Burnaby Mountain and Clayoquot Sound

On Friday, November 14th, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge granted an injunction to pipeline company Kinder Morgan to halt protestors blocking their pipeline survey work on Burnaby Mountain. The protestor’s refusal to abide by the injunction, which came into force on Monday afternoon, has caused many commentators to draw comparisons to Clayoquot Sound and ‘The War in the Woods’ of the early 1990s.

There are certainly similar themes: mobilization to expose rampant resource extraction; the potential for mass arrests; a sense of impending environmental disaster. The comparison can be a helpful one – but if it is to be deployed, it should be done with an understanding of the ways in which the War in the Woods was different.

The War in the Woods took place in the hinterland, at the periphery of Vancouver Island. Far from the urban centres of Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver, over 10,000 protestors from all over the world visited the Clayoquot Sound “Peace Camp” in 1993 (Stefanick, 2001) and blocked access to the site of extraction.

The destruction of old growth forests on Vancouver Island began to receive increasing attention after 1984 when the Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples demanded an end to MacMillan Bloedel’s logging operations on Meares Island. Following Indigenous demands for an end to rampant forest resource exploitation, the campaigns of environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee developed and garnered increasing support in Canada and abroad.

During this time, efforts to slow extraction of the forest staple on Vancouver Island were met with fierce opposition from resource dependent communities. The hostility between hinterland and metropole had a profound and lasting impact on communities. As Maureen G. Reed demonstrates, many non-Indigenous women in Vancouver Island forestry communities became activists, protesting the province’s acquiescence to environmentalists and Indigenous peoples and the gall of “urban people from Vancouver who don’t have a clue…” (qtd in Reed, 2000, p. 373). Perceiving a threat to their livelihoods, forestry workers and Labour were also opposed to the protestor’s aims and the province’s land use proposals.

It seems likely that the Burnaby Mountain protest may culminate in an event reminiscent of Clayoquot Sound. The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations, as well as other Indigenous signatories to the Save the Fraser Declaration, have been outspoken about their opposition to the Kinder Morgan and other tar sands projects in their traditional territories. What is different in the case of Burnaby Mountain is that other than from state and corporate actors – Kinder Morgan, the BC Supreme Court, National Energy Board, and law enforcement – a visceral and organized opposition to pipeline protesters seems virtually non-existent. In fact, Labour and various BC communities, have mobilized broad support to stop pipelines alongside a number of provocative campaigns. These more united efforts stand in contrast to March 1994, when 15,000 forestry workers and their supporters gathered at the BC legislature to denounce environmentalists and the province’s proposed land use plans.

At Burnaby Mountain and in Metro Vancouver, the resources of the hinterland have arrived at the doorstep of the urban population – but the site of extraction in Alberta is distant. Transportation is central to the extraction of staple resources and just as logging operations require access by road, oil and gas companies require pipelines. Yet most urban residents never see a logging slash. There is a distinct advantage of urban demographics and media saturation present in the opposition to the Kinder Morgan project – an advantage that that those mobilizing at the periphery did not and do not have.

The Unist’ot’en Camp and the efforts of the Beaver Lake Cree are just two examples of efforts taking place well outside of an urban setting that have received only limited attention from the mainstream media and urban residents. Certainly, parallels with the War in the Woods have not been drawn to these actions in the same way as they have been over the past few days.

For those who understand the consequences of a rapidly warming planet, any effort to halt the transportation of bitumen and other oil and gas products is one to be supported. If we are serious about slowing climate change and supporting Indigenous peoples, the Burnaby Mountain protest is essential.

Still, the comparison of Burnaby Mountain and Clayoquot Sound only goes so far. While there are overlapping themes, the differences of location, allies, and resource types should not be ignored.

When thousands of people begin to come together at the periphery – at the site of extraction – and support directly impacted (mainly Indigenous) communities, the War in the Woods analogy might be called upon. Until then, the Burnaby Mountain protest is better aligned with other urban acts of civil disobedience in Canada – of which there are many examples to draw from.

— Kelly Black

Twitter: @K_elly_B


Stefanick, L. (2001). “Baby Stumpy and the War in the Woods: Competing Frames of British Columbia Forests.” BC Studies, 130, p. 41-68.

Reed, M. (2000). “Taking Stands: a feminist perspective on ‘other’ women’s activism in forestry communities of northern Vancouver Island. Gender, Place and Culture, 7, (4), p. 363-387.