It’s been over a week since I walked with hundreds of others from the sea-side town of Sidney, BC to the provincial Legislature in downtown Victoria. We were all of us following Alexandra Morton, the biologist and wild salmon activist who has re-inspired so many people to speak up for the future of British Columbia’s most enigmatic species.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a march. It’s not really my thing. I remember joining in the Earth Day march here in Victoria maybe five years ago, by accident, out of guilt. Before that it was Earth Day 1990. That was twenty years ago now. I was young. It takes a lot to get me to risk being a part of a chorus of chanters signing: hey-hey, ho-ho….just about everything has got to go….
But Alex could get me to lead that chorus.
I met Alexandra Morton in 2008 when Josh and I visited Sointula on Malcolm Island, “ground truthing” some elements of my wild salmon murder mystery The Darkening Archipelago. Alex invited us over for dinner and we had a great evening of stories and ideas and I came away from that time with rich new material and inspiration for my novel. I gave her copies of The Cardinal Divide and Carry Tiger to Mountain: the Tao of Activism and Leadership. We’ve kept in touch over the last two years, and Alex was kind enough to read the manuscript for the DA to help make sure I didn’t mess up the science around sea lice and wild salmon too badly. She also helped ensure I got some of the details of salmon fishing and boating right (you push up on the throttle to make the boat go….).
A couple of months ago we emailed and she told me that she had something big planned, and then announced The Get Out Migration: a 500 kilometer walk for wild salmon. The journey would start in the Broughton Archipelago, where wild salmon smolts were running the gauntlet of salmon farms, becoming infested with sea lice, and dying by the thousands. Alex and others would then migrate down Vancouver Island to the seat of power in Victoria, there to deliver her message to all levels of government: get the salmon farms out of the water, on to dry land where they don’t kill the native salmon, and do it now!
So on Saturday, May 8th Josh and I drove out to Sidney and joined in with about 250 folks who would try and walk the 30 kilometers to Victoria in time for the 4 o’clock rally at the Leg. The excitement was palpable and the morning bright and clear. For a short time our movement got smaller as folks who were along for the send-off dissipated, but over the course of the morning we grew, and when we reached NDP MLA Lana Popham’s office around 1pm, we had more than doubled in size. When we left less than an hour later we’d doubled again!
There is something energizing about being part of a growing movement, and everybody who was walking towards downtown Victoria could feel it. This was a citizens movement. Though some of the traditional conservation groups like The Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee were involved, this was about everyday people whose lives were affected by wild salmon: principal among these folks were First Nations, people from small communities up and down Vancouver Island, & fisher-folks and eco-tourism operators whose livelihood was being destroyed with the demise of wild salmon.
When we reached Centennial Square around 3pm, another thousand people were waiting for us. It was extraordinary walking into the space, people cheering, a band playing, First Nations people drumming. I wish I could have seen Alex’s expression knowing that an idea brewed up in Echo Bay, deep in the heart of The Broughton, with a few close friends, had captured the imagination of so many. Jenn was there with her mom Ann and our boys, Rio and Silas, complete with their little wild salmon signs. Neither of them had ever been in a march before (maybe they didn’t like the singing either) but they reveled in the experience.
Our ranks swelled further as we marched down Government Street (I think we just swept some innocent tourists along with us), effectively shutting the busy street down. By the time we reached the Legislature, the Police estimate we were 4,000 strong.
But it’s not about the numbers (and good thing too, because the Times Colonist wrote that there were 1,000 people at the Leg: Some of us think their reporters went for coffee instead of attending the event). It’s about salmon. And it’s about the communities of all backgrounds who rely on them.
One thing that Alexandra said over and over again is that this time there is no one to negotiate with. There is no negotiating position. At times in the debate over the future of fish farms in British Columbia there have been those who believe we can mitigate the impact of fish farms by fallowing them (essentially taking all the fish out) during the spring migration. Deals have been cut, and in good faith I’m sure, but in the end very little has changed and the wild salmon are still disappearing. The time for half-measures is past. This time the future of salmon is at stake.
This time there is no leader. There is no “organization.” It’s just people, and salmon, and a relationship as old as time.
But of course, there is a leader; many of them. Alex is certainly one. So many community leaders and First Nations chiefs and elders, and so many children standing up for the future.
Like a wild salmon returning to its headwater tributary, it’s good to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and yet be singular in our determination to ensure a future for our species.
Over the weekend Jenn and I spent time in Nanaimo and then Tofino promoting The Darkening Archipelago. In both towns I got a great response, and the weekend left me feeling a real sense of obligation to booksellers across Canada.
In Nanaimo I met with Father Alen and his wife Daphne who own Nanaimo Maps and Charts on Church Street. This downtown retailer is now expanding to make room for an impressive collection of general interest and west coast books. As is my habit these days, I went into the store to say hello and introduce myself and my books and the good Father and Daphne bought ten copies of the Darkening Archipelago and had them up in the window before I could say goodbye!
Next I met Richard at Back Page Books, a new shop on Wesley Street, just across the highway from downtown Nanaimo. He and his wife Ashley opened the shop in November and recently hosted my acquaintance and fellow Canmore, Alberta resident Jerry Auld whose book Hooker and Brown has been generating a lot of buzz and some amazing reviews. Richard and Ashley have a lovely shop, perfect for sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee and browsing their great assortment of local, national and international titles.
I even stopped at Chapters on the way out of town where I signed five copies of the DA and had a great chat with a sales manager. There’s enough love to go around.
Then it was onto Tofino and to spend some time with Michael Mullin who certainly ranks among my favorite booksellers across Canada (Frances Thorsen of Victoria’s Chronicles of Crime is hands-down my biggest supporter). As well as being an oyster grower, whale watching guide, former seine fisherman and environmental activist, Michael owns Mermaid Tales Bookshop. It’s a warm, inviting store with an amazing variety of books and toys and kites right on Tofino’s main drag. Michael hosted an evening reading for the Darkening Archipelago at Darwin’s Café in the Botanical Gardens’ on Saturday night which was a highlight so far in my efforts to promote this book, and the critical issues that create the backbone of the book’s environmental theme. In addition to Michael, George and Josie from the Garden’s, and Jenn and I, there were fourteen people at the reading, and Michael sold fourteen books. He tells me that’s a great ratio. Michael has taken a shine to Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao of Activism and Leadership, which makes me think that I should spend more time promoting that book as I have my more recent publishing efforts.
I left Tofino feeling pretty good about the weekend’s undertaking. It was the kind of weekend that makes me proud to be a writer: a receptive and interested audience, asking good questions and engaging in the conservation (and laughing at my corny jokes). And book sellers, who despite the reports of ruinous conditions in the trade are not only soldiering on, but are starting from scratch, promoting books about which they are passionate.
In short, it was the kind of weekend that makes me excited to be an author. It makes me want to work harder, both by writing better books and by doing more to promote them and the people who sell them. It makes me want to support those who make my efforts possible by taking the enormous economic risk to open and stock a book store full of wonderful titles. It makes me want to succeed, not just for my own sake and my families, but for them.