Book Review: Raincoast Chronicles #23


Editor: Peter A. Robson (Harbour Publishing, 2015)

Raincoast Chronicles is always something to look forward to. In a format that is accessible and imminently readable, Raincoast Chronicles brings many of the lesser known stories of the coast to light. In Issue 23, we have a fantastic collection of stories culled from 40 years of Harbour Publishing’s catalogue to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary of bringing “BC born and bred” books to the public. And what a celebration. With 192 pages (it’s a double issue) aptly edited by Peter A. Robson, this issue is a chance to revisit some great writing and favourite stories.

I have an ongoing fantasy of finding an old canoe stern cruiser and spending time poking around the inlets and bays of the coast, so it’s a delight to be able to reread ‘Remembering Gwyn Gray Hill: Legendary Coastal Sailor” drawn from Helen Piddington’s 2001 book The Inlet: Memoirs of a Modern Pioneer. A fixture on the coast, Gray Hill’s past was a bit of mystery but he had the luxury of not having to earn a living and so cruised the coast. Piddington’s portrait of Gray Hill a gentle and personal one of a man who went his own way and really didn’t have time for others.

On the other hand, Grant Lawrence’s recollection of his family visit to a neighbour’s potluck on Desolation Sound is all about not fitting in, in unexpected ways. Lawrence’s father had purchased property in the Sound in the 1970s and this was a chance to meet the neighbours. Well, as the family boat approached the shore grant recalls the scene that greeted them “every single man, woman, and child was totally and utterly nude.” Grant’s dad is about to turn the boat around, but mum reasoned that she was bringing banana bread and that they had to meet the neighbours sometime.

It’s not all fun in this issue, as the excerpt from Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fisherman recalls the seizure of boats and licences and the loss of a livelihood at the advent of World War Two. All Japanese boat owners were ordered to take their boats to certain locations on the coast where they were gathered into a flotilla, which then departed for New Westminster. This excerpt details the often perilous journey these men made with their vessels down the coast. Once there, the boats were confiscated and sold at bargain basement prices to those “other than Japanese origin”. It’s an important and shameful part of our coastal history.

There is so much to delve into in this bumper issue. Number 23 has been sitting on my desk for a couple of months now and it’s perfect when a break is needed. Poems, recipes, adventure and cantankerous souls make this a fantastic addition to this long running series.

And a Happy Birthday to Harbour Publishing!


For more information on Raincoast Chronicles #23, visit the Harbour Publishing website.


John Atkin is a civic historian and author who organizes and conduct tours for groups and individuals. John has explored Vancouver like few others have and offers an interesting and offbeat insight to the city’s architecture, history and neighbourhoods. He has created, and conducts, a number of unique and popular walking tours throughout the City of Vancouver. You can visit his website to his tour schedule.