When people think of Murray Minchin, the first thoughts that come to mind are often his job as a postman in the Kitimat community for almost 30 years, or his role in the fight against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in the early- to mid-2010s.
However, many people don’t know that Murray and his wife, Kathy, spent six months sea kayaking along the B.C. coast when they were in their late-20s.
“Since the very beginning of our relationship, we’d always wanted to paddle the coast of B.C.,” Minchin said. “That was before child, before house, before full-time jobs, before mortgage. You know, you could just pick up and run, you had no responsibilities.”
He and Kathy were working seasonal, contract jobs at the time, and Minchin was going to art/photography school, as well. They had been preparing and getting experience over the years and knew it was something they both wanted to do.
Then, one September, they both lost their jobs. They had all the equipment they needed and didn’t have anything else to do at the time, so Kathy said, “Let’s go!”
They took off in late-October, and it was snowing and blowing like crazy the first night they left. The first leg of their trip, they pushed off from Hospital Beach, and sea kayaked for two months to Bella Bella. They left their kayaks there for the winter and came back to Kitimat to work until spring.
Come early summer, they went back to Bella Bella and spent another two months paddling from Bella Bella to Vancouver. They brought their kayaks home, then, in the fall, they put them in again in Prince Rupert and paddled for another two months to come home.
“It takes about three weeks of being out there for the modern world to kind of drop away, and for you to relax, and for you to open up to what’s really happening around you,” Minchin said. “And then after that, it’s just your life.”
Minchin said his favourite part of the experience was becoming one with nature and with the coast, and feeling himself get into the swing of things and relax.
“Just being able to really really get a sense, like deep into your bones, what the coast is, was the best part.”
They camped most of the trip, but stayed in a motel once in Port Hardy, on the northwestern end of Vancouver Island.
“We went into the motel room and we sat down on the floor, and we were talking, just going through our gear and stuff, and it took probably 20 minutes to half an hour for us to realize there were chairs in the room. So that’s how in-tuned to travelling in nature we were.”
Minchin and Kathy dried most of their food beforehand, but also had family members mail food to them at different points along their trips. Minchin said they were very careful with their food, but also only saw one bear on their entire trip and no other wildlife at all, save for some birds and squirrels and smaller creatures.
“We saw one bear on the whole coast of B.C. in six months,” Minchin said. “There was something that was crunching through the bush, and it was really big, and it didn’t care that anything was listening, or hearing it. And it was going to come right out where our tent was…and we called out and said that we were there, and then it just disappeared. So we have no idea what it was to this day.”
They didn’t take a gun, only pepper spray, which apparently wasn’t a good decision, Minchin said, according to one person.
“Some guy, I think the quote that he said to Kathy was, ‘Well don’t come crying to me when a bear rips off your pretty face!’ All because we weren’t taking a gun.”
Minchin and Kathy now have a 19-year-old daughter who goes to Okanagan College and haven’t done any big trips like that since. Kathy was also in a car accident several years ago and isn’t able to sea kayak anymore due to a shoulder injury from the crash, so they bought a diesel trawler instead, and have been using that for the past several years.
“We ended up buying a diesel trawler so that we could get back out there again, and also so our daughter could grow up knowing how amazing it is in this place that we live.”
And Minchin and Kathy always make sure they stay involved with the place they live, as well.
Both were heavily involved with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline fight several years ago, as part of the Douglas Channel Watch, a group that was started by concerned citizens in Kitimat. Kathy and Minchin’s mother-in-law were both very active with the group straight from the get-go, but Minchin said it took him a little bit longer to get fully involved.
“It took me a little longer to get involved, because I wanted to a bit more research. Then I heard Enbridge making claims that were just huge red flags for me.”
Minchin said they were saying things such as, “The environments that Enbridge works in will be safer because of the project” and “ There’s a one in 17,000-year chance that there will be an Exxon Valdez-type spill associated with this project.”
“They were making claims like this, they’re just assuming that we’re idiots here,” Minchin said.
However, Minchin truly decided to get involved after hiking down along the Channel on a trail that starts at the Kitamaat Village Marina, and seeing a boomstick — which is several logs or rounded objects chained together to form a boom, a type of collection device in case of an oil spill — soaked in diesel oil on the beach.
“I was sitting there, in this beautiful spot, looking down the Channel, trying to imagine in my mind’s eye millions upon millions of oil-saturated logs all the way to the mountains. I can talk about it now without a tear coming to my eye, but it’s still a very emotional thought.”
From there, Minchin was in. There were a large amount of members in the Douglas Channel Watch and each had their own special skill to bring to the team.
Kathy had been in the car accident a few years prior to this, and they had self-represented themselves with ICBC in court for the first while. Minchin said he learned a lot about researching and digging into huge documents to find information, which was useful when reading through Enbridge’s documents.
Minchin also has a real interest in natural history and the geologic natural forces involved in building Kitimat, which gave him expert knowledge on the area and the issues that the pipeline would bring.
Because of this, and despite the extreme stutter he had at the time, Minchin stepped up as the group’s spokesperson to help speak and cross-examine Enbridge’s expert witness panel.
“They would have six or seven experts and behind them were a series of tables where people had iPads and were doing research and bringing them documents, and they would feed them forward depending on what questions you had. So, I could, with my local knowledge, ask them questions that I know they never considered. And I’d ask my question, then just lean back in my chair and watch them squirm, and it was great. It was really enjoyable.”
Once that issue was solved, Minchin said he hasn’t involved himself in any more public issues and plans to keep a low profile going forward.
He and Kathy plan to do lots of coast exploring in their retirement, and Minchin also wants to keep working on his wildlife photography. Kathy is an excellent wildlife photographer, according to Minchin, and her pictures are what encouraged him to start taking pictures with a digital camera, something he’d never done in the past.
“I haven’t fully explored it yet. There’s things I want to do when I have the time,” Minchin said. “There’s a couple processes I want to explore, and that’s going to take a lot of effort and time, and so that’s what I’m looking forward to for retirement.”