Yorke Edwards: Pioneer of Heritage Interpretation in Canada

Portrait of Yorke Edwards

In the spring of 2021, the Royal British Columbia Museum published a very important book, titled “The Writings of Yorke Edwards A Pioneer of Heritage Interpretation in Canada” authored by Richard Kook and Robert Cannings. I had been given a copy to review, but I wanted to explore some questions I had after reading it. In particular, I was intrigued to know what motivated Rick and Rob to produce the book and what the relevance of Edwards was to field of heritage interpretation today. After all, nearly all of Yorke’s work in the field was done between 1960 and 1980.

In his introduction to the book, Rick offers an apology for not getting to know Yorke better while working at the museum. I share a similar regret. Back in the late 1990s, more than a decade after his retirement, I reached out to Yorke to interview him for a book I was writing about the threats to Canada’s national parks. I recall sitting in his book-lined study, sipping tea and listening to his views on the subject. His love for the natural world and the need for better protection of it was amply evident.

Not long after a couple of these chats, I dove into writing my book and did not continue to get to know Yorke better despite the fact that he lived a few blocks away. I guess I just didn’t understand and appreciate what he represented.

Rob Cannings has done a wonderful job of pulling together a concise biography of Yorke that helps illuminate the character and accomplishments of this remarkable individual.

To make up for being too focused on my book project and for not getting to know Yorke better, I felt the need to make some kind of amends. My way of doing this is to help promote the book by Rick and Rob by producing the following video from an interview with Rick shortly after the book’s launch.

One Map, Many Adventures!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map May2021

Tomorrow night will be exciting! I’ll be attending the Ecostar Awards Gala as the coordinator of the Greater Victoria NatureHood. We’ve been nominated for an award for innovation. This award: ” Recognizes an organization that has demonstrated innovative sustainability practices, products, services, and/or technology in their industry.”

What got us nominated is our Greater Victoria NatureHood map and brochure.Therefore, it’s only fitting that I’ll be joined by my friend and colleague, Kathleen Burton. The map is almost entirely her creation.

We’re up against some serious competition in the two other nominees in this category. To tell the truth, I’ll be surprised if we win the award. But you never know, right. And that would be simply awesome!

Greater Victoria NatureHood Map May 2021

The map has already attracted a lot of attention and accolades. In June we received a conservation partner award from Nature Canada for it, as well as for the tribute exhibit of Fenwick Lansdowne, an internationally acclaimed Canadian wildlife artiist. Because his subjects were almost always birds, his paintings were was often compared with those of John James Audubon.

The map was also finalist in this year’s Charity Village Awards. It will also be featured at this years International Cartographical Association’s conference next month in Florence, Italy.

On the ground, we’ve gone through print runs for a total of 15,000 copies in just a few months. The second run of 8000 copies was only made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Our focus now is to take the map from being a static downloadable PDF on our website to being something much more innovative and interactive. We certainly don’t have the expertise to pull this off ourselves, so we’re about to enter into a partnership with an organization that can provide state-of-the art technology in this kind of project along with a large cadre of highly trained people who know what to do with it.

Migratory Birds and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries Booklet Cover

The Greater Victoria NatureHood is also embarking on two other exciting projects. We’ll be producing three short (1 – 1.5 min) videos about each of the region’s migratory bird sanctuaries. We’re also reaching out to some local indigenous educators to bring in their nation’s knowledge and practices to the Migratory Bird Activity Booklet we produced and released last spring. 

Teacher and Students with Clams

Honestly, it would be very easy for me to carry on about all the great things the partners of the Greater Victoria NatureHood have done over the past four years, while I’ve been their coordinator. It truly is a great honour to  be working with these organizations and to be able to contribute to the realization of our shared vision:  “a deep and long-standing connection with the natural world of Greater Victoria” among residents and visitors alike.

So What Have I Been Up To?

ICA Youth After Cruise Fe. 2020

I have a busy life. And, for the most part, I like it that way, especially given that everything I’m doing perfectly aligns with my passions.

Being the part-time coordinator of the Greater Victoria NatureHood keeps me hopping. It is a remarkable collaboration among 16 organizations ( two businesses, four municipal departments and ten not-for-profits) sharing the mission of instilling and deepening the connection with nature through what can be found nearby in one’s backyard, neighbourhood and region.

The Greater Victoria NatureHood initiative is made possible by funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canadian Wildlife Service and is administered by Nature Canada.

Over the past few years, we used some of our allotted funding to offer free cruises through the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and by the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary for children, youth and families, made possible by the generosity of Eagle Wing Tours, one of the current partners.

Last year, we reached out to the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and invited them to send the 25 youth enrolled in their youth program on an all-expense, 2 hour cruise to experience and learn about the ocean surrounding much of the region with the assurance that the current COVID protocols would be followed,

The cruise was part of the All Bufflehead Day celebration which happens every year on or near Oct. 15th. There’s a fascinating story here, but it will have to wait till a later post.

The Director was

The program manager was over the moon with excitement. Her organization could not afford such an amazing experience. Many of the youth, she said, had never been on a boat, other than maybe a BC Ferry.

So you can well imagine the excitement among the youth when they walked down the wharf and gathered around one of Eagle Wing’s excellent naturalists. Even though some were more busy trying to look and act cool, most listened intently to what she had to say.

Once on board and on the way, most of them braved the cold and rainy weather to spend much of their time on the decks, watching for wildlife. No more than maybe a half an hour on the water, we encountered the first of not two, three, or four humpback whales. Two of which swam under our vessel. They surfaced and gave out a mighty blow. Now these young people know what a whale’s breath smells like. 

They also saw, heard, and smelled the sea lions hauled out at Race Rocks, and they witnessed a large female surface only a few metres from the boat with an octopus in its mouth which it then proceeded to tear apart and eat.

Youth observing a sea lion eating an octopus

You may be able to imagine the excited squeals, shrieks, shouts and laughter that prevailed on the vessel after the first sighting and throughout the rest of the cruise.

According to one of the ICA staff on the cruise, one of the students told him: “I feel like we are like a family. Being on the trip and seeing friends again to see these ocean animals is really refreshing for my spirit. It’s really calming and healing for those of us stuck at home.”

In a blog post for the association’s website, he wrote:

“Getting to share these experiences with our youth is an incredible opportunity to learn, for staff and youth alike. Our group enjoyed teaching one another words and phrases in our home languages to help point out interesting sights along the way – with “Look over there!” and “Whale, whale, whale!” in Arabic being particularly useful to our group. Getting to appreciate something bigger than yourself is a great way to put things in perspective, particularly during these tumultuous times. For our youth, it was a welcome chance to celebrate their ICA community and learn about their marine neighbours.”

Knowing that I played an important role in making this experience possible for these youth fills my heart and energizes my spirit. It keeps me going, wanting to do more with the Greater Victoria NatureHood to connect people with the nature found nearby as well as with nature more generally. The more we can touch people the way we did on this cruise, the more we can foster the development of a public ready to protect and restore nature.