LITERARY LOCATION: Echo Bay, on Gilford Island

The most prolific literary town in Canada on a per capita basis has got to be Echo Bay, B.C. With a year-round population of approximately ten, miniscule Echo Bay has been home to four authors--Alexandra Morton, Bill Proctor, Yvonne Maximchuk and Nikki Van Schyndel--over a 25-year-period. B.C.'s leading opponent of fish farming, Alexandra Morton, lived there from the mid-'80s until 2007, raising her son and daughter on a floathouse, conducting maritime research and working on lifetime local Bill Proctor's fishboat.


Brought up in Connecticut, Morton moved to California in 1976 in order to research marine mammals. "When I was 18," Morton has said, "I naively thought that if I looked hard enough, I could understand the communication between two whales in a tank in Los Angeles. I was wrong."

Morton arrived to study orcas in B.C. in 1979. Six years after her marriage to filmmaker and photographer Robin Morton in 1980, her husband died while filming whales, just one day before National Geographic was scheduled to record the couple's work. Morton remained at Echo Bay from 1986 onward.

To make ends meet, she took a job as a seasick, greenhorn deckhand on Billy Proctor's fishboat, while raising her son and daughter in Simoom Sound. [A complicated geographical clarificatio: The post office at Echo Bay is named Simoom Sound because the original post office for the area was in Simoom Sound, to the north of Echo Bay. When the post office was moved to accommodate the growing community at Echo Bay, the name was never changed.]

Alexandra Morton first rose to prominence as the author of Siwiti: A Whale's Story (1991), winner of the Sheila A. Egoff Prize for Children's Literature. Her charming personal account of one year in the life of a young whale turned out to be the launching pad for decades of public advocacy work for the protection of the Broughton Archipelago and for the elimination of fish farms. Siwiti was followed by a second, educational book about whales, In the Company of Whales (Orca, 1991).

Morton now collects research to prove the biological threat of industrial net-pen feedlots that are accorded use of the oceans. Morton maintains, "The science is clear these operations risk wild fish populations by intensifying disease, they deplete world fishery resources to make the feed. They privatize ocean spaces and threaten our sovereign rights to food security.";

Morton is a co-author of the anti-fish farming compendium, A Stain Upon the Sea (2004), winner of a Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, followed by Beyond the Whales: The Photographs and Passions of Alexandra Morton (2004). In the latter, she writes, "Some time ago I was given the opportunity to meet Jane Goodall. I was spellbound by my childhood idol. She radiated grace, and the wisdom of the Earth. When a lull in the conversation opened, I stepped forward and asked, 'Jane, do you think there is hope?' Her answer came back crystal clear, 'Yes.'";

In 2010, Morton organized the Get Out Migration protest walk through Vancouver Island communities, as a call to action to make the provincial government aware that wild salmon should be given a higher priority than farm salmon.

With Bill Proctor, a lifelong resident of the Broughton Archipelago, Alexandra Morton also co-wrote Heart of the Raincoast: A Life Story (1999), described as a "warts 'n' all" memoir of Proctor's experiences and contacts on the coast where he was raised, without public schooling, by his parents. It was reprinted by Touchwood Editions in 2016.

Listening to Whales, What the Orcas Have Taught Us (Ballantine Books/Random House, 2002) is her autobiography,. describing her efforts to study communication in whales. Theories on whale intelligence are explored, the extraordinary underwater world of whale communication, a woman's life in the wilderness studying whales and raising children, and her attempts to negotiate for their continued survival.

Morton's life and work are the subject of a documentary film, Alexandra's Echo, released in 2003.

Morton has since moved from Echo Bay, aka Simoom Sound, to Sointula on Malcolm Island, then onto Donegal Head, Malcolm Island.

Other titles from Echo Bay are Full Moon Flood Tide - Bill Proctor's Raincoast (Harbour 2003) by Bill Proctor and Yvonne Maximchuk, nominated for the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award in 2004. The pair subsequently collaborated for a second collection, Tide Rips and Back Eddies - Bill Proctor's Tales of Blackfish Sound (Harbour 2015).

Similar to Morton, Maximchuk is a contemporary homesteader who worked as Bill Proctor's deckhand for eight seasons. Her solo memoir is Drawn to Sea - Paintbrush to Chainsaw, Carving out a Life on BC's Rugged Raincoast (Caitlin Press 2013).

Having taken up residency on Bill Proctor's land in 2015, Nikki Van Schyndel previously published a survivalist's memoir, Becoming Wild (Caitlin 2014), about her year-and-a-half living the primitive life in the Broughton Archipelago, foraging for food and making tools from cedar and bone the way the First Nations people did.

[For books pertaining to other female activists, see abcbookworld entries for Baxter, Sheila; Culhane, Clare; Day, Shelagh; Edwards, Anne; Finlay, K.A.; Guiled, Brenda; Holt, Simma; Howard, Irene; Jewett, Pauline; Kivi, K. Linda; Krawczyk, Betty; Lewis, S.P.; McAllister, Karen; McClung, Nellie Letitia; Mitchell, Margaret; Nickerson, Betty; Rempel, Sharon; Thobani, Sunera; Zimmerman, Lillian.]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Whales"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
A Stain upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming