Canmore-based author Paul McKendrick’s questions about the Bushman of the Shuswap began to pile up as he was standing in a hideout the elusive fugitive once used.
The cave where the bushman, whose real name was John Bjornstrom, lived struck McKendrick as well built. He noted its expansive size and amenities, including electricity, were not the creation of someone who shied away from hard work. McKendrick said the cave was destroyed shortly after his visit, but years later his interest in Bjornstrom’s story had not collapsed.
The unanswered questions led him to research and write a book which draws its name from the cave which captured his imagination years before. It is titled The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap.
Bjornstrom grabbed headlines about 20 years ago when he escaped from a Kamloops jail and went on to evade capture for two years in the woods near Shuswap Lake. As he eluded authorities, Bjornstrom built camps and hideouts, pillaged supplies from cabins and made regular contact with the media.
He was eventually captured by RCMP officers posing as a documentary film crew seeking to interview him. Bjornstrom was released after almost two years of house arrest and went on to a career as a truck driver and an attempt to enter municipal politics before his death at age 58 in 2018.
McKendrick’s familiarity with the Shuswap, and with Bjornstrom’s story, comes from time spent at his family’s cabin across the lake from Sicamous. He found himself with time to research the bushman’s story about three years ago, as he and his wife opened a nordic ski shop in Canmore. As his interest in Bjornstrom grew, McKendrick began travelling around B.C. interviewing people about the bushman’s story and combing court documents and RCMP transcripts.
He also spent time in the woods and on the water where Bjornstrom spent his time as a fugitive; he kayaked around Anstey Arm speaking to cabin owners and unsuccessfully scoured the Hunkwa Lake area for another bushman hideout. McKendrick was confronted with practical questions about the bushman’s life like where he hid the canoes he used to slip across the lake by night, but also set out to understand what drove Bjornstrom into the woods.
The author said his book looks into Bjornstom’s more outlandish claims including his supposed inside knowledge of the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scandal which he told the press led to threats on his life.
McKendrick interviewed cabin owners whose views on the fugitive have not softened in the years since his capture. He also spoke with Bjornstrom’s lawyer Don Campbell, who said his client was a trustworthy individual who truly believed that his flight from the law was justified.
McKendrick hopes those who know more about the bushman’s time in the Shuswap will read the book and get in touch with him. It will be available soon through local and chain book stores including Bookingham Palace in Salmon Arm.