Whale in the Door

A Community Unites to Protect BC's Howe Sound

By Pauline Le Bel
Foreword by Elizabeth May
Photographs by Richard Duncan

Categories: Memoir, Environment
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781987915488, 192 pages, October 2017


The hidden life of Howe Sound and the transformative power of Coast Salish culture and environmental science. An exhilarating mix of natural history and personal exploration Whale in the Door is a passionate account of a woman's transformative experience of her adopted home. For thousands of years, Howe Sound, an inlet in the Salish Sea provided abundant food, shelter, and stories, for the Squamish Nation. After a century of contamination from pulp mills, a chemical factory, and a copper mine, the Sound, a noisy, stinky, polluted place, contained many biologically dead zones. Marine life was severely diminished. But major efforts by the Squamish Nation, governments, and industry has produced dramatic returns of herring, dolphins, porpoises, orcas, and humpbacks.

Today, Howe Sound, a spectacular fjord in Vancouver's backyard, is a popular recreation and tourism destination. The recovery, however, is fragile. The Sound is being inundated with proposals for re-industrialization-a controversial liquid natural gas plant, pipelines, super tankers, a gravel mine on a salmon-bearing estuary, and major residential and commercial developments.

Pauline Le Bel, a resident of Howe Sound, embarks on a journey of discovery to find out what is special about the Sound, its wild nature and its people, to witness the cultural and spiritual revivals taking place. Her research, her interviews, her travels on the land, the water, the skies of Howe Sound, compel her to abandon antiquated ideas about wilderness and community, and to arrive at a new appreciation for the genius of her home. Whale in the Door invites readers into a story of biological resilience as a community struggles to shape a vision for its future.


"Thanks for thinking of using our legend and my words to put it into a modern context."

--Chris Lewis, councillor, Squamish Nation

“A history, travelogue, grassroots activism log, and plea for sustainability, Le Bel’s book is a cautiously optimistic exploration of this regionally significant area.”

—Brett Grubisic, The Vancouver Sun

“Reading Whale in the Door is a wonderful experience marking the ongoing efforts of the Squamish Nation and its allies to protect Howe Sound from once again being poisoned for profit. Pauline Le Bel takes us on a journey — both hers and the Howe Sound itself — that is unforgettable and inspiring.”

—Mark Abbott, The Province

Whale in the Door is more personal than history or journalism. With her, the reader learns things they’d never know unless, like Le Bel, they went salmon counting or looking for forage fish embryos on the beach with a marine biologist or interviewed industry executives or humbly listened to First Nations Elders over bowls of soup.”

—Amy Reiswig, Focus on Victoria

“Le Bel’s filmmaking experience has clearly honed her ability to show more than tell, and to get what she wants from primary sources—the people concerned. Her extensive research is impressive.”

—Cherie Theissen, Ormsby Review