Canopy Continues to Bring CanLit and Forest Conservation Together with The Refugium: A Story That Takes a Stand for the Last Stands of Old Growth on Vancouver Island

Most Canadians, even those concerned about the environment and conservation, would probably be shocked to learn that so little of Vancouver Island’s old growth forests remain. In fact, 90% of Vancouver Island’s productive old-growth rainforest has been logged, and the remaining 10% of the original stands of ancient and endangered forest are under threat.


To raise awareness of the perilous situation for some of the most beautiful forest landscapes in Canada, Canopy has enlisted literary stars, Margaret Atwood, Terry Fallis, Suzanne Buffam, Laura Trunkey, John Valliant, Madeleine Thien, Karen Solie, Emma Donoghue, Andrew Pyper and Ann-Marie MacDonald to collectively create a story that takes a stand for the last stands of ancient and endangered forests on Vancouver Island.


The resulting work, The Refugium, is not just any story, but a dark, surreal, funny piece written by our ten contributors through a game of Exquisite Corpse – a story starting with a paragraph by one writer, in this case Margaret Atwood, with each subsequent paragraph written by another writer. Ten writers, ten paragraphs, each one offering a challenge for the next writer.


Published in The Globe and Mail on Saturday, September 2, this unique piece of artist activism is a call to put conservation steps into action for Vancouver Island’s last stands. British Columbia’s new provincial government has the opportunity to move forward the government-to-government relationship with First Nations, to bolster the dated Land Use Plan using best available conservation science, traditional knowledge and community input and recognize the immense economic value of accessible ancient forests to tourism businesses and local communities.


British Columbians know how to build solutions together. The Great Bear Rainforest Framework of February 2016 proved that all stakeholders – the forestry sector, environmentalists, communities, businesses and the global marketplace, led by the BC provincial and First Nations governments – can establish some of the world’s highest standards for logging in areas of the land base where commercial forestry will continue. Today, 85% of this globally rare coastal temperate rainforest has been set aside in either permanent protection or off limits to industrial logging.


The authors of The Refugium are giving a voice to the endangered forests of Vancouver Island. Literature can be a powerful form of activism — it gives the reader the space to step back and look at the issues close to his or her heart through another lens, to hear a story in a different voice. While we listen, we can reflect upon the unique opportunity that is before us to save these last giants.