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Review in the Comox Valley Record

Pat Wastell Norris, author of High Boats: A Century of Salmon Remembered has created an engaging book that blends the life stories of two men with a history of West Coast salmon fishing.

The story revolves around the final voyage of Alert Bay fishermen David Huson and Barrie McClung onboard the May S., Huson's seine boat. Huson is from an old Alert Bay family that got its start in the mid 1800s when Alden Westly Huson immigrated from New York and married Mary Ekegat, a Tlinglit native. David, their great-grandson, was raised in a loving, jovial and large family that depended on fishing for a living.

McClung's background was different. He grew up in Victoria, the adopted son of a loving mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. McClung met Huson on one of David's visits to the city and the boys became fast friends. After a trip to Alert Bay, McClung decided that's where he wanted to be. He was welcomed into the Huson family and into the realm of fishing.

The village of Alert Bay is located on Cormorant Island off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. During fishing season in the 1950s and '60s, the local newspaper carried a front-page box entitled "High Boats." These were the boats with the highest catch for the week. The boats' names, their skippers and the fishing companies they worked for were listed. Some skippers made the list week after week, others never did. Yet day after day they were all out there setting their nets and hoping for a seine full of salmon that could be converted into big bucks.

In the 20th century if you worked hard and were lucky fishing was a good way to earn a living. And for those who preferred to stay on land, work could be found, in the canneries. Then along came motorized boats, refrigeration and other technological advances and the fishing industry began to change. By the 21st century salmon stocks had dwindled to such an extent that the federal government shrunk the fleet, drastically altering a way of life for many. High Boats presents the story of these changes in a personal and appealing manner.

Norris writes in a casual, entertaining style that captures the sights, sounds and smells of the fishing industry, as well as the emotions of those working in it. Memoir and historical fact are skillfully combined to create a story that keeps the reader eager to turn pages. The text is enhanced with numerous photos from the author's personal collection.

And Norris knows the area she writes about. The author grew up in Telegraph Cove, not far from Alert Bay, and was carried aboard her father's tugboat before she could walk.
Paula Wild