Vander Zalm: From Immigrant to Premier


279 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920080-30-8






Reviewed by Leslie McGrath

Leslie McGrath was a librarian with the Toronto Public Library.


He’s certainly one of the country’s most colourful premiers, but what do we, particularly those of us who don’t live in British Columbia, know about him? Alan Twigg’s book is a first-rate introduction to the life and thoughts of Vander Zalm.

The reader’s hopes might be in danger of being dashed when he or she sees the inside back dustcover photo of author and subject all but embracing each other, smiling broadly. But this would be premature. Twigg lets nothing stand in his way.

Indeed, this book is a testimony to what is obviously a great deal of work and thought following the rise, and occasional falls, of the puzzling, if not totally bizarre, Vander Zalm. It is briskly written, and well illustrated, not just with photos and cartoons but with a heap of comments, favourable, unfavourable, and just plain baffled from countless BC observers and voters. The author’s research has been so industrious that some readers might find just a little too much detail on Vander Zalm’s business interests, for instance, and what many regard as his improper mixing of his political and business activities.

However, this book takes us inside the mind of the man now governing one of Canada’s most important provinces. The author delves, for example, into Vander Zalm’s main business enterprise, Fantasy Garden World, and examines in detail how viable is “this hodgepodge of hucksterism, horticulture and holiness from a strictly business standpoint?”

Twigg has a lively turn of phrase and a dry sense of humour. He needs it, to keep up with his subject: “This is a man who openly admitted he was running his provincial election campaign in 1986 on style, not substance. This is a media Frankenstein.”

Bill Vander Zalm’s “campaign for self-promotion” is unlikely to peter out soon. Nor is his “frequent lack of respect for the underprivileged.” Anyone wanting to understand current events in British Columbia will have to read this well-written and well-produced book.



Twigg, Alan, “Vander Zalm: From Immigrant to Premier,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,