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Nechako Country: In the Footsteps of Bert Irvine

By June Wood

Review By James Tirrul-Jones

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 161 Spring 2009  | p. 145-6

This personal history is written in concise and readable prose. It is an account of the life of Bert Irvine, an oil worker, soldier, carpenter, trapper, and wilderness guide who chose to live close to nature. The story spans the years from 1934 to 2005 while focusing on the time spent in the upper Nechako country after 1953. The biography comes alive as Wood introduces the reader to a community populated by “serious homesteaders … draft dodgers, deserters and trappers” (41). The book is richly illustrated with photos that show the intimate and everyday life of Bert Irvine’s family and friends. Three of the five maps show significant changes to the settlement within the upper Nechako country.

In a CBC interview in 2007, June Wood said that the family never got sick. Every page reflects this health and the “indomitable Spirit,” as Wood calls it, of Bert Irvine. The stock struggle of life is not found here; instead, what is illustrated is a way of living that is personal and fulfilling.

Woven into this tapestry of a wilderness adventure is the reality of a greater technological world. By 1953, oil exploration was coming into the wilderness areas of Alberta. That year the family moved from Barrhead, Alberta, to Vanderhoof, British Columbia. The Alcan Project was nearly complete by then, and the Kenney Dam had already been built right in the backyard of the new trapline that Irvine purchased in 1954. “I often lay huddled in bed wondering if the Russians were coming to bomb the Kenney Dam”(69). This subtext makes the book real and relevant to the lives of all of us here in British Columbia. The consequences of major logging, industrial, and energy development are best understood by reading a book like this one that lets us both know and feel how the environment has been changed and continues to change at an ever more rapid pace.