Author Tags: Crime, Environment, Local History, Publishing, Transportation

Art Downs was green when it was still just a colour. Once described as "the first of the environmental editors," Art Downs became one of the forefathers of the B.C. publishing industry, although his pioneering role as a publisher is seldom heralded.

Arthur George Downs was born in 1924 in England and emigrated with his parents at age five. They settled in northeastern Saskatchewan where he grew up during the Depression. "I attended a typical one-room rural school," he recalled, "with a frustrated teacher attempting to teach grades 1-8 to some 50 impoverished farm boys and girls." His father joined the Canadian Navy during World War II and the family came to the West Coast. In 1943, Downs joined the merchant navy and worked for seven years mainly as a radio officer. Unable to pursue his hopes of becoming a reporter due to his lack of experience, he returned to help operate his father's ranch in the Quesnel River Valley in the Cariboo. "Our ranch was the same as about 90 percent of Cariboo ranches," he said. "The owner needed an outside job to support the operation. I reluctantly abandoned ranching but left with a double legacy--the knack of stilling a potent beverage christened 'Quesnel River Screech' and an incurable malady known as Caribooitis. The most noticeable symptom of the latter affliction is an unsettled feeling when the victim is anywhere else except the Cariboo."

His first published story 'The Saga of the Upper Fraser Sternwheelers' appeared in 1950 in the Cariboo Digest, a regional magazine published in Quesnel since 1945. With Wes Logan, he bought the Cariboo Digest from Alex Sahonovich in 1955 and became its editor. It evolved into BC Outdoors, a successful blend of history, wildlife and conservation that served a broad readership. He didn't believe in fishing derbies or trophies but he recognized the importance of tourism. He deplored clear cut logging and was a tireless conservationist and grassroots organizer. Selling BC Outdoors in 1979, he and his wife Doris turned to publishing books "by B.C. writers for B.C. readers" under their Heritage House imprint in Surrey. Downs eschewed the city and affected a down-to-earth bluntness that disguised his sophistication. Along the way he served as president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission. He died at his home in Surrey on August 13, 1996.

Art Downs was an avid historian whose Tragedies of Crowsnest Pass recalls the Hillcrest and Fernie mining explosions that killed 189 and 128 miners respectively. Paddlewheels on the Frontier chronicles the 100-year-era when more than 300 blugged-bowed, flat-bottomed sternwheel steamers operated on major lakes and rivers of British Columbia and the Yukon, as well along the West Coast as far north as the Bering Sea.

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
Cariboo Gold Rush: The Stampede that Made BC


Quesnel, British Columbia (Quesnel: Cariboo Digest Ltd, 1950)
Wagon Road North: the Story of the Cariboo Gold Rush in Historical Photos (Quesnel: Northwest Digest, 1960. Republished by Foremost Publishing; Gray's Publishing, 1969; Heritage House, 1993)
British Columbia-Yukon Sternwheel Days (1972; Heritage House, 1992)
Wagon Road North (Paddlewheels on the Frontier: The Story of the British Columbia and the Yukon Sternwheel Steamers (Foremost, 1971; reprinted by Gray's Publishing, 1972; later reprinted by Heritage House)
Slumach's Gold: In Search of a Legend (Heritage House, 1981)


Pioneer Days in British Columbia: a Selection of Historical Articles from BC Outdoors Magazine, Volume One (B.C. Outdoors, 1973)
Pioneer Days in British Columbia: a Selection of Historical Articles from BC Outdoors Magazine, Volume Two (B.C. Outdoors)
Pioneer Days in British Columbia: a Selection of Historical Articles from BC Outdoors Magazine, Volume Three (B.C. Outdoors)
Pioneer Days in British Columbia: a Selection of Historical Articles from BC Outdoors Magazine, Volume Four (Heritage House, 1979)
The Hope Slide Story (Surrey: Frontier Books, 1980)
Tragedies of Crowsnest Pass (Heritage House, 1988; republished as Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass, Heritage House, 2005, re-edited by Diana Wilson).
The Law and the Lawless: Frontier Justice in British Columbia and Yukon, 1913-1935 Amazing Stories Edited by Art Downs (Heritage House 2014) $9.95 978-1-772030-29-7
The Law and the Lawless: Frontier Justice on the Canadian Prairies, 1896–1935 $9.95 978-1-77203-026-6

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "Local History" "Publishing" "Transportation" "Environment"