No Pasaran: The Fight for Sulphur Passage
by Joanna Streetly
To look out over the peaceful green slopes of the sound, one would never guess the battles these trees have witnessed. But conflict over the sanctity of Clayoquot's lands and waters has been constant here since the early eighties, continuing even now.
After the fight for Meares Island another campaign against clear-cut logging began in 1988, when photographer Adrian Dorst discovered that a logging road was being blasted into the Sulphur Passage area and points beyond.
In an emergency meeting it was decided that something should be done to prevent the logging companies from accessing pristine areas such as the Megin river.
Those who opposed the road were fired by strong personal emotions, not just preordained environmental doctrines. The war against logging was just beginning to unfold, and the protest that followed at Sulphur Pass was radical and truly grass-roots – the collective adventures of many individuals. The protest was a pivotal moment in the recent history of Clayoquot Sound.
The protest started with a boat blockade, but quickly became more involved. Soon there were people in the forest and Canada's first tree-sitters took their positions, hanging in baskets from cliffs, or in hammocks slung between trees, putting themselves anywhere they could stop the blasting.
Fletcher-Challenge, the New Zealand company behind the road building, sought injunctions against the protestors that would make it illegal for them to be present at the blast site. The injunctions had little effect. Both sides dug in. Things became crazy, with RCMP officers chasing protestors around in the woods, trying to arrest them, trying to get them out of the blasting zone.
The anarchy was not confined to one side. In an unprecedented, aggressive move, the loggers cut down one of the trees onto which a protestor's hammock was tied.
The environmentalists tried to acquire an injunction against the road and requested a six-month moratorium on logging, during which the future of the sound would be discussed. Their efforts failed.
Another attempt to halt the road came from a different quarter: Earl Maquinna George, hereditary chief of the Ahousaht, came to the disputed site to take a stance against the destruction of trees that were on his traditional lands – lands that remained to be relinquished by treaty. A second injunction was sought on these grounds. It was also denied.
The road-building was never stopped by the courts. It was the negative publicity heaped on Fletcher-Challenge that precipitated the resulting truce. By the end of July 1988, 35 people had been arrested over an issue that had become a regular fireship.
Some were jailed for their actions, including several women who languished for one week in the maximum security of Oakalla jail.
Adrian Dorst himself was arrested, although he didn't go to jail. His face lights up as he recalls the events of that summer, one of the most powerful of which took place when he was camped right in Sulphur Pass itself. That night, the wolves joined the protest, howling through the midnight hours.
Excerpted with permission from the book Paddling Through Time, Raincoast Books 2000.
About the author
Joanna Streetly is an author, editor and illustrator based in Tofino and currently at work on her fourth book. Look for her previous books: Silent Inlet, Paddling Through Time, and Salt in our Blood in local bookstores, or on the internet. For now, you can find her at JoannaStreetly.com.