Voices of Saanich: “My years on the wild side” with Briony Penn

Feb 9, 2021 | Blog, Community | 0 comments

Special Online Event

“My years on the Wild Side”
A special online evening with Briony Penn
Hosted by Kate O’Connor
Tuesday February 23, 2021
7:00pm
RSVP: https://tinyurl.com/Voices-BrionyPenn

Download event poster. Please share widely!

Event hosted by the Saanich North and the Islands BC Green Party Riding Association (SAN-RA)


The Voices of Saanich speaker series returns online with guest Briony Penn in conversation with Kate O’Connor.

My years on the wild side will feature stories from her work as a naturalist, activist and author. In addition, she and Kate will discuss what the future holds.

In the lead up to the event I asked Briony a few questions.

AO: Who is Briony Penn?

BP: My grandchildren will be seventh generation islanders on Salt Spring and Victoria. My family were either artists or judges which probably explains why I have always felt very conflicted about my ancestors. The matriarchs in my family were independent, original women who loved these islands. They were friends with their neighbours at the Tsawout reserve at Fulford and the lives they lived revolved around the seasons at Fulford: picking apples and berries; fishing and clamming; having picnics on the beach making rafts and adventuring with their sketch books.

I’m just a chip off the old block. I live in a house I designed right next to where my great granny lived in her little cottage. I imagine our lives are not too dissimilar especially in these COVID days. I go out rowing most days, watch for the buffleheads all winter and paint and write for a living.

The legal side of my lineage turned me into an activist at an early age. I have always felt that contemporary society was full on injustices to those without a voice including the natural world and on a course for destruction. I wrote my first letter to the editor at about 11 and haven’t really stopped.

I got a PhD in Geography looking at legal systems for land protection so people would listen but that had virtually no effect. When I took my clothes off for the Lady Godiva ride twenty years ago to protect endangered species at Xwwaaqw’um (Burgoyne Bay) I confirmed my suspicion that people were more interested in naked women than smart women. When I see the respect that my two grown boys have for women, people less fortunate than themselves and the earth, I have hope.

AO: Will you share a little bit about your work?

BP: I taught part time at the university while raising my kids and wrote articles and columns for magazines and a kids book.

I call myself a community geographer and help with all sorts of projects as a volunteer. I have been involved with land trusts for thirty years. I did a lot of community mapping projects. I am pretty ornery around stopping the commercial herring fishery under Jimmy Pattison’s control. We lost our herring spawn in the 1980’s from his commercial boats and it has been silent spring since then in Fulford and Ganges Harbours.

I work as a naturalist aboard the schooner SV Maple Leaf up and down the coast. After a short career as a TV broadcaster then a politician, effectively halted by electoral fraud, I started a company for the land trusts called Living Carbon to create a financial mechanism for land conservation and stewardship. It resulted in the first community forest project with the Lil’wat and Squamish and Whistler municipality for which I’m really proud.

We are hoping to do a similar one in the Salish Sea to support WSANEC stewardship financially. The last ten years I have been writing the biographies of Ian McTaggart Cowan and Wa’xaid—both gentle men of this coast who in their own ways exemplify what I think is the future—the indigenous and western scientists getting into the magic canoe to work together to protect our precious mother earth. I miss them both.

AO: Finally, will you give us a sneak peek into your presentation?

BP: I am so excited to share with Kate our different experiences of being young and a woman and clear in your direction for ecological and social justice but not sure which path to take to be effective. Every generation has its challenges but I sure hope we left it a little easier for the Kate’s of the world to have a voice.

I have tried a lot of things: politics, academia, media, financial world but where I naturally want to be is outside teaching, painting and writing about the Salish Sea. I’m really just like the matriarchs of my family right to the bone.

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