Author Tags: Humour, Maritime, Travel

For very smart people who like to laugh a lot and learn a lot at the same time, iconoclast Andrew Struthers of Tofino has written an undeniably brilliant and original memoir that surprises on every page. Around the World on Minimum Wage (New Star Books $21) has been described as a comedic memoir/ philosophical investigation of the tensions between eastern and western philosophies. That's very misleading and it doesn't do justice to the brilliance of his writing style, the clever candour of his observations and the genius of his magpie mind.

Mimicking the language and structure of a Victorian travelogue, the Scottish-born, Uganda/Prince George-raised Struthers can be hilarious on paper. His description of taking some hasty sky-diving instructions from a quintessentially course-mouthed Aussie, then absurdly risking his life in order to avoid embarrassment, should be enough to gain him an invitation to every writers festival in the land. Struthers is one of those rare people who obviously reads and retains ten times more than normal folks--one of those oddniks who might do well on Jeopardy--but he has a healthy, anti-elitist mindset that makes him a chronic outsider.

It is increasingly rare in this era of spellcheck and Google to find someone whose writing style is uniquely their own. Anyone who values such originality would be well-advised to be curious about Around the World on Minimum Wage. It is the sort of book that is far too audaciously unlike any other book that nobody outside of British Columbia is likely to notice. For anyone on non-fiction prize juries in Ontario, it might as well be sanskrit. It is maverick, West Coastal to the bone. You will laugh. You will learn. And you will hesitate to recommend it to everyone because not everyone is going to be prepared to digest the denseness of its intelligence.

For two reviews of his equally impressive follow-up, The Devil's Weed / The Sacred Herb (New Star 2017), see BELOW.

As a longtime resident of Tofino, Andrew Struthers of Victoria has also produced a comic graphic novel about the strife between hippie environmentalists and local rednecks, The Green Shadow (Transmontanus 3, New Star, 1995), based on the confrontations about logging in Clayoquot Sound. The original serialised version of this story received a National Magazine Award for humour.

His follow-up was a memoir of living aboard a 'Mifflin fleet' fishboat, the Loch Ryan, with his young daughter Pasheabell. Called The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan: A Story from the West Coast (New Star, 2004, $18), it contains shipbuilding lore, local history and observations of his neighbours on the docks of Tofino after he was forced to give up his pyramid-treehouse on the outskirts of town. The 'mechanically declined' author prefers local ship lore to making repairs on his bargain-priced wooden boat courtesy of the federal government's fishing license buyback program.

Struthers' cartoon panel called The Cheese Club has been syndicated throughout North America. His films include The Magic Salmon, Tiger Bomb: A Symphony in Dynamite and Spiders on Drugs.


The Green Shadow (Transmontanus series) (Transmontanus,3) (New Star Books 1995) $16 978-0921586449

The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan: A Story from the West Coast (New Star, 2004) $18

Around the World on Minimum Wage (New Star Books 2014) $21 978-1-55420-086-3

The Devil's Weed / The Sacred Herb (New Star 2017) $19 978-55420-115-0

[BCBW 2017] "Humour" "Maritime" "Travel"

The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed
Review 2017

Marijuana can be dangerous and joyous. Anyone telling you marijuana is one thing, and not the other, is a liar.

And, yes, it can also be medicinal for some. Much like alcohol, except the death rate and social costs have been far less.

You don’t have to read a government study to figure this stuff out. And don’t trust pot proponents or your neighbour Brad to give you the lowdown.

The truth, my friend, is brilliantly provided in Andrew Struthers’ hilarious, dualistic, ying/yangish, James Joycean, expert compilation of two manuscripts sleeping in the same bed, The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed (New Star $19).

One half of this upside-down ‘double paperback’ affords a scintillating distillation of marijuana-induced misadventures gathered from Struthers’ acquaintances and Facebook informants, The Sacred Herb. This is a rollicking, strung-together, strung-out narrative that captures the creative, mostly benign insanity and weird energy of pot trips.

Or you can turn the book upside down and start reading the other half first. Struthers has gone beyond anecdotal evidence for The Devil’s Weed, cobbling together a somewhat more sociological survey of the humble weed that purportedly makes music sound better. But listen up, kids. Ganga can make some people go off the deep end.

Imagine Hunter S. Thompson re-invented as an audacious, post-hippie iconoclast in Clayoquot Sound, riffing in his hot tub, in a prolonged reverie, having consumed too much “chocolate” cake (“having eaten enough THC to kill Tusko the Elephant”), recounting all the goofy and strange pot stories you can’t imagine… and you’re only just beginning to get the feel of this outrageously funny, literary triumph.

Best of all, Struthers affects the brash charm of a storyteller who doesn’t care whether you like him or not. He first smoked a joint of grey schwag with a kid called Max on the last day of high school in Prince George in 1978. “Before I knew it, nothing happened. That was par for the course in those days. Failure-to-launch syndrome was so common that tokers would warn first-timers that they were about to have no fun.”

And so it grows. Struthers has produced another book that doesn’t resemble any other book as a follow-up to his equally mind-bending memoir, Around the World on Minimum Wage (New Star 2014). People in Ontario would be thoroughly mystified if this stuff ever reached them. After a carnival ride of comedy, here’s where he ends up:

“The official story of the new Liberal government is that after a decade of Conservatism we’re finally head back to the future. Yet the more things change, the more they stay insane. When I began to smoke pot in 1978 Alien was on the big screen and Trudeau was Prime Minister. Forty years later, Alien is on the big screen and Trudeau is Prime Minister. But there’s hope. The new Alien is by Vancouver genius Neill Blomkamp and the new Trudeau is my pot dealer.

“They say the dealer is not your friend, even when he’s a long-haired shirtless feminist, and that might finally be true this time because pot’s greatest power was helping us think outside the box. But now it will become the box, a closed system like capitalism, which seemed like such a good idea when it made us all rich, but now it has made us cogs in a monstrous water-boarding machine that figures out with computers how much stress will kill you then backs of the screws till you can pay your bills.

“New Trudeau promised to legalize cannabis for his election special, and claims he has a plan for pot rather than just a scheme to get his old bedroom back. Meanwhile, a new report commissioned by the Cannabis Growers of Canada claims pot is a $5-billion-dollar industry, and if legalized would provide $1.5 billion in tax revenue. But all of this is beside the point. Most Canadians can’t wait for pot to be legalized so that they’ll never have to read another goddamned editorial on the subject.

“One cloud on the horizon is that along with legalization will come Walmart, and the dollars that keep every small town in the B.C. interior afloat right now will suddenly dry up. Twenty-five thousand people are presently employed there just to trim colas. If the jobs end up at Walmart all those mom-and-pop grow-ops will be forced to adapt the way a corner store adapts when Save-On-Foods opens down the street: by vanishing without a trace.

“I don’t doubt Trudeau’s heart is in the right place, but his head looks a lot more like his mom’s than his dad’s, which means sooner or later he’ll be partying with the Rolling Stones. So it’s hard to have faith in his vague plan to unleash legalized pot on Alberta, a province that smokes less than half the herb B.C. burns…

“Of course, I’m not suggesting Albertans are stupid. I’m going to prove it with science. A 2010 survey from Maclean’s found that my hometown of Victoria has the highest average IQ in the country, while my ex-wife’s hometown of Edmonton ranks eighth… “

And so it grows.

This is a raucously British Columbian masterpiece that Malcolm Lowry would have envied if he hadn’t drunk himself to smithereens.

“The author is an author on the subject [weed, cannabis, reefer], having smoked his own weight in sweet and skunky bud over the last four decades. Yet he is in no way biased towards legalizing the Sacred Herb, even though he considers it to be completely harmless and lots of fun, unless you count the killer strain he smoked last week with a guy called Dennis who he met at a bus stop, three puffs of which nearly put him in a wheelchair.”

EXCERPT: After a guy named Winston smokes a bowl of Thai stick with Peter and the narrator in 1980…

“The stuff’s so strong he launches first time like the Challenger and back in Kelowna relates his adventure to his Lutheran parents, who explode and call the pastor then all three pray and wail for hours trying to cast the Devil out of Winston till his mind folds like a pair of twos and the last time Pete sees him is in the bunny bin at UBC, three hundred pounds of unshaved pain hectored by voices in his head, smoking cigarettes till dawn and watching Wheel of Fortune with both lobes flattened by old-school antipsychotic drugs, after which I take pot’s storied harmlessness with a pinch of lithium salt…”

[Alan Twigg 2017]

The Sacred Herb / The Devil's Weed
Review 2017 #2

Reviewed by Erika Dyck


British Columbia is the perfect setting for this timely book on pot. Canadians have come to revere the infamous B.C. bud, and we Canadians living east of the Rockies have often looked west for guidance on how to handle marijuana, whether it be for securing clandestine growing conditions for achieving higher THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) levels, or for government-regulated head shops set up in broad daylight in Kitsilano.

B.C has long had a reputation for its green culture, and Canadians have come to expect leadership from beautiful B.C.

Struthers taps into that characterization, but does so in a rather unorthodox manner. The book is cleverly designed to portray different sides of a debate on marijuana, or so it appears at first glance. The provocative alternate titles and cute marketing design set up my expectations as a book that might delve into the pros and cons of marijuana use. But that debate is hazy and vague, and not really a debate at all, in this two-sided text.

I began with The Sacred Herb, for no particular reason, except that as a historian of drugs, I erroneously felt that I was well versed in many of the critiques of drug use and wanted to start by reading about why it might be indeed Sacred, or mystical, and an -- or a -- Herb, expecting some discussion of it being natural, or organic.

But I was wrong. This section of the book is a more in-depth account of a journey through research, anecdote, and personal experience as Struthers unpacks common assumptions and myths about marijuana. He rarely pauses to deeply consider the contemporary debates in regulation, or in clinical studies, but begins from the perspective of a devoted user, grower, and liberal thinker on the matter.

Far from an academic account, his lucid and often entertaining analysis pokes fun at some of these larger debates. He deftly casts aside policy issues but shows individuals’ stories to expose how loosely the laws have been applied, or how hypocritical our regulations are when it comes to allowing for public drunkenness while prohibiting weed.

In sum, he gives readers a highly engaging and amusing description of the long-standing contradictions in our cultural, medical, and political understandings of the dangers of marijuana use. At moments, this section reads like a Cross-Country check up for marijuana users, covering Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia in their quest for bud, whether it be to grow, smoke, sell, or talk about.

The Sacred Herb is highly readable, witty, and engaging. It shifts from intellectual provocation to laugh-out-loud Canadiana comedy. But, above all, it offers a very candid explanation for how and why B.C. came to be hailed as the green province. What is less clear, is why Colorado was out in front when it came to legalizing and commercializing marijuana on a major scale. If B.C. was so revered for its famous bud, why are Canadians still waiting to inhale? Despite Struthers’ sporting jabs at Justin Trudeau, there is no direct response to this question that hovers in the cloud of smoke that hangs over this text.

Finishing that section, I eagerly flipped over the book and settled in for another round of galloping prose through what I presumed would be an account of why not to support marijuana, or how it threatened to ruin lives or provincial economies, or some such stuff.

I was, however, completely mistaken. The Devil’s Weed is a very different text. As Struthers describes in his prologue, this section was written in two weeks; I believe it, because it reads as a stream of consciousness. Part Kerouac-styled travelogue, part Facebook-style story posts, The Devil’s Weed is an inside look at a culture of drugs, and the frenzied writing mimics the sometimes harried, paranoid, expansive, and/or mystical encounters one has in this context.

Written without paragraphs, and with punctuation and syntax to match one’s racing and at times incoherent thoughts, rather than a smooth narrative prose, this part of the book is confusing and difficult to digest. It offers dizzying detail at times, it borrows stories, and it includes a litany of references to places and things that are not always recognizable to the unacquainted reader. There is no clear direction or point, beyond a performance of writing or thinking under the influence of marijuana. Perhaps that is the point.

Together, these two very different accounts in a single bound volume offer an interesting and very candid contribution to the growing discussions on marijuana. Struthers does not hide behind academic posturing, policy-making intentions, or commercial opportunities, and instead hints at those debates while revealing a lot about his own experiences, and how his own journey has affected his views on much of the academic and medical literature that tries to defend or prohibit its use.

Consequently, The Sacred Herb reads as a logical, albeit an advocate’s, perspective on why society should not fear marijuana and its decriminalization. On the flipside, literally, we encounter an illogical, and at times nonsensical, view of life that is difficult to follow, let alone empathize with.

Clever marketing aside, this two-sided text takes advantage of a particular moment in Canadian history as we wrestle with questions about how, who, and what to regulate when it comes to mind-altering substances. Our collective experiences with marijuana seem to prove that the genie is out of the bottle. Anecdotal or not, it is the case that increasing numbers of Canadians have tried marijuana with minimal consequences, and many even articulate a growing list of benefits.

According to Struthers, police forces across the country have been turning a blind eye to this allegedly benign substance for a long time, suggesting that those on the front lines -- teachers, police officers, physicians, social workers, etc. -- have already worked out reasonable responses to marijuana use that do not necessarily rely on the cumbersome machinery of formal law and order. Changing the law, then, appears to merely align policy with practice.

So, the question is not whether marijuana should be legalized, but when the federal government will change its laws on pot. And when this happens, what effect will it have on B.C.’s green character? As Struthers makes clear, the allure of B.C. bud is only partly due to its THC content. If Canadians can soon legally order their marijuana from a carefully scrutinized menu, whether at a 7-11 or the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the regional mystique of B.C. as Canada’s very own head shop may cease to retain that cultural connection.

The stories in Struthers’ book will then be seen as products of an older era, a period depicting home-grow-op techniques, police evasion, or the perils of trying strains with no idea of their potency. All of that cultural knowledge will slowly give way to a more regular set of interactions and a new set of stories with marijuana that unfold aboveground, and without halogen lights.

When that happens, will B.C. have to cultivate a new identity, and will it be green?


Erika Dyck is Canada Research Chair in History of Medicine and a professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. Her books include Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD on the Canadian Prairies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, reprinted by University of Manitoba Press, 2012); Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization, and the Politics of Choice (University of Toronto Press, 2013); and Managing Madness: Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada (University of Manitoba Press, 2017)


The Ormsby Review. More Readers. More Reviews. More Often.

Reviews Editor: Richard Mackie

Reviews Publisher: Alan Twigg

The Ormsby Review 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.

[Ormsby 2017]