The summer of 2009 saw Ali Howard become the first person
on the planet to ever swim the entire 610km Skeena River. After 26 days of whitewater, boulder gardens, crazy currents and community celebrations, she had done it! Ali is now touring the region and beyond with slideshows, video footage and discussions about her epic adventure. The documentary, Awakening the Skeena is available for purchase.
The Spirit of the Skeena Lives on!
What a whirlwind few years for Skeena Swimmer Ali Howard! She swam the entire Skeena, became a national sensation, starred in the award winning ‘Awakening the Skeena’ film and toured throughout Canada and the US sharing her stories and photos from her amazing adventure.
Why would Ali put herself through a grueling 28-day swim down a remote whitewater river?
Here are the three main objectives Ali hopes the swim will achieve:
To raise awareness of the Skeena as one of North America’s greatest rivers.
The 610-kilometre Skeena River is one of the world’s longest undammed rivers, and is the second longest river in British Columbia. Unlike the Fraser, the Skeena has been spared widespread industrial development, and a large portion of the Skeena watershed remains an intact, functioning ecosystem.
Wild salmon are at the heart of what makes the Skeena River special. Each year, all five species of wild salmon plus steelhead make their way up-river to spawn in their natal streams. They give rise to a $100-million wild salmon economy that sustains communities along the Skeena and includes First Nations fisheries, commercial fishing, and recreational angling.
First Nations have called the Skeena home for thousands of years, and numerous First Nations communities are located throughout the watershed. The Tsimshian and the Gitxsan First Nations’ names mean “inside the Skeena River” and “people of the Skeena River.”
To draw attention to threats to the Skeena watershed.
The Skeena is rich in resources and over the years there have been several industrial developments proposed that have threatened the integrity of the watershed and its salmon. Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition is currently drawing attention to two proposed developments: Shell’s coalbed methane drilling in the Sacred Headwaters and Enbridge’s proposed tar sands oil pipeline.
Shell and the Sacred Headwaters
The Sacred Headwaters is the shared birthplace of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers — an area rich in wildlife and salmon spawning habitat. Shell wants to drill over 1,000 gas wells in this sensitive area to gain access to coalbed methane gas, a type of natural gas found in coal seams. Their project is strongly opposed by residents of all three watersheds because of the impact it will have on the landscape of the Sacred Headwaters and the wild salmon habitat downstream in the Skeena. After rallies and protests in BC and internationally, in 2008 the BC government placed a moratorium on Shell’s planned drilling. This moratorium is temporary, however, and we are working to gain permanent safeguards for the Sacred Headwaters.
Enbridge and the transport of tar sands oil through the Skeena
Enbridge is planning an 1,100-kilometre pipeline between the Alberta tar sands and the BC coast along a route that cuts through the Skeena watershed. The project brings the risk of oil spills, both from the pipeline and from the supertankers that will be required to move the oil to overseas markets. There is growing concern among Northwest BC residents. They fear a disaster like the Exxon Valdez spill, which would decimate the coastal environment and affect the Skeena’s wild salmon. They are also concerned because Enbridge’s pipeline is tied closely to expansion of the tar sands, which are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution.
To connect communities around a sustainable vision for the Skeena’s future.
Perhaps the Skeena’s greatest assets are its people, who live in tight-knit communities and who are all connected in one way or another to the watershed and its salmon. Through her swim, Ali hopes to spark a conversation about how we can work together for the future of the Skeena — one that allows our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same quality of life we do. And one that sees wild salmon continue to exist in their full diversity and abundance.
“We have an opportunity here to do things differently – to have vibrant communities and a healthy watershed,” says Ali. “There are going to be proposals that don’t fit with this vision, and we’ll have to work to stop them. But we’ll also work together to build positive things — like new economic opportunities from clean energy and food security for our communities.”
Meet Ali & the Team
The youngest of four children raised in Ottawa, I have split my time between the Bulkley & Kispiox Valleys since 2006. Formally trained as a chef at the Stratford Chefs School, I left the rigors working in fine-dining restaurants for the calmer, healthier pace of cooking at a luxury lodge, The Cliffs at Kispiox River. Both my sister, Monica, and one of my brothers, Chris, live in Telkwa and I am always happy to spend time with my hilarious 4-year old niece Joanna and her new baby sister, Michelle. I don’t remember a time I did not know how to swim; my earliest memory, from when I was two, is of my father chucking me out of a boat to prove to my uncle that I could swim.
1.) Favourite hobby: Searching in vain through mls listings.
2.) Favourite book: Too many…maybe A Complicated Kindness, or…no, too many.
3.) Favourite movie: Whatever my niece, Jojo, chooses for her Friday Flick (but maybe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind…again, too many candidates)
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: Read tabloids while waiting in line at the grocery check-out.
5.) Nickname: Kid (and many, many others that have fortunately not followed me into “adulthood”)
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Huh, only one? Jesus? Lately, Lynn Cox.
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: The entire screenplay for the Princess Bride; “I’m a piranha” every time I see Gee’s kayak.
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: whoa
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: Someone funny & handy
10.) Favourite meal: Any meal anyone else put even a small amount of effort & love into, so long as we share it.
Hello, my name is Christopher Michael Gee.
I was born in Dakelh territory, near the Nechako River. I currently live near the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. I will be one of the safety kayakers accompanying Ali on her epic swim. I have been asked if I think this undertaking is dangerous. Certainly, it is, but the risks of this swim pale in comparison to the dangers posed by Shell’s unrelenting drive to initiate an industrial experiment in the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine, and Nass rivers. The time has arrived to pick a side. I have chosen to stand with those brave enough to heed the wisdom of elders. The value of life, water, fish,
and, ultimately, our mother, Earth, must not be jeopardized for the sake of short term monetary gain for fat cats running multi-national corporations.
Who’s side are you on?
1.) Favourite hobby: Chess
2.) Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
3.) Favourite movie: Metropolis by Fritz Lange
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: The Walrus
5.) Nickname: G
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Terry Fox
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: Sounds good, let’s do it
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: adventure
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would
most like to have with me is: Jesus
10.) Favourite Dish: Tortellini with Pesto
My name is Kim Ward-Robberts I have recently moved to Terrace, BC with my husband Chris. We are so excited and happy to finally call the Northwest home. Some of my passions are; exploring wild rivers in my kayak, hiking, biking and backcountry skiing. We have had the privilege to work and travel on rivers across Canada, Nepal, South America, and Africa. The Skeena River is by far one of the most amazing wild rivers in the world. Can you believe it is one of the longest un-damed Rivers? I am the safety kayaker on the trip. I’ll be assisting with water safety and scouting the rapids for hazards while we run the different sections of the Skeena. Another one of my passions is working with youth, I love seeing young people get excited about the outdoors. I am a youth care worker at the Atlas Youth Treatment Centre in Terrace, BC. It’s a wonderful place that promotes healing and growth for youth in recovery.
I am so honoured to join the Skeena Swim crew…the project really drives home awareness of our Rivers and pulls together communities to have a united voice for conservation.
1.) Favourite hobby: Kayaking, Backcountry Skiing, Yoga, just being in the wilderness
2.) Favourite book: Power of One
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet:
7.) Quote you will hear me say often:“Love Life and Life will love you back! “
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Amazing
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: My husband we spend so much time apart, it would be great to see him for a whole month!
10.) Favourite meal: Fresh seafood…I’m not picky I love it all!
Since Jim’s partner, Alana, had a baby only 3 weeks ago – he is pretty busy. So I (Shannon McPhail – his eldest sister) will write this for him. Jim, the only boy with 3 sisters who bossed him incessantly and dressed him girls’ clothing when he was younger, somehow managed to survive and is now the true definition of a mountain man. He is our whitewater specialist and will be leading the remote upper section of the expedition. We only know of 1 other raft guide that has guided the Skeena from the Sacred Headwaters and that’s Luke Pitzman who is running our YOW program. Jim and his daughter Aurora (at 2 weeks old) have already rafted the Kispiox River and jet boated on the Skeena keeping his family tradition alive as he was only a couple weeks old when he did the same. The young experience on the river must have rooted itself into Jim’s blood because he is on the river all 4 seasons. Winter as a skier, spring as a kayaker, summer on raft floats and salmon fishing, fall as a steelhead guide. Jim owns and operates Kispiox Fishing Company helping fly-fishermen on their quest for the world’s largest steelhead. His wild roots lead him on crazy adventures throughout our mountain ranges, creeks and rivers. You would be hard pressed to find someone more savvy to the backwoods of this watershed than he.
1.) Favourite hobby: fishing
2.) Favourite book: The Prophet by Kahil Gibran
3.) Favourite movie: Snatch
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: none
5.) Nickname: Jimmy Johnny
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Simon Gunnanoot
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: “Oh yeah” (not OH YEAH!!! but Oh yeah…like, “ahhhh….I see”)
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Gnarly
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would
most like to have with me is: Alana & Aurora (wife and 1 month old daughter…how could I choose between those two?)
10.) Favourite Dish: Lamb Organgoosh(sp?) at Haryana’s Restaurant in Terrace, BC
From the article in Northword Magazine, “If you have ever come across Matt Lewis—high in the mountains on a drill exploration platform, or tearing through the powder on his telemark skis—you will have met an affable giant of a man. He is quick with a smile and an offer of a tequila shot, and may lift you from your feet with the biggest of bear hugs. Growing up in the Kispiox, Matt’s life—like most of the residents there—intermingled closely with local First Nations. His easy relationship with many of the Anspayax Village residents is wrought out of a lifetime of sharing space, experiences, and common values that include an avid love of the landscape. Well known and liked by many villagers, he still hears himself referred to as ‘Moonie,’ an abbreviation of a grade-school nickname conferred upon him by an elder who thought he should be called Moonhead, in reference to his large promontory.” We’re grateful to have Matt donate an entire month to this expedition, especially when his business, Kispiox Barn Company is extremely busy. He is one heck of a whitewater raft guide!
1.) Favourite hobby: building timber things
2.) Favourite book: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
3.) Favourite movie: Down by Law
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: Homeworkshop
5.) Nickname: Moonhead
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Hunter S Thompson
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: Some kind of profanity or “NO AL!!!”
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Epic
9.) Favourite Dish: spinach salad and carrot cake
Motivated by a passion for wild places and a deep connection to rivers, Andrew began following the work of SWCC from afar. On hearing the news of Ali’s goal to swim the Skeena, he assembled the resources to document her adventure and in the process shine a light on some of the issues that motivated her to take action and the efforts to spark a dialog about the future of the watershed. It’s an incredible privilege to accompany the expedition team on the journey and in the process having the chance to share with others this unique place and the remarkable story that is unfolding here. Too often, out of sight means out of mind. My hope is that those who see the film, and come to realize what’s at stake here, add their voices to the call to protect this region.
1.) Favourite Hobby – Fly Fishing
2.) Favourite Book – River of the Angry Moon: Seasons on the Bella Coola is both a comprehensive record of the life of a river system and an important cautionary tale
3.) Favourite Movie – Apocalypse Now – a remarkable film, the making of which was an incredible tale in itself
4.) I have a Magazine subscription to – Outside, Playback, Food & Wine, Outdoor Photographer
5.) Nickname – Champ
6.) Famous Person dead or alive that I would like to meet – Roderick Haig-Brown. He was a conservationist long before it was fashionable. I like that he described himself not as a fisherman who happened to write, but as a writer who happened to fish.
7.) Quote you will most often hear me say – “Not all who wander are lost.”
8.) One Word to Describe Swim – Inspiring
9.) If I were trapped on an island for a month, who would I most like to have with me – My wife Yvonne. We’ve known each other for over 30 years but there are still things I want to learn about her.
10.) Favourite Meal – It’s never the meal that is remembered. It’s always the company you shared it with.
First Aid Team Leader
Aaron just sort of fell on our laps! He was up visiting his brother (the infamous Matt Lewis) and for entertainment, Matt brought him to a planning session for the Skeena Swim. When we identified that we needed a Level III first aider on the trip, he informed us that he was certified. We joked and asked if he could cook and he told us that he was a caterer! What more could we ask for? (He also has some massage therapy experience) He jumped into the project with both feet, organizing food orders, menus, first aid gear and swiftwater rescue training. He’s a another giant on the trip which will be great for the 2 nasty portages.
1.) Favourite hobby: snowboarding
2.) Favourite book: The Hobbit
3.) Favourite movie: The Big Lebowski
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: none
5.) Nickname: Matt’s brother
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: George Bush, so I could throw my shoe at him
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: “Are you going to eat that?”
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Epicalicious
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would
most like to have with me is: Wonder Woman
10.) Favourite Dish: Moussaka
I think “hooligan” is the best way to describe me. I was born and raised in Kispiox Valley, part of the Skeena Watershed and feel greatly connected to this place and the people who live here. My family has 5 generations in the Kispiox and we’ve carved out a living as guide outfitters, ranchers and tradespeople. I have 2 kids (Grant 3 and Sara 1) and I have never left them for this length of time and know that it will be extremely difficult not to have them with me. I do this work because I want my children to have a healthy future in this incredible place. There’s just not many like it left in the world. I like the fact that we can harvest almost all of our own food from meat and berries to grains and veggies. I also like the fact that this watershed is full of diverse people from diverse cultures and while we may not agree on everything, we are still good neighbours and we can all agree that we don’t want coalbed methane or oil tankers in our wild salmon watershed! I love this place and will never stop working to keep it from harm.
1.) Favourite hobby: well thought out pranks – it’s an art!
2.) Favourite book: South by Sir Ernest Shackleton
3.) Favourite movie: Shawshenk Redemption
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: National Geographic and The Walrus
5.) Nickname: Salmonella…but I like Shan much better
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Nicholas Capernicus
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: Rock on!
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: inspiring
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: My husband – Steve
10.) Favourite meal: moose steak and fried potatoes or ANYTHING Ali makes.
A founding member of SWCC, Brian moved to the Skeena in 2003 to work on a grizzly bear conservation project in the upper Skeena watershed. Since 2004, Brian has been organizing baseline inventory research for selected fish, wildlife and cultural resources in the remote upper Skeena. He has done every expedition that SWCC has organized including three trips in the Sacred Headwaters. His photography is what you see all over this website and his photos travel all over the world to help demonstrate just how incredible this place really is. In 2007, he was adopted into a Gitxsan House with territories in the upper Skeena and given a traditional name (which he still can’t pronounce!) as a result of his meaningful work. His recent haircut has moved him from the “token hippee” category to “mullet-man”.
1.) Favourite hobby: Building fires
2.) Favourite book: Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder
3.) Favourite movie: Fiddler on the Roof “If I were a rich man”
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: The Walrus
5.) Nickname: hmmm…. Honeynuts is the most recent flavour.
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Morihei Ueshiba or how bout Jim Henson
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: Sweet
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Real
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: My Brother- Chris
10.) Favourite meal: Straight from the garden any time of day or night… farm fresh eggs fried on home baked bread with spinach, sun warm cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and sorrel sprinkled on top.
My name is Todd Stockner. I am a director with the SWCC and I am the logistics coordinator for the Skeena Swim. I have been a passionate advocate of conservation issues in the Skeena area for more than 15 years. I grew up with a keen appreciation of wild, quiet and untamed places, having backpacked many of the great wilderness trails along British Columbia’s coast and mountainous regions. I have lived in the Kispiox Valley since 1994, but have been fishing, guiding and exploring these waters for over 25 years; I am a steelhead fly fishing guide here on the Kispiox and Skeena rivers; and in the off season I am a fine woodworker. My commitment to the Skeena, its wild places, its fish, wildlife, and its people and communities is unwavering. This is my home, and some things are worth fighting for: this is one of them.
1.) Favourite hobby: I make my living as a fly fishing guide and as a fine woodworker, effectively eliminating those things from being “hobbies” which one could say they once were.
I am still not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I sure like the way I make my living, so it must be okay.
2.) Favourite book: Lord of the Rings would have to be right up there, but so is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and so is The Shipping News
3.) Favourite movie(s): Wizard of Oz, Marry Poppins, Witness, Lord of the Rings (all of them), the first Star Wars, The Truman Show . . . too many to mention
4.) Magazine Subscriptions: The Walrus, Rolling Stone, National Geographic
5.) My old nickname from high school from an old girl friend was Toad, but I never hear that any more.
6.) Famous Person that I would like to meet: I guess Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple computer comes to mind. But the so does Judy Garland, but only if I could meet her just as she was as “Dorothy” in The Wizard of Oz, so I guess that means that I really want to meet Dorothy . . . and Toto can come too.
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: “Holy Doodle!!”
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: “Amazing”
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: Naturally it would have to be my wife Kathleen. Because it’s about time. And she would be so good at organizing our escape raft.
10.) Favourite meal: I have two favourites that come to mind: A great leg of lamb served with a fine Napa valley Zinfandel. And Broccoli Tofu Stir Fry with Peanut sauce and brown basmati rice. (I love being an omnivore)
I moved to the Kispiox Valley from New Westminster in 1994 with Todd and our then two-year-old daughter, Hannah, and the following spring our son Simon was born. Since then our little family has dug in and made a home for ourselves here that has surpassed anything we could have created back in the city. I have learned a great deal over the past 15 years: lessons in poultry farming, puppy raising and goat chasing; putting wood in the shed and preserves in the pantry (although this I did learn from my mother back in West Vancouver); bird-watching, bear-watching, and river floating. Our kids have grown up taking for granted such delights as playing hockey on our own pond in the winter and absorbing the culturally-enriching experience of the Kispiox Valley Music Festival. These are things that make this place special. A deep sense of community is what I have found here, whether it’s getting involved in organizing the Music Festival, or playing a small part in this amazing Skeena Swim project. I am so happy to be a part of this group, and proud to see our kids getting involved as well. Hannah is a member of the Youth On Water (YOW) program, and Simon is part of the crew helping to get the swim team, and all its gear, launched in the Sacred Headwaters. I’m sure our teens would be doing interesting things had we stayed in the city, but I think it’s fair to say that they have benefitted greatly by growing up in this beautiful valley full of intriguing, caring people, and exciting opportunities for adventure.
1.) Favourite hobby: Playing board games, if I can find anyone else who’s game
2.) Favourite book: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
3.) Favourite movie: Amelie
4.) I have a magazine subscription to: Today’s Parent (even though our kids are now teens, I still find relevant stuff)
5.) Nickname: Kate
6.) Famous person, dead or alive, that I would like to meet: Dick Van Dyke
7.) Quote you will hear me say often: “You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die” (from my Grandmother)
8.) One word to describe the Skeena Swim: Once-in-a-lifetime (does that count as one word?)
9.) If I were trapped on an island for 1 month, the person I would most like to have with me is: Todd
10.) Favourite meal: Depends on the season. Right now it would be fresh salmon on the barbecue, BC corn, new potatoes, and local tomatoes with herbs from the garden.