victoria historical society

Wonderful to meet the many members of the Victoria Historical Society Thursday, October 29, 2016 at James Bay. Hosted by Ron Greene and Sylvia van Kerk.

Wonderful, well presented, off-the-cuff talk about a fascinating and fundamental figure in Canadian science. Michael Layland Author of A perfect Eden: Encounters by early explorers of Vancouver Island.

A  pleasure to listen to the story of a truly beautiful British Columbian. Kathryn McAllister

A fascinating recounting of a remarkable man and British Columbian. Janet Stevens

I completely identify with Ian McTaggart Cowan and my love of nature. Thanks you for enlightening me. Claudia Berry

Wonderful presentation. Really brought the man to life. Great photos too. Danda Humphries, author of On the Street Where you Live.

An amazing informational talk by Briony that covers so much of the history of the environmental movement and the people involved. The who's who and the where''s where.  Jeanne

Fascinating research about a fascinating person. Russ Fuller

Wonderful speaker with incredible knowledge. Joyce Clerihue


Kamloops Reading

A miraculous evening, Dr. Nancy Flood
A mesmerizing account of a an inspirational visionary. I am feeling a little bit better about the world now. The fight is worth fighting. Dr. Cindy Friedman
Outstanding tribute to an amazing individual. Gary Hunt
The speaker is talented and thorough. The pictures were simple, elegant and captivating. Her attention to detail is amazing.  Noah [student]
Fantastic insight into the life of an incredible pioneer of science. Kristi [student]
Amazing story with a multitude of connections. Christine Petersen
Wonderful! Full of important information that is critical for all British Columbians — all Canadians— to understand what lies at the base of conservation in this century. Dr. Lyn Baldwin

Many thanks to the faculty and students and bookstore of Thompson Rivers University that came out to support this event.

Read Local BC


Monday November 7th from 6-8 PM at Salt Spring Library, 129 McPhillips Ave, Salt Spring Island, Read Local BC  is sponsoring a local reading on Saltspring with myself, Mark Leiren-Young and Caroline Fox so you get the full history of the conservation of killer whales and seabirds on this coast. Should be fun and a great chance to share stories on whales and seabirds.

Join us in celebrating our natural world with three celebrated BC authors, who will each read from their latest books:

THE REAL THING by Briony Penn
The first official biography of Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910–2010), the “father of Canadian ecology.” Penn provides an unprecedented and accessible window into the story of this remarkable naturalist.

The fascinating and heartbreaking account of the first publicly exhibited captive killer whale—a story that forever changed the way we see orcas and sparked the movement to save them.

An illustrated narrative that interweaves the shifting seasons... See More

east kootenay: cranbrook, invermere and golden

Big shout out to Wildsight for organizing the tri-city tour! Especially Robyn, Laura and Jim Duncan, Kim Urbaniak, Ellen Zimmerman, Baiba and Pat Morrow, Andrea Chapman, John Bergenske, Michael Keefer, and all the other Wildsighters who are "the real thing" and provided such wonderful hospitality, venues, audiences and walks in the trench from the Kimberley Nature Park to the Wilmer wetlands all in the shadow of the great Qat'muk. Thanks to all the institutions of  Cranbrook College of the Rockies, invermere CPR Lodge and Golden Public Library, for opening up your facilities and the librarian for staying after hours while we tried to solve the world's problems. Loved hearing about the genesis of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy with Pat M. and John B. and Art Twomey from the early days of SPEC and EKES stemming from the Earthwatch Conference and IUCN conference that Cowan attended back in 1972. Cowan's journals stretched from Newgate in the 30s through the Rockies in the 40s and later work to improve the science in the National Parks management. Great to meet Jim Thorsell a PhD student of Cowan's who corresponded with him about parks in the 70s. Highlight was the hundreds of widgeon whistling from the wetlands on their way home. Maybe I'll beat them home. Also thanks to Marylou Wakefield who expanded her role of communications to help with driving, organizing, fixing, selling books and general tour marvel woman.

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Wonderful to be back in Jasper now with the book finished and seeing friends like Al and Mavis Brady again! Many many thanks to Karen Byers, the manager at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, the mover and shaker for all things precious in the Jasper region. So enjoyed meeting the keepers of the knowledge in Jasper and sharing the stories and resources of Cowan's time in the Rockies — trying to put a scientific/ecological footing on the management of the park back 60 years ago dealing with problems that are still facing us today. Hoping for a political seachange in the resources provided the park with so many pressures facing wildlife. It was a great venue and fun to be sharing the space with Uvic's Eric Higgs' Bridgland project which also threw a light on the historical changes of the park.


UNBC Prince George

AFter a trip up through Cowan's old research areas of the Chilcotin lakes, Ten Mile Lake and a week in the Chilcotin watching raptors, bighorns, grizzlies, glaciers and clouds with BC Nature's Bev Ramey, her husband Bill, Cathy Koot, and my boys Callum & Ronan and Miranda McDougall, two super welcoming groups for the book talk: Scout Island Nature Centre/Williams Lake Naturalists; and the  UNBC NRESi Colloquium Series.

Met with students from the Wildlife and Fisheries Major Program and members of The Wildlife Society, of which Cowan was a chair. Lots of great energy and questions at the colloquium. Many thanks to Al Wiensczyk and Darwyn Coxson, and congrats to Darwyn and others from Prince George that worked on getting the The Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut established (provincial press release).

Had a wonderful chance to meet past Xeni Gwet'in chief Marilyn Baptiste at Chilko Lake to hear of her father's work to stop the Tatlayoko/Homathko hydro project going in in the early 1980s. Lots of history to share.  Many thanks to Edmund Faubert for his hospitality at Ts'utanchuy Medicine Society camp.

Elephant mountain literary festival, Nelson, BC

This festival in Nelson is everything a writer could ask for... attentive audiences, deep discussion, masterful moderators, Kootenay hospitality, wonderful writers and the Kootenay landscape to hold us all. Thank you Theresa and John Southam, Lynn Krauss, Anne de Grace, Bill Richardson, James Mackinnon, Dick Cannings, Grant Lawrence, Eileen Pearkes, Christina Sutherland,Verna Relkoff, the Kootenay Writing School and all the other organizers of Elephant Mountain. Thank you so  much!


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haida gwaii and kitimat

Four successful gatherings in Haida Gwaii and Kitimat. An evening talk, June 7th for the Canadian Geographic/Maple Leaf Adventures tour of Gwaii Haanas talking about Cowan's work in Haida Gwaii with seabirds, endemic species and island biogeography research to solve the mystery of small mammals on the islands. Also work of his grad student Bristol Foster who helped form the Islands Protection Society, helping to support the protection of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. On June 10th, an evening talk in  Masset at the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum. Thanks to the mayor Andrew Merilees for helping and the volunteers at the museum. On June 11th for World Ocean Day, the Laskeek Bay Conservation Society hosted an afternoon presentation at the Kai Haida Heritage Centre. Many thanks to Maggie Stronge, Lindsay Seegmiller and Keith Moore for helping organize. Finally, an evening talk on June 13th at the Kitimat Museum cohosted by the Kitimat Valley Naturalists talking about Cowan's research and work on raising the awareness of the ecological values of the area affected by the Kemano and Kenney dam project. Many thanks to Walter Thorne and Louise Avery, director at the museum for organizing it. Lots of fun and connecting with so many people about their research and conservation work that has been done and continues to be done in these amazing places.

Meadowlark Festival Reading

Sunday, May 22nd. Many thanks to Okanagan College for hosting, and Dr. Sharon Mansiere and her work on building the natural history collection of Okanagan's wonderful birds, and all the organizers of the Meadowlark Festival who do so much to promote the natural wonders of the Okanagan, especially, Jayme Friedt and her team. Great walks with Michael Bezener and Terry McIntosh keeping up the tradition of the Real Thing, sharing their love of the natural world. Special acknowledgement to  knowledge keeper Richard Armstrong and the Enowkwin Centre and Ildiko Szabo of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum for helping and checking for ticks!

"This afternoon was a such a community builder! A sharing of our historical background scientifially, an understanding of the brilliance of young people, the understanding of the importance of gathering people together, of superior leadership, all in all, a seriously engaging knowledgable speaker with the whole idea of sharing and learning. Wow!!" Bonnie Ross

"A great tribute to a remarkable leader and naturalist. This lecture should be heard far and wide to inspire others to educate our upcoming generations." Anthea Bryan

"Amazing presentation, insightful, encouraging, passionate. Briony exemplifies the message — the method and the mentoring of Ian McTaggart Cowan. Thank you for supporting this extraordinary biography!" Diane Bersea

"Great presentation + eye-opener to a transplant from the east coast. Truly a remarkable mind and characters portrayed — I have to get this book." R.A. Ross

"The slide presentation of Ian McTaggart Cowan's life + the scientists he befriended + their appreciation and documentation of the natural world sends me the message to pay it forward." Carol Hoenisch

"Very educational and inspirational. Education is key... one more step towards conservationism for me." Martine Vezina

"Briony is inspiring and full of energy and is so excited about her subject. Loved the lecture." Jodi Forster

"Briony presents an astonishing summary of an individual + a phenomenon of our time. A great lecture and looking forward to the book. Congrats to the publisher." Denis O'Gorman

"Wonderful presentation. Remarkable story that needs to be told and retold."






northern Salish Sea tour

A few of the reviews from Cortes Island, Quadra Island, Campbell River and Comox May 9, 10, 11, 12.

"What a wonderful evening - beautiful stories, so much information - too little time to cover it all." Connie Brill

"An amazing presentation about an amazing life that BC owes so much to." Lynne Jordan, Cortes Museum

"What a man! What stories! What inspiration! Sabina Mense

"Fabulous talk...Fabulous book." Martha Abelson

"Wow wonderful. Can't wait to read the book." Laurel Bohart

"The stories of Ian brought tears to my eyes - the courage, the dedication & immensity of his work is beyond words. His contribution to our province is beyond compare." Christine Robinson.

"Fantastic presentation but way too short. I was ready to listen for many more hours." Jerzy Zagroba

"What a fantastic talk and I learned a huge amount in just this taster of the book." Cynthia Bendickson

"We came to hear Briony speak knowing absolutely nothing about/never heard of Ian McTaggart Cowan. Her hour of stories from the Real Thing was a wonderful introduction to a brillian man and, for us, a previously unknown period in history." Trudy Beaton

real thing1

Thanks to Nancy Kendal of the Cortes Museum and Archives Society, Sabina Mense of Friends of Cortes Island for intro and hospitality, Barb van Orden of Quadra Island Library and Robin at Book Bonanaza, Libby King of Greenways Land Trust and the Campbell River Library and Coho Books, Andrew Nikkiforuk for the introduction and hospitality, Loys Maingon Comox Valley Naturalists and Ora and Evelyn at Laughing Oyster and everyone with BC Nature who were a great audience. Special thanks to the Mack Laing Heritage Society for support and the Environmental History Literary Award and doing so much to promote the heritage of BC's great ecologists and our identity as a culture of conservation in BC.

Briony Penn wins Roderick Haig-Brown Regional BC Book Prize

for The Real Thing: A Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan

 BCBP winners

Clockwise left right: Briony Penn, Alan Twigg, Annette LeBox, Alix Hawley, Raoul Fernandes, Susan Juby, and the Honourable Judith Guichon - Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (missing: Susan Musgrave and Brian Brett). Photo credit: Monica Miller.


BC Book awards winners



BC Book Award nominations!!!

bc book awards

Hot off the press from the Globe and Mail. March 8, 2016

A biography of a B.C. naturalist and an illustrated children’s book with a strong environmental message lead the list of books shortlisted for the 2016 BC Book Prizes, with two nominations each

The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan by Briony Penn is up for both the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

Awards on April 30 at Government House, Victoria. Congratulations to fellow Rocky Mountain Book author Gwen Curry for her nomination too!

Sitka Foundation Support

UVic have just announced the awarding of a $30,000 Sitka Foundation grant to support the online access of the Cowan collection: digitized field journals, photographs, video collection and there will also be digital 3-D models of selected specimens of tetrapods from his early field work collections. Thanks to Sitka Foundation who continue to do amazing work supporting nature conservation and environmental education in this province.


back on the road

Back from my sabbatical and planning is underway for the spring book tour. I’ll be travelling around B.C. visiting many of the regions in the province where Ian McTaggart Cowan did his field work. I’m looking forward to meeting you and sharing some of Ian’s best stories. I was happy to talk in Tofino  on February 11th for the Raincoast Education Society and had a great evening connecting with local naturalists. There are lots more events coming up this spring. More dates and locations will be announced soon.

Friends of Ecological Reserves Friday February 26th in Nanaimo to share with the wardens some of the groundwork that was laid for the Ecological Reserves Program.

UVic Author Celebration at the UVic Bookstore from 3-5, March 17th

Banyen Books 6:30 - 8:00 April 26th, 3608 4th Ave, Vancouver A free event open to the public.

We are putting together the itinerary for May and looking forward to BC Nature AGM May 13th at the Filberg Centre in Comox where I'll be giving the keynote lecture. I'll be speaking at the Jasper Museum May 17th. Other dates are starting to fill up. Please email me at if you'd like to host a talk in your community. For an online summary of press and reviews check this storify account out

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Funding Partners

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our Funding partners and local bookstores.