All posts by George

Wood Buffalo and Jasper Wild Win Gold Medals at 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Wood Buffalo and Jasper Wild, the second and third novels, respectively, in the Dyed In The Green fiction series about Canada’s national parks, each won Gold Medals in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards honour the year’s best independently published titles from North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Wood Buffalo won the top regional award for Fiction in Western Canada while Jasper Wild garnered top spot for best Book Cover Design in the Fiction category. Book covers for the series have been done by Portland, Oregon artist Dan Stiles.

Set in the largest national park in Canada and the second largest in the world, Wood Buffalo is the story of a battle to save the park’s bison herd from a proposed slaughter. Based on the real-life battle in the late 1980’s that almost saw the pro-slaughter forces win the day, Wood Buffalo is a mystery-suspense that will immerse readers in the dramatic landscapes of northern Canada.

In Jasper Wild, the series’ main characters are faced with trying to stop a politically connected foreign mining magnate from building a backcountry lodge in Jasper National Park’s iconic wilderness.

Both books follow on the heels of the series’ title book, Dyed In The Green, set in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

This is the first fiction series about Canada’s national parks and profiles the challenges facing these iconic special places and the people trying to protect them.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards will be presented to medalists on May 29th at the Copacabana Times Square in New York City.

The Boys On The Bus

Last night, we were watching the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals get shellacked by the Tri-City Americans in their first quarter-finals game when the first dribbles of information showed up on my son’s cell phone, something about an accident involving the Broncos – the Swift Current Broncos I assumed, another WHL team vying for a semi-final berth in the playoffs. Sliding the phone away our attention turned back to the game, a 7-0 drubbing that had sucked the air out of the fans in the Save-On Foods Memorial Centre, reminding us that life can be one-sided sometimes.

After the game, driving my son to the basement apartment he shared with a buddy from high school and his former girlfriend, talking hockey and college and summer work, we drove without the radio on, cell phones tucked away. I dropped him off, said goodnight and reminded him to come for breakfast on Sunday.

My wife and daughter were just coming back from walking the dog when I entered the house. They mentioned an accident and we began searching the news on my laptop. Instantly we knew something really serious had taken place, not with the Swift Current Broncos, but the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a team of 16 to 21 year old boys and young men from the small Prairie town of 6,000.

Although details were scant, it was obvious from the silence that a tragedy was unfolding on an April night in the Prairies.

Immediately I thought of friends with a kid playing junior hockey and scanned the Humbodlt Broncos roster on their website to see if I recognized a familiar name, relieved that I didn’t, but cognizant of the fact many other families would.

Morning would bring a rude awakening.

Fifteen dead.

Fourteen more physically injured, three critically.

Untold numbers devastated by the news of injured and lost loved ones, friends, family, acquaintances, the threads of connectivity weaving their way to every part of the country, indeed the world.

The Times Of Israel was reporting on the story in the morning.

As was the New York Times and many other news services.

In countries where war and mass killings numb the population, news of a tragic accident in Canada, was making the front page.

As it was in Canada as well, but with a wholly different meaning.

A small community, in fact many small communities, towns and cities, indeed the entire province of Saskatchewan and the country itself, was in shock, and grieving.

The details are still scant, but we know enough.

Young people and road trips, whether for sport or other purposes, are a fact of life not only in Canada, but presumably around much of the world.

I’d venture to say hockey roadtrips are far and away the most common in this country, bound as we are for more than eight months most years to a game that is our game, a point of pride for most Canadians, especially the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, young men and women, and oldtimers, who play the game, and the millions more who watch it.

It is a big part of the glue that binds us together, as teams, as communities, as a country.

It pulls us together when we win.

It keeps us together when we lose.

And when we lose big time, when a tragic accident takes away loved ones and cuts us to the bone, hockey wraps its arms around us and draws us close, reminding us that above all else, that while life and love rule, it is the things we live for and love that make it all worthwhile.

This morning, it’s hard to see the words through the veil of tears.

My heart goes out to the Humboldt Broncos, to the kids from the Prairies who make up the team, to the coaches and support staff, to all the families and friends affected by this devastating tragedy.


It’s A Mystery Podcast

If you want to find out about the background behind my Dyed In The Green series about Canada’s national parks, check out Alexandra Amor’s It’s A Mystery Podcast.


Leg 4 Revisted

Bruce Guthro doesn’t know it but I am standing giddily behind him, a back-up singer on the stage at Stanfest, belting out the chorus for Northwest Passage along with my shipmates from the Canada C3 expedition. I’m not sure how the others feel but the experience for me is surreal, not unlike how the rest of our ten-day leg will feel when I finally get my feet back on solid ground in St. John’s.

It has been a whirlwind journey, getting an offer to join the expedition on the previous Monday, and initially turning it down so I could focus on peddling my latest book, then giving myself a mental kick in the ass and quickly redialing and saying yes. It’s the smartest move I’ve made in a while.

Now as I sit on the flight back West, I’m just beginning to process what happened over this past two weeks, reflecting, trying to piece it all back together; the flight from Victoria to Charlottetown, meeting some of the participants at the airport, taxiing to our ship, the introduction to the C3 team, meeting my cabin mate, the first briefing.

It seems so long ago.

We covered a lot of ground, both figuratively and literally.

And a lot of ocean.

We experienced some of Canada’s highs, and struggled with its lows.

It was an emotional rollercoaster unlike any I’d ever experienced before.

And I’m only beginning to understand the significance of it all, the juxtaposition of time and place that put us in Charlottetown, the Cradle of Confederation, on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of our country’s birth as a nation.

I should have been in a celebratory mood right until the stroke of midnight, but already some truths were settling in, and somehow the fireworks that night seemed trite.

It was as if our first day, as planned out as it was logistically, with some of us riding a float in the Canada Day parade in North Rustico and others taking in events in Charlottetown, was meant to coalesce around the bittersweet notion that while we had lots to celebrate, we shared a history that dampened the spirit of the moment.

Buzzkill was a word that came to mind.

I think it had to do with the first structured event of the leg, a walking tour with two young men playing the role of Confederate and anti-Confederate aristocrats who went on to describe events leading up to the meeting in Charlottetown 150 years ago that led to Confederation. I couldn’t help but think as they spoke in character, especially when it came to questions about the Mi’kmaq, whose ancestral lands we were standing on, that they were doing a huge disservice to those people, unknowingly I suspect, but doing so just the same.

The irony of the situation intensified when we were led past Government House and into the chamber around which a group of older, white males, decided the future of early Canada a century and a half ago, where our discussion was initiated by a prayer and welcome from the regional Mi’Kmaq chief and a drum song from a local elder.

The level of discomfort in the room was palpable but dissipated somewhat when one of the Canada C3 participants pointed to the fact that our First Nations hosts were seated in the back and that our “round table” was actually taking place around a rectangular table where seating position implied power for some and less for others.

It seemed we were in for a rocky start to Leg 4, but truth be told, this willingness to speak up and challenge convention probably helped solidify the resolve of the Leg 4 participants to actually participate, to speak their minds and share their perspectives, underlying the real reason we’d been brought together in the first place.

Going forward, the rest of the journey embodied the sentiments of that first day, highlighting the strengths of our country’s resilience at Stanfest in Canso, of its diversity at Pier 21 in Halifax and of its absolute beauty at 100 Wild Islands, but also recognizing the realities of the past and present at Membertou and Eskasoni in Cape Breton, Hope Blooms in Halifax, and Francois and Portugal Cove South in Newfoundland.

Wherever we went the legacy of our country’s misdealing with indigenous peoples, the challenges for inner city youth, and the economic realities of remote communities struggling to survive, were not far from our collective thoughts.

Together they combined to shine a light on the need to reconcile our past, celebrate our diversity and face the future with a sense of renewed passion to make Canada an even better country than it is today.

But these things won’t happen if we sit on our hands and wait for others to take up the torch. More than anything else, the take home message from our leg of the Canada C3 expedition from coast to coast to coast was to take action, in whatever ways we felt we could, to bring meaningful change to our country.

So no one is left behind.

For many of us, as it was that night at Stanfest, it will mean getting out of our comfort zone and taking the stage, and either individually or collectively doing what we know to be right, taking solace from the fact that we have a shared interest in getting the next 150 years right.

And that together, we can make a difference.

Managing The Numbers

Why Parks Canada Needs To Get Its Head Around Managing Human Use

This is a first for me … providing a little more of the backstory to one of my novels … and while I do plan to eventually write the true stories behind my Dyed In The Green fiction series about the challenges facing Canada’s national parks, I feel it’s important to speak up now to provide some context behind the fiction that is Jasper Wild, a story that has as it’s basis the ever increasing human use and development in and around our national parks.

With a lot of eyes on our national parks during Canada’s sesquicentennial year (okay, it’s just a big word for one hundred and fiftieth anniversary), and free entry into those parks, it’s a critical time.

And, I would argue, time is running out.

It may already be too late for some parks.

But I’ll go with the premise that it isn’t … because Nature is resilient, to a point.

And we are a smart species … to a point.

But here’s the rub …

We need to get our heads around the notion of managing human use in many of our national parks.

No, not all of them.

There are national parks, especially remote northern national parks, that see relatively low numbers of visitors each year and for me that’s fine.

Oh, there will be those who say why even have these parks if you can’t get to them, but to those folks all I can say is, you’re missing the point.

One of the primary purposes of national parks is to protect representative examples of Canada’s natural regions, to set them aside before we bulldoze, blast and build our way into these areas … to keep them as natural as possible, not only for our benefit, and here’s the key, but for the benefit of future generations … our kids and our kid’s kids, and so on.

And if you are lucky enough to get to one of these more remote national parks, I expect you will appreciate the wild factor as well as not bumping into people at every turn.

But for most of our national parks, that’s not the case, especially during summer and the ever expanding “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall.

Most of our parks, in southern Canada in particular, see lots of people.

And that’s both a good and a bad thing.

After all we want people to enjoy our parks and protected areas and gain an appreciation and understanding of the importance of setting these places aside.

They are after all, some of the best of what we have to offer.

But there is a limit to how much human use and development a national park or other protected area can tolerate before it loses some of the very qualities it was set aside to protect.

I think everyone gets this.

It’s not rocket science.

But speaking of science, it’s been demonstrated in one scientific study after another that there are thresholds beyond which wildlife and wild places are negatively affected by our use.

Some of these impacts directly affect wildlife habitat and the species that live there. After all, when you transform a natural area into a road or other development, it’s no longer of much use to wildlife. And the added indirect affects of the human use associated with our infrastructure, incrementally reduce the area’s value to wildlife.

In short, our presence often has the effect of displacing wildlife to other areas, effectively further reducing the amount of space available for them to survive.

Human use, in and of itself, brings with it it’s own assortment of impacts, largely dependent on how many people use an area, when they’re there and the types of activities they’re pursuing.

In response wildlife can avoid using these areas altogether at certain times of the year, or choose to use them differently.

So when protected areas such as our national parks get inundated with people, one of the side effects is that wildlife and their habitats, that are supposed to be protected within said national parks, are impacted.

Yet, the organization responsible for our national parks doesn’t always seem to get it.

Or at least the people that are in a position to change things don’t get it, because there are tons of other people in Parks Canada who do get it.

In fact, the organization has had and still has people who probably know as much as anyone in the world, about the need to manage human use in protected areas.

But they either aren’t in management or if they are, their concerns and issues get pushed aside in favour of other interests.

It’s got to be frustrating.

To raise the flag and say that human use might be one of the factors causing impacts on a species or a specific habitat in a national park, and to see that species continue to decline or an area of habitat continue to deteriorate while literally nothing of consequence is done about it, is in my view, a perverse outcome, considering it’s taking place in a national park.

This isn’t an unprotected area, after all.

It’s a national park.

Worse still is to see that use not only continue, but increase, to see development proposals considered and approved and another small piece of the park carved off to appease a specific interest group or developer.

It’s more than perverse. When you consider the intent behind the National Parks Act, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s criminal.

Yet, the solution is not that difficult.

We just need to get our heads around the fact that we don’t manage ecosystems, and we don’t manage wildlife. The best that we can do is manage our own use, to ensure that our impacts on wildlife, our impacts on ecosystems, are minimal.

Because the Triple E approach to managing human use in our national parks doesn’t work.

We can’t continue to allow Everyone, to do Everything, Everywhere.

Instead, we need an approach that puts the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

It isn’t about shutting down human use.

In fact, I always laugh when I hear people use that line because they are often people with vested interests trying to prevent anyone from telling them what they can do in their parks.

And they still seem to think the argument holds water after the two millionth visitor has passed through the park gates.

So I’ll say it again, with the added power of italics!

It’s not about shutting down human use.

It’s all about appropriate use, including how much.

It’s about knowing when enough is enough.

And there are ways to measure it.

Scientifically proven ways with the potential to refine them even further.

Yet over the years, Parks Canada, which was once at the leading edge of developing some of those approaches, turned a corner away from any notion of managing use in favour of promoting tourism and increasing visitation.

The new approach took off under the watch of the last government and it remains to be seen what will happen with the new one.

So far, I would suggest nothing has changed, but I’m willing to give it time.

Some time.

The response to congestion in our national parks can’t be to build a larger parking lot.

Something has to give.

Hopefully those in Parks Canada who know what needs to be done will finally have their voices heard. And those who don’t get it will hopefully be open to figuring it out, or maybe they’ll move on.

But it needs to happen soon.

Parks Canada has the potential to be a world leader in getting it right when it comes to managing human use in our national parks in a way that minimizes our impacts on wildlife and wild spaces.

The organization has the potential to be at the leading edge of understanding how to manage levels of human use to maintain some of the most basic ecological process like wildlife movement.

But if it doesn’t happen sooner, rather than later, it will be tough to turn back the clock.

I venture to guess that this summer, with free admission into our national parks, a few people’s eyes might get opened regarding the need to wisely manage human use in our most iconic and heavily visited national parks.

Maybe it will be the wake-up call we need to tackle this issue so we can indeed leave our parks unimpaired for future generations.

Maybe it’ll be the call to action our parks and protected areas need.

I guess we’ll see.