“People told me I was crazy when I decided to settle in Upper Clearwater with no job prospects,” says Trevor Goward. “But I knew I’d get by.”
Today Goward makes a comfortable living through his business, Enlichened Consulting Ltd.
“People hire me partly for my specialist knowledge but also because I tend to see things a little differently. I guess you could say I’m a contextual thinker, I tend to see the big picture.”
Internationally regarded as a leading authority on lichens, Goward has written three books on the subject and more than 80 peer-reviewed papers. He has named two dozen species and has had several lichens named in his honour. All this, and yet he has never taken a biology course, much less one on lichens. In fact, his only formal degree is a Bachelor of Arts.
Wells Gray began to work its magic on Goward in 1971, when he got a summer job building trail on Battle Mountain. “During my student years, the park was this place I’d keep coming back to as I journeyed to and fro across the continent and abroad. Finally it seemed obvious: I needed to settle here.”
The local lichenologist and wilderness aficionado was born 60 years ago in Vancouver, the eldest of four. “They tell me I was the largest baby ever born in VGH to that time,” he says. “I like to say I haven’t grown much since.” (Goward now stands 6´5˝ tall in his stocking feet.)
His first decade was spent in east Vancouver, a place he doesn’t remember with much fondness. “I hated every minute we lived in the city,” says Goward. “When my parents finally pulled up stakes and moved to rural Kamloops, it felt to me like I was coming home. In a sense I really came into this world in the sage hills around Barnhartvale. Reborn I suppose.”
Goward finished high school in 1970 then took several years to complete an undergraduate degree – first at Simon Fraser University, then at the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, finally at Mount Allison in New Brunswick. In 1977 he graduated at the head of his class with a degree in French and Latin. “I never thought of university as vocational school. For me it was more about learning to learn what I wanted to know.”
His first stint as environmentalist came in 1972, when he and some other students guided bus tours in opposition to plans by B.C. Hydro to dam the Clearwater River. “Nobody these days would seriously propose flooding Helmcken Canyon, making it into a reservoir; but those were different times,” he says.
In 1974 he returned to Wells Gray as park naturalist, a seasonal position he held until 1986. “Working as park naturalist was a transformative experience, it changed me. Essentially I got to see Wells Gray through the eyes of thousands of people from all over the world. They told me: this park is magic, Canadians have no idea what they’ve got here, don’t ever let them diminish it. Eventually I guess I got the message.”
In 1976 Goward began to study Wells Gray’s lichens. The following year he received a letter from Teuvo Ahti, a respected Finnish lichenologist. Ahti said he’d collected 1,000 lichens from the park in the early 60s; and would Goward perhaps be interested in collaborating on a paper? “It took fifteen years,” says Goward, “but that paper finally came out in the early 90s. I suppose it was my answer to a Masters degree in botany.”
In the mean time, he had become what he describes as a “lichen bum”, spending so much time at the UBC lichen herbarium that in 1989 he was invited to be its curator, a position he has held ever since.
In 1982 Goward got a summer job training foresters across B.C. on how to identify plants, including lichens. Having decided it was time to settle down, he told his Clearwater friends he’d be leaving the area. But after searching the entire province, he found there was no place he liked better!
Looking back, Goward acknowledges the influence of local residents Bob and Hettie Miller on his decision to settle here. “They were true naturalists,” said Goward. “They were alive to things – the junco nest in the bank along the driveway – most other people overlook or take for granted. They made living in the Clearwater area feel like adventure, a never-ending quest to know about the plants and creatures that live here with us.”
The Millers had picked up much of their naturalist lore from professional biologists working in Wells Gray during the 1950s, during its halcyon years for wildlife research. “Few local people realize that several classic wildlife studies were published on the park in those years,” said Goward. “The first aerial surveys of moose and mountain caribou were conducted here, as were several ground-breaking studies into their foraging behaviour.”
In 1984 Goward found his “dream property”: ten acres of meadow, forest, pond, and wetland off the park road in Upper Clearwater. A few years later he and then-partner Helen Knight built a home here, Edgewood Blue. Lately Goward has been making Edgewood over into what he calls an “outdoor campus” for naturalists. In time he intends to donate it to The Land Conservancy. Why? “Doing this will help jumpstart a much-needed wildlife corridor linking the two southern arms of Wells Gray.” (Goward will stay on as caretaker.)
In 1986, BC Parks brought out its Wells Gray Park master plan, which encouraged “the pursuit of scholarly research” and mentioned the desirability of having a research center here. Goward and Knight latched onto the idea and ran with it. As founding members of the Friends of Wells Gray Park, they helped get that organization interested in promoting the center. In 1990, Goward floated the idea to the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson Rivers University). The following year, with help from faculty member Tom Dickinson, the university officially came onside.
Ever since then, the Wells Gray Education and Research Centre has operated out of the old Upper Clearwater schoolhouse – made available for that purpose by former school board director Hazel Wadlegger. Presently TRU is constructing its “Wells Gray TRU Wilderness Center” on land donated to the University by Goward and Knight in 1992. The Wilderness Centre is scheduled to open its doors later this year.
Through his environmentalist activities and writing – for many years he ran a newspaper column and later published Nature Wells Gray – Goward has had a significant impact on the development of the park and surrounding area – an influence he hopes to further in the years ahead.
What’s next? “The world’s getting smaller all the time,” says Goward. “The day isn’t far off when Canadians will come to see their wilderness parks as sacrosanct – many do already. In the mean time, the big task is to ensure that wilderness preserves like Wells Gray don’t lose key elements of their ecological integrity. The Mountain Caribou for one.”
“Having Wells Gray designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site might be one way to call attention to the international significance of the park while at the same time benefitting the local economy. With any luck I’ll get to help build the conceptual platform we’ll need to launch a successful bid.”
“That should keep me busy for awhile,” he says.