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Review

Long Beach Wild: A Celebration of People and Place on Canada’s Rugged Western Shore

By Adrienne Mason

November 4, 2013

Review By Philip Van Huizen

Long Beach Wild is the kind of book that academics are often quick to dismiss. It’s popular history, after all (academics, of course, preferring unpopular histories), by a freelance writer whose many previous works include children’s stories, tales about shipwrecks and sea monsters off Vancouver Island, and a science book about spiders. Almost predictably, Mason makes no attempt to situate Long Beach Wild within any larger literature; indeed, Bruce Braun’s The Intemperate Rainforest (2002), arguably the most influential academic work that focuses on the same northwest coast of Vancouver Island, doesn’t even make it into the bibliography. But Mason’s take on Long Beach is more than “just” a popular history. Having lived in Tofino for the past twenty years, Long Beach has basically been part of Mason’s backyard, and, as its subtitle suggests, her book is a thoughtful “celebration” of her attachment to the place and a look at others who have felt the same.

After a quick summary of the area’s geological and Indigenous history, Mason dedicates the bulk of her attention to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Thus we learn of fur trading, gold rushes, shipwrecks, ranching efforts, RCAF bases, resort tourism, hippies, and, finally, Long Beach’s transition into Pacific Rim National Park in 1971. The stories are told in a positive fashion, although Mason does deal empathetically with the forced relocation of Japanese residents during World War II and the displacement of long-time residents like Peg Whittington when the area became a national park. Peppered throughout are Mason’s personal experiences tramping all over the “greater Long Beach area,” as well as little vignettes that explain the workings of such things as sea otters, mud flats, and surf schools.

Mason is at her best when she’s writing about the type of things that have been her bread and butter for a long time. She has a knack for making even sea kelp and tree bark fascinating, and she does a wonderful job of explaining how humans and the non-human world have interacted throughout Long Beach’s history. I’m not sure, exactly, what her argument is about this relationship between people and place, beyond that one exists, but the stories are interesting enough that I often forgot about this quibble.

My larger criticism, though, has to do with Mason’s treatment of Indigenous history in the area, which seems incomplete. As Mason herself tells the reader, the only people still allowed to reside in Pacific Rim National Park are the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations who live in Esowista, an ancient village just a stone’s throw from Long Beach. Their ancestors have a prominent place in the opening chapters of the book, but the twentieth century history of the Tla-o-qui-aht who continued to call Esowista home is left virtually untold. A better engagement with the recent past of this community would have made for a more inclusive “celebration.”

As it is, though, Long Beach Wild is a beautifully written book by an obviously passionate resident. It will be of interest to anyone familiar with the area, or to those who enjoy Vancouver Island  

Long Beach Wild: A Celebration of People and Place on Canada’s Rugged Western Shore
By Adrienne Mason 
Vancouver: Greystone Books, D&M Publishers, Inc., 2012. 192 pp. $24.95 paper