Some of Western Canada’s most enduring legends involve wilderness fugitives like the Mad Trapper of Rat River or Gunanoot of the Skeena. This book is about one of the most mysterious and most recent fugitives, the Bushman of the Shuswap, who made national headlines while on the lam in the wilderness around Shuswap Lake during the turn of the millennium. For several years he played cat and mouse with the RCMP, raiding summer cottages for supplies and giving media interviews at the edge of the bush only to vanish like smoke.
Who was the mysterious Bushman? What drove him? What happened to him? Author Paul McKendrick became obsessed with these questions after a group of houseboaters discovered a doorway built into a rocky outcrop above a remote arm of Shuswap Lake. It opened into an elaborately excavated nine-hundred-square-foot home, complete with electricity and other amenities—the Bushman’s long-sought hideout.
Intrigued by the ingenuity of the fugitive’s lair and sensing that there was more to the story than what had been reported by the media, McKendrick began reaching out to people who knew the man, whose real name was John Bjornstrom. What had driven Bjornstrom to go on the lam in the first place, and why specifically to the Shuswap? Why did he escape from prison shortly before completing his sentence? The Bushman’s Lair is the culmination of numerous interviews, court and RCMP transcripts and McKendrick’s own experience of following the Bushman’s trails.
The stranger-than-fiction story that McKendrick has woven together is as full of twists and surprises as any reader could hope for: a child of Romani refugees raised by outdoor enthusiasts from Norway; a bizarre, top-secret US military program that recruited individuals with supposed psychic abilities; conspiracy theories and entanglements with shady characters; an alleged hit list tied to the infamous Bre-X mining scandal; and more.
Reminiscent of John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, this fascinating portrait of a far-from-ordinary fugitive makes for a page-turning read.