Wild Liard Waves

by Ferdi Wenger,
ISBN: 0920576729

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Brief Reviews - Environment
by Brian Brett

Tatshenshini, Clayoquot, Stoltmann Wilderness, Carmanah, The Singing Forest, Walbran, Skagit, Arrow Lakes...The fight for B.C. forests has become a running guerilla war, and these are just a few of the major, and legendary, battlesites that, watershed by watershed, have been won or lost or are still endangered.

It seems sometimes as though this province has become the heartland of the environmental movement. The giant lumber monopolies (with a few mines and dams tossed in) are the major reason for the wholesale destruction of majestic, old-growth forests. Being eyewitness to these losses over the last thirty years has turned most people in B.C. into environmentalists.

Ferdi Wenger has obviously learned to fear the destruction of our river systems. The major reason for publishing Wild Liard Waters: Canoeing Canada's Historic Liard River (Caitlin Press, 192 pages, $15.95 paper), it appears, is to make us aware that the Liard River and its great canyons have been threatened by a hydro dam project. At present, the project is moribund. But Wenger wants the public to know what this canyon is like, and most of the book is a story about canoeing down the Liard.

Unfortunately, this book is not going to frighten any bureaucrats at B.C. Hydro. Once they finish laughing, they might thank their lucky stars that it's not the Sierra Club or the Western Canada Wilderness Committee or Greenpeace behind it.

In fact, if I were the author, I'd be angrier at the publisher than at B.C. Hydro. Wild Liard Waters almost appears to have been rushed out to meet a Block Grant timetable. I knew I was in trouble when I read the preface twice (it's printed twice on different pages). The grammar is good, and it has been subjected to a spell check. However, a decent line editor could have tidied up the prose, eliminating such things as simple word repetitions.

There is the core of a fine little narrative here, but it is so confused that I couldn't even discover the year of the central expedition until I was many pages into the book. With good photos and some editing, this could have been a classy coffee-table book. Instead, it doesn't seem to know what it is. History? Part of a travel journal from more than a decade ago? Precautionary tale? Editorial neglect can murder a potentially interesting book.

Wenger's actual account has heart. He often makes the canoeing exploits sound thrilling, and smoothly massages the history of the river into the text. Some of the tales of the Klondike days are harrowing.

Native history of the area is treated lightly, more as an adjunct of the white invasion, and Wenger could have certainly identified or clarified the roles of the local tribes in the ecology of the area. Alas, they are usually referred to as generic "Indians".

Many environmental books have crossed all kinds of boundaries over the last few years-some becoming classics of literature, others barely finding a small niche. Wild Liard Waters should be considered essential reading only for those intending to canoe the river. 

Brian Brett


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