British Columbia


2x poplars
Photo of the Yukon by nordicshutter used under a Creative Commons license.

Jill Fredston, Rowing to Latitude (North Point Press, 2001).
Fredston is an avalanche expert who lives near Anchorage nine months out of the year; for the other three months, she and her husband take long-distance trips in oceangoing rowing shells in colder climes. This book is the story of 20,000 miles of kayaking along the coasts of British Columbia, Alaska, Yukon, Greenland, Labrador, and Norway, with a little of Sweden and Washington thrown in for good measure. Oh, she rowed 2,000 miles down the Yukon River to the Bering Strait, and before she reached the Yukon coast on that other trip she rowed down hundreds of miles down the Mackenzie River from Hay River, Northwest Territories. For those of us who dream about such trips but likely will never feather an oar in those waters, Fredston’s book is a wonderful opportunity to row vicariously — a better way to experience the tedium, mosquitoes, and bears. The book won a 2002 National Outdoor Book Award.

Here (scroll down) is Fredston’s bio at the National Avalanche School. You’ll find an excerpt here. Philip Johns says it’s a tremendous book. Dana De Zoysa says Fredston writes rings around mass-market travel scribblers (whomever they may be). Judyth Willis particularly likes Fredston’s connection with the coasts of Yukon and Labrador. David would reread it in a heartbeat. Carol Standish is glad that it’s not a sloppy paean to nature. KiwiBird appreciates Fredston’s thoughts about what’s truly wild (and she should know). Brian Handwerk (National Geographic) picks up on the same theme. Sarah Sammis says it’s one of the best books she’s ever read. It’s Katie Lindsay’s favorite travel writing book (or was in 2004). Karen Karbo (The New York Times) focuses on Fredston’s husband. Gavin J. Grant interviewed Fredston.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

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Bill Reid's Sculpture
Photo of Raven and the First Men by Dom H UK used under a Creative Commons license.

Maria Tippett, Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian (Vintage Canada, 2004).
A biography of Reid, who was born in 1920 to a Haida mother and a white father, and who came to be seen as one of the foremost Northwest Coast Native artists and a vital figure in the development of its contemporary arts scene. Reid was associated with the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, home to one of his best-known works, The Raven and the First Men, among others, and it was part of his work to make sure that Native arts were represented there as a living tradition, not bygone history. Reid identified himself as white early in his life and as Haida later, and Tippett makes the case that many of his successes owe to his ability to walk the frontier between the two worlds.

Here is a bio of Tippett, and here is the citation (.pdf) when she was awarded an honorary degree by Simon Fraser University in 2006. Here’s a review by Kenneth R. Lister in the University of Toronto Quaterly. Robert Bringhurst, a writer and friend of Reid, thinks Tippett was “incredibly deaf to what Reid accomplished.” See also Stephany Aulenback at Maud Newton. Boy, these materials from the CBC are pretty cool. Here is bloggy reaction to the book. Here and here are more on Reid (n.b. – yes, the first url has a spelling error). Here is a slideshow of some of Reid’s work – sadly, in the news because pieces he made were recently stolen from UBC.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Pender Island
Photo of Pender Island, B.C., by neil-san used under a Creative Commons license.

Terry Glavin, This Ragged Place (New Star Books, 1996).
A decade old, but this collection of essays by a local journalist gives a better picture of British Columbia than you’ll find in today’s newspapers. Many of the conflicts described here are over resource allocation: clear-cutting of timber, First Nation fishing rights, urban sprawl. If you’ve read about traditional uses of oolichans, now you can read about the modern fishery in the last piece here.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry on Glavin. Here is Glavin’s blog. This piece, “How the Circus Came to Gustafson Lake,” is included in This Ragged Place. Lesley Krueger reviewed it in Quill & Quire. And here is a recommendation from keefer. Here is Bruce Serafin on Glavin. Norman Geras has another piece by Glavin here.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

BC Ferry, Strait of Georgia
Photo of the Georgia Strait by WeeScot used under a Creative Commons license.

Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau (Pantheon, 1999).
An account of Raban’s solo voyage aboard his 35 ketch from Seattle, up Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, along the coast of British Columbia and then up the Inside Passage to Juneau. To travel this route by sailboat instead of ferry is to reckon with winds and tides, to shelter in unvisited coves, a slow and less direct trip that lets you see more. Travelogue combines with memoir, Raban’s readings of the accounts of Captain Vancouver’s expedition to the area in the 1790s, and reflections on Indian/First Nations art and culture. I loved this book. Unless you’re going to be on a small boat, Raban’s path is through a world that most visitors will not see much of, which is all the more reason to read his account.

Dave Weich of Powells.com interviewed Raban in 2000 (via Beth Wellington). Reviews from Sherry Simpson (SF Chronicle), Scott Sutherland (Salon), Michael Gorra (The New York Times), and Richard Bernstein (The New York Times). More from Dr. David P. Stern, Ann Skea, Traci J. Macnamara, HAK, Meg, Scott Esposito, t.s., Eileen D., and Ken Liu.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.