Death of a Greenpeace Founder

Posted by Daniel on Jul 9, 2010 - 3 comments

I don't suppose many of the young canvassers who come to my door to remind me that my membership in Greenpeace has lapsed know the name Jim Bohlen or perhaps are even aware that the organization they represent was founded forty years ago right here in British Columbia.

Bohlen's death this past week in Comox, at the age of 84, recalls the local origins of what is now a world-wide, three-million-member organization. American by birth and a veteran of WWII, Bohlen emigrated to Canada in 1966. The Vietnam War was heating up and he wanted his stepson to avoid the draft.

Settling in Vancouver, Bohlen and his wife Marie joined the local anti-war movement and became active in the Sierra Club. The US had been testing nuclear weapons in the Aleutian Islands and when it announced another test, set for the fall of 1971, Bohlen, along with fellow activists Irving Stowe and Paul Cote, decided to do something about it. Early in 1970 they formed the Don't Make a Wave Committee with the objective of sending a shipload of protestors up into the blast zone to stop it.

At a subsequent meeting the group's name was changed to Greenpeace. The group chartered a 24-metre fishboat, the Phyllis Cormack, raised money through donations and a benefit concert featuring, among others, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the local band Chilliwack, and on September 15, 1971 set sail for Alaska. (The photo above shows the crew of the boat; Bohlen is third from left in the front row.)

The Cormack was stopped by American authorities near the site of the blast and in mid-October, with bad winter weather approaching, it had to head back to Vancouver but the expedition gained great publicity for the cause and although the Amchitka blast took place the US subsequently ended its Alaskan tests.

Bohlen later left Greenpeace but rejoined in the 1980s to take part in the organization's anti-nuclear campaigns. He also ran, unsuccessfully, for Parliament as a Green Party candidate. He retired as a director of Greenpeace in 1993.

For a more detailed chronology of the founding of Greenpeace, go here.