Sierra Club memoir all about dedication

What: Diane Pinch presents Passion & Persistence: Fifty Years of the Sierra Club in British Columbia
Where: Bolen Books, 1644 Hillside Ave., Hillside Shopping Centre
When: Sept. 19, 7 p.m.
Admission: Free

Elizabeth May says she experienced a “Frank Capra moment” while reading Diane Pinch’s new history of the Sierra Club in B.C.

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Just as Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life imagined Bedford Falls without George Bailey, Canada’s Green Party leader began to wonder what B.C. might look like today if activists behind the Sierra Club had never existed.

“What if the late Pete Dixon had never fought to save forested lands near Victoria to stop inappropriate housing sprawl,” May writes in the foreword to Passion and Persistence: Fifty Years of the Sierra Club in British Columbia.

“Or if Vicky Husband had never saved the Khutzeymateen or critical ancient forests on Vancouver Island?”

May, a former executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, says she envisions walking through one bad development after another in a “dark place where legions of volunteers had never been engaged to make a difference.”

That hasn’t happened, of course, as Pinch documents in her detailed history of the club.

Instead, dozens of successful campaigns over the years — often in co-operation with other environmental groups — have helped preserve vast swaths of B.C.’s wilderness, from the West Coast Trail to Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest.

Pinch spent five years mining the club’s archives at the University of Victoria and interviewing longtime members to shed light on the stories and people behind the campaigns.

“I knew that this was a story that should be told,” she said.

A retired psychologist and longtime Sierra Club volunteer, Pinch said she was continually struck by the dedication of the people behind the organization, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“That’s where the title came from,” she said. “I just became aware of how passionate many of these people were.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, and some of these campaigns went on for years and years and years. So they had to be persistent and passionate. Those were the key ingredients.”

One of the many highlights for Pinch was getting to meet some of the club’s founding members, including Katy Madsen, who attended the first meeting of the Sierra Club of B.C. back in 1969.

Madsen had joined the Sierra Club in San Francisco at age 11 and remained a member for 85 years until her death in Victoria in 2017.

“She lived in the Okanagan and she probably was a person that single-handedly stopped uranium mining in B.C.,” Pinch said.

“She went around and found out where all these claims were being staked out and made it known to the public. [She] really got things stirred up and finally the provincial government put a moratorium on it.

“She was this little tiny woman. A dynamo.”

In some ways, the book serves as a primer for environmentalists on how to mount successful campaigns, Pinch said. It also underlines the fact that many of the issues and battles resurface over time.

“Just because you achieve a success one day, doesn’t mean it’s not going to come up again,” she said. “You have to keep on being vigilant.”

Pinch said she wants readers to come away from her book with a deeper understanding of the club’s history and a sense of hope for the future.

The book ends with an abridged version of the Sierra Club’s call to action in a time of climate change, and Pinch admits it’s a “scary issue for most people these days, with all the changes going on with forest fires and extreme weather,” she said. “It’s easy to get discouraged.

“I’d like them to finish the book with a feeling of hope that if they do join an organization like Sierra Club, that we can maybe achieve this goal of changing things.”

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