British Columbia’s Princess Louisa Inlet is a misty rainforest work of art. Traditionally named swiwelát for its sunny warmth, the deep fiord located in the ancestral territory of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation on the Sunshine Coast, about 100 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, is a place of mossy forests, granite cliffs and more than 60 tumbling waterfalls — home to seals, grizzly bears, mountain goats, eagles and northern goshawks.
For the estimated 10,000 visitors who pass through the inlet each year, it was a stroke of luck that in 1953, former miner James MacDonald rejected an offer of $400,000 for his cabin and 18.2 hectares of land located at the head of the inlet, choosing instead to give the property to the people of the Pacific Northwest.
“It is Yosemite Valley, the fjords of Norway and many other places all wrought into the background of our conifer forests,” he wrote at the time. “It should never have belonged to one individual.”
MacDonald’s gift kicked off a conservation project that saw the inlet become a Marine Provincial Park in 1964, with islands totaling 17.6 hectares added in 1972 and the 890 hectares surrounding MacDonald’s original lands added in 2003. But what many visitors didn’t realize was that this protected only about half of the inlet. And recently, almost the entire southern shoreline, up to the top of the rugged peaks, went up for sale.
The sale was a call to action for the BC Parks Foundation, the newly formed charitable arm of BC Parks. In March 2019, the foundation started discussions with a representative for the landowners, and by May they’d come to a purchase agreement. All that was left to do was raise the agreed-on price by the end of August. So in June, the foundation turned to the public with an audacious funding goal: $3 million.
Historically, conservation has been bankrolled by major philanthropists or state sources. But as purse strings tighten and the climate crisis becomes more urgent, environmental organizations are casting a wider net by encouraging individual donations. Typically, these crowdfunding projects are modest — it’s hard to raise millions on small donations — but something about the campaign to protect the inlet touched the imaginations of people around the world.
Word of the fundraiser spread via social media and was picked up by international media. Close to 2,000 people from places including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, China, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United States joined British Columbians and other Canadians in donating amounts that ranged from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. By the end of August, the purchase was fully funded.
While Andrew Day, Chief Executive Officer for the BC Parks Foundation, declined to comment on the exact geographic breakdown of donations to respect donors’ anonymity, he said the money came both from people who had ties to the land and those who had never visited but had been inspired by it.
“Places like Princess Louisa are anchors for our hearts and souls,” Day wrote in an email about the successful response to the campaign. “They are our cathedrals, our towers, our pyramids — the wonders of our world, inspiring awe, gratitude and fulfillment.”
Now that the purchase has been completed, what happens next remains to be seen. The foundation is in talks with BC Parks and the shíshálh Nation regarding how the land will be formally protected. None of the stakeholders is ready to make a statement about what the new park will look like, or how it will be managed, but down the road the hope is to bundle it with other crown land and create 9,000 hectares of connected and protected wilderness, keeping the inlet wild for generations — the way MacDonald hoped when he gave his initial gift.