ancestors and the community in which he grew up. His accounts range from the founding of Gitanmaax, Kispiox and Hagwilget to the arrival of the fur trade, mining and missionaries, up to recent oil pipeline threats.

Throughout, the importance of maps and map-making is emphasized. Sterritt’s work to establish and defend Gitxsan territory is monumental; in a culture so tied to land, his efforts have maintained the identity of the Gitxsan houses. But these maps are both literal territory maps and maps of identity that are personal and figurative. His accounts of family, community and culture are valuable documents of colonization’s nature and its effects on where we (settler and Gitxsan) live. In his opening chapter, Sterritt maps out an example of this contact zone:

A casual visitor could be forgiven for assuming Hazelton is larger than thirteen acres. Gitanmaax and Hazelton appear to be one community with the reserve boundary bordering the town’s. On the side of the road by our house stood St. Peter’s Anglican Church. Nearby, overlooking Hazelton and the church, stood Gidumgaldo’s totem pole. The pole and the church symbolize very different histories, customs, values and beliefs. Gidumgaldo’s totem pole was carved and erected in 1881; St. Peter’s Church was built twenty years later. Gidumgaldo’s long house once stood behind the pole. My grandfather, Charlie Sterritt, was born there, in Gidumgaldo’s house, in 1885.

Sterritt’s goals are to map his people’s territory, to “work directly with the simgiiget (Gitxsan Chiefs) and identify and map the historical territories of the Gitxsan houses so they would be preserved for all time.” Like a counter-history, a counter-colonial map is an assertion of what has been erased, what has been oppressed and what social justice would rightfully restore.

Sterritt ends the book with a glossary and pronunciation guide—the Gitxsan language, like the land, is a crucial lifeline to the Gitxsan people: the language-story-land that spells home.

Rob Budde's review of Mapping My Way Home was published in the Spring 2016 edition of Northword Magazine.

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

This book records a unique journey through the still unresolved clash of aboriginal and settler societies in Canada. Both intensely personal and meticulously researched, it expertly guides the reader through the physical and cultural landscapes over which the ferment plays out.

For more than 30 years, Richard Overstall has been a researcher, negotiator and lawyer with an interest in indigenous governance in the areas of land and resources. He has helped design programs in restorative justice, wildlife habitat mapping and ecosystem-based territory management.

Review of Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History

Mapping My Way Home is a great title for this provocative book. Home is the Gitxsan people’s territory along the Skeena and Nass rivers, which Sterritt knows intimately and loves. Home is also the story of his personal journey to find his ancestral roots, a journey that led him to help create the maps the Gitxsan used to reclaim their heritage.

Louise Mandell, one of Canada’s foremost aboriginal rights lawyers, was one of the legal counsels for the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en in Delgamuukw v. BC and is currently chancellor of Vancouver Island University.

Review of Second Growth

Some Second Growth Poetry (and it’s good!)

Fabienne Calvert Filteau is in her late twenties and from an old Central BC family. Her great grandparents settled in Vanderhoof around the turn of the twentieth century. As the family expanded it spread across the country but centred itself on a cabin that the grandparents built in the late twenties near Fort St. James — at Stone’s Bay on Stuart Lake in the shadow of Pope Mountain. Calvert Filteau grew up in Ontario and returned to BC to study Creative Writing at the University of Victoria: her book acknowledges Tim Lilburn and Lorna Crozier, among others, as mentors. She worked her way through school as a tree planter and continues in that occupation, presently residing in Hazleton.

The main subjects of the poems in Second Growth are family members, the wilderness (wild animals, beetle-kill forests etc), and tree planters, in roughly that order of predominance. Mostly Calvert Filteau is an observer more often than a participant, looking outward or into the past, though there are some poems about the immediate experience of sex and about tree planting. She is sensitive as an observer, but without sentimentality, and she can be sardonic. In no way is she cursed, as T. S. Eliot put it, by a ruminative mind. She is aggressive in using the resources of metaphor and conceit to move outside the solipsistic confines of anecdotal, free-verse lyrics into symbolism and myth.

John Donne comes to mind as an example of what I mean by aggressive. For example in “Tonguing” she employs the conceit of self-expression/exploration as a kind of Freudian cunnilingus, the tongue (language, speech) turning inward and exploring (expressing) the inner self: “done with the loud work of making enough room for me / my tongue retracts from today tip first / inside itself moving down the throat’s blue tube . . . .” In the lungs are “hang ups . . . a few small sorrows” (she was a smoker?), in the womb, “slippery unborns” (aborted fetuses?) etc.

The conceit is an ambitious one, hard to sustain, and I found myself anxiously anticipating some too-intimate encounters in the nether parts of the poet’s interior. Yet it was at least interesting to see how she would make the conceit work. The tongue’s most unambiguous thrust is down her legs into the ground, which is, for her, the source of revelation. This direction is anticipated in the quote from Cherrie Moraga that prefaces the book: “land is that physical mass called our bodies.” In the battle of land and sky, realism and idealism, Calvert Filteau is Anteus, taking strength from contact with the ground.

In poetry, an Anteus-like dependence on physical realities can be a disadvantage. Calvert Filteau’s close attention to detail empowers her symbolism, but can also keep it from finding clear meaning. In some poems, the more the metaphors and other figures of speech pile up, the more the subjects blur. One of the back-cover blurbs compares Calvert Filteau to Tim Lilburn. I can see the resemblance, except that Lilburn settled for a shotgun approach to metaphor, while Filteau understands that precision has some importance. It’s the poet’s, not the reader’s, job to thin rows of metaphor so that the strongest can have its effect. Lilburn’s approach conveys nothing but frenetic desperation.

Web link to full review

Review of Second Growth

Fabienne Calvert Filteau’s debut collection is one of the latest additions to a growing body of poetic work emerging from the small towns and rugged landscapes of northern British Columbia. Like her contemporaries from the region—who between them have published at least half a dozen collections since 2012—Filteau’s work is an ode to the land she inhabits. Like theirs, her poetry is a bold and unsentimental meditation on northern landscapes and the humans that reside there.

While awake to the beauty of this world, Filteau is uninterested in delivering a wilderness ideal or picturesque sublime. Instead, these poems are unflinchingly attentive to nature as we have reimagined it: clearcut and devastated, loud with the “scream of slash piles,” laced with the same toxicity as the society decamped there. Drawing on a decade spent working in clearcuts and tree planting camps, Filteau describes capitulation to capital accumulation, where mind-numbed servants number off the hours with daydreams of the consumer goods their labour will purchase. To be in this landscape is to  hammer in hundreds of trees, to coast through the mindless drudgery of repetitive exertion broken by the body’s needs and the dangerous vagaries of weather. This is a lived-in landscape of hard work and hardship, by turns broken and sutured, pristine and inviolable.

The book’s title and epigraph encourage a reading of spliced body and landscape—a sentiment that carries both warning and hope. Gritty resource industries threaten to bring out the worst in us (“Blistered gears of the buncher / caustic with years of sleet and grist / lurk at the clearcut’s edge, pedophilic”) even as they permit an authenticity of experience and relationship to the land that recreational forays cannot match. In this merging of land and body, “second growth,” the term for the forest that regenerates after an area has been logged, clearly includes the regrowth and healing of human hearts.

The final poem of the collection, “The River,” is a twenty-eight page sequence that ruminates on the attempted suicide of the speaker’s mother. In these pages, the urban riparian zone becomes witness, healer, and accomplice to death, bearing traces of “all the ways / we have not learned / to heal ourselves” on rocks poised to catch bodies in freefall. Yet even along a river that receives the city’s sewage, garbage and desolate souls there is room for hope as the stream billows with the runoff of a new spring.

Emotionally rich, vulnerable and courageous, this is a collection that thrums with the momentum of northern landscapes. It succeeds in capturing the industrial grind of that world as well as its cold splendour, its “topography of skidder trails” and its heavy solitude. Above all, it sees the land as the terrain of souls that, despite the struggle and hurt they have endured, find themselves startled by the beauty of a flock of birds, “a fleeting / sun-filled murmuration, millionwinged
/ swooping of the heart—”

Emily McGiffen writes in Arc Poetry Magazine, Summer 2015

Review of Second Growth

Screefing Duff: Calvert Filteau’s Poems of Northern BC.


Tree planting culture permeates northern BC. Many of my students are or were tree planters and they carry that experience with them as an important right of passage. Despite some bastard bosses and hard times, most of the stories I hear are positive. Bonding stories. Most of all, stories of a connection to the land.

Fabienne Calvert Filteau’s first book of poems represents a relationship that is both recognizably iconic and unique to her individual experience. She accomplishes this by asserting her physical body in the language of cut blocks, mushroom shelves, “the smack of muck in our faces,” and “plastic flag tape lines.” The poems are part experiential, part familial, part love poem to the places the narrator has been, part philosophical treatise on how to be here:

     spear my shovel skyward,
     conduct electricity, survive
     and bleed silly from such bloody
     life but I
     don’t know how to confront the thunder-
     ous way I crave
     to live, the fear,
     the land, bare-

Always elegant and surprising, the poems range in the form of encounters: with family memory, with places, with history/culture (“Chilcotin/Tsilhqot’in”), with animals (cougar, bear), and with the narrator’s interaction with the land:

     I know they are not just standing. The trees creak
     like only themselves—
     I do not know what to call them—

     I have named them all Tree without watching
     the ground for cottonwood beads
     or checking the leaf’s underside for rust
     or leaning up against aspen bark
     to come away chalky and know I’m
     headed south.   

Calvert Filteau expresses a common experience in the world of Canadian poetry, one filled with the places that she loves and the work of humans relating to that place. What makes it unique is the realistic respect she brings to the land. And the way she makes the land part of her. There is tremendous range in her poems; these aren’t pretty nature poems but there is beauty here too:

     one hand clenching
     kinnikinnick, white-knuckled fistful of root-bound wild rose,
     sun, moon, blood, wind, the rolling swell of my name—

This relation to the narrator’s body, her becoming herself next to the natural world, an alliance of identity, attracts me most to these poems. I trust her. And I think her interactions with the land are healthy, replenishing, edgy but filled with hope.

Review of Second Growth

Bernice Lever describes the poems in Second Growth as both challenging and eloquent, citing, in particular, “Becoming Lovers”, “Tonguing”, “Grizzly on the Logging Road” and “Saskatoons”. Filteau’s “Becoming Lovers” describes a mystical being circling her beach tent seven times. Her “Saskatoon” reaches readers with ironic humour. The long poem “Tonguing” refers to the very spacing of one’s tongue (words and speech) and searches of both inner and outer body, then the universe and back to earth. Using some lines from Earle Birney’s “Bear on the Delhi Road” she leads readers to ‘where wild is one last freckle on the continent’s white washed brow.’

Web link to full review

Review of Shafted: A Mystery

Shafted A Mystery is a departure in genre writing for author Sheila Peters, well-respected in Canadian literary circles for her published works in poetry, short fiction and most recently, The Taste of Ashes, a gritty and gripping novel set in Guatemala, Vancouver and Smithers, B.C.


The small and vibrant town of Smithers, B.C. makes another appearance in this book and is, in fact, a character of sorts as all well-written mystery settings are, which places this book in a new wave of Canadian mysteries from large and small publishers where the once-pejorative words "local" and "regional" are applied to tasty, specifically spiced and culturally authentic writing in the same way those words have been used in a laudatory way in the world of cuisine for several decades, and rightly so. The best-selling mysteries set in Three Pines, Quebec by Louise Penny or in Kootenay Landing, B.C. by Deryn Collier are two that quickly come to mind. Collier, like Peters, is particularly brilliant at deftly using local details of setting, cuisine, the slightly nosy neighbours who truly have your back, and the vicious local power struggles which can turn deadly in a way that is utterly authentic.


I grew up in a small rural community and have preferred to live in them ever since so my nose quickly detects those authors who ladle on the local detail but without the depth of relationships, the true intimacy of life in a close-knit community. Local "colour" when plopped onto a formulaic genre is still formula-driven fast-food writing with a bit of well-worn sauce, not nearly as satisfying as the slow food served by those who grow and know their own local ingredients. Mysteries are my brain candy, the genre I most love to read to relax and to sink into another world's sights and smells and tastes and voices, as experienced by the observant sleuth or any reasonable facsimile on his/her way to settling things so that justice prevails (or a satisfying facsimile of justice).


Another interesting aspect of this well-written book is the choice of April as the month in which all the action takes place. April in Smithers will resonate with many readers who experience four seasons of the year as, without a doubt, April is the cruelest month. It gets our hopes up for spring, surely just around the corner. Peters delivers April's uncontrollable run-off, collective mental teetering on the edge, freezing treachery and the first beautiful dry, bare patch in the yard with true panache. If I was an Aussie reader, I'd be just as fascinated, in the same way that I am when a writer from Down Under gives me prolonged drought and a couple of murders to ponder in such a way that I'm thirsty after just a few pages.


So, what we have in April in Smithers is an era when party lines on the rural telephone exchange still existed and the internet is barely a rumour.There are property development issues afoot so astute mystery readers know we need to follow the money, for starters. Into this mix, strides and stumbles the fatigued protagonist, Margo Jamieson, a part-time auxiliary cop and stage manager/janitor at the high school theatre auditorium, a young woman with a big heart and a maternal eye on a troubled student who is homeless, vulnerable and unpredictable. There is also a fabulously wealthy, thanks to a lottery win, eco-activist, a hometown girl who abandoned a promising career in the U.S. to come home to Smithers and there to fund a think tank with visiting international scientists to solve environmental problems. She also wants to create a local wilderness park, much to the displeasure of some residents who expected her to fork over wads of her cash for their assorted causes instead of this park business, where local logging and mining jobs might be lost.


The geological and political elements in this mystery are fascinating; both well-researched and highly credible as this conflict is currently happening all over North and South America. This brings us to another interesting character, a reclusive, handsome geologist or mining company fixer or scout, or all of the above...the stories vary according to the purveyor of the gossip but he's a hometown son as well and he, as the surviving member of his family, has a stake in the rubble left behind from their once-thriving mine in the proposed park zone. Another unsavoury character is an an old prospector, the kind who snoops around other people's claims and digs up dirt in all forms, also a former swimming champion and fading beauty with a massive mean streak, a charming and philosophical cafe owner, a beefy and brusque female RCMP officer dealing with a vindictive, misogynist supervisor (another situation ripped from much more recent headlines as women serving as RCMP stand up in the new millennium and speak publicly about the nasty unprofessional jerks they have had to work with for years in a culture which blatantly condones sexism), and an appealing local historian who works as a telecommunications technician. I could go on with the list but what I'm trying to say is that, as in the best theatre ensembles, there are no small roles, only small players, and every character created by Sheila Peters is immensely memorable, whether they are on the page for a few scenes or reappear as major players throughout the entire book.


Who is using a dry cleaning business to send poison pen notes to Smithereens from all walks of life (or at least those who can afford to get their clothes dry-cleaned?)Who amongst this cast of characters would stoop to using a pistol on an old man and a homemade bomb to cover up their mistakes, nearly killing two innocent people in the ensuing melee? What is connected to whom and why? It's a very satisfying read which kept me guessing right to the "reveal". Now what I would like is a series of mysteries set in Smithers by Sheila Peters, one set in each month of the year. There is the grim fact of the Highway of Tears to investigate, for starters. And I would like at least one book to include the wonderful bookstore in Smithers and the great music festival too! Shafted A Mystery is recommended reading any month of the year.


Caroline Woodwards on

Review of Second Growth

Delicate and savage by turns, packed with energy, Second Growth dares to re-imagine the Canadian west as a personal landscape, a scarred space both within us and without. Here is a poetry that can leave "the hair on the back of the clearcut bristling/after the sun hisses through," a poetry of human wonder and anguish and, yes, joy. Fabienne Calvert Filteau is a startling poet; this is a beautiful debut.

Steven Price's first collection of poems, Anatomy of Keys (Brick, 2006), won the Gerald Lampert Award, was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Prize, and was named a Globe & Mail Book of the Year. His first novel, Into that Darkness (Thomas Allen, 2011), was shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Prize. His second collection of poems, Omens in the Year of the Ox (Brick, 2012), won the ReLit Award.

Review of Second Growth

These rich and urgent poems navigate the worlds of family, loss, and environment with an open-hearted zeal that is both earnest and joyful. Fabienne Calvert Filteau hones metaphor into a source of understanding and redemption, bringing us closer to the "door at the end of words."Second Growth is a potent debut.


Barbara Klar's debut collection of poems, The Night You Called Me a Shadow, won the 1993 Gerald Lampert Award. Her most recent book is Cypress (Brick Books, 2008), a poetic vision quest about the Cypress Hills and a finalist for the Saskatchewan Book of the Year. She has worked as a tree planter, camp cook, editor, workshop leader, and mentor for the Banff Centre's Wired Writing Studio. She currently lives in Saskatoon.

Review of The Enpipe Line: 70,000 km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

The Enpipe Line collaboration beautifully illustrates the branch of Canadian poetry that has swung away from the individual act of writing about nature to a kind of collaborative activism possible through poetry crowdsourcing….The effectiveness of using poetry as a forum for participatory environmental activism is explained by poet Derek Beaulieu when he writes that “[w]ith The Enpipe Line, poets draw a line in the sand and enact their politics.”

For the full review see Canadian Literature Autumn 2013

Review of Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils

This book should be read by all paleontologists to learn some lessons about how best to manage productive relationships with fossil collectors, and it should also be read by collectors to gain a perspective on the realities of professional paleontology...

Web link to full review

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

I wanted to tell you how much my family is enjoying Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia. My mother is 76 years old with a heart that is wearing out, yet she is still so engaged in life and learning, I went looking for books she might like to look at while resting.

Trained as a psych nurse in the 50s in Weyburn Sask, Mom said Front Lines could be prerequisite reading for anyone going into nursing today. She always wanted to go up north and work in First Nations communities there. Instead, her granddaughter, my niece, just began her first nursing job as an RN in Masset on Haida Gwaii. She loves it there and I live vicariously through her as we lived there for a time while our children were young.

The circle of life has an interesting way of coming full circle and I loved how your book gave me time to reflect. I appreciated the stories and how the people were captured so lovingly in the places they love. Front Lines is beautiful to look at and a joy to read and learn from – thank you for creating the book!

Review of The Enpipe Line: 70,000 km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

One doesn’t need to dig too deep these days to strike oil.

Across the country, the words Enbridge, pipeline, and tar sands have spilled into the media, erupted across Twitter feeds, and been plastered across placards. Even words like bitumen and crude have become common parlance. Eyes have turned to Enbridge Inc., and discussions surrounding the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline have been volatile: the project would see 525,000 barrels of petroleum piped daily from Bruderheim to Kitimat, bisecting two provinces and traversing 1,177 kilometers of forests, mountains, and waterways. Marr the wilderness to bury toxins? A group of poets is calling foul….

Web link to full review

Review of The Enpipe Line: 70,000 km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

A recently released volume from Creekstone Press, The Enpipe Line, presents a poetic manifestation of resistance. Written in opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipelines and similar projects around the world, the collected works resonate as series of insurgent gestures. The collection projects a wave of words intended to surround, submerge and suffocate the pipelines.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway project proposes the construction of 1,170 kilometre twin pipelines to carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to port at Kitimat. A thick, sticky form of crude oil, bitumen is so heavy and viscous that it will not flow unless diluted. Enbridge proposes using one 20 inch diameter pipeline to ship natural gas condensate east in order to thin tar sands bitumen for transport. Diluted bitumen would then flow west along the larger 36 inch diameter pipeline at a rate of 525 thousand barrels per day. At the port in Kitimat, the heavy crude would subsequently be loaded onto supertankers for export, filling approximately 225 tankers per year.

Faced with the numbing scale of this proposal, there are moments when capacity for words seems almost entirely surpassed. What can words do to counter the overwhelming force of a $5.5 billion industrial project? How can the weight of words block the flow of thousands of barrels? How can the strength of a poem slow the progress of a tanker?

Web link to full review

Review of Rocking’ Whitewater: A Guide to Paddling in Northwest British Columbia

I started to read the introductory bits and was surprised to find myself enjoying reading a whole lot more. Not that I am tempted to start a whitewater career, but it was fun reading…

Review of The Enpipe Line: 70,000 km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

With The Enpipe Line, poets draw a line in the sand and enact their politics. No longer is the landscape something wistfully elegized; it is the line where poets say no more, not again. Throughout The Enpipe Line we learn how to be here, now—listening to our own breath and believing in something more.
—Derek Beaulieu, Visual Poetry editor, UBUWeb

Review of The Enpipe Line: 70,000 km of poetry written in resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

What is so poignant about The Enpipe Line is not its length (over 70,000 km) or its capacity (barrels of words per day, the poem as tanker) but, quite simply, its presence. On-line for over a year, and now in a print edition, the project resonates as a manifestation of mindfulness, a manifesto on devotion to our world and inscribing that attention into the earth and water works of our imagination and our desire for a sustaining world. These poems, drawings, stories, statements – words and gestures, are more than anathemas to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal; they are actual and necessary functions of being here, measures of our own animal presence, and witness to a threatening greed and ignorance. Kilometre after kilometre, The Enpipe Line occupies its space by writing in it.

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

Story-telling shines through in portraits of northern caregivers…If Northern BC’s healthcare system needs recruitment, officials could consider getting a copy of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia (Creekstone Press, 2011) into the hands of students worldwide.

Whether they were recruited from other provinces or countries, grew up in the north, or even hitchhiked there, the doctors, nurses, social workers and paramedics profiled in the book all have their own reasons for staying. In many cases it comes down to community.

Web link to full review

Review of Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils

When Garnet Fraser, a Prince George doctor and amateur paleontologist, asked local author Vivien Lougheed to tell his story, he probably thought he had found a kindred spirit and a sympathetic ear. Along with a friend, Fraser had discovered a dinosaur trackway in Kakwa Provincial Park in early 2000, and had spent the ensuing seven years alternately working with and against local paleontologists and government officials to gain recognition for the site and document its contents. Lougheed is a keen hiker, an experienced and enthusiastic explorer of the north’s backcountry and no great friend of received wisdom and institutional authority. Surely, he must have thought, she would do justice to his side of the story.

Instead, in Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils, she does him one better. She tells the truth.

Web link to full review

Review of Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils

Professional jealousies are not quite as old as the subjects in Vivien Lougheed’s new book, but they are certainly present in the modern age when it comes to who gets the credit for fossils.

Creekstone Press just released Sidetracked: The Struggle for B.C.‘s Fossils by the veteran Prince George writer (formerly with The Citizen).

It talks most about two almost simultaneous discoveries of dinosaur trackways in the local region – one at Tumbler Ridge, the other in Kakwa Park. Both were discovered by amateurs but are now under the control of professional paleontologists.

The Kakwa discovery in particular became a political football between the two men, Garnet Fraser and Bryan Munroe, who found the footprints in stone and the professional paleontologists who took over studying and preserving them, chiefly Richard McCrea of the Tumbler Ridge Museum.

Web link to full review

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

Sarah de Leeuw is the author of Front Lines, Portrait of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia.

To know people are inspired into action by the landscape of Northern British Columbia is something local author Sarah de Leeuw knows something about.

De Leeuw, a two-time CBC literary award winner, has written a non-fiction book of creative essays called Front Lines, Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia to be launched at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Dr. Donald Rix Northern Health Sciences Centre at UNBC.

“This is a book about amazing, resilient, thoughtful people who are practicing and caring for other people in Northern British Columbia,” said de Leeuw, who grew up on Haida Gwaii. “I want the book to say this is a wonderful landscape in which to live, to love, to play and to practice.”

The idea for the book was presented to de Leeuw by Dr. David Snadden, vice-provost medicine, UNBC, regional associate dean, Northern B.C., UBC, right after de Leeuw won a CBC literary award a couple of years ago.

“Dave Snadden walked into my office and showed me a book called Single Handed that was printed in the early ’90s in the UK about general practitioners in rural areas,” said de Leeuw.

He asked her what she thought of writing a book on people in the North who are health-care providers and accompanying those with pictures.

“He wanted me to really talk about the amazing face of health-care provision in the North and I said that would be amazing,” said de Leeuw, who is a published creative writer. “I am now a faculty member in a faculty of medicine, so sometimes trying to figure out what to do with those things really allows for innovative projects to come to the forefront.”

Web link to full review

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

By his own estimation, Kelowna-based photographer Tim Swanky travelled at least 20,000 km. by road to get to his subjects for the book Front Lines – Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia.
And he did a good portion of that on a motorcycle, toting his camera gear along with him as he crisscrossed the northern half of our spacious province.
And sometimes, that was the easy part.

For a portrait of Dease Lake physician Dr. David Beaulieu, Swanky and he set out at dawn and hiked high onto a ridge overlooking a spectacular vista of trees and a river valley, all for basically one shot.
“That took six hours,” said Swanky of the session. “He picked me up at four in the morning to get the morning light. The shot in the book was like the first one we took, but we were gone all day.”

He got it though, and the image captures the man doing what he often did outside of work, dressed in camouflage and looking for big game with his spotting scope and rifle slung over his shoulder.
Throughout its 100 beautifully printed pages, Swanky tried to capture the essence of the people who work, mostly by choice, delivering healthcare to the far-flung residents of the Northern Health region.

Web link to full review

Review of Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils

This book is a triumph of investigative journalism – even though I doubt its author thinks of herself as either a journalist or an investigator. She has tackled a minefield of contradictions and conflicts. Who should collect fossils? Who is qualified to excavate ancient bones, shells or plants? Should fossils on public land be treated differently from those on private property? Is it appropriate to buy or sell fossils? And should these questions be legislated and policed or left to local custom?

Unfortunately, these questions and many more like them have led to serious conflicts, court battles, and in at least one case, prison (though not in British Columbia). In its simplest guise, the conflict pits dedicated amateurs (perhaps collecting on weekends or vacation) against professional paleontologists (professors or museum curators). The amateur wants help with identifications and maybe some credit for the find. The professional may want to be able to prepare and study the fossils and perhaps publish papers about them. It could be a win-win balance.

But behind this seemingly simple scenario lie innumerable points of friction and conflict. I remember some of my colleagues in paleontology complaining bitterly a few years ago about a popular book about fossils that gave detailed directions to good collecting localities. My friends didn’t want good localities messed up – this despite the fact that over the years amateurs have been responsible for most of the really important fossil finds, for the simple reason that only amateurs can afford the time it takes to find the rarest species.

Lougheed has delved deeply into a nest of such problems involving BC fossils – most notably the spectacularly preserved tracks of dinosaurs in Kakwa Provincial Park. And she has done a splendid job of putting these incidents in a broader context of BC and Alberta paleontology as well as cases farther afield – including Pete Larson’s prison term in South Dakota. Partly because the broader context is so well developed, this book should be required reading for all amateur fossil collectors and, especially, the professionals. I am not aware of any treatment as broad or as balanced as this one.

David Raup (retired University of Chicago paleontologist and a former curator of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago)
Washington Island, Wisconsin
May, 2011

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

Storytelling is an ancient art, and since time immemorial the sharing of our stories has been fundamental to building relationships and community. With the stories in Front Lines, Sarah de Leeuw forges ahead, breaking new trails in the northern medical landscape. Readers are swiftly and surely placed in positions of deeper understanding of our shared human experiences, our shared experiences of life north of the 54th parallel and our shared hopes and dreams for building and sustaining community health.

Reading these stories reminded me of my personal and professional experiences where the sharing of stories was critical to the way we as people view each other and to the way we view health outcomes.

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

I started coming to northern BC to work in the early 1960s and have always felt like a man stumbling on a well kept secret. This region is ideal for anyone who appreciates the values of wilderness but it also contains a remarkable array of distinct communities. There are challenges here but in doses small enough to savour.

The essays and photographs in this book provide insight into the experiences of individuals who have found their way to this “secret” place. These people are part of a network of health care providers helping build healthier northern communities while living interesting and rewarding lives themselves. It is part of my ongoing good fortune to count myself among them.

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

Never mind the diagnostic wizardry on the TV medical drama, House. Turn off the small-screen passions of Grey’s Anatomy‘s hospital staff. Instead, settle down and crack open Front Lines. You’ll meet a fresh, real-life cast of northern caregivers, who help and heal. They show fierce love, intense compassion, and inspiring insight into their work, their patients, and the land where they dwell.

Author Sarah de Leeuw brings along her careful eye and poetic prose as she embeds on health care’s front lines. She begins with her own vivid childhood memories of being airlifted from a remote island during a medical emergency. It’s a pivotal moment. Tough northerners save this little girl’s life, and decades later, de Leeuw still remembers the gentle hands in the cold rain and windy dark. Now a medical school professor, de Leeuw approaches her subjects with the gratitude of a child saved – and the critical mind of an academic. Like a child’s ruptured appendix, her essays about each caregiver burst with movement, truth, and pain. Her vivid images and muscular language capture the wise essence of people committed to pushing health care’s front lines through this wild frontier.

Here, it’s not simply family doctors and nurses who cure. Front Lines‘ healers include oncologists, sacred healers, pharmacists, home care workers, and opticians. They are not cartographers or historians, but the essays about their lives capture something essential about the North.

Tim Swanky’s lush photographic portraits add another layer of illumination. Health care workers are often defined and confined by their professional identity. Here, they harvest lettuce, drum in a yurt, sprint through snow, or head out mudbogging. Set amidst northern BC’s sun and snow and ice and bush, these gorgeous photos could well serve as a recruitment tool – to bring new medical blood to the north.

Review of Front Lines: Portraits of Caregivers in Northern British Columbia

There’s an old writers’ adage that it’s hard to write about people who are good, because there is no conflict. But in remote parts of our country, there are, by virtue of geography alone, many obstacles, and triumph over them makes for a great stories.

I was struck by the persistent mix of fearlessness and humility of the people on the front lines. Also the humour. Not one of the caregivers profiled is in the North to administer a quick fix – they are there for something deeper. They want to make, and are making, an enduring difference. Sarah de Leeuw, a beautiful writer, presents portraits of people who are dazzling in their humanity. Tim Swanky’s photographs bear visual witness. Front Lines is about nothing less than the soul of Canada. Let it rouse your heart.

Review of Trees and Shrubs in Winter

Many native plant enthusiasts fall under the spell of wildflowers with their showy petals, perfumed fragrances and bewitching ways. But some of us have a soft spot for plant life that is often overlooked – and there is no form of plant life that is more often overlooked in winter than deciduous trees and shrubs.

For most people, trees and shrubs only start to get some attention when the year’s new leaves emerge, and then again in fall, when the same leaves go out in a blaze of autumnal glory. But for those months when deciduous trees and shrubs go naked and leafless, they seem, for most, only stark reminders of winter’s dark, cold duration.

But really, isn’t this the best time to get to know your neighbours? When they’ve shed their fancy clothes and look-at-me ways, when you can get to see them in all their beautiful simplicity?

Last winter, I took the time to get to know many of the native deciduous trees and shrubs in my neighbourhood. I became intimate with the sweet-smelling buds of Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa (black cottonwood); I figured out which of the shrubs in a nearby meadow were Corylus cornuta (beaked hazelnut) and which were Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon) and I tried to sort out the different Ribes species, using prickles – or the lack thereof – as a guide.

How I wished I had had a field guide – and not the usual field guides that focus on leaves, flowers and fruits, but one that focused on twigs, buds and bark. There are some out there, but they tend to be for eastern North America or are expensive and unwieldy tomes.

This winter, however, I will have a new guide to help me: Trees and Shrubs in Winter by Rosamund Pojar. Although the book is subtitled “An identification guide for northern British Columbia”, you’ll find many species of coniferous trees and shrubs, and deciduous trees and shrubs that are found throughout much of the province.

The book, conceived originally as a study aid for natural resources classes taught by Rosamund, is a terrific resource for anyone with an interest in native trees. There are simple keys using characteristics seen in winter (foliage and cones for the conifers, bark, buds and twigs for the deciduous species) to help steer you in the right directions. Each species gets a detailed write-up with specific descriptions as well as notes on similar species and how to tell them apart, geographical ranges and interesting tidbits of information.

Take for example, this comment on Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir): “Surely this tree must suffer an identity crisis! Its common name suggests that it is a fir when it is not, whereas its Latin name means ‘false hemlock’ – all because European explorers who first discovered it had never seen a tree like it before as it is endemic to the west coast of North America and they were confused as to what to call it.”

The illustrations by Evi Coulson are terrific and are the perfect complement to the text. All in all, Trees and Shrubs in Winter is a book that you need on your shelf or in your backpack. I can’t wait for all the leaves to fall.

Review in menziesia Fall 2010

Review of Trees and Shrubs in Winter

Stark naked all winter. That’s the situation for most trees and shrubs in this country, leafless from autumn to spring. And that lack of foliage makes identification tough. This book comes to the rescue. No leaves? No problem. The bark, the buds, the twigs and stems, the remaining fruits all offer clues to identification. The author shows you how. The illustrations are top-notch.

Review of Trees and Shrubs in Winter

This book is a must for naturalists in the interior of British Columbia, where most shrubs and trees are leafless for half the year. Evi Coulson’s wonderful illustrations and Rosamund Pojar’s authoritative text make it accurate and easy to use. I can’t wait for winter!

Review of They Call Me Lopey: A Saga of Wilderness Flying

They Call Me Lopey is another of those fascinating autobiographies which outline the conditions faced by bush pilots of so many years ago. It’s written by a chap called Bill Lopaschuk, who was, for decades, a bush pilot who flew to places that few people ever heard of, often under appalling conditions, and survived to tell us about it in this sprightly book.

He was born just before the Great Depression struck and like many children of that era, he was mesmerized by airplanes. Also like many of his contemporaries, he was gifted with a strong work ethic, and it wasn’t long before he was contributing to the family coffers with a succession of “entry level” jobs that helped keep life a bit more comfortable for the family.

But, the fascination with flight lingered. He wanted to learn to fly. His father, a practical depression survivor, said, “Well, you always go on a holiday. Why don’t you stay home and learn to fly instead?” Thus, another fledgling bush pilot was born.

But, it wasn’t to be easy. In his words, “I soon discovered that what I spent on a holiday didn’t go far towards a pilot’s license. It took me a year to purchase enough lessons to make instructor Dan McIvor feel comfortable letting me fly solo.” In that year, he amassed, if that is the word I want, a meager 12 hours.

Might there be a better way of doing it? Providentially, the RCAF was selling off some surplus Cornell trainers for a mere $625, and, at his father’s suggestion, he arranged a bank loan that would cover the cost of the aeroplane. There were other costs, among them the outlay to get him from where he was to where the Cornell was, then to return home with it.

The Cornell was fine, but it was an expensive aircraft to operate, so he sold it and bought a more economical Taylorcraft to help him build the hours needed for a commercial license. In the meantime, he found work as an apprentice mechanic with Central B.C. Airways where one of his tasks was to sew the fabric cover onto a Fairchild 71. Ah, the glamour of air travel.

Eventually, he attained the hours needed for a ticket that would allow him to fly for hire, and he embarked on what turned out to be a lengthy, interesting and varied career. That career would eventually encompass 25,000 takeoffs and landings spread over some 17,000 hours of flight time, so you can see that he wasn’t doing a great many flights where he took off, plugged in the autopilot then landed several time zones away after a humdrum flight.

His was a world of ups and downs, generally from a site where there was no support, to another site where there was even less support. Nor was he overburdened with nav aids. There were still many problems to be resolved before GPS would take much of the worry out of the then perennial problems of, “where, precisely, are we, and how do we find this minuscule flat spot we’re seeking?” It was a problem that bedeviled all of that era’s bush aviators.

Like so many of his colleagues, Lopaschuk has a sackful of anecdotes that show the considerable ingenuity which our pioneering bush pilots brought with them so that they could solve problems at the various sites they visited. It wasn’t enough to fly the planes, dump off the passengers or freight, and then be on their way.

Sometimes, they had to resolve problems that were intrinsic to the base, or had arisen as a result of the activities conducted at or near the work site. Few of these activities were uppermost in the various work descriptions, but it was work that had to be done if the objectives were to be met, and they make today’s readers realize that improvising was not just for the era’s jazz bands.

Although Lopaschuk came along well after the Early Birds had largely vanished from the scene, there was still considerable scope for pilots who had the ingenuity to see a problem and, out of touch from elephantine authority, find ways of eliminating the problem, or at least working around it. Complications that, these days, would cause endless problems were, if nothing else, at least rearranged so that they permitted the work to continue.

One such problem was the need to move a D7 Cat from Burrage Creek to Snippaker Creek, using “two Otters on skis and several thick wooden planks on the floor of each plane.” To cite that dreaded phrase, “some disassembly and re-assembly required,” the Cat had to be broken into Otter-sized chunks, then reassembled after the 35-minute flights.

He does not claim to be the man who shouted “Eureka,” then did it all by himself. There was a tear-down and reassembly crew, a sound plan for them to follow, and the operation went smoothly. It’s an excellent example, but the feat shows the problems faced by bush pilots and their customers in those years.

Later on in that story, he describes how another move – this time of a D6 – could have gone horribly wrong had he not been paying attention. A less-than-scrupulous customer did not pay attention to load limits. Fortunately, Lopaschuk did. Also in this chapter is an account of an instrument ticket ride that went bad and it makes one wonder about some of the practices in the “good old days.” Check pilots doing instrument rides under those conditions? Hmm.

The book concludes with a “pilot’s eye view” of the many different aircraft types that Lopaschuk flew, including the prototype, DH-2 Beaver, CF-FHB, which is now proudly on display in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, along with the Junkers 34, CF-ATF. It’s an interesting section which all pilots will enjoy reading.

It closes with acknowledgments, which is not all that unusual, but these have a different twist, as he turns the last word over to his children, which could be a dangerous thing, but in this case wasn’t. We’ll give the last word to his daughter, Lynn. “Like he did with all his passengers, Dad delivered his three children safely to their adult destinations.”

They call me Lopey is a smoothly written, nicely illustrated life story of a bush pilot who contributed much to Canada’s development. That development took place in locales which most Canadians have never seen – or are likely to see. His flights weren’t long, or record-breaking. There was little or no glamour attached to any of them. And yet, we owe him – and many others like him – for their mostly unsung efforts to make this a better country.

Bob Merrick is a retired air force fighter-navigator with a lifelong interest in aviation safety. Although now retired from the Aviation Safety Programs branch of Transport Canada in Ottawa, he keeps his readers current on many aspects of aviation. This review appeared in the February 2010 issue of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Assocation (COPA) newsletter.

Review of They Call Me Lopey: A Saga of Wilderness Flying

I’ve been associated with British Columbia’s northern aviation industry for the past forty years. Lopey endured many flying challenges including landings and take-offs on fast flowing rivers, Otter water bombings and flying on the coast of BC. He was always cool and calm, no matter what he encountered while flying. When it comes to bush pilots, they don’t come any better.

Review of They Call Me Lopey: A Saga of Wilderness Flying

For forty years I worked as camp hand, wrangler and guide-outfitter in the Spatsizi and Tatlatui areas of northwestern British Columbia. In northern parlance, I was a bush ape. And in my society, bush pilots like Bill Lopaschuk had very special status. They were our life line. In They Call Me Lopey, Bill tells the reader what it was truly like to fly the northern skies for a living.

Review of A Small and Charming World

Gibson is an astonishingly graceful writer. He’s got an eye like a camera lens.”

-Terry Glavin, The Georgia Straight, November 2001

“The book is a vivid document of the recent past and, as the editors of the new edition point out, it’s an eloquent argument for Gibson’s guiding philosophy: to learn – not teach. His willingness to accept people on their own terms … sets this story apart, making it a timeless document of what he encountered.”

-Jennifer Lang, The Terrace Standard, October 2001

“Gibson demonstrates his respect for people, their cultures and values in each word, paragraph and chapter of this book.”

-Daniel Smith, Treaty Negotiator, Kwakiutl Laich-Kwil-Tach Nations Treaty Society, March 2001

From the archives

“I have read a lot about Indians, but Gibson’s moving narrative has made me aware of my ignorance.”

-E.D. Ward-Harris, The Daily Colonist, Victoria, December 31, 1972

“[Gibson’s book] is a sensitive experience, a sensory experience, a sensible experience.”

-Mike Grenby, The Vancouver Sun, February 2, 1973

“Gibson’s acute perception of the people he meets is mirrored in the pages of this book.”

-John Manning, The Sidney Review, November 1, 1972

Review of Returning the Feathers: Five Gitxsan Stories

These stories will appeal to children and adults alike as they encompass the birth of the first Gitxsan, as well as the origins of the blue jay’s chatter, the mosquito’s revenge and the porcupine’s crankiness. And they provide a window through which to see and learn about the vibrant Gitxsan culture.” – Matt Pearson, Smithers Interior News

“There are Native books you buy to learn the culture that surrounds us; Returning The Feathers will teach about indigenous beliefs, yes, and it’s salty, vital and accomplished to boot.” – John Burns, The Georgia Straight

“Whether Returning The Feathers is a children’s storybook or is worthy of a permanent spot on the coffee table, thanks to [Ken] Mowatt’s original art work and the cadence of Smith’s storytelling voice, is up to readers to decide. – Heather Ramsay, the Vancouver Sun

“These stories serve to connect Smith to her ancestors, and give her readers a taste of the rich cultural heritage of the Gitxsan people.” – Canadian Teacher Magazine

Review of Returning the Feathers: Five Gitxsan Stories

Returning the Feathers has unfortunately gone out of print – so if you see one of these beautiful books in second hand bookstores, be sure to add it to your collection.

Review of creekstones: words & images

You can’t judge a book by its cover, I joked with Craig at Misty River Books, but I’m sure a nice one helps them sell. We were talking about a beautiful book that hit the shelves in June, creekstones: words & images.

Published by Creekstone Press in Smithers, B.C., this collection of short stories, poetry and photographs is made up from the works of 27 writers and seven photographers living, at least at the time the call for submissions went out, in the Northwest. The book calls out to be picked up so that you can stroke its smooth white cover and peruse the photographed rock collection on its flap jacket.

At first I was unsure whether or not it could live up to its sophisticated dress and all the suggestions that its title evoked. My fears were put to rest at first read.

I meant to read just one poem and I had things to do and planned to sit down and read the book properly, cover to cover, after dinner. But just as a stroll down a beach with the vow, just one more pebble, is of no avail, I end up with full pockets, so was my resolve to read just one more page, glance at one more picture.

I meandered through pages, stopping, when caught by an image or phrase, to read the whole bit. It was a rumbling torrent of words and images as satisfying and emotional, as mystifying and inspiring as a walk by a river is. Every sense wakened in a rush of thoughts, fluid as water and as interesting as glimmering stones, each one intriguing on its own but when discovered all together, a wonder.

I have read every word and stared at every picture, marveling at the stories that come from a camera’s lens. I’ve read some things multiple times, turning the words over in my mind just as I would a smooth stone in my pocket.

I was a 13-year-old girl, hoping with a desperate fervor that doing things just so would make all go well for my brother and keep him from dying in Angela Dorsey’s The Crossing Dance.

I got to revisit North Beach in the Charlottes, to walk again upon its shore and to feel the confusion and the dreams of people I met in The Belair Beach Bar Roundup by Sheila Peters.

Val Napoleon’s non-fiction piece, Being Frank’s Sister, inspired sadness but left me with hope as it grappled with the issues of addiction, violent crime, societal responsibility and restorative justice.

Delores, by Grace Hols, made me cry for my own mother, my sister and for myself.

I want to tell you about the poems of Marc Arellano that moved me, the words of Judy McCloskey that hit a chord of recognition inside me and other poems that caused me to see the world or myself differently, but I’m running out of room and you’ll have to read them for yourself.

Books broaden your world and make your universe bigger but the reverse is true as well. Books shrink the space between time, and people and places. They allow you to see things, to visit areas and have experiences that sometimes your reality prohibits.

In creekstones you have the pleasure of home, you recognize the landscapes, have had the conversations and the worries of the characters that you meet but you also get to voyage far away, across the province, across the country, even into Mexico and that is just in words. Photographs will take you to places as familiar and loved as Midsummer Festival and to places that for some of us are only dreamed of: Wales, Australia, England.

Each piece in this book belongs and makes it something wonderful. A creek bed filled with natural wealth, a perfect stone just waiting to be found.”

Review of Oar & Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast

Fresh out of Aberdeen University, Kenneth Macrae Leighton arrived at Alert Bay to begin a distinguished medical career in 1952. Smitten by the BC coastline, he resolved to one day explore it under his own steam, slowly.

Some 39 years later his wife Nancy saw him off from Jericho Beach in the Morag Anne, a hand-built cedar rowing boat that was named for a daughter who never arrived. In the summer of 1991 Leighton rowed north to Cape Caution, across from Port Hardy, and rowed back home again; in the summer of 1993 he rowed from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

From the launch of his boat to the launch of Leighton’s book took most of the decade. Oar & Sail is Leighton’s account of his 859-kilometre adventure averaging two knots per hour. He stayed out of shipping lanes, bucked wind and tides, and mainly ate Japanese noodles, biscuits and Cream of Wheat.

‘It’s a long way to Alert Bay and twice as far to Prince Rupert’, says Leighton, ‘but time and distance are not worth thinking about. The sun is coming out. I have no deadlines. It’s great to be alive.’

Other mariners weren’t sure what to make of the lone figure bent over the oars. Typically a cabin cruiser would pull up to make sure Leighton wasn’t having a heart attack, then speed away again.

Full days of rowing left him knackered but in good spirits. He could always dig into his ‘emergency only’ parcel supplied by a friend. It contained his favourite Royal Navy chocolate, sardines, and joy upon joy, a bottle of Glenlivet malt whiskey no less. Which has been known to raise the dead on more than one occasion, or so I have been told.

Leighton points out landmarks and provides historical notes behind place names such as Broughton, Johnstone and Chatham. In Surge Narrows the good doctor gets the scare of his life, becoming trapped in a whirlpool for five frightening hours. This teaches him to scrutinize his charts and tide tables with extra rigour.

Sometimes during his first voyage our not-so-ancient mariner pushed himself too hard, always in the grip of determination to reach the next beckoning island. I have few regrets but, as I write, I can see a constant error threading its way throughout. The goal appears to have been everything. This is foolish and very short-sighted. I must live with my mistake.

Leighton heeded his own counsel on the second journey and took more time for new friendships on the water, accepting a tow when badly needed or a bag of freshly baked oatmeal cookies. With calloused hands and Gaelic wit, he propelled Morag Anne all the way to Prince Rupert’s harbour.

The former head of anaesthesia at UBC Hospital, Ken Leighton died suddenly in June, 1998 of complications related to hepatitis C.

Review of Canyon Creek: A Script

I don’t know if I’ve seen anything where the text and visuals worked so strongly together. The sense of loss and injustice done the Wet’suwet’en people is overwhelming.

Review of A Small and Charming World

Having first read the book as local history, I now recognize it also has literary elegance. It is a classic.
(Neil Sterritt, Gitksan consultant and author of Tribal Boundaries in The Nass Watershed – March 2001)

[Gibson’s book] is a sensitive experience, a sensory experience, a sensible experience.”
(Mike Grenby, the Vancouver Sun, February 2, 1973)

Review of The Rosemary Suite

This is not a story of heroics, but of ordinary people dealing with fear and loss and rage through love and courage. It speaks of riches that cannot be bartered or traded, riches that accumulate with love and generosity, and that feed us in ways we cannot name.”

-Chris Yates, Connections Magazine, Winter 2002/2003

“The book offers an insight that does not compromise because Barnwell has resisted the temptation to edit out elements … that speak of the frailty and vulnerability that one cannot avoid when it comes to death.”

-Monica Lamb-Yorski, The Prince Rupert Daily News, December 2002

“Tenderness and love are pitted against pain and fear. The reader encounters the author’s sense of awe, both at her friend’s strength and at death’s determined counter-force.”

-Raine Reece, The Interior News, Smithers, B.C., November 2002

Review of The Rosemary Suite

This book is the kind of remembrance that doesn’t fade. Richly textured, filled with joy and fire as well as sorrow and loss, it’s a remarkable tribute from a remarkable friend and offers deep lessons for the rest of us in what true amity means.

Review of The Rosemary Suite

Leslie Barnwell, employing an intricate dance of poems, journal entries and drawings, chronicles the illness and death of a close friend. The narrative tone is direct and caring; sad without sentimentality; warm and insightful. The book rises off the particular to explore the rich emotional geography of love and friendship, and ultimately takes the reader into the thorny, elusive territory that conjoins life and death.

Review of home when it moves you

In [Jill’s] remarkable first collection of poems, as richly layered as the landscapes that triggered them, literal currents and undercurrents, highways and migratory routes and creatures with homing and survival instincts — all tend to act out the core speaker’s emotions, her anxieties and hopes for herself and her child, her memories of her mother and grandmother, even as she tries to define her place in the world. Awe and anxiety often stem from the same source: the bridge from which one can fish also allows cars to plunge from it. The beautiful lake surface conceals depths in which one can drown. Small and large events lead to story, but the characters in it are interchangeable. Gradually, the speaker – in her several guises, now fiercely maternal, now bluster-and-strut male, now mythical or reflecting on the nature of myth – comes to realize that the home which both pulls her and pushes her away is less place than event. Her place lies in time, with its seasonal certainties and ritual assurances, and in which daughter gives way to family, individual to species, to larger, more constant nature. Heraclitus may have been right about that river, but, as with this chapbook, one comes back and back to it.

Review of home when it moves you

What a wonderful fresh voice Gillian brings to the page. These wise poems know the push and pull within family. They reveal the tender truths behind the rough edges of small town life. Her voice resonates with authenticity, and whether she is writing about a near drowning or ice fishing, she is ultimately writing about the complications of love. Her poetry is rooted in the rugged and challenging terrain of northern British Columbia but she renders it all with grace and beauty. These are poems you will not soon forget.

Review of home when it moves you

Gillian Wigmore’s poems are place-literate, fully flexed, often suspenseful. When she writes of the life and death of northern people and northern rivers, you love and grieve.

Review of Searching for the April Moon

Quite suddenly, on a Sunday, my mother forgot who I was. One moment we were talking about familiar things, and the next it seemed that she was speaking to a stranger. She smiled and asked, with curiosity, “Did your parents have any other children?”

I tried to explain who I was, but she didn’t understand. She smiled again and asked about my father, as though she’d never met him, as though fifty-five years had vanished from her mind.
Her memory had been failing for a long time. But that weekend was the start of something worse, as though all the foundations of her life crumbled away beneath her. Two weeks later she was in hospital, and there she is now, spending most of the day asleep.

In the middle of this, as my mother was failing, I started reading Nancy Robertson’s book, Searching for the April Moon. It’s a collection of essays that begins with her father dying in a nursing home, and ends with the carving of names on her mother’s tombstone. It’s such a heartfelt journey through aging and death that I couldn’t bear at first to read more than a few pages at a time. But it’s told so beautifully that it was impossible not to keep reading. And soon the book became a comfort, because it’s not only an account of the journey but a map as well. It made me see what still lies ahead, and it made me less fearful to carry on.

I read the book on the ferry as I traveled to the hospital from my home on Gabriola Island. I read it with sunglasses on, so that no one would see I was crying.
But the personal essays in Searching for the April Moon are not sad so much as poignant. For every sentence that broke my heart there was another – or two – that made me smile, or even laugh on a day when I didn’t think laughing was possible.

The stories are full of love of family, and love of life. They show that there’s humor in aging, no matter how terrible it is, and that sadness is fleeting. They prove that no one is really alone when life is at its loneliest.

Searching for the April Moon is full of nice touches. In the middle is a collection of photographs, like a family album, showing people that the reader by now feels that he knows. On the first page of each essay is a picture of a letter and its envelope, along with a small personal object: a thimble; a snapshot; a Mexican whistle.

In the title story, Nancy goes out in the rain of Prince Rupert to look for the full moon of April. She has heard someone on the radio say that the April moon is ten times closer to Earth than usual, so she stands on her porch in a rainstorm, searching for something that she can’t possibly find. Like all the stories, it shifts through time and place as Nancy explores her memories and circumstances. At the end it returns to the April moon with a year gone by, with the sense that our lives go on with the same inexorable patterns as objects in the sky. The most important things in life are found without the need for searching.

Review of Oar & Sail: An Odyssey of the West Coast

What compelled [Leighton] to do this, his family cannot explain exactly. He liked to travel, they say, and enjoyed hard work for its own sake. But those are traits, not essence. Why row? Why the needless risk? What, really, propelled Ulysses to Troy?

Leighton had always been active. He ran marathons, climbed mountains, and traveled compulsively, letting his working life lead him to New Zealand, Sweden, Africa, South and Central America. Of his early years in Canada – Leighton was a Scot – he practiced in Alert Bay and Smithers. It was in Alert Bay he got his first taste of the coast.

He had always promised himself, said his wife, Nancy, he would explore that part of B.C.

He had always loved to row, toiling from Tsawwassen to Victoria a couple of times with Nancy, and as far north with her as Desolation Sound.

This time, the trip would be more arduous. So he commissioned the building of the Morag Anne. Fourteen feet from bow to stern, she was a scaled-down model of the boat that Captain William Bligh, master of the Bounty, commandeered 5,800 kilometres after being set adrift in the Pacific by Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers. Built of cedar, she was fitted with a collapsible awning Leighton could sleep under, and a single mast and sail.

Like all captains Leighton kept a logbook of the trip. It begins with guarded optimism, blisters and the utter joy of traveling alone.

By this stage of the voyage, I am well settled into the routine of rowing all day or most of it. My hands are comfortably calloused and the old muscles don’t creak too much. It is a grand life, and as a bonus, the sun shines every day. The solitude, the water, the magic of adventure crystallize into moments of utter beauty.

Hurricane winds hit in open water as he approaches Cape Caution north of Vancouver Island. Like Ulysses, Poseidon thwarts his way. Leighton, dogged by bad weather, rows back to Vancouver.

He takes a year off, traveling to Uganda for six months to work for CARE. He returns and in 1993 tries again, launching from Port Hardy. This time Cape Caution offers benign seas.

I know I am going to make it this time. Just keep on rowing, steady and hard and I will get it behind me, once and for all. It is a tremendous feeling that makes me long for my companion. Sharing these moments of triumph is more satisfying than their solitary enjoyment. When you have been married as long as I have, such moments cry out for sharing.

Rowing up the Inside Passage, he makes Prince Rupert, not too proud to accept a tow from a yacht for the last leg of his trip. He pines for Nancy, his Penelope.

All odysseys end, of course, but Leighton, at least, had the satisfaction of completing his.

Nancy’s last words to me were, he wrote as he pushed off from Port Hardy at the beginning of his second attempt, Remember, you’re to enjoy this. Don’t feel you must go hurrying on, you’ve got no deadline. Make the most of it. But above all, enjoy it.

Good advice.

Review of Canyon Creek: A Script

Please be advised that the Office of the Wet’suwet’en fully endorse the Canyon Creek story that was authored by Sheila Peters and Meg Hobson. The authors recently displayed it at a meeting in Smithers that was attended by a majority of Wet’suwet’en Chiefs and the Chiefs agreed with the story.

As our elders who testified in the Delgamuukw Courtcase will attest very little of our history was written down in any format, therefore it is important that books such as the Canyon Creek story be exposed to as wide an audience as possible.

Review of Canyon Creek: A Script

I wasn’t going to review Canyon Creek; a script, the fine combination of Sheila Peters’ writing and Megan Hobson’s illustration. I’m not well enough informed about land claims and valley history to evaluate this book, I reasoned. My taste in art and illustration is strictly gut reaction. Could I offer informed comment?

But this is a beautiful book about issues that reach beyond their Bulkley Valley settings. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to talk about it.

But this book eludes lazy, easy definitions; makes reviewing challenging; forces one to reach beyond standard, initial labels. It’s not conventional history. It’s also neither essay nor fiction.

This is the story of the eviction of some Wet’suwet’en people from their homes along Canyon Creek.

Peters calls her version a script. The format allows evocative, thought-provoking narration of events which shattered lives.

Narration gained from personal aboriginal accounts, testimony and accounts of missionaries, surveyors and white settlers is dovetailed with musing commentary.

Peters’ images in words complement the images Hobson has created with archival photographs.

The script format allows delightful roaming though time and place, gives Peters a vantage point from which to explore and comment on these human and cultural tragedies.

It also serves as a challenge to our preconceptions of history. The history student in me repeatedly lowered my gaze in search of footnotes, instinctively sought captions despite assurance that the images were used for evocative visual qualities only.

The format puts the issues in broader context too, that of our views of aboriginal people, of the western movie and novel, of images of pioneers.

Canyon Creek: a script is also very much a personal story by an author living near Canyon Creek with a sense of the history of her yard and the urge to comment on it. This book will be seized upon for causes, but it should be read most of all for its ability to prompt thoughtful examination of our past.

Review of the weather from the west

Writer, poet, and Northwest Community College instructor Sheila Peters has released a new collection of poetry entitled the weather from the west. This is Peters’ third book, following the publication of Canyon Creek: A Script in 1998, and Tending The Remnant Damage, a collection of short stories, in 2001.
“I’ve been writing poetry and giving readings for many years now, and while individual poems have been published in various journals and other venues, it feels great to see a group of them all together, keeping each other company between the covers of my favourite technology—a book!”

Developed in collaboration with local visual artist Perry Rath, the weather from the west is a combination of 42 poems expressing Peters’ diverse experiences both near and far, and 23 paintings of Rath’s visual reflection, interpretation and vision.

Northword is pleased to present here a small sampling of this new, northern book.

Web link to full review

Review of the weather from the west

Since 1998, Creekstone Press in Smithers has resolutely not operated as a back-to-the-land press that encourages everyone to make log houses or provides home-birthing techniques for cattle.

Run by Lynn Shervill and Sheila Peters, Creekstone has endured for nine years as the lone, ongoing, situated-in-northern-B.C. imprint within the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. ever since the untimely death in 2005 of Cynthia Wilson, who managed Caitlin Press from Prince George.

Caitlin continues to publish writers from central B.C., but its headquarters have shifted to the Sunshine Coast.

Thus far Creekstone has released nine books of non-fiction, fiction, poetry, photography and painting. Theirs is a modest but realistic mandate: roughly one book per year.

Their newest title, the weather from the west ($24), is an overtly artsy book of 42 poems by Sheila Peters and 23 paintings by Perry Rath—a sophisticated “synergistic” interplay between landscape, heart and mind.

Creekstone books attempt to do nothing less than reflect life in northwestern B.C. from places such as the Bulkley Valley, Smithers, the Hazeltons, Vanderhoof, the Kispiox Valley, Terrace, the Skeena and Bulkley watersheds, the Spatsizi or Tatlatui Wilderness Parks, Haida Gwaii, the Nechako and Fraser watersheds, the Inside Passage and other traditional Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en territory—almost half the province.

Sometimes, maybe those of us below the 50th parallel should think of ourselves as the sub-boonies.

Review of Searching for the April Moon

Growing up in Nelson and then in Prince Rupert, Nancy Robertson found her mother’s shy attempts at sex education totally unhelpful. But one thing her parents, Dorothy and Danish-born Ole, did do was set her and her brothers a spectacular example of married love.

“Mom and Dad taught us the basics of love and kindness when she ironed his shirts and he polished her shoes. When he drove her to church and she cooked his favourite roast beef dinner. When they hugged and kissed. When they bickered and made up,” Robertson writes in Searching for the April Moon, a set of 15 personal essays that add up to a memoir.

Her parents’ 57-year marriage blended decency with physical attraction. Ole, who managed a dairy and later worked for a milk producers’ association, would greet Dorothy with a kiss at the end of each workday. The affection was there for all to see.

Robertson’s essays look mostly at her parents’ later years, chronicling the slow, sad but often inevitable process by which a child becomes the parent of those who gave her life.

The essays don’t unreel events in chronological order; rather, they skip from theme to theme.

At one point, an aging Ole declares he will no longer file an income tax return (“They can throw me in jail for all I care. I’m not doing it”) and Robertson is forced to take over the chore.

At another moment, the man who once took pride in being impeccably dressed is shown in hospital, “old and frail, stained and whiskered.”

Robertson writes more extensively about her mother, a model homemaker who discovered a passion for organ music at 50 and went on to enjoy a late-life career in Prince Rupert as a church organist and piano teacher.

She lived into her 90s. In old age, a series of small strokes left her babbling incoherently for long spells. At the end of one of these, she looked at her daughter and asked, “How will it all turn out?”

Robertson, who is in her 60s, records her successes at managing her mother’s elder care, such as transfixing her and fellow extended-care residents with a reading of Richard Wright’s Clara Callan.

And she tells of one lapse that haunts her still: Her failure to check in on Dorothy one day led to her mother’s being flat on the floor, unable to summon help, for long hours.

Robertson also tells some of her own story. She writes of finding love after a bad marriage, of trips to California’s Imperial Valley, Baja California and Europe, and of raising two children who grew up to be a credit to her.

Hers is not a dramatic life played out in one of the world’s hot spots or metropolises, but it has interest because she has taken pains to be honest and get the events, the people, the motives and the emotional colouration exactly right.

Web link to full review

Review of The Rosemary Suite

As the editor of a newsletter for women with breast cancer, I see many articles reflecting their individual journeys. This story touched me. It portrays a friend’s life, the ending of that life, and gives us insight into the challenges facing those who assist a person in the dying process. The interaction of Barnwell’s poetry, journal entries and drawings depicts the fullness of her friend Rosemary’s life even as it enters its last stages.

Review of In the Land of the Red Goat

Bob Henderson was present in the Spatsizi when many seminal events unfolded and he gives us considerable insight into the character and personalities of so many individuals who have become legends in the north. It’s a wonderful account.

Review of In the Land of the Red Goat

In the Land of the Red Goat is interesting both for author Bob Henderson’s reminiscences about his life as a hunting guide in Northern B.C. and for his version of historical events involving a far more legendary guide one generation ahead of him, the late Tommy Walker…Ultimately, In the Land of the Red Goat is …a good read for anyone interested in the lay of the land and its people in one of B.C.’s most fascinating regions.

Review of In the Land of the Red Goat

Bob Henderson is a storyteller that exemplifies the oral tradition. Until recently he’d never written these things down, but over the years of telling these stories repeatedly, they still contain an astonishing amount of detail… detail which squares with the memories of other people who were there,” says Shervill. “We knew these stories had to be recorded and shared more broadly, and that Bob had to be the one to do it.

Creekstone is celebrating the fact that Red Goat has recently become their fourth title to crack BC’s top-10 best-seller lists—and it’s not surprising. In the Land of the Red Goat offers a compelling account of an adventurous life and a valuable contribution to local history.

Web link to full review

Review of In the Land of the Red Goat

Bob Henderson’s weathered paw is extended as he steps into the studio, his grip firm, manner direct, but he’s a bit apprehensive. He is too far from his natural habitat. There is too much traffic, too much concrete.

Bob Henderson has run a five-ton snow machine up the Stikine River as the ice melted around him. He has babied a fully-loaded truck with no brakes down a ten-mile hill. He has learned to fly and crash-land planes. But promoting a book in the Big Smoke is something else.

In Vancouver to talk about In the Land of the Red Goat, Henderson is too far removed from his fishing lodge at Tatlatui Lake, his home near Smithers and the vast Spatsizi plateau that gave rise to the name of his memoir. Spatsizi is a Tahltan word meaning Land of the Red Goat, a description that arose because goats in the area take dust baths by rolling on red iron slopes. Henderson…has been active as a guide and pilot throughout northern B.C. for four decades, having joined forces with Love Bros. & Lee, an outfitting company based in the Skeena River watershed and Kispiox Valley, as a young man.

Review of In the Land of the Red Goat

If [you like] stories of hunting, fishing and the history of both in the…Spatsizi, plus an insight into the greatness of the valley of the Stikine, then Bob Henderson’s first book, In the Land of the Red Goat, is a must read for you.

Bob takes us on a grand tour through history of the changing times, methods of doing business in the hunting and fishing field and through it all his love and passion for the country, the wilderness and the people, comes through loud and clear.

Review of Searching for the April Moon

Nancy Robertson writes tautly, beautifully, about the mess, clutter, betrayals, and fierce love of family. An honest story, and funny, too, of how family deaths, quick and devastating, or slow and exhausting, come with the best moments – reading racy stories aloud to a rapt hospital ward of geriatrics; learning, finally, how to play piano from your mother; finding community, family and laughter – intimacies we often miss with the dying because we’re much too busy among the living.

Review of Searching for the April Moon

In this collection of linked personal essays, Nancy Robertson has created a beautiful braid, weaving strands of the lives of her aging parents and her own past with the on-going, ever-present now. Whether she is walking home from the hospital on a rainy north coast afternoon or combing Baja beaches, she searches for insights into life’s big questions and contradictions. It is a pleasure to wander and wonder with her and to recognize, in the end, how entwined we all are.