Trouble in the water
I have never been to Echo Bay, but I know what Sandra Bartlett means when she tells me how it felt to see the place for the first time.
“It was kind of like going into another world,” says the journalist and producer behind Canada’s National Observer’s newest podcast, The Salmon People.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with that same stop-you-in-your-tracks awe — the kind that comes from standing in front of nature’s biggest, boldest work. Towering mountains forged from the crashing of tectonic plates. Rivers and lakes carved by retreating glaciers. A wall of trees rising from the ground, stretching upward, encircling one another and sprawling out in every direction.
I imagine this feeling hits everyone differently, but if you’ve had the good fortune to experience it, you recognize the broad strokes. For me, it comes in two waves: first, the swift reminder that I am small and nature is very, very big. Powerful, too — even something as simple as the drip, drip, drip of water against a rock can create whole landscapes, given time.
But after that, a tiny surge of panic catches in my chest. And then, without fail, I think: we could lose this. We probably already are. We have to do something.
Listening to the first two episodes of The Salmon People this week gave me a hint of that same feeling. From the start, the podcast pulls you into a corner of the world where humans live in harmony with nature — and shows you what’s at stake when that balance is upset.
This week, I talked to Sandra about her podcast and why the story of The Salmon People matters, not just for the sleepy community of Echo Bay but all Canadians.
You can find episodes 1 and 2 on our website as well as Apple podcasts, Spotify and Google. And please let us know what you think! We'd be grateful for a review on platforms like iTunes and Google, or you can always reach out to me directly at [email protected].
Last but not least, this podcast found a home at Canada’s National Observer because we believe it’s a story that matters. Already, our community has echoed that feeling: we’ve heard loud and clear from some folks that they’d like to see more podcasts like this — and we’d love to produce them. If you’d like to help us bring more of these stories to life in the future, please consider making a donation.
Have a great weekend and stay cool!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Top image caption: Atlantic salmon net-pens can be seen in the ocean at the Marine Harvest fish farm in British Columbia in August 2017. Photo by Emilee Gilpin
Looking for our reads of the week? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
Stories of before and after
Sandra Bartlett’s new podcast, The Salmon People, is a story about many things.
“It’s a story of a woman who had one plan for her life,” Sandra tells me, but then got pulled in an entirely different direction. It’s a story about wild salmon and accountability and the influence of a massive global industry over the people in power. It’s a story about how fragile the natural world can be and what happens when humans ignore that balance. It’s a story about the fight to save a fish whose fate is intertwined with so many others — including our own.
Even though the narrative at the heart of The Salmon People has been playing out for decades, Sandra didn’t stumble across the inspiration behind the podcast until last year, when she picked up a book by Alexandra Morton, the unlikely detective at the centre of The Salmon People’s first episode. A whale biologist who has made protecting wild salmon her life’s work, Alex recounts the twists and turns of that battle in her book, Not on My Watch. The more Sandra read, the more she saw an opportunity.
“I could see that there was a story there, and not just one story but many stories over the years,” Sandra tells me. She reached out to Alex and asked to talk. The more Sandra learned, the more invested she became. Alex didn’t just take on government and industry in the name of wild salmon (and her first love, whales), she kept a trove of audio recordings and archival material documenting the saga.
“I thought I could take this story and go right back in history, in time, to the beginning when she first started doing this work, and I could bring it to life because of all this historical material,” Sandra says.
She crafted a narrative that pulled in Alex’s years of scientific research as well as her personal story. Sandra spoke to people in the Broughton Archipelago, where Alex made her stand against government and the fish farm industry whose arrival threatened wild salmon in the surrounding waters, and nearby First Nations whose cultural identities were — and still are — inextricably connected to those wild salmon. When Sandra finally made a trip to the area herself, it all became clear.
“Going up there in that fishing boat, it was kind of like going into another world,” she tells me. “We left the towns on the more populated islands and went out, and the farther we went, the more empty it was and the more magnificent it was. There was just water and mountains and trees.
“And by the time we arrived at Echo Bay, I understood what a special place this was… And it just hit me that I could understand why people were fighting to preserve it. The beauty that I was seeing above the surface, I understood that it was connected to what was going on below.”
Sandra was also impressed by the modest building Alex had turned into a lab, recruiting young scientists to help study the problems she found in Echo Bay’s waters as more and more industrial fish farms came into the area.
“That sort of struck me, the contrast between the simplicity of the location, the simplicity of the lab, and yet it was doing this really kind of cutting-edge modern science.”
So did the stories from nearby First Nations, whose members spoke of “their world and their life before the salmon disappeared,” Sandra says. “They all had stories of before and after. And those stories really stayed with me.”
All of these experiences are part of The Salmon People, whose episodes weave together the stories of individuals and communities pushing back against a powerful industry to protect the wild salmon so vital to their home.
For years, Canada’s National Observer has followed the story of West Coast fish farms in our reporting, too, namely thanks to my colleagues Rochelle Baker and Marc Fawcett-Atkinson. Reporter Cloe Logan has also been keeping an eye on the East Coast. On both sides of the country, the story of wild salmon is an urgent one involving local communities, First Nations, industry players and government departments. So when our editor-in-chief, Linda Solomon Wood, heard about Sandra’s podcast, it was a no-brainer.
“It’s a crime that we haven’t protected wild salmon,” Linda said last week. “So, this is a true crime story. And a love story. It's heartbreakingly beautiful. What could be more amazing than that?”
You can listen to episodes 1 and 2 of The Salmon People on our website as well as on Apple podcasts, Spotify and Google.
Reads of the week
Pierre Poilievre’s horseshoe strategy. The Conservative leadership hopeful is banking on a coalition that bridges the right with younger voters on the far left, writes columnist Max Fawcett.
How to get the most out of the feds’ home retrofit loan program. Natasha Bulowski explains how to top up your budget for energy-saving home renos with provincial and municipal incentives.
Canada is pushing ‘clean’ hydrogen to the world — with no end in sight for fossil fuels. For Canada to secure its place in the hydrogen market of tomorrow, it is maintaining fossil fuels as the centrepiece of its strategy today, reports John Woodside.
Wild Outside gets young people into nature, wherever it’s found. A program from the Canadian Wildlife Federation helps young people across the country focus on something bigger than themselves, reports Morgan Sharp.
Canada continues to fuel environmental racism by letting it fuel us. "No matter the words we say to celebrate Indigenous history and tradition, they will mean nothing if Canada continues to protect and fund — often with our taxpayers’ dollars — an industry that knowingly perpetuates environmental racism," write Tori Cress and Aliénor Rougeot.
As food prices climb, some Canadians juggle feeding themselves and supporting family abroad. Squeezed by inflation, some Canadian residents with family abroad are turning to food banks to feed themselves so they can keep sending money home to loved ones, reports Marc Fawcett-Atkinson.
Environmental groups call on feds to review proposed LNG facility in Nova Scotia. The province's environmental review agency gave the green light to Goldboro LNG eight years ago, but environmental groups across the country are calling for the federal government to take a look, too.
Doug Ford’s ‘strong mayor’ legislation won't solve housing crisis, critics say. Instead, they argue, it’ll make local government less transparent and less accountable.
‘Accessibility is not any one thing.’ Hanna Hett breaks down what it takes to make community gardens work for everyone.