A few years ago I had a lingering breakfast with the Honorable John Fraser in Whistler. We talked about the impact Roderick Haig-Brown had on his emerging environmental vision and the role he played in inviting Elizabeth May to assist the Progressive Conservative Party in shaping a more significant ecological vision. The relationship between Fraser, Tom McMillan and Elizabeth May, at the highest political level, is ably recounted and bard like told by May in Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in this updated version of the tome that was originally published in 1990. Farley Mowatt wrote the “Foreward” to the 1990 edition and May contributed yet another “Foreward” for the 2020 edition of Paradise Won.
Paradise Won holds the interested and curious reader as May unfolds the drama and battle contra loggers (and others) to create a National Park Reserve (Gwaii Haanas) in Haida Gwaii in the 1980s. It contains thirty-three animated chapters and page turners that cannot but mesmerize the reader, living history in the making as May brings the events to life. Most of the major actors and actresses are brought on front stage in this animated and not to be missed struggle to honour and preserve, in the end, both the land of the Haida but, equally important, their culture, language and way of being. The coloured photographs in the book bring to life the women and men who were front and centre in the struggle to formally bring into being the National Park Reserve of Gwaii Haanas (southern end of Haida Gwaii). Each chapter in the book is short, highlights the issues, tensions and people in the thick of the fray, then moves on, fitting the various pieces of the puzzle into a coherent and unified picture more than worth the seeing.
May has travelled quite a distance from her struggles in the mid-late 1970s in Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Island to oppose the spraying of pesticides and herbicides, but it was by the early 1980s that John Fraser made it clear to May that her passion and skills were needed to shape and form a more demanding environmental vision for the Progressive Conservative Party. Fraser was replaced by Tom McMillan as the Environmental Minister and the convergence of many grass roots activists, committed Haida leadership and federal-provincial levels of government meant that in 1980’s Haida Gwaii, a mindless and aggressive form of logging (and much else) was halted. May tells this story (as have others) in a way few can for the simple reason that she has worked the tale from many different angles and taken the time to hear from a variety of those in the fray.
I am fortunate that a former student of mine is on the Band Council in Skidegate and he has walked most of the trails and seen most of the sights from north to south on the archipelago. In the last email he sent me a few weeks ago, he informed me he is seriously thinking of putting together a trekking guide for Haida Gwaii. I’m sure when that beauty is done, there will be even more organized and affordable delights to do on this won paradise. This paradise though, as May rightly notes, is ever contested by a variety of competing groups.
Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve by Elizabeth May; 2nd Ed; Rocky Mountain Books 2020, 9781771604581; 336 pages.