Whale in the Door

A Community Unites to Protect BC'S Howe Sound

Pauline Le Bel

with contributions from Foreword by Elizabeth May

with contributions from Photos by Richard Duncan

An exhilarating mix of natural history and personal exploration Whale in the Door is a passionate account of a woman’s transformative experience of her adopted home.

For thousands of years, Howe Sound, an inlet in the Salish Sea provided abundant food, shelter, and stories, for the Squamish Nation. After a century of contamination from pulp mills, a chemical factory, and a copper mine, the Sound, a noisy, stinky, polluted place, contained many biologically dead zones. Marine life was severely diminished. But major efforts by the Squamish Nation, governments, and industry has produced dramatic returns of herring, dolphins, porpoises, orcas, and humpbacks.

Today, Howe Sound, a spectacular fjord in Vancouver’s backyard, is a popular recreation and tourism destination. The recovery, however, is fragile. The Sound is being inundated with proposals for re-industrialization-a controversial liquid natural gas plant, pipelines, super tankers, a gravel mine on a salmon-bearing estuary, and major residential and commercial developments.

Pauline Le Bel, a resident of Howe Sound, embarks on a journey of discovery to find out what is special about the Sound, its wild nature and its people, to witness the cultural and spiritual revivals taking place. Her research, her interviews, her travels on the land, the water, the skies of Howe Sound, compel her to abandon antiquated ideas about wilderness and community, and to arrive at a new appreciation for the genius of her home.

Whale in the Door invites readers into a story of biological resilience as a community struggles to shape a vision for its future.

“Thanks for thinking of using our legend and my words to put it into a modern context.”
—Chris Lewis, Councillor & Spokesperson, Squamish Nation

“This is a story that was begging to be told, and Le Bel tells it in a unique voice that ranges from mystical through scientific to activist.”
—Dr. Julie Gardner, Adjunct Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC

I’ve loved reading all of this. It is inspirational. I’ve learned so much […] Many thanks for the privilege of reading a draft of this amazing book. I loved it! I’m impressed with the extent of research you’ve done and your enthusiasm for the many people who are working together in the cause of Howe Sound
—Robert J Ballantyne, Chair, Board of Directors BC Spaces for Nature

“Reminds me that amazing artists like you have so much to say about healing our precious earth. I am a science nerd. I forget about song, dance moves, celebration. I can’t tell you how much this made me smile and REMINDED ME OF MY PURPOSE!  Seeing this was so healing.”
—Ramona de Graaf, marine biologist

“A history, travelogue, grassroots activism log, and plea for sustainability, Le Bel’s book is a cautiously optimistic exploration of this regionally significant area.”
—Brett Grubisic, The Vancouver Sun

“Reading Whale in the Door is a wonderful experience marking the ongoing efforts of the Squamish Nation and its allies to protect Howe Sound from once again being poisoned for profit. Pauline Le Bel takes us on a journey — both hers and the Howe Sound itself — that is unforgettable and inspiring.”
—Mark Abbott, The Province

“Pauline has spent years talking to the people that are shaping that future and she lays out their insights throughout Whale in the Door.  What emerges is a picture of how we got to this point in our history and what our options are for the future. For us residents, Whale in the Door is a guidebook and a road map to the changes upon us and it contains a hopeful aspiration that we can live in balance with the land, with each other and with competing visions of what should happen.”
The Undercurrent

“It may seem brave to write about a place as if it were speaking, but I believe that Pauline has put into words what many of us hear when we round the corner above Horseshoe Bay and hear the words ‘You are home.’ As a settler, Pauline has done us all a service by teaching us how to ‘know our place’ in the cultural and natural history of our inlet. Pauline is a walking bundle of humble curiosity and kindness and models for us the way to approach the land and to reconcile ourselves to it and the people who have called it home from time immemorial. May we all be inspired to entice a such a beautiful dialogue from this magnificent place and its people.”
—Chris Corrigan, Open Space facilitator

Whale in the Door is more personal than history or journalism. With her, the reader learns things they’d never know unless, like Le Bel, they went salmon counting or looking for forage fish embryos on the beach with a marine biologist or interviewed industry executives or humbly listened to First Nations Elders over bowls of soup.”
—Amy Reiswig, Focus on Victoria

“Le Bel’s filmmaking experience has clearly honed her ability to show more than tell, and to get what she wants from primary sources—the people concerned. Her extensive research is impressive.”
—Cherie Theissen, Ormsby Review

Pauline Le Bel discusses her book during an event for World Oceans Day, held on June 8, 2020, organized by The Howe Sound Marine Reference Guide.