1329 Return to Moresby Island

Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
by Elizabeth May

Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2020 (2nd edition; first published by McClelland & Stewart, 1990)
$25.00 / 9781771604581

Reviewed by Ron Dart


Editor’s note: earlier in 2021 we published a review by Ron Verzuh of Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. We are pleased to follow it up with a review by Ron Dart of the same book that emphasizes the role in the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in 1988 of cabinet ministers John Fraser and Tom McMillan. – Richard Mackie


John Fraser (b. 1931) with the Order of British Columbia, 1995

A few years ago I had a lingering breakfast in Whistler with the Honourable John Fraser, the Vancouver MP who had been federal Minister of the Environment (1979-80) in the Brian Mulroney government. We talked about the impact Roderick Haig-Brown had on his emerging environmental vision and the role John had played in inviting Elizabeth May to assist the Progressive Conservative Party in shaping a more significant ecological vision. The relationship between Fraser, Tom McMillan, and Elizabeth May, at the highest political level, is ably recounted and told bard-like by May in Paradise Won: The Struggle to Create Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in this updated version of the tome that was originally published in 1990. Farley Mowat wrote the Foreword to the 1990 edition, and May has contributed yet another Foreword for the 2020 edition of Paradise Won.

Paradise Won cannot but hold the interested and curious reader as May unfolds the drama and battle contra loggers (and others) to create the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in Haida Gwaii in the 1980s, filling 33 animated chapters that will mesmerize readers as they live history in the making as May brings the events to life. Most of the major actors are brought on front stage in this animated struggle to honour and preserve both the land of the Haida and  equally important, their culture, language, and way of being.

Guujaaw (Gary Edenshaw, right) and other Haida leaders at Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island), October 31, 1985. Photo by Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun. Courtesy Iljuwas Bill Reid
Elizabeth May at Ninstinsts, 1988. Photo by Jeff Gibbs, Victoria Times Colonist

The coloured photographs in the book bring to life the women and men who were front and centre in the struggle to formally bring into being the National Park Reserve of Gwaii Haanas at the southern end of Haida Gwaii. Each short chapter of the book highlights the issues, tensions, and people in the thick of the fray, then moves on to fit the various pieces of the puzzle into a coherent and unified picture.

Elizabeth May has travelled quite a distance from her struggles as an environmentalist in the mid-late 1970s in Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Island to oppose the spraying of pesticides and herbicides, and from the pivotal occasions in the 1980s when John Fraser made it clear to May that her passion and skills were needed to shape and form a more demanding environmental vision for the Progressive Conservative Party.

L-R: Tom MacMillan, Gro Brundtland (Prime Minister of Norway), and Elizabeth May at The Changing Atmosphere Conference, Toronto, 1988. Photo courtesy cmosarchives

Fraser was replaced by Tom McMillan as the Environment Minister (1985-88), and the convergence of grass roots activists, committed Haida leadership, and cooperative federal-provincial levels of government meant that in the 1980s in Haida Gwaii mindless and aggressive regimes of logging and other industries were halted. May tells this expert and informed story because she worked the tale from many different angles — and then took the time to hear the testimony of a variety of those in the fray.

I am fortunate that a former student of mine, now on the Band Council in Skidegate, has walked most of the trails and seen most of the sights from north to south on the archipelago. In the last email he sent me a few weeks ago he informed me that he is seriously thinking of putting together a trekking guide for Haida Gwaii. I’m sure that when this guide is finished, trips to the area will be even more organized and affordable on this coastal paradise — thanks always in the background to the collaboration between the leaders of of Gwaii Haanas, environmentalists like Elizabeth May, and committed members of federal and provincial governments.

Map courtesy Alexandra Vlachos


Ron Dart

Ron Dart has taught in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley since 1990. He was on staff with Amnesty International in the 1980s. Ron has published 40 books including Erasmus: Wild Bird (Create Space, 2017) and The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016). Editor’s note: Ron Dart has recently reviewed books by Stephen Hui (Destination Hikes), Stephen Hui (105 Hikes), David Crerar, Harry Crerar, & Bill MaurerDoug BeardsleyMike DoyleGeorge Mercer, and Bernadette McDonald. He has also contributed two essays, From Jalna to timber baron: reflections on the life of H.R. MacMillan and Haig-Brown & Al Purdy.


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and authors in all fields and genres. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

6 comments on “1329 Return to Moresby Island

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This