Clad in her one blouse, she often travels hundreds of miles through the dense wild-animal infested forest, to warn her lover of a plot…

Alta Lake 1928

Varied Thrush 1935

Varied Thrush 1935

Ixoreus naevius. Hamilton Mack Laing illustration Image J-00261 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
Cowan with Racey family

Cowan with Racey family

Pitt Meadows, 1927. Image Cowan_PP_359 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
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When Cowan first meets Joyce, she is an attractive 15-year-old, a skilled markswoman, camper, hiker and naturalist in her own right. From her childhood letters to her father, which accompanied her mother’s, she demonstrates her growing adeptness at fly-fishing, berry gathering and birdwatching. In an account of a nest, she describes it for her father this way: “The nest was made of sticks, straw, mud, pieces of bark, string and leaves. The bird itself had a ring around its neck, a black head, and the breast was the same as a robin.”17

Varied Thrush
Ixoreus naevius

The nest is a bulky cup of grass, moss and rootlets, on a base of twigs. It is usually lined with fine grass, although leaves and shredded red-cedar bark are also frequent components… In mountainous areas the Varied Thrush occurs from sea level to near 2000 m elevation…. Noteworthy records: Whistler Mountain, 24 June 1924 – many nesting.18

Ten years later, Joyce would accompany her family on a backpacking trip along the Cheakamus River and her fiancé, Cowan, would note:

Several pairs of Varied Thrush are encountered and one of them evidently had young in the vicinity as they flew around making quite an outcry. The female uttered repeatedly a cry I have never heard before. Two or three long drawn metallic whistles, then a series of chuk-chuk-chuk like the alarm of a robin but pitched higher. The musical combination was quite pleasant as was also vouched for by the ladies of the party.19

Cowan easily fit into the family routine and joined the women fly-fishing on the lake. He liked to attribute his learning of these finer arts of fishing to his future mother-in-law, whom he admired enormously. From the photographs and Racey’s field notes, it appears the family expeditions between 1927 and 1929 to Mount Garibaldi, Black Tusk, Mount Overlord, Red Mountain and Cheakamus Canyon, Lake and Glacier were a formative time – both for learning and for his developing affection for Joyce.

17 Joyce Racey to Kenneth Racey, July 19, 1923, Cowan_PN_026.

18 Campbell et al., Birds of BC, vol. 3, 422–428.

19 Ian McTaggart Cowan, “Field Journal 1932–1934,” July 22, 1933, Volume 573, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archive, Berkeley [hereinafter MVZA]. [Also Cowan_FN_058].


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