January 10, 2018
Review By Michael M’Gonigle
In 1969, Jim Cooperman arrived in British Columbia from the United States, one of many Vietnam ‘war resisters’ who remade our province in ways that few people yet fully appreciate. One was in building a new environmental movement, the other was in fostering a bioregional spirit of ‘reinhabitation’. Focused on local regions conceived as whole ecosystems, bioregionalists like Cooperman have dedicated their lives to making these large landscapes healthy as both human and natural habitats. Everything Shuswap is a triumphant testament to his work in both genres.
The word ‘everything’ in the title is a curious, but telling, choice—literally and figuratively. On the one hand, he covers a massive territory, with detailed attention to geology, ecology, the traditional Secwépemc peoples and the history of settler colonialism. It is the product of prodigious research, in the archives and the forests. On the other hand, his portrait of this region conveys, without saying so explicitly, a message of living in a place that means everything to those who learn how to ‘inhabit’ it. The rewards of being truly part of one’s place come through on every page.
The volume provides a ‘geographic handbook’ that, in the first half, takes the reader through a detailed account and visually stunning exploration of the Shuswap watershed’s twelve sub-drainages, from the famous Adams River in the north to the Shuswap River in the south. The region is hugely varied—remote mountains and wild streams, popular lakes, rich farm lands and historic towns. So too is the text with its discussion of everything from the life cycle of the lakes’ plankton to the state of the region’s salmon runs. Its rich photos and descriptions prompted me to plan a hiking trip, out of a book-inspired frustration for all the time I have lost in not exploring the area more than I have. Indeed most British Columbians know the area only from the perspective of driving through it on the Trans-Canada Highway! As a destination, it has been somewhat spared by the tourist draw of its regional neighbor to the south, the Okanagan Valley.
Of all the diverse stories, none is more compelling than that of the Secwépemc. From their oral traditions to snapshots of their land practices to a well-informed account of their historic struggles against land enclosures and the residential school system, Cooperman provides a necessarily brief but respectful and tangible account. It is filled with details and colourful and powerful personalities such as the famous Neskonlith chief George Manual. His history of settlement addresses forestry and mining, rail and road-building, steamship travel, and city building (Cherryville, Lumby, Sicamous and Salmon Arm). Numerous historic photographs and maps, mini-biographies and captivating anecdotes supplement the text.
Through all this richness, Cooperman’s love of his adopted bioregion shines through—and all in one volume, with two more to come. This book is not just a thoughtful, well-researched study of a region but an on-going contribution to it. An educational project undertaken with the regional school board and hundreds of local volunteers, local students will be reading it soon. On its own, the book provides the syllabus and all the research for a full semester class. Cellphones in class will be no competition! Because it will so excite student interests, it is fortunate that Cooperman is around—living in his hand built log house or out in his vast garden or at the newspaper putting his column to bed, but always keen to share his vast research. This book is but an introduction.
A unique and beautiful book, Everything Shuswap brings alive one of British Columbia’s most remarkable landscapes and its people.
Shuswap Lake Region: Shuswap Press, 2017. 250 pp. $28.50.