The Great Bamfield Novel
December 01st, 2015
Those who have braved the 60-mile gravel road from Port Alberni to Bamfield can easily agree with Simon Winchester’s assessment of Bamfield in the New York Times as a tight-knit town full of hidden intrigues and eccentrics…”the perfect subject for a novel.”
Modelled on John Steinbeck’s classic Cannery Row, Louis Druehl’s debut novel Cedar, Salmon and Weed (Granville Island $22.95) describes Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the 1970s through the eyes of a well-intentioned local known as Gaz, a builder, marine biologist and marijuana cultivator who dreams of building a cedar palace.
Gaz is a hard-working guy who falls hard for Heidi, a visiting student at the local marine research station. Along the way the reader is introduced to an endearing and believable mix of fishermen, hippies, First Nations and the scientists. It’s the Great Bamfield Novel by someone who knows the town’s manners and history.
It’s a world where men routinely piss on the smouldering embers of a fire and people can tell you the difference between a native oyster and the introduced Japanese oyster. Where a mind-blowing psilocybin and mozzarella omelette is common breakfast fare. Where Indians might still prefer to call themselves Indians. Back in the Seventies…
“Bamfield is many worlds,” writes Druehl. “Some say a world for each inhabitant, each end-of-the-roader. The world of the lonely fisherman facing monstrous payments on his boat, staring at the trolling wires dragging dozens of hooks, imagining a school of salmon–his ticket out of hell–ready to strike. The ancient schoolmarm shepherding twelve kids, ages six to eighteen, into the amazing world of out there, while her sailor lover lies on the bottom of the Atlantic. The aging lesbians, who bake and take in laundry, who pretend to be what they are not, livinig in fear of being discovered for what they are. The drunks, the wife-beaters, the cheats, the boisterous, the insecure, and the dull, they all have their little worlds, their dirty secrets and great sorrows, and occasional joys.”
Although Louis Druehl is trying to channel his inner John Steinbeck for the Great Bamfield Novel, Thomas Hardy would likely approve, too, of the way Druehl captures a rural way of life that is vanishing.
Druehl’s first book Pacific Seaweeds (Harbour) is the authoritative guide to over 100 common species of seaweeds in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from the coastline of southeast Alaska to central California. Also editor of The New Bamfielder, Louis Druehl was a professor of marine botany at Simon Fraser University for thirty years. He has also taught field-oriented seaweed courses at the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories and was influential in establishing the Bamfield Marine Station, often working in association with the University of Alaska. His research focuses on all aspects of kelp, including its evolution, ecology and physiology.
Druehl and his wife Rae operate Canadian Kelp Resources Ltd., a company that produces sea vegetables (Barkley Sound Kelp) and operates a kelp farm. He has a kelp genus and species named after him.
Pacific Seaweeds (Harbour Publishing 2001)
Cedar, Salmon and Weed (Granville Island Publishing 2015) 978-1-926991-61-0 $22.95 / ebook’s 978-1-926991-62-7 $9.99.
LITERARY LOCATION: Boardwalk, Bamfield, Vancouver Island
“Almost to the person, tourists, when asked, would identify the boardwalk as their favoured impression of Bamfield,” says Louis Druehl. “The iconic structure has served Bamfield since before the road [was opened].” In Louis Druehl’s novel about the town of Bamfield called Cedar, Salmon and Weed, the boardwalk is a focal point for much of action. The central character notes that everyone in the community can be viewed there: “henpecked husbands sneaking a drink from a bottle hidden in the brush, loiterers fighting for sunny spots or dry spots, not-so-discreet meetings between lovers. And on the inlet, there were the callouts from the lifesaving station—sometimes with bodybags. And the return of frustrated or happy or drunk fishermen after a day or week of fishing. And tourists in their fancy yachts, martini glasses at hand, pointing at the weird villagers, and seeking anchorage or fuel.”