What Forever Feels Like: A Memoir of Johnsons Landing
by Ellen Burt

New Denver: Maa Press, 2018
$23.00 / 9781999554804

Reviewed by Lee Reid


In 1969, Ellen Burt married and settled in the hamlet of Johnsons Landing at the head of Kootenay Lake, near Argenta. The community was mostly developed in the 1920s on land originally populated by the Ktunaxa First Nation. Until the late 1950s, when a road was built, weekly supplies were delivered by the paddle wheeler SS Moyie. The nearest towns were Kaslo, a half day’s drive, and Nelson, a day’s drive away.

More recently. the community was partially buried by a mudslide in 2012 that killed four people and destroyed five houses, a tragedy recalled by Amanda Bath’s Disaster in Paradise: The Landslides in Johnsons Landing (Harbour Publishing, 2015).

In What Forever Feels Like: A Memoir of Johnsons Landing (Maa Press $23), Ellen Burt includes buried truths of our own life story, particularly within the historical and cultural context of the counter-culture of the West Kootenay in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“During all those years in Johnsons Landing,” she writes, “I had no awareness that I was also a baby boomer, a hippie, a Back-to-the-Lander, part of a mass social movement. In that life, my awareness extended no further than the barn. Dan and I went to town twice a year. We didn’t have a radio.

“Race riots in LA? I may have heard a bit of it on the country and western station, after we got our little transistor. A man on the moon? Sounds hypothetical. The Vietnam War? Even though the draft dodgers kept coming, it was not in my consciousness.”

She now retroactively includes white colonial attempts to extinguish First Nations culture and their people; the destruction of old growth forests in the Purcells through unregulated clear-cut logging and dams; and the depression of the salmon runs and spawning channels along Kootenay Lake by the Duncan dam, or by the hydro-imposed Kootenay Diversion, which flooded agricultural lands and forested shorelines.

Forever offers many nuances for the reader. We experience the crystalline silence of nature; and we witness the silence of people shutting each other out (in Burt’s own marriage). One of the dominant themes is the strength and stoical endurance of women entrapped in parenting and work.

The mudslide wiped out half the community, leaving a ghost-scape of homes and dreams. Underlying much communal generosity and geniality, Burt also describes a wordless world of anger and loneliness experienced by those who did not fit into the communal norms.

And, yes, there’s no apostrophe in Johnsons Landing. – by Lee Reid


[BCBW 2019]