Origins of a Name

Posted by Daniel on Apr 14, 2009

Late last month the provincial government announced further agreements for the administration of the part of the central and north coast that has become known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The announcement made me wonder, where did the phrase Great Bear Rainforest originate?

According to W.T. Stanbury in his book Environmental Groups and the International Conflict Over the Forests of BC, 1990-2000, the term was invented in 1996 by environmentalists, chiefly the Canadian Rainforest Network, to brand the central coast as a way of marketing their concern about destructive logging there. Grizzlies and kermodes were chosen as an evocative symbol of the area, especially appealing to a European constituency.

I asked Ian McAllister about this. Ian is a photographer and environmental activist with the conservation group Pacific Wild. He and his wife Karen co-wrote the magnificent 1997 bestseller, The Great Bear Rainforest, published by Harbour Publishing. Along with Ian's father Peter, they had co-founded an earlier group, Raincoast Conservation, and according to Ian it was his father who should get credit for the Great Bear moniker. Initially Peter coined the phrase Great Bear Wilderness back in the early '90s. "We then received some negative feedback from First Nations who do not consider “wilderness” part of their traditional territory," Ian explains. "And if you look it up in Webster’s wilderness is defined as an area '...void of humans.'" So they tweaked it to Great Bear Rainforest and it stuck.

Other groups have taken credit for the phrase over the years, but apparently it was the McAllisters who were first to use it. To find out more about their organization, visit