It was the biggest environmental protest B.C. had ever seen – and is credited by many as crystallizing the province’s environmental movement.
For nearly three months in the summer of 1993, hundreds of people descended on the remote Clayoquot sound near Tofino to oppose the clearcutting of an old growth forest, said to contain some of Canada’s biggest trees.
“Every day there would be a protest, and every day different people would say that they wanted to be the ones to stand in the way of the bulldozers,” says Karen Mahon. “And they would stand in the way and block the logging from happening, and they would be arrested, and new people would come and do the same thing the next day.”
Now an organizer with Stand.Earth, Mahon was the forest campaigner with Greenpeace at the time – and says she sees striking parallels between that conflict and the one now brewing.
“In many ways we have a government that thought they were very good on the environment, the [NDP] Harcourt government in B.C. at the time, and the Trudeau government here in Canada [now], and they made a decision that they thought was a compromise decision,” she says.
“But the fact of the matter is that there are some issues that a compromise just isn’t available. You know you can’t really cut the baby in half. Clayoquot was one of them, and Kinder Morgan is one of them.”
WATCH: Global News (then BCTV) reports from the front lines of the “War in the woods”
That 1993 protest made international headlines, and drew people from across Canada to camps in the woods, where they faced down RCMP officers daily.
But Mahon, who says she saw rumblings of things to come at the Burnaby Mountain protest, says reaction against Kinder Morgan will make Clayoquot look small.
“Well imagine war of the woods, except in the middle of the city,” she said – noting that protesters will be able to stop by after work rather than having to travel to the remote back woods.
“They’re bringing this climate conflict right to the heart of the second biggest city in Canada.”
And she says this time the buildup is different too: First Nations and other opponents have already organized and mobilized before the first shovel has hit the ground.
“I went through Clayoquot Sound, I was one of the organizers, and that was at the time the biggest civil disobedience in Canadian history, and it didn’t have the buildup that this has. When we were at the meetings this summer, people would come up to me and say ‘Can you put my name on the list,’ and I would say what list? And they would say ‘the list to be arrested.'”
She anticipates arrests for civil disobedience could number in the thousands.
The months-long war in the woods eventually saw more than 800 people arrested, including about 300 people in one defining mass arrest.
It eventually led to a reworking of the way the forest – now a UNESCO biosphere – was managed.