Gertrude Pacific: Artist and Forest Activist

Gertrude developed a love for nature at an early age. Raised in Victoria, she began painting scenes in clamshells when she was just six-years-old. Her artistic talent eventually led to a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Washington. Gertrude became Curator of Design at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture before moving to Los Angeles to work at a non-profit organization focussed on stopping the wars in Central America.

Gertrude’s experience as a peace activist was brought to bear soon after moving to the Sunshine Coast with her husband, Michael Davidson. Nearby Crown land that had been used for passive recreation since the 1960s was scheduled for logging. Gertrude quickly began to mobilize local opposition. The Ministry of Forests received 128 letters of protest, a record at the time for a single clear cut proposal.

Gertrude was aware of the big picture. The shíshálh had been working with the school board on a curriculum project to teach the indigenous language. A cultural component included a study of the use of native plants. Gertrude had been helping to develop this ethno-botanical program. In April, 1993 a scientist reported eighty-four species of vegetation in the forest that Gertrude was hoping to have preserved. A week later the shíshálh expressed support for protecting the land.

Through the Sandy Hook Community Association Gertrude continued to build support for her initiative. The relentless work of numerous individuals paid off. By September the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society had endorsed the plan. The District of Sechelt provided its approval and the Ministry of Forests was eventually convinced to do the same. Years of negotiation and documentation followed before the Sechelt Heritage Forest was officially established in 1998.

In 1993 the BC government announced a plan to double the amount of protected land in the province. A large part of the quota consisted of unproductive locations. Various environmental groups presented competing parkland proposals for what was left. While working on the Sechelt Heritage Forest objectives Gertrude also submitted an Inland Seaside Corridors plan to provide a forest buffer along the shores of crown land throughout Sechelt Inlet. Two other valuable options, Spipiyus Provincial Park and the Randy Stoltmann Wilderness Area, were selected instead.

Hidden Grove is the second component of Sechelt Groves. The path to its protection began with Gertrude’s recommendation to the District of Sechelt when it was gathering input to update the Official Community Plan in 1993. Approximately three times the size of the Sechelt Heritage Forest, it had the added value of ocean viewpoints, trees of cultural value to the shíshálh, varied topography, additional wetland and impressive specimen trees such as the Lonely Giant which is over 700 years old.

The idea was accepted locally but little occurred until 2000 when logging tape appeared on trees. This set in motion a lengthy dialogue between concerned citizens, Interfor and the governing bodies. Gertrude, Michael and Bob D’Arcy (members of the Hidden Grove Park Steering Committee) spearheaded a campaign that was able to delay the logging. When the newly formed Sunshine Coast Community Forest took possession of the tenure in 2006 it recognized the educational potential of Hidden Grove. The decision was made to protect it. In 2011 that status was renewed for another twenty-five years.

Gertrude had a special interest in salmon stream restoration. Small coho were found at the outlet of Davis Brook, a tiny creek that originates in Hidden Grove and emerges at a secluded beach in Sandy Hook. With the help of a stream hydrologist Gertrude organized work parties to enhance the habitat by clearing excess vegetation, eliminating a small waterfall and creating a series of small pools for the fish.

There was concern that upstream water extraction threatened the survival of the salmon in Angus Creek. In 1997 Gertrude formed a group called Spawn To Be Wild. Members measured the water flow regularly for over a year. Armed with data, the group called for government intervention. School children made salmon effigies and marched along the waterway singing a salmon song that Gertrude had composed. In 1998 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans established an Angus Creek water license for the purpose of conservation.

Gertrude used her visual arts skills to promote and celebrate biodiversity. The finely detailed wildlife images she created are beautiful. The themes she chose increasingly paralleled her environmental activism. Several paintings portray both the magnificence and vulnerability of the natural world. In one, a pileated woodpecker clings to an old growth tree that has been marked for logging. In another, a lynx looks nimble and composed on a fallen tree trunk, hovering above a leg hold trap on the forest floor.

Gertrude now leads a quiet life but her dedication and important contributions toward protecting biodiversity on the Sunshine Coast will never be forgotten.

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