"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"