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European explorers to the Pacific northwest encountered a rugged natural paradise. This is the story of their encounters with the terrain and the peoples they found on what became Vancouver Island, their exploration and settlement of the land there. When James Douglas first arrived in 1842 seeking a new location for Hudson’s Bay Company operations on the west coast, he described it as “A perfect ‘Eden,’” a description no less true today.

A Perfect Eden was a finalist for BC Book Prizes for 2017 in two categories: the Roderick Haig-Brown Award, and the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice. It was also a finalist in the 2017 BC Historical Federation awards for historical writing.

First-hand accounts, maps, illustrations, paintings, and photographs enliven this captivating tale of discovery and exploration. Starting from before the first known European arrivals, the stories feature Spanish and British naval officers, traders seeking sea otter pelts, colonial surveyors, “Indian” chiefs, soldiers, settlers and adventurers. They take us up to 1858, when Douglas, by then Sir James, retired as governor of the two colonies — Vancouver Island and British Columbia. A Perfect Eden paints a vivid picture of what the explorers saw, the people they met, the hazards they faced, and some mysteries, as yet unsolved.

A Perfect Eden is a companion book to Michael Layland’s prizewinning The Land of Heart’s Delight, which traces the cartographic history of this remarkable region.

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Gordon Miller’s Off Thormanby Island, June 25, 1792, depicts multiple encounters: George Vancouver’s two ships with those of his Spanish counterparts, with the Salish Sea, and with its resident wildlife.


The author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the British Columbia Arts Council, for a grant through their Project Assistance for Creative Writers.

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“[T]his day’s work may be shortly summarized as alternately stumbling and scrambling over spurs of mountains, in thick forest with matted undergrowth . . . and walking across pleasant intersecting valleys . . . At five o’clock the pioneers, whilst on the ridge of a high spur, had their eyes gladdened by the sight of a large sheet of water glistening in the rays of the setting sun.”

Quote from Lieutenant T. Sherlock Gooch RN., as Joseph Pemberton’s exploratory party came upon Cowichan Lake. September 9, 1857

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A Perfect Eden
Encounters by Early Explorers of Vancouver Island
by Michael Layland, 2016
published by Touchwood Editions
10.125 x 9.375 inches
256 pages, hardcover
CDN $39.95