BIG LONELY DOUG weaves the ecology of old-growth forests, the legend of the West Coast’s big trees, the turbulence of the logging industry, the fight for preservation, the contention surrounding ecotourism, First Nations land and resource rights, and the fraught future of these ancient forests around the story of a logger who saved one of Canada's last great trees.
+ Globe and Mail best books of 2018 +
+ CBC best Canadian nonfiction of 2018 +
+ Shaughessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing shortlist +
+ BC Book Prize shortlist +
+ Banff Mountain Book Competition finalist +
On a cool morning in the winter of 2011, a logger named Dennis Cronin was walking through a stand of old-growth forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. His job was to survey the land and flag the boundaries for clear-cutting. As he made his way through the forest, Cronin came across a massive Douglas-fir the height of a twenty-storey building. It was one of the largest trees in Canada that if felled and milled could easily fetch more than fifty thousand dollars. Instead of moving on, he reached into his vest pocket for a flagging he rarely used, tore off a strip, and wrapped it around the base of the trunk. Along the length of the ribbon were the words “LEAVE TREE.”
When the fallers arrived, every wiry cedar, every droopy-topped hemlock, every great fir was cut down and hauled away ― all except one. The solitary tree stood quietly in the clear cut until activist and photographer T.J. Watt stumbled upon the Douglas-fir while searching for big trees for the Ancient Forest Alliance, an environmental organization fighting to protect British Columbia's dwindling old-growth forests. The single Douglas-fir exemplified their cause: the grandeur of these trees juxtaposed with their plight. They gave it a name: Big Lonely Doug. The tree would also eventually, and controversially, be turned into the poster child of the Tall Tree Capital of Canada, attracting thousands of tourists every year and garnering the attention of artists, businesses, and organizations who saw new values encased within its bark.
“Among the joys of good writing and deep research are the ways in which it can reinvigorate a place you thought you knew, inviting you to see it, and feel it, afresh. This is just one of the gifts of Big Lonely Doug, an avatar of the west coast rainforest that, through Harley Rustad’s insightful and nuanced telling, embodies this vital ecosystem in all its beauty and complexity. Reading this book made me want to drop everything and meet Doug in person.”
― John Vaillant, author of THE GOLDEN SPRUCE
“In the face of global ecological chaos, how much does one tree matter? For Harley Rustad, one in particular—a 20-storey Douglas fir standing on Vancouver Island—matters enough to make it the star of a brilliant story about the challenges, losses, and triumphs of conservation today. Rustad is a careful reporter and an excellent storyteller, combining those skills to weave together the ecology of British Columbia and the politics of contemporary environmentalism into single engaging narrative about Big Lonely Doug, one of Canada’s last great trees.”
— 2018 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing jury (André Picard, Angela Sterritt, and Chris Turner)
“Blending thoughtful historical research with vivid reportage, Harley Rustad begins with the story of a single tree, but masterfully widens his scope to encompass so much more: all the other grand old trees that have been felled on Vancouver Island, all those that have been saved, and most importantly, why it all matters. A complex and at times alarming tale, but also, in the end, a deeply hopeful one.”
— Robert Moor, author of ON TRAILS and the forthcoming IN TREES
“An affecting story of one magnificent survivor tree set against a much larger narrative—the old conflict between logging and the environmental movement, global economics, and the fight to preserve the planet's most endangered ecosystems. If you love trees and forests, this book is for you.”
— Charlotte Gill, author of EATING DIRT
"You can see the forest for the trees, at least when the trees in question are singular giants like Big Lonely Doug, and the writer deftly directing your gaze is Harley Rustad. This sweeping yet meticulous narrative reveals the complex human longings tangled up in British Columbia’s vanishing old-growth forests—cathedrals or commodities, depending on who you ask, and the future hinges on our answer.”
— Kate Harris, author of LANDS OF LOST BORDERS
“Having spent time, personally, with Big Lonely Doug, and wandering through the last of our ancient forests in British Columbia, it's never been more clear to me how imperative it is for us as humans to recognize the magnificence of these ancient trees and forests and do everything that we can to preserve them. With less than 1 percent of the original old-growth Douglas-fir stands left on BC's coast it's time for Canadians to embrace Big Lonely Doug and his fellow survivors, and keep them standing tall. Harley Rustad's story brings both the majesty and adversity of Big Lonely Doug a little closer to home.”
— Edward Burtynsky, photographer
“Reading Rustad’s book may make you want to catch the next ferry for Vancouver Island…but it may change the way you interact with forests or, at the very least, individual trees.”
— Globe and Mail
“[Harley Rustad’s] microscale descriptions of the landscape and how commercial forestry has changed it bring you into the depths of Vancouver Island… More than anything, Big Lonely Doug’s story is a reminder of how much the ecosystem has been altered when we’re down to caring about one particular tree.”
“By reading this book, we discovered a deeper meaning for saving our forests, for replenishing clear cuts and for reforesting our cities as well.”
— Toronto Star
“[Harley Rustad] is a gifted researcher and writer and a valuable enabler whose book is a must-read for anyone interested in ecology.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“[An] absorbing story of how the human fixation on individuals turned one tree into an icon of both ecotourism and resource extraction.”
+ Q&A in the National Post: Lonely old fir's fate awakens man's activism
+ Review in High Country News: What trees can teach us
+ Excerpt in The Guardian: “The last great tree: a majestic relic of Canada's vanishing rainforest”
+ CBC The Next Chapter: “How a solitary Douglas fir inspired Harley Rustad to write a book”
+ Spotlight video on Big Lonely Doug, produced by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
+ Named one of the Globe and Mail’s best books of 2018
+ Review in Coast Mountain Culture magazine
+ How I Wrote It on CBC: “How Harley Rustad's award-winning magazine article about saving a tree grew into the book Big Lonely Doug”
+ BIG LONELY DOUG on the “CBC Books winter reading list: 15 Canadian books to read this season”
+ BIG LONELY DOUG review in the Toronto Star “Environmental dramas drive the plots”
+ Macleans names BIG LONELY DOUG one of “The best books to read this winter”
+ Review in Outside magazine: “Dark New Books on Our Greed for Nature”
+ Review in AQUA magazine: “A new kind of ecosystem”
+ Interview on AMI: Live from Studio 5
+ Guest on the Into the Anthropocene podcast, episode 6: “Into the Woods: British Columbia’s Old-Growth Forests”
+ Vancouver Sun: “Bounty of books with B.C. connections set for fall reading list”
+ Interview on the Word Weaver podcast
+ Interview on CBC All in a Day
+ Review in the Winnipeg Free Press: “Growth Negligence: chronicle of massive B.C. tree has roots in ecological activism”
+ Interview on the Ryan Jespersen Show: "A single tree & a logger changed the way we see B.C.'s old growth forests"
+ Review in the Toronto Star: "When one big tree is left standing in a forest, can we hear its message?"
+ Toronto Star: "25 books that are going to make a splash this fall"
+ The Revelator: “The 15 Best New Eco-books for September”
+ Review and profile in the Globe and Mail: "Meet Doug: B.C.'s biggest celebri-tree"
+ CBC names BIG LONELY DOUG one of the "25 works of non-fiction to watch this fall"
+ Shortlisted for the Shaughessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
+ Shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize (BC Book Prize)
+ Finalist in the Banff Mountain Book Competition
+ October 12, 2019: LitQuake (San Francisco, California)
+ November 1, 2018: Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival (Banff, Alberta)
+ October 19, 2018: Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Ontario)
+ October 11, 2018: The Nature Conservancy of Canada, at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario)
+ September 20, 2018: Sitka (Victoria, British Columbia)
+ September 17, 2018: Wild Oat Bakery and Cafe, hosted by Octopus Books (Ottawa, Ontario)
+ September 5, 2018: Book launch at Henderson's Brewery (Toronto, Ontario)
Directions to Big Lonely Doug:
Near the Port Renfrew Community Centre, turn north onto Deering Road, continue past the Pacheedaht Campground, and cross over the Deering Bridge. At the Pacific Marine Road junction, turn left and follow the signs towards Avatar Grove. The paved road will eventually turn to dirt.
After Avatar Grove, continue along the Gordon River Road for approximately 4 kilometres and take your first right onto a small side road. Continue down to the bridge high over the Gordon River. Park at the side of the road, walk across the bridge, and continue around 15 minutes on foot along the logging road (a 4x4 vehicle can make it) and keep to the main dirt road.
Cutblock 7190 and Big Lonely Doug will be on your right.