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In Nature's Realm
A Perfect Eden

Engrossing, visibly stunning 
Mark Forsythe

[Your task is] of an extensive nature as it includes an investigation of the whole of Natural History of the countries you are to visit . . . to enumerate all of the Trees, Shrubs, Grasses Ferns, and Mosses . . . to note what sort of Beasts, Birds and Fishes likely to prove useful either for food or commerce . . . and always to act as you judge most likely to promote the interest of Science, and contribute to the increase of human knowledge.

—From Archibald Menzies’s orders prior to his voyage with George Vancouver, February, 1791

In Nature’s Realm was launched at Munro’s Books in Victoria,
October 2019 

In Nature’s Realm traces the course of natural history knowledge of Vancouver Island from pre-contact times to the start of World War I. The book starts with the “first true naturalists,” the Indigenous peoples of the island, whose deep understanding of local ecosystems was based on millennia of experience. 


Next it examines the findings of early European explorers, who sought to satisfy their patrons’ thirst— driven by many and varied motives—for information about the area’s natural resources. 


Visitors and settlers who followed added to the growing body of Europe’s geographical and biological knowledge of the area. By the end of the 19th century, the science of natural history had evolved into areas of specialization, eventually becoming the domain of governments, universities, and learned societies, while still leaving scope for amateurs to enjoy and contribute. 

The author has gathered initial reports, recorded histories, and personal accounts left by the Island’s early naturalists, explorers, settlers, and visitors. Many, like Archibald Menzies, accompanied English and Spanish explorations investigating the coastal geography for colonial expansion. 

Later, doctor-naturalists such as John Scouler, David Douglas, and Robert Brown worked with the Hudson’s Bay Company and collected specimens. Irish-born John Macoun, a renowned naturalist, brought his expertise to Vancouver Island, as did botanical artists Sarah Lindley (Lady Crease) and Emily Henrietta Woods.

In 1886 the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology was founded in Victoria, and 1890 saw the formation of the Natural History Society of British Columbia, which famously but unsuccessfully launched a project to import English songbirds.

In Nature’s Realm is lavishly illustrated with more than 100 diverse historical and modern images, celebrating the richly diverse flora and fauna of Vancouver Island. The book contains a glossary, endnotes, and an extensive bibliography. 
The book’s cover image is An Island in Bird’s Eye Cove, a 1993 watercolour by celebrated Vancouver Island artist E.J. Hughes. The cove’s unusual name first appeared in Captain Richards’ 1858 survey, and the island was named for the area’s first settler, William Chisholm. Image used with the kind permission of the artist’s executors. 
The title was inspired by a piece of music by Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak in 1891, just before his visit to the New World.
Related article: “British Columbia’s First Natural History Society” published in BCnature, Fall 2019, p.37

In Nature’s Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island
by Michael Layland, 2019
published by Touchwood Editions
10.125 x 9.375 inches
288 pages, hardcover
ISBN 9781771513067
CDN $40


Layland is the perfect guide
Robert Amos, Artist, Author, Columnist

The place itself appears a perfect “Eden,” in the midst of the dreary wilderness of the North west coast, and so different is its general aspect from the wooded, rugged regions around, that one might be pardoned for supposing it had dropped from the clouds into its present position . . . fields knee deep in cover, tall grasses and ferns reaching above our heads . . . unequivocal proofs of fertility.

—James Douglas from a letter he wrote to a friend

The first copy of A Perfect Eden arrived at Touchwood,
September 2016. The author with publisher Taryn Boyd.

European explorers to the Pacific northwest encountered a rugged natural paradise. A Perfect Eden 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. 

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. 

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 paints a vivid picture of what the explorers saw, the people they met, the hazards they faced, and some mysteries, as yet unsolved. It contains a rich array of first-hand accounts, maps, illustrations, paintings, and photographs, and includes a glossary, endnotes, and bibliography. 

Cover image: 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.


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

Maps speak not just about the lay
of the land, but also of the state
of civilization itself. As artifacts,
they help us trace the causes, con-straints, and biases—of the nations
and of the individuals—under which they were produced.
—Michael Layland, from the book's introduction 


Highly recommended
Dave Obee, Artist, Author, Times Colonist Publisher

Maps move us, ground us, and open a window into the era in which they were produced. With the oldest known maps dating back twenty-five thousand years, it is evident they have long been part of our collective history. But who created them, and why, is key to understanding how they are meant to be read. The Land of Heart’s Delight is an informative and fascinating compilation of the early maps of Vancouver Island, and the stories behind their creation.

The narrative, roughly chronological, begins before the arrival of Europeans and concludes at the outset of the First World War. It includes an introduction to the history and significance of map-making, as well as an afterword summarizing subsequent cartographic developments. Also included are an index, endnotes, a list of cartographic sources, and a glossary.

With more than 120 maps, charts, and illustrations dating between 1566 and 1914, this book tells the story of how Vancouver Island and the surrounding waters came to be mapped. These local cartographic milestones mark the progress in knowledge worldwide during the island’s rich recorded history. The accompanying text reveals the motives, constraints, agendas, and intrigues that underpinned the making of the maps.

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

The Land of Heart’s Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island
by Michael Layland, 2013
published by Touchwood Editions
10 x 9.4 inches
240 pages, hardcover
ISBN 978-1-77151-015-8
CDN $39.95

Author with wife Jean Layland
at BC Book Awards, 2014
Land of Heart's Delight
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