Deadly Neighbours/To Be A Warrior

June 24, 2022

Book Reviews by Janet Nicol

Reimer, Chad. Deadly Neighbours: A Tale of Colonialism, Cattle Feuds, Murder and Vigilantes in the Far West. Qualicum Beach, BC: Caitlin Press, 2022. 216 pp. $26.00 paper.

Deadly Neighbours opens a window into the relationship between immigrant settlers and the Sema:th (Sumas) and Sto:lo people residing in British Columbia’s Sumas Prairie and Nooksack Valley during the 1870s and 1880s.  Several conflicts are examined with a focus on the lynching of Louis Sam, a 15 year old Sema:th boy.  Extensive historical context surrounding this crime is included along with details about the long-term impact.

Enhancing the narrative is the author’s knowledge of the landscape, drawn from his previous study, Before We Lost the Lake:  A Natural and Human History of Sumas Valley, with its focus on the draining of Sumas Lake for farm land in the 1920s by settlers in Abbotsford.   The lake had been a vital resource for Indigenous people for centuries.  (Notably in 2020, two years after the publication of Reimer’s prescient account, Abbotsford was subject to devastating flooding and the lake “came back.”)  While Deadly Neighbours covers a shorter time frame, important stories emerge about settlers’ lives and tensions within their own communities and toward their Indigenous neighbours.  In both books, Reimer has chosen key incidents—the draining of a lake and the lynching of a young Indigenous man—to paint a larger picture of BC’s colonial past.

So begins my book review of ‘Deadly Neighbours.’ For the full review go to the BC Studies website.

Pullan, Brandon. To Be a Warrior: The Adventurer Life and Mysterious Death of Billy Davidson. Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2021. 272 pp. $28.oo paper.

To Be A Warrior chronicles the life of wilderness adventurer Billy Davidson (1947-2003), a rock climbing mountaineer and ocean kayaker who spent the last thirty years of his life alone on various small islands in British Columbia’s Inside Passage.   He left behind an ex-partner, Lori Anderson and their son, Westerly, both interviewed for this book, along with other family members and friends. Excepts from Davidson’s journals and letters are quoted throughout the text.  Also included are photographs, illustrated maps and colour-plated reproductions of his stylized oil landscapes.  The author, an outdoor journalist, does not provide footnotes or a bibliography, however he does offer a long-held passion for his subject, describing Davidson as enigmatic, legendary and a mentor.

So begins my book review of ‘To Be a Warrior.’ For the full review, check out the BC Studies website.

Map of Sumas Lake before it was drained in the 1920s. Chad Reimer’s books explore the Sumas Prairie landscape and people.

Stories of the Floods

March 31, 2022


When last year’s torrential rains arrived in BC, municipal governments were overwhelmed by the ensuing flood and mudslide emergencies. A patchwork of volunteers and first responders came to the rescue, among them members of trade unions and First Nations. These are some of their stories.

Check out my article in the Spring, 2022 issue of Our Times magazine. Available in print & on line soon.

‘Garden of Words’ – a profile of Pnina Granirer

February 23, 2022

by Janet Nicol

Flames on the Frontlines

December 6, 2021

Fire fighters are on the front lines of the climate crisis. These men and women were fighting several wildfires this past summer, the third worse season in British Columbia’s history. Ryan Moreside, BC Wildfire Service employee and member of the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) says in an interview – “It’s easier to work at night. There is less wind and the temperature is down, but we’re still chasing the fire.” I also talk to Darrel Peters, a Firekeeper and territorial patrol leader with the Skeetchestn Indian Band, a member of the Secwepemc Nation. He speaks of a reverence for the land in trouble, saying, “This land is our dinner plate, where the medicine is.” You’ll also get the most amazing peek into the working life of a “smokejumper,” Ingrid Pond, one of those brave souls who is parachuted into fire zones to help fight the fires. (See blog post below for a link to the full story.)

The full article is available on line and in print, at Our Times magazine (Winter, 2021) – link at

The Midwife: A day in the life of Nellie Yip Quong

December 3, 2021

by Janet Mary Nicol

I imagine a day in the life of Nellie Yip Quong, a midwife and caregiver in Vancouver’s early twentieth century Chinatown. Nellie was a white woman in a mixed race marriage, a rarity in a time of pervasive racial discrimination. When a female academic from Chicago pays her a visit, Nellie has lots to say. Watch for the story in the latest issue of BC History magazine (Winter, 2021).

Mr. and Mrs. Charlie and Nellie Yip Quong

Into the Fire Zone

November 29, 2021

by Janet Nicol

Ingrid Pond began fighting BC wildfires two summers ago, after accruing seven seasons on crews in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. For four of those seasons in Ontario, Pond was crew leader. There, she and her crew were transported to remote wildfires by helicopter. Now she’s part of a unique BC Wildfire Service program called Parattack. Her job in BC still involves flying to remote fires, but with a difference. When they arrive at the scene, she and her fellow crew members parachute from a plane.

For my full interview with Pond, click on Our Times magazine link –

Watch for additional interviews with Indigenous fire watchers and BC Wildfire Service employees in an upcoming feature in Our Times magazine, Winter 2021. (in print and on-line)

Photograph credit – Pete West

October 29, 2021

Able to Lead: Disablement, Radicalism, and the Political Life of E.T. Kingsley, Ravi Malhotra and Benjamin Isitt

Book Review by Janet Nicol

Eugene Thornton Kingsley, an influential socialist in early British Columbia, was 33 years old when he adopted his revolutionary stance.  Employed as a brakeman on a railway in rural Montana in 1890, he fell between two moving train cars and lost both legs.  During a lengthy recovery in hospital, Kingsley read the books of Karl Marx.  After his discharge, he returned home to his wife and two young sons equipped with a pair of wooden prosthesis and a cane.  Two years later Kingsley inexplicably left his family and moved to California.  Authors Ravi Malhotra, a disability rights and law professor, and Benjamin Isitt, a historian, examine Kingsley’s ensuing activism through the lens of ableism, law, and the socialist movement.

So begins this review of a remarkable British Columbian. Full review available on line at BC Studies and at a later date, in the BC Studies print edition. (Link below)

Journalling…in these times

October 10, 2021

A life-long keeper of journals, I wrote about the benefits of recording one’s life journey while visiting the beautiful mountain town of Arequipa, Peru. (see article link below) Since the pandemic, I have been looking inward a lot more, developing my creative side and using pen and journal almost as frequently as the laptop. I’ll be giving a journal writing workshop with the Grind writing group (Vancouver) over zoom October 30.

A handmade journal purchased on my visit to Madrid, 2019.

Words, actions and accountability

September 17, 2021

By Janet Nicol

Tarana Burkę, creator and Executive Director of the American Me Too movement, set the stage for a timely discussion on human rights at a Canadian Labour Congress pre-conference event this June.   Burke was interviewed by Dr. Hadiya Roderique, a diversity and inclusion advocate.   A panel discussion comprised of Canadian activists followed.

For the full report, check out the Upfront section of Our Times magazine, Summer/Fall 2021, on magazine stands soon.

Burke’s recently published book, tells the personal and political story of the Me Too movement.

August 7, 2021

This article looks at the life of Vancouver artist Sing Lim and includes the artwork contributed by the Lim family. Click on the headline to access the full story. – Janet Nicol