Islands in the Salish Sea:
A Community Atlas

edited by Sheila Harrington and Judy Stevenson


TouchWood Editions, 2005. ISBN 189489832X.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 01/24/2007

Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

As geographer Briony Penn points out in her inspired and compassionate foreword to Islands in the Salish Sea, "The urge to map comes from the same base as the urge to sing, dance or write... If someone has taken the time and effort to record it, then it has value. People become aware of and sensitized to these values, and they can then become advocates for them."

From a childlike state of curiosity and imagination, over 3000 people on seventeen of the islands in British Columbia's Strait of Georgia became involved in a five-year project of community mapping that, as Penn describes it, became "a reflection of all the love and positive power in a community". It does my heart good just to know of such a project.

The name "Salish Sea" is a term used in recognition of the Salish-speaking people who live in and around the Strait of Georgia down to Puget Sound in the state of Washington. As oil, fish or marine mammals know no boundaries, Canadian/American biologist Bert Webber began to use the name "Salish Sea" in the 1970s.

Judi Stevenson and Sheila Harrington, who both live on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, were the overall coordinators of the Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project under the sponsorship of the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia with support from the West Coast Islands Conservancy. (Four islands are actually outside the Trust's present boundaries but the purpose was to link the bioregion as a whole.)

The first workshop the coordinators presented on Salt Spring Island in January 2000 enticed other island representatives into the project. By early spring almost every island had a local coordinator and a host organization.

The maps that resulted from countless hours of the sharing of local knowledge and artistry came to be maps that didn't answer the question, how do we get there from here but rather, what do we love about our home places, including all the creatures who dwell here, and how will we save them? ("Home place" is a term attributed to one of Canada's first ecologists, Stan Rowe, and describes the heart of this community mapping project.)

Three major concerns were to be in the minds of the map makers as they set out to describe their home places: special or endangered features of the natural world; First Nations' interests and past occupancy; and some reference to more recent human settlement and activity.

Innovative approaches were used to create maps including video, felted images, a photo collage. Not all maps were used in the book but the essence of each was included in the final maps created by professional artists. Included in the book is a cedar panel carved and painted by Native artisan Herb Rice who writes of the myths of Kuper Island. Leanne Hodges used recycled pulped paper to make a three-dimensional, bas-relief of Quadra Island. On Galiano Island, one of the maps was rendered in beadwork. Caffyn Kelley of Salt Spring Island made a map of silks, "Cloak for a Watershed Guardian". (Water is an urgent issue among the Gulf Islands.)

There are many stories of what has been taken away from the islands such as Japanese-Canadian residents (from Pender Island as well as Mayne), ancient First Nations' sites due to resort development (such as on South Pender), heritage apple orchards due to massive development (on Salt Spring) and the original Native names of locations (throughout the Gulf Islands).

"Loving us to death" is a phrase used by islanders in their concern for the suffering of cherished parks and beaches from over-use and pollution caused by a massive influx of visitors particularly during the summer months. The artists of the Hornby map, for instance, created a web around their map so that descriptions of the natural environment are available but don't indicate their exact location.

One of the goals of the Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project was to share "personal and collective vision and experiences that gave birth to the maps, and thus contribute to community mapping and sustainability in other parts of Canada and beyond".

I had the pleasure of seeing the final exhibition of the outstanding collection of island community maps featured in the book at Artspring on Salt Spring Island in October 2005 when the book was launched. It was an awe-inspiring display and a most inviting way to get to know the part of the country I now call home. The book, with its impassioned results of artistic mapping and community building, is sure to inspire you to protect and sustain your own home place.

Sheila Harrington has been Executive Director of The Land Trust Alliance of BC since its founding in 1996. She has worked in the field of environmental education as a publisher and editor of several books, manuals and a national magazine, "Positive Vibrations." She also is editor of related publications, including "Giving the Land a Voice: Mapping Our Home Places."

Judi Stevenson has written for television, radio and print media, provided policy analysis for governments and community-based organizations, and is now running a one-woman research and communications consultancy.

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