Author Tags: Outdoors

Born to a life of private schools, cricket games and society balls, Bob Henderson abandoned it all when he was 18 for the challenges found in the mountains of northern British Columbia as a guide, bush pilot and fishing resort owner. After five seasons working for guide-outfitter Tommy Walker in the Spatsizi Plateau as a young man during the 1960s, where he became friendly with wranglers, cooks and the Tlogoti'ne First Nations, Bob Henderson joined outfitters Love Bros. & Lee in the Kispiox Valley. Still spending time at his fishing lodge on Tatlatui Lake, Henderson, as a resident of Smithers, compiled his memoirs of life in northern B.C. as In the Land of the Red Goat (Creekstone Press 2006). [See review below.]

[BCBW 2006] "Outdoors"

PHOTO: Bob Henderson (on right)

Land of the Red Goat by Bob Henderson (Creekstone $21)
Review (2007)

Bob Henderson’s weathered paw is extended as he steps into the studio, his grip firm, manner direct, but he’s a bit apprehensive. He is too far from his natural habitat. There is too much traffic, too much concrete.

Bob Henderson has run a five-ton snow machine up the Stikine River as the ice melted around him. He has babied a fully-loaded truck with no brakes down a ten-mile hill. He has learned to fly and crash-land planes. But promoting a book in the Big Smoke is something else.

In Vancouver to talk about Land of the Red Goat , Henderson is too far removed from his fishing lodge at Tatlatui Lake, his home near Smithers and the vast Spatsizi plateau that gave rise to the name of his memoir. Spatsizi is a Tahltan word meaning Land of the Red Goat, a description that arose because goats in the area take dust baths by rolling on red iron slopes. Henderson’s title is slightly misleading because he has been active as a guide and pilot throughout northern B.C. for four decades, having joined forces with Love Bros. & Lee, an outfitting company based in the Skeena River watershed and Kispiox Valley, as a young man.

Bob Henderson had a relatively privileged background. As a boy, he was sent from Victoria to one of Toronto’s best private schools where he was introduced to a life of cricket and society balls. His father was a lawyer who had the legendary northern B.C. outfitter Tommy Walker as one of his clients.

In 1963, after completing high school, Bob Henderson, at age 18, accepted an invitation to live for one summer with Walker’s guiding company in the north.

Born in Gravesend, England in 1904, Tommy Walker had immigrated to B.C. in 1929. He homesteaded on a farm east of Bella Coola and began to operate a sport fishing resort, Stuie Lodge, that became Tweedsmuir Lodge. In 1937 he contributed to efforts to create Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, then went to the headwaters of the Stikine River with his wife Marion in 1948, settling at Cold Fish Lake. After his first season in Spatsizi, he never hunted again with a rifle, preferring a camera. His many years of lobbying for the protection of the area led to the creation of Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park, the third largest park in B.C., after Tweedsmuir and Tatshenshini. Spatsizi Park is located 320 km (200 mi) north of Smithers, east of the village of Iskut, off of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. The Walkers sold their property at Cold Fish Lake in 1968, but retained their trading post and sawmill at Tatogga Lake on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. T.A. Walker’s account of homesteading, simply called Spatsizi (Caitlin), has been reprinted five times.

In the early 1960s, the road north stopped at Fort St. James where Henderson jumped aboard a floatplane to Walker’s Cold Fish Lake. “What happened in the next two-and-a-half hours was to have a major effect on the rest of my life,” he writes. “As the plane flew north I experienced a new sensation—the intoxication of flying low over miles of untouched wilderness. As the mystery of valley after valley was revealed beneath us, I realized with certainty that Mrs. Henderson had raised a future bush pilot.”

Henderson’s first task was to build a two-holed outhouse beside Walker’s new cabins. Before long he was stocking food caches, working horses, building hunting camps while fighting flies and mosquitoes, and learning how to guide trophy hunters on trips that could last four or five weeks. Asked how he picked up the skills to survive, Henderson credits Tlogot’ine natives who worked as guides and wranglers for Walker. “They took me in and kept an eye on me when I had less sense than a puppy dog,” he says. “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

“It must have been a bit galling for them at the time. I was considered to be the lead hand at the end of the third year. They had a wonderful way of easing tensions when the going got tough. Like finding yourself in 60-below weather with not the right equipment and having to live off the land for several days. They never panicked, they just took it the way it came.”

Henderson’s early days included a near-drowning and the rescue of a CBC cameraman who was gathering footage of Walker’s operation for a documentary. The cameraman wanted shots of a live grizzly, so Henderson guided him to an old moose kill. He got more than he bargained for when a nine-foot-tall grizzly charged. Henderson sucks air through his teeth recalling the moment: “I walked right into the bear. All I can say is I have met the devil, and someone was with me that day because I managed to kill it at 12 feet shooting from the hip. And when I stepped back and took careful aim after everything was over, I missed the bear completely at 17 feet.”

Mounting friction between Henderson and the Walkers was exacerbated by a plane crash, an untested manager, lack of provisions, a foolhardy construction project and the duress of being placed in charge of fighting a large forest fire. After five years, Bob Henderson joined Love Bros. & Lee in the adjacent Kitchener-Tatlatui region.

Jack Love, an Englishman, had homesteaded in the Kispiox Valley near the Swedish-born Hagblad brothers and their sister, Anna, who he married. The couple had six children, one of whom married Jack Lee who had arrived in Hazelton in the 1930s. The Love brothers and Jack Lee formed a family business for logging, hunting, guiding and trapping. Started in 1947, their business, according to Henderson, rivaled, if not surpassed that of Walker Frontier Services in both volume and international reputation.

Henderson became a partner with the Love Bros., bought his first float plane, raised a family in the north and learned how to navigate obstacles thrown up by bureaucrats and Greenpeacers. Along the way he did his share to help establish protected area status for the Spatsizi, and later helped conduct wildlife population surveys. Henderson treasures a brief encounter with writer and conservationist Roderick Haig-Brown, but travel writer Edward Hoagland, gathering material for ‘Notes from the Century Before’, still leaves Henderson cold. “Ted, as he preferred to be called, was not much older than I and, like me, the product of a well-off family. But that’s where the similarities ended. As my week with him unfolded and he met more of the Cassiar’s residents, I found he had little positive to say about any of his new acquaintances. He perceived his role as that of judge rather than chronicler.”

Henderson thinks too many good people were unnecessarily hurt by Hoagland’s portrayal. Then again, he likely didn’t endear himself to Hoagland after the pickup truck they were riding in turned turtle with Henderson at the wheel.
“What’s impressed me after having done this now for over 40 years,” says Henderson, “is the respect for the land that most of the people that do this kind of thing eventually get—whether they want it or not almost. You just can’t have that kind of association with the land without both understanding and getting the respect for the benefits you get from it.”

These days Henderson is anxious about mounting pressures to exploit mining and methane gas in the north. “That was part of my motivation for writing the book,” he says. “Hopefully people going in there to try to extract those resources have some understanding of how those of us who’ve made our living in a different way feel about it, and may they show some respect for those feelings and values.

“I was taught that man should defeat wilderness, and now at the end of my life, finding that man should respect wilderness and do everything they can to maintain it.” 0-9684043-9-1

-- reviewed by Mark Forsythe, host of CBC’s Almanac.