HUNTER, Robert

Author Tags: Environment, First Nations, Travel

"Ecology is the thing." -- Robert (Bob) Hunter

Much of the impetus for Greenpeace arose from the enthusiasms of Robert (“Bob”) Hunter, an unconventional journalist who, during its genesis, was writing a thrice-weekly column for the Vancouver Sun.

As the End the Arms Race coalition was gaining momentum in Vancouver, Hunter and his partner Zoe Hunter were living in a farmhouse on the Fraser River, keen on the new ecology movement, when one day in 1969 an old red pick-up truck approached his farmhouse. The hippie vehicle contained a cedar-shaked house with a crooked stovepipe and a macramé God’s-eye in its window. Its long-haired driver, a dulcimer-maker who wore moccasins, gave Hunter a book called Warriors of the Rainbow: Strange and Prophetic Dreams of the Indian People. With references to Buddhism, the Koran, the Bible and peyote ceremonies, it was a strange amalgam of philosophy and Aboriginal wisdom. Hunter filed the book along with the I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Teachings of Don Juan. Increasingly, as Greenpeace coalesced into a dynamic force for social change and education, Bob Hunter, as its first president and holder of the first Greenpeace membership, consulted Warriors of the Rainbow and used it as a moral compass. With Hunter aboard, the first vessel to sail north and protest anticipated American bomb testing in Alaska was accordingly called the Rainbow Warrior. Time magazine later named him one of the top ten eco-heroes of the 20th century.

Born in St. Boniface in 1941, Bob Hunter grew up in Winnipeg. In the late 1960s, during times when the Vancouver Sun was able to encourage a variety of viewpoints, Hunter felt it was his duty to invent 'mind bombs' that would infiltrate mainstream society and change the world. He became a self-ordained minister of the Greenpeace Whole Earth Church for which he developed a certificate of credentials that included the dual circular peace and ecology insignia. It was Hunter who coined the protest slogan Don’t Make A Wave in response to plans by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to detonate a third underground nuclear test blast in Alaska. That term was adopted by Quaker activist Irving Stowe for his Don't Make A Wave Committee, the forerunner to Greenpeace. Hunter also helped devise the name Greenpeace Foundation, incorporating the second word into the formal title in response to his reading of a sci-fi novel. With Ben Metcalfe of CBC Radio and Bob Cummings of Georgia Straight, Hunter served as an essential catalyst for the alliance that melded 1950s-style disarmament types, such as Irving Stowe and Jim Bohlen, with ecology-motivated activists such as Patrick Moore, Paul Watson, Bill Darnell and Rod Marining. With his copy of Warriors of the Rainbow never far from his mind, it was Hunter who asserted the importance of linking time-honoured Aboriginality with Greenpeace originality. Ten years after received his copy of Warriors of the Rainbow, he would use the same title for his history of Greenpeace in 1979.

Later, as a columnist with the North Shore News, Hunter was co-recipient of the Governor General's Award for non-fiction in 1992 for Occupied Canada. [See Robert Calihoo.] In a follow-up called Red Blood: One (Mostly) White Guy's Encounters with the Native World, Hunter examined Canada's history from an Aboriginal perspective as an honorary Kwakiutl and media adviser with the Nimpkish Band Council. He examined the confrontation at Gustafsen Lake and recalled his journey to the Caribbean with Paul Watson and several (sea-sick) B.C. Aboriginals who confronted the re-created Columbus fleet to extract an official apology from the Spanish government. As the title of that book indicates, Hunter was 1/32nd Aboriginal.

Hunter had dropped out of school in his teens in order to pursue his ambition to become a writer. In 1960 he took the bus to Vancouver from Los Angeles, having lost most of his money in Las Vegas with a travelling friend. He lived in a Vancouver skid row hotel in 1960, eating hot dogs and reading Jack Kerouac and Marx, until he moved in with an aunt and uncle. Hunter worked in a bottle factory and tried to write a novel. Next he hitchhiked back to Winnipeg and worked at the Burns & Company Packing House. Repulsed by this work, he quit only to get arrested for selling encyclopedias without a license.

After spending one night in the Flin Flon jail, Bob Hunter eventually managed to get a job at the Winnipeg Tribune as a copy boy. He read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 and took his dreams of becoming a writer to Paris and London where he met Zoe Rahim who was working in a medical library. She was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She became pregnant, they married, honeymooned briefly in Wales and participated in the 1963 peace march to Aldermaston. The couple brought their son Conan to Winnipeg where Hunter snagged a job at the Tribune as a reporter. They moved to Vancouver where a second child Justine was born in 1965.

Hunter's first book was an experimental novel, Erebus (McClelland & Stewart, 1968), set in "a place of darkness, halfway between Hell and Heaven". Partially based on his experiences as a young man working in the Burns abattoir, it features a troubled protagonist who is redeemed by an older, sexually mature woman. Although it's no longer in circulation, the novel earned him a Governor General's Award nomination during turbulent times when experimentation could be worn as a literary badge of honour. The Governor General's Award nomination provided enough credibility for Hunter to leapfrog senior journalists and gain a foothold as the token 'counter-culture' columnist at the Vancouver Sun. His first non-fiction book was The Enemies of Anarchy: A Gestalt Approach to Change. According to Greenpeace historian Rex Weyler, "From Paul Sears, Hunter had picked up the idea that ecology was subversive because it called into question the entire philosophical foundation of Western philosophy and civilization."

Hunter eventually left the West Coast in 1988 to work in Toronto as an environmental reporter for CHUM's Citytv and CP24 channels, and as a columnist for Eye magazine. He became known in Toronto for his Paper Cuts morning television segments in which he appeared in a bathrobe and commented on the contents of newspapers. Bobbie Hunter, his second wife, worked as a Project Coordinator for Rogers Cablevision. "When we opened the first Greenpeace office in Vancouver," she told Rex Weyler, author of Greenpeace (2004), "no one was paid. Our entire overhead was the $50 rent and the phone bill. Other than that, every penny we raised went toward getting the Phyllis Cormack out to confront the Russians. Greenpeace Germany just built a US $35 million office building. More power to them, but times have changed."

Praised by John Doherty, chair of Greenpeace Canada, as an "unpretentious mystic," Bob Hunter remained in touch with both the Greenpeace organization and Paul Watson's more radical Sea Shepherd Society. One of his memoir pieces about his personal investigation of the Bangkok sex trade as a young man recoiled on him decades later when Hunter ran unsuccessfully for political office as a Liberal in Toronto, only to be attacked by the NDP and feminists for the content of the article. Ironically, it was Bob Hunter who had most clearly opposed Captain John Cormack's dictum that no single women should be allowed to sail on the first Greenpeace vessel. After the voyage, Hunter suggested the crew should have been equally comprised of men and women. Single women participated in the Greenpeace anti-whaling voyage of 1975, also captained by Cormack.

Hunter recorded his version of how Greenpeace originated in various books including The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey (2004), with photographs by Robert Keziere, who had collaborated with him for two previous Greenpeace-related books in 1972 and 1979. The 2004 text is reportedly Hunter's original memoir of the voyage to Amchitka written in 1971 and stored by Keziere in a drawer for more than 30 years after publisher Jack McClelland of McClelland & Stewart had axed the project. It received a nomination for the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize in 2005. Diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Bob Hunter rejected surgery and underwent a series of experimental treatments in Mexico. He died in Toronto at age 63 of prostate cancer on May 2, 2005.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey


Hunter, Robert. Erebus (Grove Press, M&S, 1969)

Hunter, Robert. The Enemies of Anarchy: A Gestalt Approach to Change (M&S, 1970)

Hunter, Robert. Storming of the Mind (Doubleday, 1971)

Hunter, Robert. Greenpeace (M&S, 1972). Photos by Robert Keziere.

Hunter, Robert. To Save a Whale: The Voyages of Greenpeace. With Rex Weyler.

Hunter, Robert. Warriors of the Rainbow (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979). Photos by Robert Keziere.

Hunter, Robert. Cry Wolf! (Vancouver: Shepherds of the Earth, 1985). With Paul Watson.

Hunter, Robert. On the Sky: Zen and the Art of International Freeloading (M&S, 1988)

Hunter, Robert & Robert Calihoo. Occupied Canada: A Young White Man Discovers His Unsuspected Past (M&S, 1991).

Hunter, Robert. Red Blood: One (Mostly) White Guy's Encounters With the Native World (M&S, 1999)

Hunter, Robert. 2030: Confronting Thermageddon in our Lifetime (M&S)

Hunter, Robert. The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey (Arsenal Pulp, 2004)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Environment" "First Nations" "Travel" "Greenpeace"

George Ryga Award (2005)
Adudicator's Summation

Second Annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature, July 2005

Adjudicator’s Summation by Ross Tyner

In his lecture on the occasion of Canadian Literature Day in 1977, published later that year as “The Need for Mythology” in Canadian Theatre Review and again in 1992 under the same title in the Talonbooks collection Summerland, George Ryga bemoans the “crisis of spirit” he has witnessed in modern Canada and advocates a Canadian literature of commitment that communicates “the authentic fears, preoccupations and exaltations of the people” (208).

In what is but one of many of Ryga’s works whose primary subject is the role of the writer in society, he continues:

Once we have opted for children, the only promise of immortality left to us, the obligation to history, to a piece of this earth, to the generations to come, begins. We are caught in the business of the spinning earth even far beyond the grave. Only madness exempts us from the responsibilities and rewards of changing the landscape and changing ourselves. (209)

The three finalists for this year’s George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature all eloquently demonstrate that Ryga’s preoccupation with issues of culture, justice and society flourishes in early 21st century publishing in this province. In A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour), a group of scientists, environmentalists and journalists exposes to the public the environmental, economic and social costs of the salmon farming industry and convincingly links the fate of wild Pacific salmon to that of British Columbians. Roy Miki, in Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (Raincoast), painstakingly describes the long process by which Japanese Canadians won a settlement for injustices they suffered at the hands of the Canadian government during World War II, in the hopes that other groups and individuals might benefit from their efforts and that all Canadians might better understand the complexity inherent in the concept of redress.

Had Robert “Bob” Hunter’s The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey (Arsenal Pulp) been published in 1971, the year in which the manuscript on which it is based was written, rather than in 2004, one can imagine that Ryga would have approved of its attempt to change the landscape, while simultaneously protecting it. Near the midway point of the Greenpeace’s grueling six-week voyage, the objective of which was the preemption of a United States nuclear test in the Bering Sea, Hunter, following an emotional telephone conversation with his wife and children, describes his motivation for persevering in the face of long odds against success:

[W]hat kind of looks are your kids going to give you ten or twenty or thirty years from now when the whole shebang comes crashing down and they die of leukemia or cancer or bone-rot or DDT, or they are driven mad by overcrowding, or wiped out in a nuclear war, and they ask us, Why did you let this happen? The environmental destruction of the world is going on everywhere, in plain view, so anyone who carries on business as usual, or sits on their ass or keeps their head buried in the sand, is an accomplice in the crime of murdering the future. (147, 149)

Today, more than thirty years after the odyssey Hunter chronicles has ended, while the “whole shebang” hasn’t come crashing down, the signs of an impending renewal of the nuclear arms race are evident, and the “echo” of Hunter’s generation is showing a will to mobilize against perceived injustice that is reminiscent of the spirit of the protests of the 1960s and ‘70s. The more perspicacious among today’s group of protestors will discover on their own and wrestle with the sober self-doubt that inevitably collides with the buoyant optimism required of any group of people who believe they can and will change the world. For those who require a primer on self-doubt and humility, Hunter provides it in the following passage from the book, in which he reflects on the support Greenpeace has received from Prime Minister Trudeau, the United Church of Canada, the Kwak’wak’wakw Nation, Chief Dan George, the B.C. Federation of Labour, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, and others:

[I]f all these people care so much, how come they are all carrying on busily doing what they always do? Why is business going on as usual? In a sickening flash that takes me as low as I was high a moment before, I see that a revolution can go no faster or further than people themselves, and together people generate inertia. Even in this situation, when hundreds of thousands of people all over the political spectrum join together in a common objection, there is not enough momentum to move people out of the mass inertia. The Megamachine continues to plunge unimpeded toward destruction. (125)

Hunter’s narrative derives much of its force from similar interior monologues, in which his indomitable enthusiasm and strength of conviction attempt to overcome the emotional disappointments and physical adversities that characterized the voyage. By the end of the journey, which failed to reach its intended target of the Amchitka nuclear test site, pessimism is winning the day and Hunter speaks somewhat cynically of the descent “from the pure crystalline heights of an international life-or-death protest to a troupe of party politicians making speeches” (201). It is only in 2004, with the perspective of more than thirty years of hindsight, that Hunter recognizes the true meaning of his work:

The trip was a success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. That bomb went off, but the bombs planned for after that did not. The nuclear test program at Amchitka was cancelled five months after our mission, and some scholars argue that this was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Whatever history decides about the big picture, the legacy of the voyage itself is not just a bunch of guys in a fishing boat, but the Greenpeace the entire world has come to love and hate. (236-7)

As the legacy of the Amchitka voyage is impressive, so is that of Hunter, its chronicler, who died this past May at the age of 63. In 2000, Time magazine named him one of the 20th century’s top ten environmental heroes, and obituaries, including those in “establishment” press sources such as The Times, The Guardian, and The Economist, lauded him as “the original eco-warrior”, “the man who initiated the modern environmental movement”, and “a man of action who inspired a new brand of personal environmental activism.”

Writing for The Guardian, Cathryn Atkinson reported that “[i]n 1979, when Greenpeace received a call from US President Jimmy Carter applauding its efforts to save whales, Hunter said he realized that the organization had come full circle, from environmental fringe group to something much bigger and with vast appeal.” Fittingly, Hunter himself also came full circle, in that the last of his fourteen published books, The Greenpeace to Amchitka, lyrically and compellingly relates the events – with their accompanying “fears, preoccupations and exaltations” – which first brought him into the public eye. For this attempt to change the world, the late Bob Hunter, the book’s photographer Robert Keziere, and its publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press, are honoured with the second annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature.

Works Cited
• Atkinson, Cathryn. “Obituary: Bob Hunter.” The Guardian 4 May 2005.
• Hume, Stephen, et al. A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour, 2004.
• Hunter, Robert. The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.
• Miki, Roy. Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2004.
• Ryga, George. “The Need for Mythology.” Summerland. Ed. Ann Kujundzic. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1992. 205-209.