In 1979 Alfred Cool was invited by a friend to visit Haida Gwaii, then called the Queen Charlotte Islands. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into and didn’t expect he would stay on the archipelago for six years.
“My friend, he would not give me details,” Cool said.
“All he said was, ‘You’ll really like it, so come on up and see for yourself. I can’t tell you what the Charlottes are all about, you have to come up and find out.’”
Cool, born in Campbell River and currently living in Nanaimo, said “every day was surprising and every day was different” on Haida Gwaii as he took up work as a selective logger and hunted, fished and explored his surroundings.
“There were so many bizarre people, awesome people, and everything in between … I got to know all of those different communities, which of course all form into one big community, and hung around for six years because it was just too much fun,” he said.
Those experiences inspired Cool to write a series of books, the first of which, The Haida Gwaii Detour, is being launched at a pair of Nanaimo readings at the Harbourfront Library on March 7 and the White Room on March 10. Cool said the books are 90 per cent autobiography, 10 per cent fiction.
“I always feel like ‘memoir’ is the wrong word for it, but it probably is a memoir,” he said.
Cool said Haida Gwaii “always captured my imagination.” He likens his time there as an unexpected “spiritual awakening.”
“It’s the most spiritual trip I’ve ever been on and and I did not go there looking for enlightenment and spirituality but it’s just a place that just opens up for you if you’re there for any amount of time…” he said.
“There’s wildlife everywhere, the environment’s gorgeous and the people are awesome. It’s just remote, isolated, at that time it was pristine or almost pristine.”
Cool said he wrote the book to provide a resident’s perspective on the islands and to encourage more people to see them for themselves. But he said more than one visit and a tourist can get hooked.
“What I say to people is, ‘Careful, if you go back, you may never leave,’” Cool said.
“Because going once you get this [impression] that, ‘This place is amazing.’ Going back it’s just like, “I’m staying here. This is where I want to be with my life.’ And I stayed for a lot of years.”
WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo author Alfred Cool reads from his latest book, The Haida Gwaii Detour at the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library on Wednesday, March 7 and at The White Room on Saturday, March 10. Both presentations from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.