Monday, September 27, 2010


Moonscape to Paradise?

Northern Ontario and Canada’s Caribbean are as far apart in reputation as in distance, but they’ve been my homes since 1977. One is reviled moonscape, the other a top tourist destination. What’s the real story?

The Nickel Capital of Sudbury, ravaged for a century by logging, mining, and acid rain, became a black rock the size of New York City. Starting in the mid-Seventies, an immense re-greening program turned the city into an award-winning model of environmentalism. Rye-on-the-rocks restored the grass, and over twenty million pine seedlings were planted in an effort shared by community, business, and government.

Living on a vast meteor-crater lake north of the city, I was blessed with crown land in all directions. Not only could I forge for hours on my own paths, but I could paddle a canoe to quiet inlets where bass bit and peregrines nested on high cliffs. I was inspired by the landscape.

Northern Winters are Murder
opened with a snowmobile accident. What better ending than a rip-roaring chase from jewel to jewel with the ice thawing at the edges?

Blackflies are Murder
revealed the world of bear-baiting, an ursine smorgasbord of doughnuts tied into alders and lemon pies on rock shelves. But it also described the luscious free feasts of the blueberry fields.

The wilderness was ideal dog territory, and my character Belle Palmer lived with Freya, a hardy German shepherd. But what about sending a puppy into a blizzard? Bush Poodles are Murder featured an apricot devil whose ice-ball paws had to be thawed every ten minutes. Tiny Strudel, mighty huntress of shrews, posed on the cover in her Anna Karenina cape.

The kaleidoscopic beauties of autumn presented a new challenge in Murder, Eh? The final chase scene ended at Thor Lake. To add a macabre touch, the remote lake, accessible only by train, was later the scene of a real murder-suicide.

Memories Are Murder
served up the fly-ridden Burwash area, former scene of an Ontario prison. Belle’s old boyfriend came north to study relocated elks and drowned mysteriously. Just before the book appeared, hunters found the body of an actual missing woman very near the opening scene location.

After leaving behind my plow truck, two snowblowers, and five shovels, I moved to the coast of Vancouver Island, where the rain forest meets the sea. Bananas and kiwis grow in my yard. Bugs flee the salt air. “Welcome to Paradise,” the realtors say, knowing that BC also means “Bring cash.”

Instead of blueberries, we have salmonberries, salal, and the thorny Himalayan blackberry. Bald eagles soar, and western jays squawk. We still have bear aplenty, and deer, too, but elk have replaced moose. No poisonous snakes, but poisonous salamanders. And an unusual gift, banana slugs, a helpful detrivore which scours the environment and has only one lung! Always present is the generous Pacific Ocean, bringer of crab, shrimp, salmon and “hali,” in this former fishing village of mine, Sooke.

The climate is neither too hot nor too cold. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains in Washington State across the Strait of Juan de Fuca assume a life as mist rolls in and foghorns moan. But gone is the wilderness. The timber companies have been raping the land for over a century, threatening job losses if challenged. They own the major portion of the island and prefer to log near the water where it’s more convenient. Only through world pressure was the treasured Clayoquot Sound saved from the saw. With the market for lumber floundering, their latest plan is to convert their leases to real estate and reap a million dollars an acre. It’s going to be a hard fight.

In And On The Surfaced Die, Holly Martin, RCMP corporal, commands a small detachment west of Victoria. She may not have blizzards, but the book ends with a century typhoon. There was no Christmas that year, only two five-day power outages as thousands of three-hundred-foot Douglas firs fell uprooted across power lines, crushing cars and houses. Burning the debris filled the air with smoke January to June.

In the sequel, She Felt No Pain, the island is searing under its summer drought. An errant cigarette from a tourist can ignite an inferno. On the plus side, salmon is on the table every other day.

As I was an ambassador for Sudbury, showing its beauties to the world, I’m now sounding warnings for this spectacular part of Canada. Vancouver Island is under siege not only because of the logging, but because so many people want to come and live here. Locals feel like “pulling up the drawbridge.” It’s not only our whales that need saving from “development” and the attendant pollution. It’s the land itself. Will the green forces succeed or will we be paving paradise again? Stay tuned!

Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where her film-booker father relocated. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature. In 1977, she returned to Canada, finding herself 400 kilometers north of Toronto in Sudbury at Cambrian College, where she was a professor of English. Her Belle Palmer series is set there.

Now retired, Lou lives with Friday the mini-poodle and Shogun and Zia the border collies in Sooke BC, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. She is BCYukon Vice President of the Crime Writers of Canada. In addition to her new series set near Victoria in Fossil Bay, Lou has two standalones: A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing and Man Corn Murders.

An interest in literacy causes won her a contract with Orca books to write That Dog Won’t Hunt, a novella designed to appeal to adults who are reluctant readers.


  1. No one does setting like you, Lou! Looking forward to seeing Canada's Caribbean for myself next spring at Bloody Words.


  2. Thanks, doll. I'm looking forward to enrolling all of you in my BCYukon chapter when you decide to stay! Let the last person in Ontario turn out the lights.


  3. Sigh...I miss Freya. I'm going to have to re-read all the Belles. Drat you, Lou!

  4. I miss Strudel, the apricot puff. She was the first of Lou's fictional canines I met (though not the last). Like Lelia, I now want to rush up to the mystery shelves and start a re-read.