Chapter 12

What the heck are those brown things that I see up in the mountains?

Alberni Mountains 1931

Vancouver Island marmot specimen

Vancouver Island marmot specimen

Vancouver Island marmot specimen Mt. Washington, Forbidden Plateau. Collected by Frank Beebe, August 30, 1943. Courtesy of RBCM #5021.
Winter camping c. 1930, Cowan and the Raceys.

Winter camping c. 1930, Cowan and the Raceys.

Image Cowan_PP_305 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
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Another species that seemed to have disappeared was the marmot. The populations of them found by the 1910 Berkeley expedition at Golden Eagle Basin, King Solomon Basin and Mount Douglas all around Alberni hadn’t been seen there for years. All of two sightings had been recorded since then: a young male way down at the mouth of the Jordan River on the west coast, far from his subalpine habitat, and a tipoff from locals about a population at Coombs, near Parksville. Cowan recounts that they were sitting in a café in Nanaimo, drying out, when they met a young man who asked them, “What the heck are those brown things that I see up in the mountains?” Cowan said, “We perked our ears up and asked if he could show us.”35 The journal describes them picking up Racey’s son Alan at the boat from Vancouver, collecting their young guide, Ed Torkko, and heading up Nanaimo Falls Road on a midsummer’s day for what they had been told was “an easy day’s round trip” to find the elusive animals.36 The journal account of the “discovery” and Cowan’s memory of it 70 years later vary only in the dramatic detail.


35 Cowan, interview, November 30, 2000.

36 Cowan, “Notes Tofino, Alberni, Chezacut 1931,” Cowan_FN_010.

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