New Books Map Coast in Pictures and Words

British Columbia publishers continue to explore new territory with their books; two in particular have impressed me with their style and format. One is from Harbour, a well-established house, and the other is from the Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives Society, a small community organization that has never published a book before. Both are delightful, innovative additions to the growing library of B.C. coastal lore.

Full Moon, Flood Tide: Bill Proctor's Raincoast, by Bill Proctor and Yvonne Maximchuk (Harbour Publishing, $24.95), presents an idiosyncratic perspective on the life of the central coast. The book is a blend of geographical entries, mini-histories, short biographies and essays, anecdotes, maps, photos, and drawings--an almanac with a distinct individual flair. Proctor did the writing; Maximchuk handled the editing and illustrating. The focus is on the island-dotted region between Queen Charlotte Strait, Knight Inlet, and Johnstone Strait.

The authors' approach to their material is fresh and original. Reading Full Moon, Flood Tide is like having a new type of chart, one that a team of elders has spent years annotating and adorning for you. If you're familiar with this part of B.C., you'll be enriched by the layer of cultural, historical, and personal references that Proctor projects across the landscape, for he understands this world as well as anyone. If you don't know the area, the book still works fine as a collection of lively tales and intimate reports--a reverent, sympathetic introduction to a well-loved place.

Bill Proctor, born in 1934, is a logger, fisher, trapper, environmentalist, and storyteller; he lives at Echo Bay on Gilford Island, in the heart of the raincoast. He passed his childhood at Freshwater Bay on nearby Swanson Island, where his parents ran a fish-buying business and the post office. He has spent his life on boats, poking into every lagoon, every cleft in the rocks, getting to know the local characters, collecting artifacts and memories. Over the years, horrified at the destruction of the great salmon runs, he has spoken out against bureaucratic mismanagement and the effects of logging on fish habitats. He helped create a network of stream-restoration projects and community salmon hatcheries that still functions today.

Organized in eight chapters, Full Moon, Flood Tide is arranged in a rough west-to-east sequence that marine explorers starting from northern Vancouver Island might be expected to follow. Besides profiling notable neighbours, each chapter describes some of the area's animal inhabitants and explains the role the creatures play in the broader ecosystem. But it's Proctor's wonderful asides--on the history and terminology of logging and fishing, on "shipworms and gribbles", clam gardens, ghosts and legends, and the lives of the rivers--that I enjoyed the most.

Helen McCall's Community Album (Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives Society, $24.95) also has an unusual look and feel. Designed to imitate an antique album, with corner mounts round the photographs and a pink silk cord printed on each page tying everything together, the book is a biography of Gibsons photographer Helen McCall and an exhibit of some of her best images.

McCall, who lived from 1899 to 1956, apprenticed at a Vancouver photography studio as a young woman but put her budding career on hold and settled in Gibsons to raise a family. In 1931 her marriage ended. Over the next 11 years, until she wed again in 1942, she supported herself and her two children by working as a professional photographer.

The Community Album does a good job of recounting the difficulties McCall faced, self-employed in a male-dominated profession, in a social milieu where hostility was often expressed toward working mothers. She operated a studio in her house, without electricity or running water, using natural light for portraits and, on occasion, a kerosene lamp. She did her own laboratory work, again using only a lamp, manually changing the water when washing film. She offered a one-day developing and printing service for local and visiting camera buffs, created hundreds of intriguing postcards that she sold throughout the district, and documented the community life of the Sunshine Coast: school events, social gatherings, performances, regattas, and weddings. It's not surprising to hear her described in this book as a creative and courageous individual.

The photos themselves are beautifully composed and of a high technical quality, considering the circumstances. Unlike many B.C. postcard images of the era, they are filled with people: swimming, rowing, bicycling, pouring off coastal steamers with expectant smiles on their faces, eating ice creams, loading and unloading boats, standing beside their stores or homes, playing baseball, dancing, logging, cooking, fishing, making music, partying. This is a lively, self-sufficient place, the images say; we make our own entertainment here, and we don't want for anything.

Beside the photos, the Community Album reproduces pictures of related artifacts, including Union Steamship brochures, mail-order catalogue images, and some of McCall's cameras and tools. And there's an appendix containing a lot of detail about the images. The book is not in wide distribution, but can be ordered from the Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives (P.O. Box 766, Gibsons, B.C., V0N 1V0; 604-886-8232;