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The birth of Greenpeace

The Story

Battling violent winds and the high seas, a leaky halibut boat docks in Sand Point, Alaska. Although it's carrying a crew of long-haired, flute-playing protesters, the boat is not out for a joyride. Its purpose: to sail into the heart of a U.S. nuclear test zone near the tiny island of Amchitka in the Aleutians. In this CBC Radio clip Ben Metcalfe files a report aboard the vessel, dubbed Greenpeace, as it refuels and prepares to dash up the coast towards Amchitka. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Radio Noon
Broadcast Date: Oct. 11, 1971
Host: Bill Crossman, Jim Robertson
Reporter: Ben Metcalfe
Duration: 4:09

Did You know?

• In 1969 the U.S. conducted nuclear tests on the tiny island of Amchitka. Fearing the blast would result in an earthquake, thousands of protesters gathered at the U.S.-Canada border in order to stop the test. Their protests failed as the U.S. detonated its bomb and then announced plans for another test in 1971. As a result, a group of concerned Vancouver environmentalists formed the Don't Make A Wave committee whose goal was to stop the second test.

• Despite two separate attempts, Greenpeace never made it to the test zone and was unable to stop the U.S. from completing its testing at Amchitka. However, Greenpeace succeeded in causing a flurry of public outcry in the international community. Five months after its voyage to Amchitka, the United States announced it was halting all nuclear tests in the Aleutian Islands. Amchitka was later declared a bird sanctuary.

• The founding members of the Don't Make A Wave Committee included: Paul Cote (a law student at the University of British Columbia), Jim Bohlen (a former member of the U.S. Navy), Irving Stowe (a lawyer), Patrick Moore (an ecology student at the University of British Columbia) and Bill Darnell (a social worker). The Don't Make A Wave committee was the forerunner to Greenpeace.

• Bill Darnell is credited with coining the name Greenpeace after someone flashed him a peace sign. The name ties Greenpeace's concern for the environment with its goal to bring an end to all nuclear testing.
• Greenpeace's non-violent approach of protest is based on a Quaker tradition of silent protest to 'bear witness'.

• The crew onboard for the initial voyage to Amchitka were: Captain John Cormack (the boat's owner), Jim Bohlen (Greenpeace), Bill Darnell (Greenpeace), Patrick Moore (Greenpeace), Dr Lyle Thurston (medical practitioner), Dave Birmingham (engineer), Terry Simmons (cultural geographer), Richard Fineberg (political science teacher), Robert Hunter (journalist), Ben Metcalfe (journalist), Bob Cummings (journalist) and Bob Keziere (photographer).

• The boat they hired for the first voyage was originally called the Phyllis Cormack, named after Captain John Cormack's wife. It was later renamed Greenpeace.
• Amchitka is a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, and is located in one of the world's most earthquake-prone regions. One of the reasons Greenpeace was trying to stop the testing was that they argued nuclear testing causes earthquakes and massive tidal waves.

• CBC reporter Doug Collins was aboard Greenpeace's second trip towards Amchitka, documenting the events for CBC Television. The crew jokingly made him third steward for the duration of the voyage. "Lower than that they don't come," Collins quipped in his report for CBC's Weekend.


Greenpeace: Always Bearing Witness more