High Boats: A Century of Salmon Remembered


232 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-55017-289-1
DDC 338.3'72756'097111





Reviewed by Michael A. Fleming

Michael A. Fleming is a doctoral fellow, Coasts Under Stress, at the
Memorial University of Newfoundland.


Unenviable working conditions and diminishing economic returns have
become the unsteady pillars on which natural resource extraction at the
dawn of the 21st century rests. Seemingly infinite pressure on finite
resources is causing a rupture in the social and economic fabric of
countless close-knit resource-dependent communities. The looming
collapse of commercially viable natural resource stocks is particularly
bitter for coastal communities, whose entire being, in many instances,
is shaped by resource extraction.

High Boats recounts the effects of dismantling a century’s worth of
tradition on the lives of the men, women, and children who for
generations eked out a living in the West Coast salmon fishery. The
costs of dwindling returns are being borne economically as well as
socially in many of the coastal fishing towns. The ethos of salmon
fishing and, indeed, the entire spirit of coastal communities, are being
brought to task in the most ruthless of ways and by the most merciless
of judges—the environment. Norris skilfully uses a final voyage on the
May S., one of a dying breed of B.C. seiners, as the basis for unfolding
the history of the West Coast salmon fishery. As the May S. steadily
navigates the narrow channels that shape the landscape of northern
Vancouver Island under the direction of its well-skilled skipper, the
reader is guided through the life stories of some of the fishers who
helped make the industry what it was.

These life stories are themselves then located within the broader
history of the West Coast fishery, highlighting the enterprising
entrepreneurs who, with the aid of Native populations tied by culture
and tradition to salmon, have shaped the contemporary B.C. salmon
fishery. The good old days, it seems, are no longer. The salmon fishery
of the past lives now largely through the stories of the fishers who
remember it. High Boats is an excellent overview of the intricate
relationship between worker, community, and environment that is typical
of resource-extracting regions and that, much like the B.C. wild salmon,
is slowly but surely disappearing.


Norris, Pat Wastell., “High Boats: A Century of Salmon Remembered,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18227.