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#157 Shuswap gets its due

August 18th, 2017

Everything Shuswap

by Jim Cooperman

Shuswap Press / Playfort Pubishing

$35 / 9780995052208

By Mark Forsythe


[Sandwiched between the more famous Okanagan, Kootenay and Thompson areas, the Shuswap is a region unto itself.]

Wearing his Adams River Salmon Run baseball cap, a man is bent low to the water and snapping photos of sockeye salmon thrashing near his feet.

His smile seems as wide as the river itself.

This is how and where I first encountered outdoors enthusiast, environmental campaigner and fish lover, Jim Cooperman, in 2010, when a record sockeye run was painting the Adams River red, and people from around the world were fanned out along its banks to experience a magnificent bounty in Roderick Haig-Brown Park near Salmon Arm.

Jim Cooperman has lived at nearby Lee Creek for 48 years. He recently explained to CBC Radio that he was faced with a decision in 1969: “Go to jail, Vietnam or Canada — which would you choose?” Cooperman headed north, built a log home with his wife, and raised five children. In addition to working at teaching, log home building and environmental advocacy, he began writing an outdoors column called Shuswap Passion for the Shuswap Market News, a personal dispatch mainly about environmental stewardship.

Jim Cooperman

Now, after a dozen years, his column has shapeshifted into a 240-page book, Everything Shuswap (Playfort $35 with gst), spanning geographic and human history: geology, ecosystems, watersheds, early contact with Secwepemc people and the tide of fur traders, gold seekers and pioneers who followed.

Once promoted as the “New Eldorado” to prospective fruit farmers in Europe and the U.S., the Shuswap landscape has been shaped by industrial development, dams, logging and agriculture. Some of its finest features have also been preserved in provincial parks, like Hunakwa Lake, “arguably the largest unroaded, protected wilderness lakes in the interior of North America at low elevation.”

Along the way there were boomtowns (some have retreated into bush), sternwheelers and railways that carried thousands into the region; historical and ecosystem maps, graphs and abundant archival and contemporary images—all represented in Everything Shuswap.

Most British Columbians aren’t familiar with the Shuswap. They drive through it, or think it’s all about speed boats, houseboats and ATVs. The Shuswap watershed is a vast, 15,521 square kilometre jigsaw puzzle of sub-drainages between the Thompson Plateau and Monashee Mountains. Its southern rivers and creeks stretch into what many consider the North Okanagan (at Grindrod). It includes the Shuswap River, Adams River and Lake (second deepest in B.C. and nursery for 20% of the Fraser River sockeye runs), the Salmon, Spallumcheen and Eagle Rivers — plus half a dozen others.

Jim Cooperman guides us through each watershed, pausing at key parks, valleys, old growth forests (including an interior rainforest), providing relevant historical context along the way. Early chapters on ecology and geology trace the physical landscape, while stories and profiles of indigenous peoples and settlers occupy most of the pages. There is a strong sense of place throughout.

“The underlying concept behind this book Is called bioregionalism — or politics of place, a term coined in the 1970s by Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann,” he writes.

“Bioregionalism is a way of life that focuses on regional self-sufficiency, environmental and economic sustainability, and a political structure that encourages citizen participation in local decision-making…

“The Shuswap is well-situated to achieve bioregional objectives, as this region is blessed with rich farmland, plentiful and clean sources of water, a stellar cultural scene, stunning landscapes, and many close-knit communities.”

Cooperman draws on detailed writings of ethnographer James Teit (who later campaigned for retribution for aboriginal people), Hudson’s Bay Company Journals, explorer/surveyor George Mercer Dawson (who wrote the first study of Shuswap culture) to shape the early contact period.

Inland Sentinal newspaper accounts, local archives and the voices of pioneers themselves unravel the story of settler culture. The aptly-named first settler at Enderby in 1866, Alexander Fortune, reportedly said, “Thank God…this is better than gold.”

Among the historical figures profiled is English painter, Charles John Collings, whose work hangs in Canada’s National Gallery and London’s Royal Academy. After being compared to British artist J.M.W. Turner once too often, he pulled up stakes in 1910 to homestead with his family at the remote hamlet of Seymour Arm. He continued to paint in western Canada, becoming famous as the “Recluse of the Rockies”.

Quebec’s Alexander Fortune was an Overlander who came for gold on the Columbia River, but fell in love with the natural meadowlands on the Spallumcheen River. He was the first to pre-empt farmland near Enderby.

George Manuel

Arguably most extraordinary was Neskonlith Chief George Manuel who survived residential school in Kamloops and later rose to prominence with the National Indian Brotherhood to become the first president of the UN affiliate, World Council of Indigenous Peoples. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times.

Pioneer conservationist Scotty Mitchell worked at Granite Creek Hatchery and one hundred years ago wrote about the demise of the precious sockeye runs. He wanted a halt to fishing until the stocks recovered and, “criticized the early settlers who pitch forked wagonloads of salmon to fertilize their crops and who wantonly shot the hawks and ospreys that prayed on the ling cod.”

It’s often said that British Columbia is remarkable for its geographic diversity; with a Foreword by Alan Haig-Brown, Everything Shuswap makes a convincing case for better understanding and appreciating one of this province’s best kept secrets.

Set your compass — or GPS — for the Shuswap.


Shuswap Watershed Facts:

The drainage area of the watershed is 1,552,058 hectares (5,993 square miles or 15,521 square kilometres)

Shuswap Lake produces 19 percent of the entire Fraser River system

Number of Prince Edward Islands that could fit in the Shuswap: 2.5

Number of mayors: 7. Number of First Nations chiefs: 6

Communities: Chase, Enderby, Falkland, Grindrod, Salmon Arm, Canoe, Sicamous, Malakwa, Celista, Scotch Creek, Sorrento, Seymour Arm


Mark Forsythe

Former CBC Radio host Mark Forsythe is now a man of free intelligence in Fort Langley. During his tenure at CBC, Forsythe became an expert on British Columbia as whole, having visited much of the province. After eighteen years hosting BC Almanac for CBC Radio, Forsythe announced, not without reluctance, that he would be leaving his position at the end of 2014. Early in 2015 he learned he would be accorded a Lifetime Achievement Award from RTNDA (Radio Television News Directors Association), a national organization with regional members. Among his books, mostly co-authored with Greg Dickson, are British Columbia Almanac (Arsenal 2001);
The BC Almanac of Greatest British Columbians (Harbour 2005); The Trail of 1858: British Columbia’s Gold Rush Past (Harbour 2007); and From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War (Harbour 2014).


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The Ormsby Review is a new journal for serious coverage of B.C. literature and other arts. It is hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn.

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